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The one area of Utah (other than the Salt Lake area) that I still haven’t gotten to see enough of is southwest Utah and the Greater Zion Area. I have seen some of it, but not enough. Never enough.
It’s also actually (so far) my least favorite part of Utah. The area around St. George, at least. It’s not just the landscape of southeast Utah which is my favorite. And this doesn’t mean it’s a bad area by any means. It’s still great just not my favorite area.
That said, I do still like Zion a lot. And Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks and Snow Canyon. They’re some of the best places to visit in Utah. It’s also just a lot busier over here but I’ll still go back to finish everything on this list.
This is also probably the only list I’ll have with this much on it that I haven’t done yet but I’ve still wanted to write this for years, so I am. Today were talking about the best things to do outside Zion.
That means things to do near Zion that aren’t in the park. Because sometimes you want to get away from the Zion crowds and there are plenty of other great things to see in this area.
I’ve got national parks, state parks, specific hikes, and more on this list anywhere from 20 minutes away to two hours away. Things that are further away would be great if you’re based in the Springdale or St. George area for a few days.
If you’re spending most of your time in Zion and just looking for some other things to do outside of Zion but still very nearby, I would base yourself in Springdale. If you mostly want to see things that aren’t Zion, I would go for Hurricane or St. George.
One of the best ways to escape the Zion crowds is to join a tour in the area. If you’re looking for adventure, a canyoneering, UTV, or helicopter tour would be awesome. If you want something fun but a little less adventurous, horseback riding would be great!
- East Zion slot canyon and UTV
- East Zion horseback tour
- Zion and Canaan Cliffs helicopter tour
- Springdale half-day canyoneering experience
- Sunset UTV tour with views of Zion
- Stone Hollow Canyoneering experience
Map of things to do near Zion National Park
I’ve included a map of things to do outside of Zion National Park here so you can easily see where everything is in relation to each other. To open the map in a larger window, click on the four corner rectangle thing in the top right corner.
Visit the other areas of Zion
This is technically in Zion, so I’m not sure if it should count, but visiting Kolob Canyons and Kolob Terrace Road are two other great ways to experience Zion without the crowds of the main canyon. There is plenty of hiking in those areas and it’s much more likely the trails won’t be as busy.
Distance from Zion: 47 minutes, 33 miles
Cost: $15 for Utah residents, $20 for everyone else
Sand Hollow State Park is a reservoir outside of Hurricane, Utah where there is something for everyone. It’s even one of the most-visited state parks in Utah.
It’s a park that has something for everyone including swimming, boating, fishing, off-roading, biking, stargazing, and hiking. There aren’t really hiking trails but you can walk around the reservoir.
This is a great place to cool off in the summer just know it can get very hot here. Be sure to stay hydrated and wear sunscreen. It also can get really busy so be sure to get there nice and early to really avoid the crowds.
Distance from Zion: 1.5 hours, 70 miles
Red Canyon is an area just outside of Bryce Canyon along Scenic Byway 12. The landscape is reminiscent of Bryce Canyon but less busy. It’s also where you can find these little tunnels carved into the red rock.
I’ve driven through here quite a few times and I love it but I’ve never done anything else here. There are three main hiking trails that I would love to do: the Tunnel Trail, Pink Ledges Trail, and Birdseye Trail.
Casto Canyon is another good trail here for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. I think most people just tend to drive on through here but it definitely deserves a little more time to explore it.
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 7 minutes, 51 miles
Cost: $10 for Utah Residents, $15 for everyone else
I love Snow Canyon. This is my favorite Utah state park alongside Goblin Valley. It’s beautiful and, I think, the best thing to do outside of Zion without having to drive terribly far. It’s worth the 1 hour and 7 minute drive.
If you want to visit a state park near Zion for hiking, this is the best option. There are 9 hiking trails here, which I think is pretty high for a state park so that’s awesome.
They range in difficulty and length so there should be something for everyone but you can always do more than one, which I would recommend.
When we went, we saw the Pioneer Names and did the Butterfly Trail and saw a lava tube but we didn’t go very far into it. Jenny’s Canyon and Johnson Canyon are two I would love to do but really, I want to do them all. Are we really surprised?
Parowan Gap petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 21 minutes, 77 miles
The Parowan Gap petroglyph site is a great place not far from Zion to see ancient rock art. At this site, there are 90 panels with more than 1500 figures. That’s wild!
