Zion National Park is the most popular national park in Utah, and for good reason. It’s home to Angel’s Landing, The Subway, and The Narrows, some of the best hikes in Utah. And while the hikes and towering canyon walls may be what Zion is most well-known for, not everyone can (or wants to) hike to see it. Good thing there are plenty of things to do in Zion National Park that aren’t hiking that still let you enjoy the beauty of the park.
Zion National Park has three different areas: Zion Canyon (the main area), Kolob Terrace Road (home of The Subway), and Kolob Canyon (a small area with a few awesome trails). They are all awesome and worth visiting, but most people only go to the main canyon area. I’ve got this split up into the three areas as well as the Mount Carmel Highway. Any walking that is included is easy according to the official park website. You can find the rest of my “things to do that aren’t hiking” posts here.
What to bring to Zion National Park
Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are on the steeper side. They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.
Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry! I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese. There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.
Light Jacket – Because you just never know. Weather can change quickly depending on where you are and if you’ll be in any slot canyons, they can get cool depending on the time of day and season. I usually use my rain jacket for this.
Sleeping pad – Gotta make the tent comfy! The one I have isn’t available anymore but this one is similar. It’s self-inflating and just needs a little help filling all the way. Buy the sleeping pad here.
Pillow – If you’re just driving, I’d just bring a regular pillow, but if you’re flying then renting a car, you might want a smaller pillow. This is a good non-inflatible option. Here is a good inflatable option.
Lantern – I love having a lantern for in the tent at night, reading in the dark, or going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The LuminAID is my favorite and you can charge your phone on it. Buy the LuminAID lantern here.
Ride the shuttle in Zion Canyon
For the majority of the year, you can only visit the main canyon by taking the shuttle. Whether you will be hiking or not you should ride the shuttle. You’ll get to see some of the scenery and learn about the park. They play a recording telling you about the formations, the Virgin River, flash floods, and wildlife in Zion. I would set aside at least an hour for this, but it shouldn’t be much longer than that to ride it all the way into the canyon and back out.
Walk along the Virgin River
You can do this in two places, the Pa’rus Trail (3.5 miles round-trip) from the visitor center to the Canyon Junction, or the Riverside Walk (2.2 miles round-trip) from the Temple of Sinawava. Both have less than 60 feet of elevation gain and both are paved. They are handicap accessible, but wheelchairs may need assistance. Pa’rus Trail is the only trail that allows pets. Both trails are a little longer, but you don’t need to do the whole thing to enjoy the river.
Check out the Archaeology Trail
Behind the visitor center, you’ll find a short but steep (.4 miles round-trip and 80 feet of elevation gain) Archaeology Trail. It takes you to the top of a hill with nice views and trailside exhibits explaining what is there.
If you love history and museums, you have to stop here. You’ll learn all about the history of humans in Zion National Park. There is a 22-minute video shown every half hour as well as permanent and temporary exhibits on native culture, pioneer movements, and how Zion National Park grew.
Renta bike in Springdale, or bring your own, and bike along the Pa’rus trail or Zion Canyon Road. It’s a great way to see the park from a different perspective. You cannot bike through the tunnel, you need to find a ride through. Hitchhiking is a good way to do this. Rangers cannot offer rides or set up arrangements. The shuttles have bike racks if you don’t want to bike both ways into the main canyon. You must wear a helmet and bike single file on the right side of the road in groups of six or less.
See Weeping Rock up close
This is another short but sweet trail coming in a .4 miles round-trip with 98 feet of elevation gain. You’ll get a nice view of the canyon below (you’re not at the top of the canyon, but still have a nice view) and a close-up look at Weeping Rock. There may be some type of waterfall from the rock if conditions are right or at least water coming out of it, hence the name.
Admire the Watchmen view
This might be one of the most famous views of the park (the header image of this post and the cover of the NatGeo National Park book) and it’s easy to get to. Along the road near the visitor center, farther in the park from Springdale, you’ll see a few bridges on the right (driving from the visitor center into the park) and that is where you’ll find the view. For an exact location or the best view, I’d ask a ranger at the visitor center. There is a 3.3-mile moderate hike here as well.
Drive the Mount Carmel Highway
This is the main highway that runs through the park from the visitor center to the east entrance. Even if you don’t have time to stop in the park to do anything, the drive is worth it. The views are wonderful and a great taste of what Zion has to offer.
Stop along one of the switchback overlooks
At the end of the tunnel (or beginning) on the side of the park with the visitor center, you’ll have to take the switchbacks. Stop at one of the pullouts on the corners to admire the views of the canyon below. Just don’t stop on the road itself, use the pullout areas.
Check out Checkerboard Mesa
Checkerboard Mesa is a giant white rock formation that has a bunch of squares on it making it look like a quilt or, you guessed it, a checkerboard. There is no hike here, but the views along the road in this area are fantastic and you should definitely stop at all the pullouts.
Look for bighorn sheep
You might be able to see some bighorn sheep along the road between the east entrance and the tunnel. It’s the only place I’ve seen bighorn sheep in Zion. They blend in with the rock really well, so keep your eyes peeled. We saw about ten on the Canyon Overlook hike.
Drive the Kolob Terrace Road
Kolob Terrace Road is home of the famous Subway hike. This section isn’t rife with things to do, but it is where you’ll find more of the backcountry hikes. Whether you’re hiking or not, it’s worth it to drive down Kolob Terrace Road and stop at the overlooks. It’s really pretty in the fall with the aspens changing colors.
Drive through Kolob Canyon
Kolob Canyon is the section of the park closest to Cedar City. There are three main hikes here, but none are short and easy. This is a great place to escape the crowds of the main canyon, but to still experience the park. It has a totally different feel than the other sections and I loved it there.
Have you been to Zion National Park? What is your favorite thing to do there? What do you want to do that you haven’t yet?