2 Days in Zion National Park: The Complete Guide

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Zion National Park is the third most visited U.S. National Park and it’s easy to see why! Home to towering red rock canyons, the turquoise water of the Virgin River, and a bevy of adorable big-horned sheep friends, Zion is the perfect place for outdoor adventure lovers and photographers alike. But with a footprint of 229 square miles and over 30 trails to explore, it can be hard to pin down how to spend your time if you only have a short time in the park.

Luckily, after two visits here, I’ve nailed down the best way to spend 2 days in Zion National Park, including where to stay, what to do, and where to eat!

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Table of Contents


How to Get to Zion National Park

Unlike some national parks, Zion is conveniently located close to a few major airports. For example, it’s just a two and a half hour drive from Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas or a four hour drive from Salt Lake City International Airport.

Woman standing on top of Scout's Overlook, looking down on Angel's Landing in Zion National Park in Utah

During my first trip to Zion, I flew into Las Vegas and did a mini solo road trip from there. During our second trip, my husband, Justin, and I road tripped from our home in Seattle through Salt Lake City to Zion and the rest of Utah’s five National Parks. Both were pleasant drives and absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful!

Regardless if you’re flying in and renting a car or road-tripping from home, you will need a car to get to and around most of the park, given that there isn’t any public transportation that goes to Zion.

View of red rocks in Zion National Park in Utah

And once you’re there- great news! The Mighty 5 are easily accessible to one another and absolutely perfect for road tripping. Most travelers head from Zion to Bryce Canyon or, if you have more time, you can go on a longer (and even more awesome!) Utah National Parks road trip, hitting each of the five parks.

If you don’t have time to hit all of the Mighty 5, consider, instead, just focusing on a southwestern Utah road trip, through Zion, Bryce Canyon, and a few awesome state parks that are nearby.

When to Visit Zion National Park

The park is at its busiest from April through October, while temperatures are warm and the park’s shuttle bus system is in operation.

Spring in Zion National Park

While springtime (April and May) has pleasant temperatures and beautiful wildflower blooms, it’s usually accompanied by rainy days and high water levels, which can make some trails, like the famous Narrows hike through the Virgin River, off limits.

Summer in Zion National Park

While summer (June through August) tends to be busy in the park, it also is often accompanied by temperatures topping 100 degrees (not exactly the most pleasant hiking weather!). However, the water level is usually low enough to take on hikes through the Virgin River.

Man standing on top of a cliff at Zion National Park in Utah

Fall in Zion National Park

Fall (September through October) is, in my opinion, the best time to visit Zion National Park, with clear days, low water levels, and fewer crowds than the busy summertime, perfect for comfortably exploring the canyon.

Winter in Zion National Park

Winter in Utah can be a mixed bag, with hit-or-miss weather. For example, Zion usually has pleasant daytime temperatures that turn freezing at night- and it’s not even unheard of to have a dusting of snow. Plus, about half of Zion’s annual rainfall occurs from December through February.

Snow on a red rock canyon in Zion National Park in Utah

On the bright side, it’s the least crowded time in the park!

How to Get Around Zion National Park

Getting around the park can honestly be a little bit confusing.

Getting Around Zion Scenic Canyon Drive

The majority of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park, like Angel’s Landing or the Narrows, and the only hotel inside the park, Zion Lodge, are located along the Zion Scenic Canyon Drive, which runs straight down Zion Canyon.

This road is closed to all personal vehicles from March through November. During that time, you can get to these trailheads by biking (there’s tons of places to rent bikes in Springdale, like this ebike rental) or by riding the Zion shuttle.

Shuttle in Zion National Park in Utah

The shuttle leaves from the Zion visitors’ center parking lot every 6-10 minutes and makes several stops along the road for various trailheads. You can learn more about the shuttle here.

While the shuttle frequently departs from the Zion Visitor Center, the lines can still get super long to board. For example, the first time I visited the park, I arrived around 6:30 AM and still had to wait for about 45 minutes to board. Accordingly, I’d strongly recommend arriving at the park early if you’re going to be exploring any of the attractions along the Zion Scenic Canyon Drive!