This is an awesome thing to do near Zion that will really take you back in time. It’s an easy drive 10.5 miles from the town of Parowan and is perfect for history buffs or anyone that loves Native American history.
There are apparently dinosaur tracks nearby as well if you want to visit those at the same time. There is a nice short trail to the track site and information about them at the parking area.
Things to keep in mind when visiting rock art & ruins:
- Do not touch the rock art (pictographs or petroglyphs) because the oils on our fingers can degrade them.
- If you find artifacts, do not take them. Leave them where they are and just take pictures.
- If there are structures (rooms, kivas, anything like that) don’t enter them unless it is stated that you can. Most places you can’t but national and state parks will have restored structures you can enter. Mesa Verde, Edge of the Cedars, and Anasazi Museum all have ruins you can enter.
- And finally, don’t carve in or write or paint or draw on the rocks! I don’t want to have to say this, but I need to for real.
Things to keep in mind when visiting dinosaur sites:
- Don’t take the bones. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I do because people have dug out some of them. While there aren’t any marked here that I’m aware of, if you do find some, leave them where they are.
- Just look at the tracks, don’t fill them with water. While it makes them easier to see, it can damage the tracks.
- If you find artifacts, do not take them. Leave them where they are and just take pictures.
- And finally, don’t carve in or write on the rocks! I don’t want to have to say this, but I need do.
Grafton Ghost Town
Distance from Zion: 21 minutes, 8 miles
I didn’t know about Grafton Ghost Town until our recent visit but we decided to visit as a break from all the hiking we were doing during our week in Zion.
It’s just 20 minutes from Zion making it one of the closet things to do outside of Zion. You could easily visit this with just an hour or two since it’s not that big.
There are a few buildings, old homes, you can walk through. There isn’t anything in them but it’s still cool to see them. You can walk around the farm areas and fields, too.
On your way in or out, you can also visit an apparently haunted cemetery. We stopped here but it was so muddy, it was hard to walk through. We didn’t stay long and didn’t see or hear any ghosts, either. This is a cool place to see and learn about some of the darker history of the area.
Hike Yant Flat
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 10 minutes, 41 miles
I have wanted to hike Yant Flat for so long and I still haven’t done it. This is a 2ish mile trail through the Candy Cliffs of Utah. It’s a beautiful area and a great place to explore and hike outside of Zion.
This is a great place to get off the beaten path in Utah. You may be able to make it in a regular car but 4WD would be much better.
I think this would be a particularly great place to enjoy sunrise or sunset. I mean, look at it! Even though I haven’t been to The Wave either, this feels reminiscent of that.
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 7 minutes, 29 miles
You will need a 4WD high-clearance drive to get to Toquerville Falls, a hidden gem in the little town of Toquerville. There are no facilities here so you’ll have to bring anything you want/need and be sure to pack it all out, too.
Not only do you get to enjoy a waterfall here, but you can even cool off in the swimming holes! The upper one is more shallow that the lower one.
If you want to swim, visiting on a weekday in the summer will help you avoid any crowds. If you don’t care about swimming and just want to see the falls, springs, fall, or winter would be great.
Hike Water Canyon
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 5 minutes, 44 miles
Water Canyon is a 3.3 mile out-and-back hike in Hilldale, Utah. This is definitely one of the best things to do near Zion if you want a hike that is a little less known.
If you enjoy water hikes like The Narrows or Sulphur Creek, this may be perfect for you. It isn’t entirely in water but it is along a river and includes a waterfall!
I only recently heard about this one but it looks beautiful and I wish I could have done this one while we were still out there but just one more to do when we go back.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 51 minutes, 85 miles
Cost: $35 or $80 for a national park pass
You could easily spend a few days here but you can still see most of the highlights in one day. Be sure to stop at all of the overlooks and do some hiking.
The Mossy Cave Trail and the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail are the best with just one day in the park. Getting below the rim is one of the best ways to experience Bryce Canyon.
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.
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 41 minutes, 91 miles
Cost: $10 per person (national park pass covers this)
Cedar Breaks is beautiful. It’s like a small Bryce Canyon with a lot less people. This might be my favorite Zion day trip. There is plenty of hiking and in the summer, it’s an awesome place to escape the desert heat.
