FAQs: Zion National Park
Zion National Park is near and dear to my heart. I spent countless weekends there during my college years, worked on the east side as a canyoneering guide for two summers, and it’s where I fell in love with my husband. I get a lot of questions about Zion, so I thought I would consolidate some of my frequently asked questions!
✨ How does the shuttle system work?
It’s a little different right now due to COVID. You currently need to pre-purchase a shuttle ticket for the scenic drive (no private vehicles allowed). The advanced shuttle tickets for November have already been released, but you can check recreation.gov for availability. You can also hire a private shuttle or rent bikes if tickets are sold out. In addition, there are some “one day in advance” tickets that become available at 9 am the day before. Private shuttles will be allowed on the Scenic Drive during the month of December up until the 23rd, then shuttle tickets will be required Dec 24-Jan 2 (these tickets go on sale November 30th at 9 am). This current system will be re-evaluated in December, so I recommend following Zion National Park on social media for updates!
✨ What hikes can I do if I have a shuttle ticket for the Scenic Drive?
Angel’s Landing, West Rim, the Riverside Walk, the Narrows, and Emerald Pools to name the big ones. Observation Point from East Rim, Weeping Rock, and Hidden Canyon are all currently closed long term due to rock fall. Always make sure to check weather conditions before visiting, as weather can change fast and drastically in Zion. When hiking the Narrows specifically, be aware of rain and flash flood potential. The only dog friendly trail in Zion is the Pa’rus Trail, however, pets are allowed on the roads/in parking areas + the front lawn of Zion Lodge as long as they are leashed and under control.
✨ What can I do in Zion without a shuttle ticket and/or if the shuttles are packed and I don’t want to deal with it? Aka- what’s there to do besides the Scenic Drive?
Sometimes people think they’re out of luck if they don’t have a shuttle ticket/aren’t able to get on the shuttles due to long lines or time restrictions, etc. This is absolutely NOT true! Here’s some ideas:
1. Start a hike from the Visitor’s Center: The Watchman Trail, Pa’rus Trail (dog friendly), and the short Archeology Trail all start from the Visitor Center and don’t require a shuttle ticket!
2. Hike on the east side: Check out Canyon Overlook Trail, Many Pools Trail, Checkerboard Mesa, Jolley’s Gulch, Cable Mountain, or Observation Point via East Mesa Trail. I also recommend just parking your car and wandering around the washes of east Zion- you’ll find mini slot canyons, way less people, and maybe even some petroglyphs.
3. Visit Kolob Canyons: This lesser known part of Zion is just as beautiful. Hike the Taylor Creek Trail or check out Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek Trail (this is a long one, do your research!) The colors in Kolob are stunning in the fall, and there’s some great rock climbing as well!
4. Hire a guide: Lastly, consider hiring a local guide company to take you canyoneering, jeeping, or horseback riding. I guided at East Zion Adventures for two summers and highly recommend their services. They guide some gorgeous slot canyons on the east side of the park. If you haven’t been yet, canyoneering should absolutely be on your Zion bucket list!
✨ Where should I stay when I visit Zion?
My favorite place to stay is Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. I used to guide for them (East Zion Adventures is their sister company) and still work for them remotely so while my opinion is not unbiased, part of the reason I ended up working there is because of how much I love this ranch resort. Their location on the east side gives you great access to the quieter + slower side of the park, which I prefer to the craziness of Springdale. They have everything from tent camping and glamping to cabins and huge vacation homes, so literally something for everyone. Sam and I stayed in one of their glamping tents (first time!) when we were there last month, which was super fun! It included a free breakfast buffet at the restaurant + access to the pool and hot tubs. Can’t say no to that!
✨ What about camping options?
It can be difficult to get a campsite at one of the campgrounds inside the park unless you’re planning super far in advance, so I usually don’t bother. But if you’re better at planning ahead than me, the Watchman and South Campgrounds can be a great option. Booking is currently available through May on recreation.gov. Zion Ponderosa has a campground with both tent and RV campsites, which I highly recommend (this is where I always stayed for canyoneering trips during college). There’s limited BLM camping outside the park, but there is some! Do your research and be willing to drive a bit to get to the park if utilizing free camping.
✨ What’s your favorite hike in Zion?
Observation Point via the East Mesa Trailhead. Another perk of staying at Zion Ponderosa is that this trailhead is on their property, giving you the easiest access to, IMO, the hands down best view in the park. Especially since the main trail from Zion canyon is closed right now, you’ll see relatively few people on this trail. Pro tip: if you stop by the front desk or recreation barn at @zionponderosa, they will happily direct you (maps included) to the trailhead from there.
✨ What else should I do in the area when I visit Zion?
Here’s my top 5 favorite places to visit in the area around Zion.
1. Kanab: A fun town that gives you close access to Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Buckskin Gulch, Coyote Buttes, and just endless amazing spots. They also have the best small town 4th of July firework show I have EVER seen!
2. Grand Staircase Escalante: Another area just full of treasures. Coyote Gulch, Spooky and Peekaboo slot canyons, Lower Calf Creek Falls, and much more.
3. Bryce Canyon National Park: This national park is less than an hour and a half from the east entrance of Zion and shouldn’t be missed! My favorite trail is the Navajo Loop.
4. Snow Canyon State Park: An underrated state park near St. George with petroglyphs, lava tubes, and beautiful rock formations. The Snow Canyon Overlook trail is my favorite!
5. Duck Creek Village: If you’re looking for more of a contrast and relief from the heat of the desert landscape, head up to this town and the surrounding area for endless trails, creeks, and great fishing lakes. Cedar Breaks National Monument is close by as well. If you time your visit right, the fall colors in this area are gorgeous.