USA – Zion National Park day trip: The must see places and must do hikes

Zion National Park is, after my visit, for sure amongst my favorite national parks in the United States. It’s located in southern Utah and just a short drive north of Las Vegas. I arrived late evening from Death Valley for a two-night stay which gave one full day in the Zion Canyon. My daughter was with me and we had lots of fun in Zion Canyon but also during the complete two week USA west coast road trip we did.

I decided to pack the day with all the shorter hikes as we already would do a strenuous hike to Skeleton Point halfway down the Grand Canyon a few days later. In this step by step guide I take you into the Zion Canyon and share my experiences. If you have just a day these are the hikes you really want to do!

Zion National Park history & visitors center

Zion National Park is larger as just the Zion Canyon which I visited during this day of my two-week USA road trip. It’s a huge park formed million of years ago when sediment layers were lifted. There are several sediment layers visible of which the Navajo Sandstone is most visible in the Zion Canyon. This red oxidized sandstone gives the Zion Canyon it’s typical red color. This contrasts beautiful with the blue sky and green vegetation. Zion Canyon, the main canyon of Zion National Park, was formed by the Virgin River which still flows at the bottom of the canyon today.

The area around Zion National Park was first inhabited approximate 8000 years ago by Native Americans. It was just recently in the early 20th century that it became a tourist destination. A small museum will explain the history in detail which is a must visit before entering the park!

If you plan to visit more national parks in the United States, make sure to buy the National Park Pass to save money. They are sold at the visitor’s center of all parks. First visit the Zion Human History Museum and continue with the shuttle bus to the Court of the Patriarchs Viewpoint. You could walk of course the whole Zion Canyon but then you won’t be able to see all the beauty in a day. The following 7 hikes are must do hikes but 2 I have described in the best route from Zion National Park to the Grand Canyon South Rim earlier.

Zion National Park: Emerald Pool Trail

From the Court of the Patriarchs Viewpoint I decided to walk along the Virgin River to the Zion Lodge where the trail to the Emerald Pools starts. In summer the waterfalls are nonexistent, or have just a small flow. The total hike up to the Upper Emerald Pool and back over the Kayenta Trail to the Grotto bus stop takes about 2-3 hours. Make sure to start early morning so that you have time to see everything. At several points the climb is a bit steep but it’s not long, so you’ll manage! Around every corner the view is magnificent so decide wise where to stop to make photos as otherwise you’ll be hiking only this trail the entire day. If you do a USA west coast road trip you probably want to get the most out of your time. At the Grotto bus stop take the shuttle to the end of the canyon and get out at the Temple of Sinawava where the trailhead of the Riverside Walk is.

Zion National Park: Riverside Walk

The Riverside Walk is the easiest walk in the Zion Canyon and wheelchair accessible. It’s a paved trail about 3 kilometers long along the Virgin River on one side. The other side has tall cliffs and weeping walls with hanging gardens. You’ll get close to the green vegetation which was a welcome difference compared to the dry landscape in the Death Valley a day earlier. If you’re lucky you’ll spot some wildlife like wild deer and other animals. It takes and hour or maximum two to walk up and down the Riverside Walk. It’s also the gateway to the Narrows so you’ll probably need three hours if you’ll wade a bit through the water. I really enjoyed the Riverside Walk where the canyon gets narrower and narrower until there is just water left.

Zion National Park: The Narrows

The Narrows is a hike you can make a day long if you want but for a one-day visitor I suggest walking about 20 minutes upstream and then return. It’s the experience that counts. Important notice: do NOT go into the Narrows if it’s raining or if it will be raining soon as there is a chance of flash flooding which is dangerous.

At the end of the Riverside Walk the Narrows start and there is no shore left. I just walked in for a few minutes as I didn’t want to make it a day hike. It certainly is fun to wade through the water at the bottom of the narrow canyon. I did it more for my daughter than myself to be honest. After trying to get most of the water out of the shoes I continued back to the Temple of Sinawava to catch the shuttle to the Big Bend which is one stop down the road.

Zion National Park: Big Bend & Weeping Rock

At the Big Bend the Virgin River turns 180 degrees which nice to see but the Horseshoe Bend at the Grand Canyon which I saw a day later was much more impressing! Do stop here as you’ll have a great photo opportunity to photograph the White Throne; a beautiful rock formation. There isn’t a hike at the Big Bend, so I cached the next shuttle to the Weeping Rock trail which is another stop down the road.

Weeping Rock is just a short 15-minute trail but a steep one. It’s worth it as you’ll see some beautiful hanging vegetation. Zion National Park is famous for it’s hanging gardens and here you can see them up close. If you have a tripod then making photo’s is interesting as you get lines of flowing water in your photo. The vegetation around this area is dense so you’ll probably get to see some wildlife here too!

It was just 4 PM when I finished at Weeping Rock and I still had time to do the Canyon Overlook Trail and drive to Checkerboard Mesa. I didn’t do that however as the next day I would drive from Zion National Park to the Grand Canyon national park. It was more efficient to stop at these places the next day. If you’re going back towards Las Vegas however I do suggest checking these two out too the same day. Read my best route from Zion National Park to the Grand Canyon South Rim to find out what you otherwise would miss.

There are various day hikes possible in the Zion National Park too which include: Angels Landing, Observation Point Trail, Hidden Canyon, East Rim Trail, or Taylor Creek Trail to name a few. It totally depends on your own preference if you want to hike more or not. For me a day in Zion National Park was enough. One thing I can say is that Zion National Park was one of the highlights during my two-week USA west coast road trip. The scenery is simply amazing.

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Did you visit Zion National Park too or do you have questions? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Love to hear from you!

Gallery Zion National Park

Check the gallery for more photos taken during this trip. If you like to use any photo for commercial, private or editorial use please contact first for permission and/or pricing.

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