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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. And sometimes you’re just limited on time making hiking not as possible.
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.
National Park Pass + Other National Park Deals
- If you’re planning on visiting multiple parks (3 or more) on this trip or within the year, I would highly recommend getting a national park pass. It’s $80 but will pay for itself in about three trips to parks. It’s so worth it and I buy one every year! They’re also great for gifts for the park lovers in your life.
- To help plan the best national park trip ever, this Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is perfect! You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a little National Park notebook to write all about your adventures while you’re on the road. These from Field Notes are all very cute! If you want one for all of the NPS sites (400+!) then this one is for you!
- Before your trip, get some national park apparel for your trip! Homage is donating 5% of sales from the national park collection to the National Parks Conservation Association this year. Buy national park shirts here.
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
- Planning a big national park trip? Check out these other posts: National Park bucket list, Make the most of a National Park trip, National Park camping packing list, My favorite National Park hikes, More National Park hikes I love, Underrated National Parks.
What to bring to Zion National Park
Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen. I like the Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch a lot AND it’s reef safe! If you’re sensitive to fragrance though, it’s not a good choice. I also like the same one but specifically for your face.
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 (0.4 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.
Update September 2022: We did this on our January trip to Zion and it’s not worth it. It’s easy and quick so it won’t take up precious time in the park but I didn’t like it at all. You can read about it in my post about the nearby Watchman Trail.
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 0.4 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. This area is closed indefinitely due to rockfall.
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. If you don’t mind a short hike with some rock scrambling, consider doing the Lower Pine Creek Waterfall trail.
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. Or, if you do want to walk a bit, you can pretty much go wherever as long as you’re comfortable with it. Just keep an eye out for where you’re hiking.
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.
We see them almost everytime we go into the park that way. They blend in with the rock really well, so keep your eyes peeled. We saw about ten on the Canyon Overlook hike.
Hike the Petroglyph Canyon Trail
This is a little-known and not advertised trail to some fun petroglyphs on the east side of Mount Carmel Highway! The trail is easy, mostly following a wash/creek, and just 0.6 miles round-trip.
It’s a fun trail but you may have to walk in water to get to them. We did this in the winter so it was mostly frozen. I think you can go past the petroglyphs a bit but we couldn’t because of ice and it looked like it involved scrambling.
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.
Well, I hope this helps you plan an awesome trip to Zion National Park and that not hiking keeps the park on your bucket list. If you’re doing a Utah road trip and planning to visit Arches National Park, too, I have a similar post for it as well.
Utah posts you may also like:
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?