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Overview
Overview
Essentials
Zion in 3 Days
Attractions
Restaurants
Insider Information
Recreation
Places in the Vicinity
Jeremy Woodhouse / Getty Images

Introduction
When confronted by the spectacular scenery of Zion Canyon, 19th-century Mormon homesteaders and early visitors of other faiths drew upon their religious beliefs to help them describe it. Angels Landing. Great White Throne. West Temple. Court of the Patriarchs. Altar of Sacrifice. You can't say the names of Zion Canyon's landmarks without sounding like you're quoting from the Old Testament.
n4rwhals / flickr
But it's not hard to see why those early pioneers and adventurers became religiously rapt. Take the Great White Throne. With steep walls soaring more than 2,000 feet above the canyon floor and a light-colored profile easy to recognize just about wherever you go—as if the sculpted sandstone were itself omnipresent—the peak seems a worthy seat for the Almighty indeed. And should His winged attendants need a suitable perch, Angels Landing, facing the Great White Throne from across the narrow canyon, is perfectly situated.
faunggs photos / flickr
The summits surrounding Court of the Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—are easy to imagine as three venerable heads bent together, looking down in judgment into the meandering river valley below. Near the canyon's entrance, the flat Temple Cap formation atop the West Temple has vertical walls as if it were man-made, and once you've seen the mountain-size red streaks below the Altar of Sacrifice, its name hardly needs explanation.
Jim Trodel / flickr
The area was first protected in 1909 as a national monument called Mokuntuweap, a name given to the canyon by its earlier Paiute inhabitants. But Mormon residents had long called the place Zion, a Hebrew name interpreted to mean a place of refuge, and Mokuntuweap was changed in 1918, a year before it became a national park. The red-rock finger canyons that distinguish the park's Kolob section were included within park boundaries in 1956—Kolob being a term from Mormon scripture referring to the star nearest the throne of God.
konstantin32 / 123RF.COM
Today Zion National Park consistently ranks within the top 10 most visited national parks in America. Millions come every year to gaze in awe at what one early traveler called “A New Valley of Wonders,” and for many the experience will be likened to an encounter with the Divine.

In Depth
Zion National Park's entrances on the southwestern and eastern edges are connected by SR 9 (Zion-Mount Carmel Highway), which joins I-15 on the west and US 89 on the east. The park's northwestern entrance is accessible from I-15, but no other road connects this part of the park with the Zion Canyon section.
Desert terrain and huge, sculpted rock formations coexist with hanging gardens. The gigantic stone masses of the West Temple and the Watchman guard the southern entrance to the park. From a multicolored stairway, the red-brown Watchman looms 2,555 feet above the canyon floor. The 7,810-foot West Temple is one of the most prominent formations in the southern section.
Just north of the southern entrance is the beginning of Zion Canyon, a spectacular gorge carved by the Virgin River through strangely colored sandstones and shale. About half a mile deep and half a mile wide at its mouth, the canyon narrows to about 300 feet at the Temple of Sinawava, the narrowest portion accessible by car and about 8 miles from the park entrance.
From the west the main park road, a continuation of SR 9 known as Zion-Mount Carmel Highway climbs the talus slope of Pine Creek Canyon in six switchbacks, enters 5,607-foot Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel (completed in 1930) and continues to ascend at a 5-percent grade. Needless to say, the construction of this road is considered a remarkable engineering feat.
The Kolob Canyons section in the northwest corner of the park contains fingerlike red sandstone canyons at the edge of Kolob Terrace. Within this area is the Hurricane Fault, where layers of ancient rock are clearly exposed. Kolob Arch is accessible via a 14-mile round-trip trail; measuring 310 feet across, it is one of the largest freestanding arches in the world.

