Visiting Zion National Park for the First Time

We didn’t do a lot of research for our 11 year anniversary trip to Zion National Park in Utah. That was out of the ordinary for me, a consummate planner. It was partly because I was very busy leading up to this trip and partly because it was our first outing to a National Park and I honestly wasn’t sure we were even going to like it. (Spoiler alert: we didn’t like it, we loved it!)

We fell in love with the majesty in Zion National park. Photos just don't do it justice.
We fell in love with the majesty in this park. Photos just don’t do it justice.
The Narrows hike in Zion National Park is wet, but worth it.
The Narrows hike in Zion National Park is wet, but so worth it.

In case you’re also a National Park/hiking/nature-vacation newb, here are some things we learned that will help you make the most of your trip.

Zion National Park – The Basics

  • The park costs $20 per person arriving on foot or $35 per two people. You can pay at a little booth when you get to the park. Be sure to keep your receipt as it’s good for entry for 7 days.
  • There are a couple of famous hikes at Zion but other than planning specifically for those, there’s no real need to do a bunch of research about them before you arrive.
  • The shuttle within the park will drop you at different points and tell you about what trails you can take, how long they are, and how difficult.
Zion National Park is huge but the most visited section is easy to navigate.
Zion National Park is HUGE but the most visited section is easy to navigate.
  • There are bathrooms, water stations, and bike tools at each of the shuttle stops within the park.
  • Stop #2 has a nice museum, in case you have a more indoors-y person in tow.
  • There are trails for all types of hikers and non-hikers. Some are an easy stroll, others are hand over hand. Some are wheelchair accessible too.

Park Shuttle Service

  • There are two shuttle lines. One of them runs within the park and takes you to different stops where you can start various hikes. The other one runs back and forth between the start of the park and Springdale, the small city directly adjacent to the park.
  • The last shuttle from the last stop in Zion is at 7:15pm. If you miss the shuttle you’ll literally need to walk back to the entrance – which from the last stop (Temple Sinawava) is 9 miles. 
  • The shuttle ride from the start of the park to the the 9th and last stop takes about 45 minutes. Shuttles come every 5 to 10 minutes.
Zion National Park shuttle
Shuttles in town and within the park are free and run frequently.
  • There is parking at the park but it fills up by 7:30am and costs $30 ($5 more than in the town). Taking the shuttle in the morning wasn’t crowded for us but it was a bit more packed coming back around 5pm in the evening on Friday and Saturday. However, if you’ve ridden the NYC subway basically ever…these shuttles will feel positively roomy.
  • Oh yeah, the shuttles are free! Just walk on and walk off, with a thank you to the driver, of course!
Line for the shuttle at stop 6, where you can start the hike to the Emerald Pools.

Where to Stay Near Zion National Park

  • Springdale is basically a one street town and is lined with places to stay, shop, and eat. It is very quaint and I’d recommend staying here for the most convenient access to everything. You can easily walk to a shuttle stop from wherever you stay in Springdale and when you’re not hiking, you can shop and eat in town without driving. 
Springdale is the town right next to Zion National Park.
Springdale is basically one long street leading up to the park entrance.
  • There is a lodge within the park itself but that seems to be a bit cut off from the town shops and restaurants. I honestly saw no real convenience for staying in the park since there is a shuttle directly to the park from town anyway.

We stayed at Zion White Bison which is about 15 minutes away by car. That was fine for us but parking in Springdale costs $25 so consider that when choosing lodging – whatever the nightly price in Springdale is versus somewhere else, go ahead and give the Springdale lodging a $25 discount. I steered away from Springdale because I wasn’t sure what it would be like but the town is basically a Zion outpost so it’s super quaint, very cute, and very convenient.

With that said though, our stay at Zion White Bison was amazing. This is a glamping resort that has many different options. You can stay in a conestoga wagon, a teepee, or a kiva.

White Bison Glamping conestoga wagons and the kivas (where we stayed) just at the bottom left of the photo.

Each wagon and teepee had their own dedicated outdoor kitchen and fire pit complete with propane and firewood. (They don’t call it glamping for nothin’!) We stayed in a kiva which is a sort of cylindrical adobe building.

Our room and a small kitchen were inside and the rooftop had a hot tub, grill, and table with propane fire pit in the middle. It was the perfect set up for relaxing at the end of a full day of hiking.

Hot tub views from the roof of our kiva were almost as good as within the park!

The views are gorgeous and the resort has done a great job of keeping the accommodations relatively private. There’s also a pasture with several real life white bison grazing nearby, which was fun to watch.

Grazing bison at White Bison Glamping Resort.

Zion National Park – Packing Suggestions

Here’s a short list of things we wish we had with us. Many of these are no-brainer items that you probably already thought of. However, we weren’t that systematic in thinking things through because we had of town guests up until the morning we left. (My dear, wonderful friend from Japan came to see us. Hi Yumiko!) We will be ready next time though!

Sunny hike at Zion National Park.
When the sun is shining, it can get brutally hot and dehydration is a real possibility so make sure you pack a large water bottle (or two).

Packing List

  • Hat. The sun can be brutal! 
  • Sunscreen. See above ^^
  • Waterproof backpack. If you’re planning on hiking the Narrows, which I hope you are.
  • Walking sticks. You can buy the kind that fold up so you can bring them in your carry on luggage if you are never-checkers, like we are. These can be super expensive though ($100+). If you want to rent them instead, there are plenty of places in Springdale where you can.
  • Hiking shoes. We hiked in the Swiss Alps and I was fine wearing tennis shoes. The hikes in Zion were a little more strenuous* and while I did them okay in tennies, hiking boots would have been better. Several trails weren’t very well delineated and required tromping through rougher terrain. A firmer sole and ankle support would have been great to have. *I’m sure there are harder Swiss Alps hikes than the ones we did though.
  • Large, reusable water bottle. I totally would have packed this except I completely forgot. (I blame Yumiko. j/k!) There are water fill up stations (and bathrooms) at almost all of the shuttle stops in the park and you definitely want to keep water with you while on your hikes. We turned around halfway to Scout’s lookout because Brian ran out of water. With the sun beating overhead in the heat of the afternoon, dehydration and heatstroke are a real possibility. Mortality – it’s a thing!
Gazing up at the cliffs never got old, but did eventually give me a crick in my neck.
Zion National Park cliffs and blue sky with a single jetstream.

Overall, enjoying yourself at Zion National Park is very easy and requires very little pre-planning. If you’re here reading this blog, you’re basically done. The only thing left to do is prepare to experience some really breath taking, awe-inspiring, God-affirming scenery, and log some serious calorie burn!

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6 Replies to “Visiting Zion National Park for the First Time”

  1. My wife and I went last year and you are right: pictures just don’t capture how incredible – but you have some incredible photos! We did The Narrows and loved it, and we also climbed to the top of Angel’s Landing! We stayed at Under Canvas, a clamping spot about a half hour away and loved that as well….terrific post as always!

    1. We didn’t have the guts for Angel’s Landing lol! Total hiking newbies here. 🙂 I bet the views were incredible from up there!

  2. Mike and Kellye Hefner says: Reply

    One of our most beautiful parks. Thank you for taking us along on your trip. The revisit was fun, and your photos are beautiful!

    1. Thank you! We are already planning our next trip back. Brian has a conference to attend in Vegas next May and we are hitting the road back there when it’s done. Can’t wait! 🙂

  3. […] you have a chance to get to Zion National Park, go. If you possibly, maybe can – you should. I promise, you won’t regret […]

  4. A beautiful post. Thank you 🌍👏

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