Zion National Park, one of America’s oldest and most visited National Parks, is filled with soaring red and cream cliffs, a maze of narrow slot canyons, and a picturesque gorge cut by the raging Virgin River. It’s no wonder you’re planning a trip to Zion National Park!
Whether you’re taking a Utah Mighty Five National Parks road trip, extending your Arizona road trip, or taking a weekend trip from Vegas, I’m going to share with you seven things to know before visiting Zion National Park.
ZION NATIONAL PARK AT A GLANCE
Before diving in, here are a few highlights for planning a trip to Zion National Park.
- Getting There: The closest airport to Zion is Harry Reid International in Las Vegas, about 3 hours from Zion Canyon. Book your flights here.
- Entrance Fee: $35/vehicle or FREE with an America the Beautiful Pass
- Where to Stay: Camp in the park, reserve a room in the Zion Lodge, or stay right outside the park in the town of Springdale.
- How to Get Around: Take the shuttle around Springdale and Zion Canyon. You’ll need to rent a personal vehicle for Kolob Canyons and the East side.
- Best Time to Visit: August – October
- How Long to Visit: 3-5 days. Here’s what to do if you only have one day in Zion.
7 Things to Know Before Visiting Zion National Park
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1. Vehicle Restriction in Zion Canyon
Shuttle buses run in Zion Canyon from March through November and during the holiday season in December. Whenever the shuttles are in operation, no vehicles are allowed in the Zion Canyon.
This means that to enter Zion Canyon and hike trails like the Narrows, Angel’s Landing, and Emerald Pools, you’ll need to board the free shuttle. Or ride a bike! 🚲
There is a second shuttle system, the Springdale Shuttle, that shuttles visitors through the town of Springdale and to the park’s pedestrian/bicycle entrance.
You do not need a ticket or reservation to ride the park shuttle or enter the park.
2. Toxic Cyanobacteria Bloom in the Virgin River
In 2020, a toxic cyanobacteria bloom was discovered in the Virgin River. Unfortunately, the bloom was discovered because a dog drank out of the river and tragically died.
The toxic bloom is still active in 2024, so do not submerge your head in or drink water from the Virgin River or any of its tributaries in Zion National Park.
Do not boil or filter water from the Virgin River either. Filtering or boiling water is only allowed from spring sources. It’s recommended that you carry in all of your water or refill your bottles at the visitor center’s fill-up stations.
3. Potential Narrows Closure
A trek through the Narrows involves hiking through a slot canyon in the North Fork of the Virgin River. When the river experiences a high flow rate, the park will close the Narrows to keep visitors safe.
The Narrows closes when the Virgin River flow rate exceeds 150 cubic feet per second (CFS) and when the National Weather Service issues a Flash Flood Warning.
Below is a chart to help you understand the Virgin River flow rate.
The Narrows is typically closed in the spring from mid-March to mid-May due to the snowmelt and spring run-off. The river usually flows at its highest rate during this time of year, but it can always vary from year to year.
Also, the Narrows will often close in the summer due to flash floods. So if you want to hike the Narrows, I’d recommend visiting Zion National Park in the fall. During this time, the river flow rate is usually low and the temperatures are ideal.
Check the current Narrows flow rate here before you go. And remember that flash floods can happen at any time, even if the Narrows is open. Venture into the slot canyon at your own risk.
→ READ NEXT: Complete Guide to Hiking the Zion Narrows
4. You’ll Need a Permit to Hike Angel’s Landing
One of the most sought-after hikes in the USA now requires a permit. That’s right; in order to scale the chains at Angel’s Landing, you’re going to need to secure a permit ahead of time. And they’re not easy to score.
Here’s how it works: Head to the NPS website to see when the application window opens for your desired hike dates. Apply for the Seasonal Lottery permit online – you can add up to 6 people on the application. You will get to pick seven ranked days and times or windows of days and times you want to hike. Pay the $6 application fee, and you will be notified soon whether you were successful or unsuccessful.
If you were successful, recreation.gov will send you an email that says you got a permit and will proceed to charge you $3 per person that you registered.
If you were unsuccessful, recreation.gov will send you an email that says you did not get a permit and can consider applying again the day before your hike or for a future Seasonal Lottery.
The day-before lottery opens every day at 12:01 AM and closes at 3 PM Mountain Time (MT). For example, if you want to hike Angel’s Landing on a Thursday, you’ll apply on Wednesday between 12:01 AM and 3:00 PM. You will be notified the day you apply (around 4:00 PM MT) if you were successful or unsuccessful.
2024 UPDATE: Planned trail maintenance will close the route to Angels Landing from April 1 to April 4, 2024. The NPS will not issue any permits to hike on those days.
5. Long-Term Trail Closures
There are two long-term trail closures in Zion.
The Hidden Canyon Trail has been closed since August 2019 due to a large rockfall. There is no estimated date of when the trail will open back up.
Observation Point via the East Rim Trail from Weeping Rock has also been closed since August 2019 due to the same rockfall.
Since these trails are closed, Shuttle Stop #7 in Zion Canyon is closed until further notice.
If you still want to get to Observation Point, you can hike the 7-mile, out & back East Mesa Trail. Access to this trail is on the east side of the park.
There is no alternate route to access Hidden Canyon.
Note that other roads/trails can close due to snow in the winter months. Read updates on current conditions here.
→ READ NEXT: Zion Vs. Bryce Canyon: Which Is Better?
6. Don’t Overlook the Kolob Canyons & East Entrances
An hour from Zion Canyon (the most popular section of Zion National Park) is Kolob Canyons. Unlike the Zion Canyon, the Kolob Canyons district is open to vehicles. Since this section of the park is less popular than Zion Canyon, you’ll also find more solitude here.
There is a 5-mile scenic drive in Kolob Canyons with numerous pull-offs, along with several great hiking trails. Take the Timber Creek Trail for an easy 1-mile hike, trek through many river crossings on the moderate 5-mile Middle Fork Taylor Creek Trail, or brave the La Verkin Trail on a strenuous 14-mile hike through the Zion Wilderness and to the famous Kolob Arch.
Also, just 6 miles from Zion Canyon is the East Entrance. It’s here that you’ll go through the famous Zion – Mount Carmel Tunnel!
Note: If you’re driving an RV, you must snag a permit to drive through the Zion – Mount Carmel Tunnel.
There are some real gems on the east side of the park. It’s on this side of the park that you’ll find the spectacular 1-mile Canyon Overlook Trail and be able to access the East Mesa Trail to Observation Point. The Checkerboard Mesa is also beautiful.
Come visit the quieter sides of Zion National Park!
See where I ranked Zion on my Utah National Parks Ranked Best to Worst blog post!
7. Arriving Early Is Essential For Beating the Crowds
Since Zion is one of the most-visited National Parks in the country, solitude can be difficult to find, especially mid-day, during peak season, and in the Zion Canyon.
Shuttle stops will have long lines, parking will be limited, and trails will be crowded, so for your best chance at avoiding the hordes of visitors, get an early start. I’m talking, before sunrise, early. Board the first or second shuttle of the day and arrive at the trailheads before the crowds trickle in.
Crowds at Zion peak from around 9 AM – 3 PM. Around sunset, the crowds vanish once again, so this is also a great time to be in the park.
→ READ NEXT: Skip Angels Landing: Hike These Trails Instead
Finish Planning Your Trip to Zion
Here are some other guides up on my blog right now that will help you with planning your trip to Zion National Park!
- Complete Guide to Exploring Zion National Park
- One Day in Zion National Park
- Complete Guide to Hiking the Zion Narrows
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Arches National Park
- Page, Arizona
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