General Information
The park and its main roads are open all year. Scenic drives include a 13-mile round-trip through Zion Canyon from the southern entrance and a 22-mile round-trip from the eastern entrance to Zion Canyon. A paved road from SR 9 at Virgin joins an unpaved road leading north to Lava Point and Kolob Reservoir; the unpaved road is closed in winter. A 5-mile drive from the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center at I-15 exit 40 offers spectacular views. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive stretches from Zion Canyon Visitor Center to the Temple of Sinawava.
Note: Exercise caution along SR 9 to Bryce Canyon City. The road is not illuminated at night and has hairpin turns that are difficult to maneuver; there are no guardrails.
From early April through October Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible by park shuttle bus. Parking at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center fills up quickly during peak summer months; free parking is available in Springdale, near the park's south entrance. A free shuttle service departing from several points in town provides transportation to and from the park daily 6 a.m.-9:15 p.m., in summer; 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m., in spring; 7 a.m.-7:30 p.m., in early fall; 7-6:45, in late fall.
This shuttle drops passengers off just outside the park entrance; from this point visitors enter the park on foot and walk a short distance to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, where another shuttle to Zion Canyon Scenic Drive can be boarded. Shuttles run on a continuous loop, making stops at points of interest along the way; visitors can disembark and board another shuttle as many times as they wish. The park shuttle runs daily 7:10 a.m.-9:45 p.m., in summer, 8:10 a.m.-8:45 p.m., in spring; 8:10-7:45, in fall. Shuttles run between 7 and 30 minutes apart and are equipped with storage areas for bicycles. Pets are not permitted; a kennel service is available in Springdale.
Personal vehicles wider than 7 feet, 10 inches (including mirrors) and/or higher than 11 feet, 4 inches must be escorted through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, which is on the park road between the east entrance and Zion Canyon. The fee for this service is $15, which includes two trips for the same vehicle within 7 days from the date of purchase. Escorts are stationed at tunnel entrances daily 8-8, early May-Labor Day; schedule varies rest of year. Phone ahead to check tunnel escort availability, or, upon arrival, confirm the hours at the main park entrance stations; phone (435) 772-3256.
Single vehicles more than 40 feet long or combined vehicles longer than 50 feet are prohibited. Vehicles exceeding 19 feet in length may not park in the Weeping Rock Parking Area or at the Temple of Sinawava.
About 65 miles of trails are open all year; some in the canyon may close due to the potential danger of ice falling from above. Permits are required for all backcountry camping and day trips going down the Narrows and its tributaries, the Subway and all canyons that require mechanical aid; a fee is charged for the permits. Phone (435) 772-0170 for backcountry information.
Park rangers give talks and lead guided walks from April through October (weather permitting). The Junior Ranger Program, an outdoor learning experience for ages 6 through 12, is held at the park nature center Memorial Day through Labor Day.

ADMISSION
ADMISSION is $30 (per private vehicle); $25 (per person arriving by motorcycle); $15 (per person arriving by other means). These fees permit entrance to the park for 7 calendar days from the date of purchase. Note: Visitors who do not plan to take the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive are still required to pay the $30 park entrance fee to use SR 9 between Springdale and the east Zion entrance station. The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel is within the park boundaries.

PETS
PETS must be physically restrained at all times and are not permitted in public buildings, on trails or aboard shuttles.

ADDRESS
ADDRESS inquiries to the Superintendent, Zion National Park, 1 Zion Park Blvd., Springdale, UT 84767-1099; phone (435) 772-3256.
GEM Description
Named Zion by Mormon pioneers in the mid-19th century, the national park is noted for its huge rock formations, canyons and one of the world's largest freestanding arches.
Don Graham / flickr