When we were there, we hiked the Alpine Pond Loop which was really nice and part of (I think) the Spectra Point Trail along the canyon rim. I would definitely recommend both. And they’re both fairly short and easy hikes in Utah.
Pipe Spring National Monument
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 10 minutes, 59 miles
Cost: $10 per person (national park pass covers this)
Pipe Spring National Monument is a great place to visit near Zion if you love history and want to learn more about the Mormon pioneer history of the area.
This little monument isn’t brimming with activities but they do have ranger talks and guided tours. There is a museum where you can learn about the history of the Kaibab Plateau.
The 0.5-mile Ridge Trail gives you wonderful views of the Arizona Strip. You can also explore the grounds on your own to see the spring and historic buildings. They even have an orchard here, too!
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 7 minutes, 40 miles
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is a cool park between Hurricane and Kanab. It’s a small park with the perfect peachy sand dunes surrounded by desert plateaus.
You can go sand boarding, off-roading, and hiking all on the dunes and unlike Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, these aren’t quite as difficult to climb.
If you’re visiting in the summer, just remember that the sand can be extremely hot so visiting in the early morning would be best. It’s also the best to avoid any crowds.
Distance from Zion: 56 minutes, 36 miles
The Moqui Caverns, on Google Maps and some other places called the Sand Caves, are a fun, easy roadside hike to some old caves! These aren’t natural, they’re manmade and were made to store sand, hence the name Sand Caves.
This is a pretty easy, less than one mile walk to get to them and it’s a cool view. This spot is not to be confused with the nearby Moqui Cave which is actually a little cafe.
This is a pretty quick stop and can easily be combined with any of the other Kanab activities on this list. You could probably do almost all of them if you started your day really early.
Belly of the Dragon
Distance from Zion: 47 minutes, 26 miles
Belly of the Dragon in Kanab is a super short (can be longer) hike at the Mount Carmel Junction between Kanab and Mount Carmel. This is like, a ten maybe fifteen minute stop.
After a quick pull-off from Highway 89, you hop down into the wash and head into the drainage tunnel that’s known as the Belly of the Dragon.
It feels like you’re walking into the giant worm from Spongebob. The tunnel itself is a manmade drainage tunnel but if you want a little longer hike you can keep hiking past it. We just turned around at the end of the belly.
I would not come over here just for this but if you’re doing something else in Kanab, or driving between Kanab and Zion, it’s worth the short detour.
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 6 minutes, 36 miles
Cost: Free! Unless you visit as part of a tour.
While I think the toadstool on the Toadstool Trail is the crown jewel of Kanab, if it wasn’t Peek-a-boo Canyon would be. Depending on the type of vehicle you have, it can be a long or short hike.
The slot canyon is accessible from a road with deep sand and if you don’t have a vehicle or the skills to drive through that, then it’s almost 9 miles round-trip.
If you can drive that, then it’s about a mile round-trip. For real though, don’t try this in a regular car or if you’re not comfortable driving in deep sand. A tour is your best bet then.
The actual slot section is about 0.5 miles and there are no bathrooms there or along the way. The canyon looks similar to Wire Pass which is a great alternative that is easier to get to but may be busier.
Slot Canyon Safety
Flash floods are a huge risk in slot canyons and people die from that far too often. In May 2020 a 7-year-old girl and her 3-year-old sister died in a flash flood in Little Wild Horse Canyon, a popular slot canyon in the San Rafael Swell. This isn’t even a super narrow canyon. And it’s popular. It can happen anywhere.
In 1997, 11 hikers died in a flash flood in Antelope Canyon (the storm was 15 miles away) and that’s a huge reason you need to go with a tour now.
Flash floods are no joke kids. I haven’t seen one in a slot canyon but I did see one right as it was starting in a more open canyon and it really picked up fast. I also saw one in Zion along the Mt. Carmel Highway this summer. It was small but they just happen so fast, please be safe.
- DO NOT ENTER THEM IN THE RAIN
- DO NOT ENTER THEM WITH RAIN IN THE FORECAST
- DO NOT ENTER THEM IF IT’S NOT RAINING IN THEM BUT NEAR THEM TOO
- If you don’t feel comfortable with any climb or narrow squeeze and can turn back, do that! You don’t want to get hurt or stuck and need to be rescued. I linked tons of stories of this below.
- Make sure you’re following the right fork. A lot of slot canyons have multiple forks or are close to other ones and ending up in the wrong one can have dire consequences (especially in the North Wash area of Utah.)