The last shuttle of the day back to the Zion Visitor Center leaves from the Temple of Sinawava (i.e., the start of the Narrows hike) at:

  • 6:15 pm from November 3 to December 1
  • 7:15 pm from March 3 to May 18 and September 16 to November 2; or
  • 8:15 pm from May 19 to September 15.

However, I’d strongly recommend trying to leave the canyon before then. If the last shuttle is full, you may be stuck walking 8+ miles back to the visitor’s center! 

View down Zion Canyon from Scout's Lookout in Zion National Park in Utah

In 2022, a whopping 4.6 million people visited Zion. And with the majority of them all parking and departing from the Zion Visitor Center, finding a parking spot can be kind of a nightmare, especially if you enter the park past 10 am on high visitation days, like weekends in the summer. Accordingly, I’d recommend getting here early (like, 6:30 AM early)- the trails are way less crowded in the early morning, anyway.

If you don’t feel like an early morning wake up call, consider taking the Springdale Shuttle into the park. Yes, there’s yet another shuttle- one that makes several stops by several hotels and paid parking lots in Springdale and drops riders off right at the entrance of the park.

Couple sitting along the Watchman Trail at sunset in Zion National Park in Utah

Alternatively, there’s a couple of fairly short but enjoyable hikes that depart right from the visitors center. By mid-afternoon, you have a decent shot of snagging a parking spot here and you could just walk to a number of trailheads, like The Watchman or Pa’rus Trail

Getting around the east side of Zion National Park

If you don’t want to bother with the shuttle or biking down Zion Canyon, you’re in luck. There’s several awesome trails on the east side of the park that you are generally permitted to drive and park at, like Canyon Overlook, East Mesa Trail, and the East Rim Trail.

Road curving in front of a canyon in Zion National Park in Utah

Other things to know about driving about Zion National Park

One last important thing to note is that the 1.1 mile long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel is carved through an enormous mountain and connects Zion Canyon with the eastern side of the park. It was built way back in the 1920s, when everyone didn’t have such ginermous trucks and SUVs.

After several gnarly accidents with giant vehicles trying to traverse this narrow tunnel, the National Park Service implemented a restriction on oversized vehicles.

Tunnel through red rock cliff in Zion National Park in Utah

Now, any vehicle that is at least 7 feet 10 inches in width or 11 feet 4 inches in height must purchase a $15 tunnel permit. which will buy you two one-way passes of the tunnel in a seven day span. And when someone uses their tunnel permit, the rangers will convert the two-way tunnel into a one-way road- gnarly accidents averted!

Oversized vehicles are only allowed to pass during certain times of day- you can get more information on the restrictions here.  

2 Days in Zion National Park Itinerary

Okay, let’s get to the good stuff- how to actually spend 2 days in Zion National Park!

Day 1

1. Scout Lookout Trail (with optional add-on to Angel’s Landing)

To get your bearings, start the day with one of the best hikes in Zion- Scout Lookout. To get here, get up bright and early to grab a parking spot near the Visitor’s Center (make sure to pack your breakfast and lunch!) and ride the shuttle to Stop #6, the Grotto.

Woman sitting and overlooking Zion Canyon from Zion National Park in Utah

From the Grotto shuttle stop, you’ll find the trailhead for Scout Lookout, a challenging 4-mile out-and-back hike to a spectacular viewpoint over the canyon, with views of the Virgin River and Zion’s towering canyon walls. You’ll gain about 1,100 feet over the first two miles to the lookout, passing through the cooler temperatures of Refrigerator Canyon and up Walter’s Wiggles, an infamously dizzying series of 21 steep switchbacks right before you reach the ultimate viewpoint. 

Angel’s Landing Add-On

Once you take in the sweeping vistas from the lookout, you can opt to continue an extra half-mile to Angel’s Landing, arguably Zion National Park’s most famous hike, to a stunning overlook in the middle of the canyon. Given its popularity, you’re required to secure a permit for this portion of the trail, which you can learn more about here.