Essentials
Marvel at steep sandstone walls soaring 2,000 feet skyward along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive on the park's free seasonal shuttle bus, or drive yourself during the off-season.
Fly over Zion Canyon—or at least feel like you're flying over it—within the Zion Canyon Giant Screen Theatre , which shows breathtaking aerial film footage in addition to giving a great introduction to the park and its history.
Run your fingertips across reproductions of Zion's evocatively named landmarks—the Court of the Patriarchs, the Great White Throne , the Altar of Sacrifice and the West Temple, to name a few—at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center , which has two topographic maps, interactive video screens and helpful park rangers.
Splash through the Virgin River (with the appropriate watertight footgear) near the Temple of Sinawava as you hike up the unforgettable Narrows, where the canyon walls seem to close in on both sides and dry footing is usually not an option.
fortherock / flickr
Venture out (if you dare) along a slender ridge marked by 1,500-foot drops on either side to reach Angels Landing (the view is magnificent but you'll wish you had wings). If dizzying heights and steep ascents aren't your thing, stop at Scout Lookout, an overlook on the Angels Landing Trail right before the scary part begins.
Behold the canyon walls at sunset—which seem to glow with their own inner fire—during dinner at a restaurant with a view. Outdoor seating is offered at the Spotted Dog Cafe At Flanigan's Inn and the Zion Pizza & Noodle Co. , both in Springdale, and at the Red Rock Grill inside the park.
Head to the Kolob Canyons area, on the park's less-visited western side, where you can take in a spectacular view of five finger canyons—so called because they run alongside each other like fingers on a hand—and the soaring red sandstone cliffs that mark their entrances.
Drive along scenic Zion-Mount Carmel Highway , which leads through a series of switchbacks—with pullouts where you can pause to marvel at the view—and up through a mile-long tunnel before emerging into a surreal landscape of rolling slickrock hills that look as if they're melting in the Utah sun.
Don Graham / flickr
Journey to Bryce Canyon National Park , a mere hour-and-a-half drive from Zion's East Entrance, and behold a very different landscape characterized by arrays of hoodoos—spires of eroded limestone—streaked orange, pink and white.
Stop at all four of the park's overlooks—Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce—each with views of hoodoo-packed Bryce Amphitheater —then take a selfie with one of Bryce's whimsically named limestone formations in the background (Thor's Hammer, Silent City, Queen Victoria or Wall Street).
Don Graham / flickr

Zion in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Zion National Park.
By Frank Swanson
Zion National Park offers some of the most spectacular desert Southwest scenery in Utah. The park's most visited feature, Zion Canyon, can be explored in a day, although you'll want to stay longer if you're able.
Many of the best views require hiking along steep, strenuous trails up out of the canyon to its rim. But there are exceptions, notably the Riverside Walk and the Emerald Pools Trails (see Day 1), the Timber Creek Overlook Trail (see Day 2) and the Canyon Overlook Trail (see Day 3).

Day 1: Morning
Begin your visit at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center at the park's south entrance. You can try to find a parking space here, but during the summer high season this can be a real challenge. Instead, board the free Springdale shuttle that runs along Zion Park Boulevard; several stops are convenient to lodgings in town. The shuttle will drop you at the footbridge over the Virgin River leading to the visitor center.
The center has two large topographical models of Zion Canyon with its many landmarks labeled, and you can obtain a park newspaper listing Zion's standout features and ranger-led activities. Most of the informative displays are outdoors beneath shade trees and arbors—including those describing the unusual, energy-efficient design of the building itself, which uses solar panels, air-cooling towers, sun-shielding overhangs and carefully positioned windows to cut its power usage by nearly 75 percent from what a building its size would normally consume.
If you're visiting between the beginning of April and the end of October, the visitor center is where you'll catch a propane-powered bus that will take you into the canyon via 6-mile-long Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which is closed to private vehicles during the high season. A round-trip journey lasts about 90 minutes. From November through March you can drive yourself, although you'll miss the informative narration provided by the bus driver.
You won't find a temple at the Temple of Sinawava , the final stop along the scenic drive, but you will feel like you've entered a special sanctuary once you step off the bus. Soaring walls of red Navajo sandstone press in on two sides, giving you the impression that you've entered some vast, imposing place of worship.
The Temple of Sinawava also marks the beginning of one of the path's easiest and prettiest paths, the mile-long Riverside Walk . Following this paved trail along the Virgin River, you'll be able to see how the canyon gradually constricts on either side of you as you head north. A stairway at trail's end leads down to the riverbed. If you have the appropriate footwear (that is, waterproof), you can hike through the river to reach one of the park's most photographed features: the Narrows, a boulder-littered ravine only a few yards across, shaded by rock walls more than a thousand feet high.

