Zion National Park, located in southwestern Utah, is the third most visited park in the beloved national park system and it’s easy to see why. Home to towering canyons, the turquoise water of the Virgin River snaking its way through the park, and a bevy of adorable big-horned sheep friends, Zion is the perfect place for outdoor adventure lovers and photographers.
But with a footprint of 229 square miles and with over 30 trails for you to explore, it can be hard to pin down where you want to spend your time if you only have 48 hours in Zion.
After exploring the park twice, I’ve nailed down some of the best spots and put together the ultimate guide on how to spend two days in Zion. So if you’re headed to the park soon and want the low-down on where to stay, what to do, and where to eat, keep on reading below!
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Table of Contents
- How to Get to Zion National Park
- When to Visit Zion National Park
- What to Pack for Zion National Park
- Where to Stay in Zion National Park
- How to Get Around Zion National Park
- What to Do in Zion National Park in Two Days
- Other things to do in and around Zion
How to Get to Zion National Park
Unlike some National Parks, Zion is reasonably close to a few major airports, just a two and a half hour drive from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas or a four hour drive from Salt Lake City International Airport. To get the best deals on airfare, I swear by using Skyscanner to set alerts on flight deals and compare fares.
During one of my visits to Zion, I flew into Vegas and 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 National Parks (Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands)- both were beautiful and totally pleasant drives!
Regardless if you’re flying in or road-tripping from home, you’ll likely need a car to get to and around most of the park. If you’re flying in and need to rent a car, I’d recommend booking as far in advance as possible to score the best deal.
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, this southwestern Utah road trip itinerary, which focuses on Zion, Bryce Canyon, and a few awesome state parks in the area.
When to Visit Zion National Park
The park is at its busiest from April through October, while temperatures are reasonably pleasant and the park’s shuttle bus system is in operation. While springtime (April and May) has pleasant temperatures, 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 can be accompanied by temperatures topping 100 degrees, so fall (September through October) may be your best bet, with its clear days and low water levels, perfect for comfortably exploring Zion Canyon. Winter in Utah can be a mixed bag, with hit-or-miss weather (pleasant daytime temperatures that turn freezing at night and about half of Zion’s annual rainfall condensed during December through February), but far fewer crowds.
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 I’d recommend bringing along for your trip:
- Sun protection: The sun during the day in Zion can get pretty brutal- and wouldn’t you rather be out exploring that gorgeous canyon, rather than stuck in your hotel room, nursing a gnarly sunburn? I’d recommend packing sunscreen, sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection, and a hat.
- Hiking boots: This may seem like a “no duh” kind of item, but 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. I’ve been using Merrell’s for years (men’s equivalent can be found here) and they’d be perfect for providing traction on Zion’s rocky terrain.
- 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 hiking backpack.
- Waterproof or quick-drying accessories if you plan on hiking the Narrows: 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 lining the river floor. 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. So multi-functional!
- A 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.
- Neoprene socks: Neoprene socks are basically a wetsuit for your feet and will keep your feet not-completely-frozen as you walk in the chilly waters of the Virgin River. If you’re visiting Zion in the summertime, you can probably 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)- I use these socks and they’ve kept my feet toasty warm on a many hikes.
- 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.
You can rent Neoprene socks and walking sticks from several shops in the neighboring town of Springdale (Zion Outfitters is a popular spot), but if you’re short on time during your visit or think you might use the gear again in the future, bringing these items along may make sense.
- 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.
- A cooler: In the park itself, there’s a lodge (creatively named “Zion National Park Lodge”) that has a snack bar (selling items like coffee and hot dogs) and a casual sit-down restaurant (with items like burgers and sandwiches), which are both fine options, but can be pretty pricey for the quality of food.
Additionally, in order to get to the Lodge, you’ll need to take Zion’s shuttle bus, which can have really long wait times, to get there (more on the shuttle bus later). If you’re roadtripping to the park like we did, I’d highly recommend packing a cooler (we have one like this and use it all the time for road trips!) to keep in your car with some breakfast and lunch (to either eat in your car or take along on your hikes) to cut down on costs, wasted time, and sad national park food.
- 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!
- 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.
You can either pick one up here, at your local REI, or at most staffed entrance stations at U.S. National Parks. Obviously, if your adventures this year don’t include some National Park visits other than your trip to Zion, purchasing a pass probably doesn’t make a ton of financial sense. But otherwise, it’s seriously one of the best money saving “travel hacks” that I know!
Where to Stay in Zion National Park
As mentioned above, Zion has a single lodge offering accommodations within the park, which offers 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 a couple of words of warning if you’re interested in staying here:
- Book EARLY- the rooms here can be sold out six-plus months in advance, and
- If you’re a comfort queen (no shame, friend!), the hotel rooms are supposed to be much more comfortable than the more rustic cabins.
Alternatively, the neighboring town of Springdale, full of cute restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops, is one of the best places to stay near Zion National Park. Fair warning: like a lot of towns skirting popular national parks, Springdale can be shockingly pricey (Justin and I unknowingly purchased two unremarkable ice cream cones and were gobsmacked to find out they were $20!).
With that caveat in mind, some options:
- Quality Inn and Suites Montclair: If you’re looking for a budget-friendly option (or as budget-friendly as Springdale will allow) that’s family-friendly, consider this no-frills stop 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!
- 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).
