I worked at the visitor center in Springdale UT at the entrance of Zion National Park. I always found it interesting how many visitors were just stopping by on their way to other destinations. Zion isn’t a place you can adequately explore in a short time span, anyone who has an interest in really experiencing Zion I tell them to plan at least a week here and if you have the time, stay longer.
However, with five National Parks in Utah and so many other National Parks so close, I understand the time constraint some travelers have placed upon themselves. Through working at the visitor center, and helping these specific tourists I have come up with what I think is the best way to see Zion in only a few hours, with options to fill a full day.
If you have a full day, start as early as you can, check the shuttle times on the National Parks website for the first available shuttle and take that one if possible. Travelers tip: if you need coffee to survive in the morning like me, stop at Deep Creek Coffee Co. on your way into the park, it’s amazing. By starting early, you’ll get a free parking spot at the visitor center in the park, and you’ll avoid most of the lines and other tourists. Pack your lunch, as you’ll be eating it in the park and there is only one restaurant and it is always crowded, so stopping there would take up valuable time.
Take the shuttle all the way to Temple of Sinawava, stop nine. Make sure to pay attention the the recording that plays on the shuttle, it tells you really awesome bits of information about the history of the park. This 45 minute ride is peaceful and breathtaking, the drivers love to point out wildlife along the way so have your cameras ready. Stop nine is where Riverside Walk is located, it’s a beautiful one mile hike in that follows the Virgin River up to the famous hike The Narrows. Riverside will end where The Narrows begin, you will know because there is no more pavement to hike on. This gives you a beautiful glimpse of the narrowing canyon walls and the iconic 10 mile hike that Zion is known for. When you’re ready, hike your mile back out and catch the shuttle to your next destination.
Shuttle stop seven, Weeping Rock is next. Weeping Rock hike is about half a mile long with a good bit of elevation gain, but well worth it. The water coming through the rock has been filtering for about 1,000 years. It creates a unique oasis for plants and animals in the desert. Enjoy the light showers you’ll get on this hike, it’ll be hot outside.
Back on the shuttle to stop number five, Emerald Pools and The Zion Lodge. As I am writing this, only the Lower Emeralds is open, there are three tiers of pools, but the top two have been closed for quite a while due to rock fall, and do not have a finite date for re-opening. The Lower Emerald Pools offers a 1.2 mile round trip hike great for children and non hikers. This hike will also show you all the plant life has to offer from these ever flowing pools. After finishing this hike, I would suggest eating over in the beautiful grassy lawn of the Zion Lodge, an ancient tree provides shade for humans and animals alike.
On the shuttle again to stop four, Court of the Patriarchs. This offers a small .25 walk to a look out point for some amazing photos.
Once you are back at the visitor center, I highly suggest doing the Pa’Rus Trail or the Watchman. They are both around three miles round trip. Pa’Rus is paved and follows the river so it tends to be a bit more crowded. Watchman has a bit more elevation change but gives you a better aerial view of the canyon. If you have the time, do both!
Lastly, and usually on your way out, take your car into the park and head out the east entrance. This incredible drive offers the most astounding views of the park that you can’t see from the main canyon. Drive through both tunnels and just after the second tunnel you’ll see a small parking lot for Canyon Overlook hike. This half mile hike will give you those spectacular views of the canyon without hiking 8 miles to Observation Point. It’s one of my favorite short hikes to do in the park, and is usually less crowded because it is not a shuttle stop.
The only thing left to do after that is plan your next trip out here for a longer period of time, because you have only got a taste of the natural beauty of Zion.