Narrow spine of a mountain along the Angel's Landing hike in Zion National Park in  Utah

The section of the trail is notoriously harrowing, following a thin mountain ridge, in some places so narrow that hikers must cling to chains bolted into the spine, with sheer drop-offs of 1,000+ feet to the floor of Zion Canyon below. Needless to say, this hike can be dangerous. Since 2000, over a dozen hikers have fallen to their deaths here. As such, I wouldn’t recommend doing this hike with kids, if you’re afraid of heights, or if the ground is wet or icy.

If you do decide to take on this trail, be sure to focus on the trail and not take selfies of your bad assery. In full transparency, Angel’s Landing has been closed both times I’ve visited Zion (once due to a rock fall and once due to COVID), so I’ve never tried it- and honestly, I’m a teeny bit glad that I’ve never had the opportunity to hike it!

Continuing on the West Rim Trail

If Angel’s Landing happens to be closed during your visit (or you’re a ‘fraidy cat like me), you can alternatively continue from Scout Lookout along the West Rim Trail, a 15 mile-long trail along the upper western plateau of Zion that connects to Lava Point, the highest point in the park.

Couple kissing along the West Rim Trail of Zion National Park with Zion Canyon and Angel's Landing in the background

We didn’t hike the full length of the West Rim Trail (it can take up to 12 hours to hike!), but we did follow it for several miles after Scout Lookout to get an even better vantage point of Angel’s Landing and the Zion canyon below. 

2. Canyon Overlook Trail or explore the town of Springdale

If you’ve still got some energy to hike, take the shuttle back to your car and drive to the Canyon Overlook trail.

View overlooking Zion Canyon from the Canyon Overlook trail in Zion National Park

Be forewarned- this trailhead is not accessible from the shuttle system and the parking lot here is pretty tiny. However, there’s an overflow lot a bit east down Highway 9 or several shoulders that you can park at along the highway.

From the trailhead, it’s a pretty flat (150 feet elevation gain) and one-mile roundtrip trek to a viewpoint overlooking Zion, with spectacular views of the Pine Creek slot canyon and the switchbacks of Highway 9 below. Canyon Overlook is the shortest trail in the park that offers a viewpoint above Zion Canyon, so it’s an excellent option for travelers with children or beginner hikers.

This is also a great place to spot mountain goats climbing up the sandstone cliffs.

Big horn sheep in Zion National Park in Utah

Alternatively, if you want to take a break from hiking (there will be another one for sunset that I’d prioritize!), head into Springdale to explore and relax a bit. Justin and I picked up ice cream at FeelLove Coffee, a bite to eat (and a brew, of course) at Zion Canyon Brew Pub, and browsed around some of Springdale’s adorable boutiques, like Joy Craft Design and Zion Outdoor.

If you plan on hiking the Narrows and need to rent your equipment (check out the What to Pack for the Narrows section below for more information), this can be a great time to go pick up your rentals.

3. Watchman Trail for sunset

When it’s an hour or two before sunset, head back to the visitors center parking lot and walk to the Watchman Trail trailhead. The three-mile roundtrip hike will take you to a viewpoint above the canyon floor, where you can watch the sun sink below the canyon walls and create dazzling colors on the Watchman, the unmistakable 6,545-foot sandstone mountain summit towering over Zion.

Watchman Mountain with the Milky Way above it along the Watchman Trail in Zion National Park in Utah

While this spot is one of the best places to see sunset in the park, wait around for about half an hour or so to see the real star of the show (pun definitely intended)- the Milky Way! I’ve never experienced as spectacular stargazing as I have in Zion and would categorize this as an unmissable experience during your time in the park.

Day 2

1. The Narrows

If you’re planning on hiking The Narrows, wake up bright and early to catch one of the first shuttles of the day to the end of the line, to the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop (again, pack your breakfast and lunch!).

Besides Angel’s Landing, The Narrows is Zion National Park’s most famous hike. Hikers depart from the Riverside Walk to hike through the Virgin River in the narrowest part of Zion Canyon (ergo, the name!).  There’s a couple of ways to hike The Narrows, but most hikers opt to hike it from the “bottom up”- i.e., starting at the Temple of Sinawava and hiking “up” the Narrows. 