For the budget travelers out there (hi, like me!), you have a couple of options other than staying in Springdale. Consider:
- Staying a bit further outside of Zion in another neighboring town- for example, check out 2 Cranes Inn in Rockville (only 18 minutes from Zion’s entrance), Zion’s Camp and Cottages in La Verkin (36 minutes away), or My Place Hotel in Hurricane (42 minutes away).
- Camping- it’s one of my very favorite ways to save money and feel like I get a deeper connection with the place I’m visiting. If you prefer more primitive sites to established campgrounds (like me!), there’s tons of great BLM land close to Zion- like Dalton Wash Road, Smithsonian Butte Dispersed Camping, or Zion Scenic Byway.
If you’d like a bit more amenities (like, say, those fancy toilets that flush), Zion National Park has some great camping options. Consider instead the South Campground ($20 for an individual site) and Watchman Campground ($20 for an individual site, $30 for a site with electric hookups), which are both located inside of the park.
How to Get Around Zion National Park
Snagging parking and getting around Zion can be a little bit confusing, so let me break it down for you. The majority of the most popular hikes in the park, like Angel’s Landing or the Narrows, and the Zion Lodge are located along the Zion Scenic Canyon Drive (within the canyon itself), which is closed to all personal vehicles from March through November.
During that time, you can get to these trailheads by biking (tons of shops in Springdale rent regular bicycles or ebikes- Zion Cycles has great reviews!) or by riding the Zion shuttle. The shuttle leaves from right by the Zion visitors’ center parking lot every 6-10 minutes and makes several stops along the scenic drive for various trailheads.
While there’s lots of shuttles departing from the Zion Visitor Center, the lines can still get super long to board (the first time I visited the park in 2017, I arrived around 6:30 AM and still had to wait for about 45 minutes to board)- so I’d strongly recommend arriving at Zion early!
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 8:15 pm, but try 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!
In 2020, 3.5 million people visited Zion- so with the majority of them all parking and departing from the Zion Visitor Center to explore the canyon, you may be wondering what the parking situation is like. And that’s a great question- parking within the park itself can be kind of a nightmare, especially if you enter the park past 10 am on high visitation days, like weekends in the summer.
So either get here early (the trails are way less crowded in the early morning, anyway) or alternatively, consider taking the Springdale Shuttle into the park. Yes, there’s yet another shuttle- one that makes several stops throughout Springdale, conveniently located by several hotels and paid parking lots (for those not staying in Springdale) that will drop riders off right at the entrance of the 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. Alternatively, there’s a couple of worthwhile 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.
Finally, since I’m an RVer, I would be remiss to not give my RVing fam a heads up. On the east side of the park is the 1.1 mile Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, which was built in the 1920s, when we didn’t have such impossibly ginormous vehicles.
After several gnarly accidents with said giant vehicles, the National Park Service implemented a restriction on oversized vehicles driving through the tunnel, requiring any vehicle that is at least 7 feet 10 inches in width or 11 feet 4 inches in height to purchase a $15 tunnel permit (which will buy you two one-way passes of the tunnel in a seven day span, where they’ll convert the two-way tunnel into a one-way road- just for you!).
They only allow these kinds of vehicles to pass during certain times of day- you can get more information on the restrictions here.
What to Do in Zion National Park in Two Days
Okay- your hotel is booked, your bags are packed- now what are you going to actually do during your two days in Zion?
1. Scout Lookout Trail
To get your bearings, start the day with one of the best hikes in Zion National Park- 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.
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.
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.
The hike 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 if you’re afraid of heights or if the ground is wet or icy. If you decide to take on this trail, be sure to focus on the trail and not take selfies, Go-Pros of your badassery, etc. 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!
Either way, if you want to hike the Angel’s Landing portion of the trail, you’ll need to secure a permit for it, which you can find out more about on the National Park Service website.
If you’re a fraidy cat like me, er, I mean, if Angel’s Landing happens to be closed during your visit, you can alternatively decide to 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.
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
If you’ve still got some energy to hike, take the shuttle back to your car and drive to the Canyon Overlook trail (note- the trailhead is not accessible from the shuttle system). Be forewarned- the parking lot here is pretty tiny (#zionproblems), but 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.
Alternatively, if you want to take a break from hiking (there will be another one for sunset that I’d prioritize!), I’d recommend heading into Springdale to explore and relax a bit. Justin and I picked up the aforementioned delicious but $10 a piece 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 section above for more information), this can be a great time to go pick up your rentals.
3. Watchman Trail
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.
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.
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.
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 plan on the hike taking at least four hours. 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. And finally, there’s been issues with a toxic cyanobacteria bloom, which acts as a neurotoxin, in the river since the summer of 2020.
While it seems that adults are likely fine hiking in it so long as they don’t drink or snort the water (although full disclosure: a ranger warned Justin and I against doing it, so we didn’t feel comfortable hiking the trail), 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).
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.
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 and privately owned homes and cabins- 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.
Be sure to pack lots of water and sunscreen- this hike has little shade and the afternoon sun can be pretty 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 the riverbed (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!) to a little sandy beach along the river. 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
Got some extra time in Springdale? Consider:
- Take a scenic drive- if you want a change of scenery from Zion Canyon (but why though!), drive along 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.
- 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.
- 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!).
- 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.
- As a beer lover, trying different breweries is one of my favorite ways to get to know a new locale- in addition to Zion Brewery, located just steps from the entrance of Zion, try the microbrews at Silver Reef Brewing Co.
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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2 thoughts on “2 Days in Zion National Park: The Complete Guide”
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Thank you so much for reading and hope you enjoy your trip to Zion!