Visit The Great Chamber
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 49 minutes, 49 miles
Cost: Free! Unless you need to join a tour
The Great Chamber only recently came onto my radar, within the last year, and I really wanted to go but the only way was really with a tour. Well, now there are directions all over to visit on your own.
This is a great place for photography but is very difficult to get to, again, because of very deep sand on the roads there. I feel like that’s a big issue with a lot of things around Kanab and it can be hard to figure out how deep the sand actually is and if you really actually need a tour.
Once you make to the the Great Chamber, the hike is nice and short but it is up a good sized sand dune so it’s not the easiest. But, you’ll be rewarded with a great view and an experience you’ll never forget.
If you are making a day trip to Kanab from Zion, you could probably do this or Peek-a-boo Canyon and the dinosaur tracks, Moqui Caverns, and Belly of the Dragon.
Kanab Dinosaur Tracks
Distance from Zion: 59 minutes, 39 miles
This is a short (less than a mile round-trip) but somewhat harrowing hike just outside of Kanab, right on the side of Highway 89. The trail itself is very hard to follow, it’s steep, and it’s kind of loose rock, but if you’re willing to face that, you’ll get a great view and to see dinosaur tracks!
From the parking area, there are a few trails through the field to one that starts going up the hill/cliff. Once you’re out of the field area and on your way up, it’s basically just finding the easiest way for you.
There are multiple trails but they all go to the top. The Kanab Dinosaur Track Trail can be done in less than an hour but may not be the best option for anyone with a major fear of heights.
Distance from Zion: 55 minutes, 46 miles
Cost: $12 per person permit
Kanarra Falls, sometimes called Kanarraville Falls or Kanarra Creek Trail, is probably one of the most popular trails near Zion (but still less busy than Zion), and for good reason. It’s a slot canyon, it’s a waterfall, it has a ladder!
There are actually two waterfalls and a natural water slide. This hike is best done in the summer because a lot of the trail is in water. You do need to get a permit for this hike but you can do that online which is highly recommended because only 150 people can hike this per day.
Distance from Zion: 45 minutes, 32 miles
Cost: $15 for Utah residents, $20 for everyone else
Quail Creek State Park is another state park not far from Zion, outside of Hurricane. It is another reservoir making it a great place to cool off on a hot summer day.
While you’re here, you can paddle on the water, hike, and even see some petroglyphs! It may be man-made but the park also has great views of the water and surrounding cliffs.
I’m not sure it’s the most exciting state park in Utah but it is a great thing to do near Zion and a great way to relieve some of that intense summer heat.
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 6 minutes, 45 miles
There is tons of hiking to do in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area easily making it one of the best things to do near Zion but two of the best hikes, besides the Red Reef Trail below, are the hike to Babylon Arch and the Yellow Knoll Trail.
You can go mountain biking here, ride in a hot air balloon, go canyoneering, or join a Jeep tour here as well. It’s a great place in the Zion area for outdoor adventure.
Distance from Zion: 1 hour 24 minutes, 60 miles
Cost: $10 for Utah residents, $15 for everyone else
Gunlock State Park is about fifteen miles from St. George and is yet another reservoir state park. It’s a great park for boating, water sports, and fishing.
There is a portion of the lake designated for swimming. If you want to do some hiking, there are better options, but this is good if you want to be on or in the water. The Vortex is a cool hiking option near here.
Red Reef Trail
Distance from Zion: 50 minutes, 35 miles
The Red Reef Trail is technically part of the Red Cliffs Conservation Area but I think it deserves it’s own spot on this list of awesome hikes and things to do near Zion.
This is another water hike making it a great choice for cooling off on scorching summer days. It’s an easy three-mile round-trip hike with little elevation gain.
It’s between Hurricane and St. George, not far from Quail Creek State Park so you could easily do both in one day. And, apparently you can even use a national park pass to get in here! This is a trail high on my list to do, it looks so fun!
Hotels near Zion
There are plenty of places to stay in and around Zion National Park but Springdale and Hurricane are my top choices. Springdale is the best for exploring Zion and makes a great base for the area but it is more expensive. Zion Park Motel is a great budget choice there, though.
Utah posts you may also like:
What is your favorite thing to do outside of Zion? Have you been to any of these places or done any of the hikes? Which ones?