Zion Canyon along the Narrows hike in Zion National Park in Utah

One of the coolest things about the Narrows is that it’s kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure hike- you can hike the full 10-miles or hike as little as two miles along the Riverside Walk to the Gateway of the Narrows, where hikers leave the path to start their trek into the river.

Most hikers want to see the Wall Street section of the hike, where the canyon walls reach 1500 feet high and the river is only 22 feet across. Reaching Wall Street will require hiking in at least three full miles (six miles roundtrip). If you plan on hiking this far, you should budget at least four hours for this trail. Note that hiking can be a lot slower and more challenging, depending on the current and the height of the water, which will vary depending on the season and recent rainfall. 

The Narrows is closed fairly often due to dangerously strong currents in the spring, so if hiking this trail is important to you, I’d try to plan your trip for the late summer or fall. There’s also been recurring issues with a toxic cyanobacteria bloom, which acts as a neurotoxin, in the river since the summer of 2020.

Zion Canyon along the Narrows in Zion National Park in Utah

While it seems that adults are likely fine hiking in it so long as they don’t drink or snort the water, children are especially vulnerable to cyanotoxins and should avoid hiking in the water if it’s contaminated. Be sure to check the Zion National Park site before your visit to check on the status before you head to the trailhead.

2. Observation Point

Once you’ve had your share of those Neoprene socks, head back to your car and make the 50 minute drive to East Mesa Trailhead/Observation Point Trailhead. In my opinion, it wouldn’t be a trip to Zion without a stop at Observation Point, which, at 6,521 feet above the valley (and 612 feet above Angel’s Landing), provides absolutely dazzling views straight down the canyon.

View from Observation Point along the Observation Point Trail in Zion National Park in Utah

Observation Point used to be accessible from the main shuttle route, but now, due to a massive rockfall, is only accessible via the dirt roads of the more remote eastern section of the park.

Please note that access to the trailhead is on the private land of Zion Ponderosa. So while you should hopefully be following the “don’t be a jerk” policy no matter where you go, please be sure to be extra cautious about that here- don’t throw your trash out the window; don’t park in a manner that’s blocking the entire road; you know- hopefully pretty common sense stuff!

The 6.7 mile out-and-back trail is fairly easy, with minimal elevation gain (695 feet) towards the end of the trail. Be forewarned- you actually walk downhill on the way to Observation Point so save some of your energy to climb uphill on the return!

Most of the trail itself is a pleasant hike through a pine forest, with the last half mile or so offering those gorgeous vistas of Zion.

Couple sitting at the edge of a cliffside by Zion National Park in Utah

Be sure to pack lots of water and sunscreen- this hike has little shade and the afternoon sun can be BRUTAL!

3. Canyon Junction Bridge for Sunset

After all your hiking today (and yesterday!), you deserve a nice relaxing end to your time in Zion. Drive down to the Canyon Junction Bridge– one of the most famous spots in the park to watch sunset, with a view of the Virgin River snaking its way towards the Watchman.

If you want a premium spot to watch the sunset, you can follow the Pa’rus Trail (on the north side of Highway 9) down to a little sandy beach along the river. Don’t worry- I’m not suggesting anymore full blown hikes; you’ll just need to follow the trail about 100 feet from the Canyon Junction Bridge!

Couple cheersing beers at Canyon Junction Bridge in Zion National Park in Utah

Bring your camp chair or a picnic blanket and watch the sunset in this iconic spot. 

4. Dinner & Drinks

Say goodbye to Zion and head into Springdale for dinner and a celebratory margarita. I really enjoyed our dinner at Oscar’s Cafe, which dishes up Tex-Mex and Southwestern comfort food in a casual open-air setting- some other options that have good reviews are Bit & Spur and Whiptail Grill

Other things to do in and around Zion National Park

Got some extra time in Springdale? Consider:

Kolob Canyon Road

Take a scenic drive to Kolob Canyon Road about 40 miles north of Zion’s visitors center. This small-but-mighty road packs in soaring crimson canyon walls, rushing waterfalls, and stunning desert vistas in just five short miles.

