3 Days in Zion National Park

This has been my FAVORITE National Park so far. There is a lot to see and a lot to do. Here are our suggestions for an amazing 3 days in Zion NP.

FYI Utah Drinking and Eating Fact: In order to drink alcohol at a restaurant, you’ll need to order food. It’s a real law. You’re unfortunately not able to walk into a place and buy a beer or order a glass of wine without ordering some form of food.

Lodging

We stayed in Zion NP at the Watchman Campground. It’s right next to the Visitor Center and is electric hookups for RVs. It was the perfect location for us and our R-Pod 180 HRE named Bandit. Others option include the South Campground which has no hookups but great location near the Virgin River. There is also the town of Springdale right outside the gates where several RV parks and hotels have lodging. There is a Springdale shuttle that goes from various stops in town to Zion NP.

Day 1

Stop at Zion NP Visitor Center and get your naps, advice on trails, shuttle schedules, and hop on the shuttle for a nice ride to get an overview of the park. The Zion Canyon shuttle will take you from the Visitor Center 6.6 miles down Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to the Temple of Sinawava stop and back in about 1.5 hours. On the way you’ll also see the major geographic formations along the Canyon walls: Court of the Patriarchs, the Watchman, Angel’s Landing, and the Great White Throne.

View from the canyon floor

Be sure to stop at the Human History Museum and watch the park orientation video. It’s only 22 minutes and gives you basic information on the park’s natural and human history. While you’re out, get off the shuttle at stop 5 to make reservations for your day 3 trailride on horseback and day 3 dinner at the Zion Lodge.

At the end of your first day you can take a drive down the Zion-Mt Carmel Hwy (Hwy 9) through the tunnel and to the park’s eastern boundary. On this route you can see the Checkerboard Mesa and Canyon Overlook.

A short drive up from Canyon Junction (Shuttle Stop 2) lies Zion Mount Carmel Highway. Proceed up the highway East along the winding roads. Eventually, you’ll hit your first tunnel carved directly through the sandstone. Drivers are required to turn their headlights on as there is no lighting inside the tunnel. It takes about 2 minutes to go through. When you come out, you’ll soon go through one last dark, but much shorter tunnel. At the end you’ll pass a ranger post that doesn’t require a stop.

Now, get ready to experience a true feeling of freedom. This is one of the most scenic drives you’ll ever take. The roads will continue to wind in switchback style through the pink canyons and rock structures. There are plenty of small alcoves where you can park your car on the side of the road to get out and explore by foot (highly recommended!). One highlight includes Checkboard Mesa near the park exit. You’ll understand the name once you see it.

Day 2

Zion Canyon is starting point for Zion’s most popular hikes, including the easy Riverside Walk and Weeping Rock trails, and the more demanding Watchman, Angel’s Landing, and The Narrows Trail. The box below gives a few tips on the Angel’s Landing hike.

Angel’s Landing is rated one of the 10 most dangerous hikes in the world. That’s because after a strenuous 2 mile uphill climb (though mostly paved), you now have less than a half a mile to the “summit”. It’s not until this point that the hike begins to get difficult. If you made it this far, you’re sitting on a sandy plateau catching your breath and drinking some water.

But you’re not done. Now, you get to traverse sandstone rock structures that will make your hair stand on end. And they should. For the next half mile, your conditioning, foot placement and hand placement may determine whether or not your survive the next hour of your life. You’re going to have to leave behind the well manicured, paved trail and trade it for sheer cliff.

Luckily, much of the remaining trail now has well-positioned chains that allow for an easier climb through the difficult and dangerous junctures. A signifiant number of people were dying on a yearly basis until these were put in place. Now that the chains are there, it’s been over 5 years since there’s been a death. Note, however, that you are NOT tethered, so your safety really relies on how much you “grab, grab, grab.” Try not to look down, and take it one step at a time.

After conquering Angel’s Landing (the peak in the background)

I would suggest alternating a strenuous or moderate hike in the morning (6-8am) with a few easy hikes after lunch. You can ride your bike to the trailhead at at daybreak and be done before the heat of the day sets in. There is a quick grill and a sit-down restaurant that are both open for lunch at the Zion Lodge which is shuttle stop 5. On especially hot days be sure to include a hike that takes you along the Virgin River for a quick dip. It’s recommended that in the semi-arid climate you drink a gallon of water daily.

The Virgin River

At the end of this day I suggest you take a trip into Springdale for dinner at one of their several restaurant choices. My favorites are Switchback Grill and the Thai Palace.

Day 3

For this final day I would fill in with the hikes you didn’t accomplish on day 2. Plan any strenuous ones for the early morning. Stop with a packed lunch along the Virgin River in a shady spot. Finish out your day getting the last photos of the amazing scenery and take a trail ride on horseback from the Zion Lodge (shuttle stop 5). Reserve a dinner table at the Zion Lodge and watch the sunset as you enjoy the views of ancient cottonwood trees and striated Canyon walls.

View from Zion Lodge’s restuarant

What To Pack For Hiking

Spring:

  • Insulated, light jacket or fleece for the mornings and evenings
  • Gloves
  • Warm hat
  • T shirts
  • • Pair of shorts
  • • Pairs of pants
  • • Long sleeve shirts (to layer if needed)
  • • Bathing suit
  • • Hiking Boots
  • • Sneakers
  • •Water shoes / sandals
  • • Neoprene socks
  • • Dry pants
  • • Walking stick
  • • Dry bag
  • •Camelbak or Water Bottle

Summer:

  • Windbreaker
  • T shirts
  • Shorts
  • Bathing suit
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hiking sandals
  • Pair of light pants
  • Walking stick
  • Dry bag
  • Camelbak or Water Bottle

Fall:

  • Fleece or insulated wind breaker
  • T shirts
  • Shorts
  • Bathing suit
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hiking sandals
  • Pairs of pants
  • Walking stick
  • Dry bag
  • Camelbak or Water Bottle

I’ll definitely be back to Zion NP soon!

SOURCES

Zion National Park Brochures and website

WineTraveler Blog at https://www.winetraveler.com/travel-resources/4-day-zion-national-park-itinerary-utah/