Kolob Canyon in Zion National Park in Utah

Check out some of Zion’s other awesome hikes

Do some more hikes! Other great options within Zion include:

  • Emerald Pools is a moderate three mile trail, taking you past (you guessed it!) two pools of water.
  • Pa’rus Trail is an easy 3.4 mile hike along the riverside and one of the only trails in Zion that you can bring dogs!
  • Kolob Arch via La Verkin Trail (located in the Kolob Canyon section of the park) is a challenging 15.1 mile trail, with spectacular views the entire way and ending with a view of the second longest natural arch in the world. 

Snow Canyon State Park

Check out some of the lesser known parks around Zion, like the gorgeous Snow Canyon State Park (with a similar landscape as Zion with a fraction of the crowds) or Dixie National Forest (the Candy Cliffs look SO COOL!). 

Try out via ferreta

If you like getting your adrenaline pumping, check out a via ferreta tour with Zion Adventures– you’ll descend into a 450 foot tall slot canyon, using metal rungs anchored into the sides of the cliff.

Check out local breweries

As a beer lover, trying different breweries is one of my favorite ways to get to know a new locale. Zion Brewery, located just steps from the entrance of Zion, has great food and solid beers and I loved the vibe at Silver Reef Brewing Co.

Road leading to Snow Canyon in Utah

What to Pack for Zion National Park

I trust that you’ll have the socks and toothbrush part of your packing list sorted out, but what about the odds and ends that will make your trip to Zion a bit better? Here’s some of the extras that you should be sure to bring along:

Sun protection

The sun during the day in Zion can get pretty brutal, so don’t forget to pack your sunscreen, sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection, and a hat.

Hiking boots

You would be shocked and amazed by the amount of people I’ve seen rocking slip-on Vans or ballet flats in the middle of a challenging hike. Instead of wearing one of those more questionable footwear choices, I’d recommend packing a pair of hiking boots- and, if you plan on hiking the Narrows, bonus points if they’re quick-drying ones. Justin has this pair and I have this pair.

Layers

No matter what time of year you visit Zion, it gets pretty chilly when the sun goes down. Since I strongly recommend you start your adventures in Zion early in the morning (both to avoid the crowds and the heat) and take advantage of the out-of-this-world stargazing opportunities, you should definitely bring along warm layers, like a cozy beanie or fleece pullover that can easily be tossed in your bag. 

Woman standing along the Scout Lookout Trail in Zion National Park in Utah

Offline maps

I’d recommend downloading offline maps of Zion and the surrounding area on Google Maps and the map for any trail you plan to hike on AllTrails, given that you’ll have exceedingly limited cell service in Zion.

Pssst… you need the AllTrails Pro version of the app to download offline maps, but you can get a 7-day free trial here. If you're wondering whether the app is for you, we wrote a whole post on whether AllTrails Pro is worth it.

Binoculars

If you’re a fan of spotting wildlife, you’re in luck! Zion is home to all the cute animal friends, like mule deer or bighorn sheep, especially in the east side of the park. Desert wildlife tends to be a bit elusive, though, and seamlessly blend in with the desert landscape, so bringing along a pair of binoculars can help you spot some fluffkins against Zion’s epic scenery. 

Headlamp

Zion has some of the best stargazing in the United States, which you should absolutely take advantage of while you’re in the park. I’d recommend hiking someplace beautiful to watch the sunset, like Observation Point or Scout Overlook, and staying until the stars twinkle to life in the sky.

To be able to hike back to the trailhead safely, you will need a headlamp- we have these rechargeable ones, which are awesome since they came in a pack of two and we never have to worry about carrying around extra batteries!

Woman wearing a headlamp and stargazing at Zion National Park in Utah

America the Beautiful Pass

For one car, it costs $35 for a one-week pass into the park. However, if you have plans to stop by a couple of U.S. National Parks within a year span, these fees are waived if you pick up an America the Beautiful Pass, an annual pass that costs just $80 and gets you into more than 2,000 U.S. national parks, forests, shorelines (and on and on). 

The proceeds support the National Park Service and if you plan to go to at least three national parks per year (which usually cost around $30-$35 per car per visit), picking up one of these bad boys is a no brainer.

What to pack for the Narrows hike

The Narrows is one of Zion National Park’s most famous hikes, where you’ll forge your way up to 15 miles down the Virgin River through a slot canyon, in anywhere from ankle-deep to waist-deep water. As you can imagine, this can take some different gear than your run-of-the-mill hiking trail.

Some things I’d recommend bringing along include:

A dry-bag

During parts of the year, you have to basically swim through parts of the Narrows and even when the water level isn’t that high, there’s always a risk of you falling while walking on the wet, slippery rocks. A dry-bag is an affordable and easy way to keep your valuables safe and dry while you’re making your way down the river.

Justin and I have this one, which we take whenever we go on a kayaking or float trip and even reuse it for a bear-bag when we go backcountry camping.

Swimsuit

It’s likely that the lower half of your body (if not more) is going to get pretty soaked while hiking and no one likes the feeling of wet undies. Instead, pack an athletic swimsuit- like this one for women or this one for men.

Man hiking in a river down the Narrows Trail of Zion National Park

Neoprene socks

Neoprene socks are basically a wetsuit for your feet and will keep your feet not-completely-frozen as you walk in the surprisingly chilly waters of the Virgin River. If you’re visiting Zion in the summertime, you can likely get by hiking in just regular hiking socks, but in the spring or fall, I’d highly recommend wearing a pair of Neoprene socks (inside of your boots) to ensure you can focus on the beautiful slot canyons and not whether you’ll be losing your wet toes to frostbite.

Given the thick stitching on Neoprene, many prefer to wear their regular hiking socks under the Neoprene ones as a layer of protection and extra warmth.

Trekking poles or a walking stick

Given the strong current of the river, you should be sure to grab either a walking stick or bring trekking poles (one per person will work just fine!) to help give you stability and make sure you’re not carried away by the Virgin River.

Unless you're short on time during your visit or you think you might use the Neoprene socks and walking sticks, it probably makes more sense to just rent your gear instead of buying it. Zion Outfitters is a popular outfitter in the park;s neighboring town of Springdale. 

Where to Stay in Zion National Park

There’s tons of options near Zion, ranging from rustic dispersed campsites to bougie yoga resorts.

Hotels Near Zion National Park

  • Zion Lodge: This is the only accommodations within the park itself, with both cabins and hotel rooms, starting at around $220 per night (note that prices can reach considerably higher than that in popular months!).

    The location and views can’t be beat (and you get the enviable benefit of getting a parking spot within the park, which is definitely not a guarantee!). But be forewarned- the hotel is definitely more on the rustic side and rooms tend to book up over six months in advance.
Road running through Zion National Park in Utah
  • Quality Inn and Suites Montclair: If you’re looking for a more budget- and family-friendly option, consider this no-frills hotel right by a stop on Springdale’s shuttle line, which will drop you off right at the entrance of the park. 
  • Driftwood Lodge: Offers great views of Zion’s red rocks and offers a pool AND a little riverside beach to cool off during those hot desert days!
  • Flanigan’s Inn: Located only 0.6 miles from the entrance of Zion, this is a great option for those looking for a slightly more upscale experience (with both a spa and salon onsite). 

Camping near Zion National Park

Given that we live full-time in our RV, it’s fair to say that we’re big fans of camping.

If you prefer more primitive (i.e., free!) sites as compared to established campground, there’s tons of awesome Bureau of Land Management land close to Zion, including:

Tent in front of the Watchman in Zion National Park in Utah

If you prefer established campgrounds, you can camp right inside the park at the Watchman Campground ($20 for an individual site, $30 for a site with electric hookups).


I hope you have the best time exploring Zion National Park- it’s one of my favorite places I’ve been in the United States! What are you excited about seeing in Zion? Let me know in the comments below!

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