Day 1: Afternoon
Joel Sowers / flickr
Within Zion Lodge, which has its own shuttle stop about 3.5 miles from Temple of Sinawava, is the Red Rock Grill . It has a terrace offering fantastic views and a dining room with lots of rustic touches you'd expect in a national park lodge (rough-hewn wooden chairs, stacked stone walls, etc.).
One of the benefits of eating at the lodge is that you have another beautiful walk right across the street: the Emerald Pools Trails. A footbridge leads over the Virgin River to a paved path that will bring you to the Lower Emerald Pool, which shimmers beneath a curved projecting ledge over which water trickles or, during rainy weather, pours. Trees, shrubs, ferns and moss thrive here thanks to water seeping from the surrounding porous sandstone cliffs.
The trail becomes more challenging as it continues behind the falls and up to the ledge above, where you'll find Middle Emerald Pool. From here you'll have a gorgeous view across the valley to Red Arch Mountain. An even more rigorous climb awaits if you decide to continue on to the Upper Pool, which is bordered on one side by huge boulders that have tumbled from the cliffs above.

Day 1: Evening
Most everything in Springdale catering to visitors is along Zion Park Boulevard, the major thoroughfare. The Zion Pizza & Noodle Co. (Shuttle Stop 3) is a nice, low-key choice for your first night here. Pizza and pasta rule the menu, although there are also salads and a lengthy list of Utah-based microbrews. Housed in a 1930 Mormon church, the restaurant has a small indoor dining room as well as outdoor seating areas in front and back. Walk off your meal checking out the gift shops and art galleries lining Zion Park Boulevard.

Day 2: Morning
Have breakfast—cereals, breakfast sandwiches, good coffee and espresso—at Cafe Soleil (Shuttle Stop 1) right outside the park entrance. You'll need the calories if you decide to conquer the Angels Landing Trail , a strenuous but worthwhile trek to an overlook with sweeping views of the canyon. If you're not physically up for that challenge—or you're uncomfortable with heights—then a drive to the Kolob Canyons section of the park offers an easier photo op.
Buy some sandwiches or wraps at Cafe Soleil to go for lunch atop Angels Landing or the picnic area at Kolob Canyons.
Angels Landing Trail Option: Ride to The Grotto shuttle stop, cross the bridge and turn right to reach the Angels Landing trailhead. The trail starts out easy enough, but soon you'll reach the western canyon wall where the path steepens. After a few switchbacks you'll enter Refrigerator Canyon, which is filled with trees and bushes. Here the trail runs alongside the base of a sheer cliff wall for a good distance and even squeezes through gaps between sandstone pillars in places.
Then there's Walter's Wiggles, a series of switchbacks zigzagging nearly two dozen times to reach Scout Lookout, a relatively flat area with a peregrine falcon-eye view of the Big Bend portion of the canyon. This is a great place to catch your breath and—if you're leery of heights—turn around and head back. If you're not troubled by this phobia, proceed out onto the narrow fin of sandstone projecting into the canyon for the last half mile to Angels Landing. A chain anchored to the rock provides a handhold in the most difficult places. Your reward for this 2.5-mile hike ascending 1,490 feet is one of the best views of the canyon possible without being in a helicopter.
Kolob Canyons Option: Not only is seeing Kolob Canyons a lot easier than a trek up to Angels Landing, the Kolob Canyons area is also a less-crowded alternative to the main canyon. The 40-mile drive northwest along SR 9, SR 17 and I-15 will have you at the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center in less than an hour. The 5-mile drive along Kolob Canyons Road features pullouts with interpretive signs. It ends at Kolob Canyons Viewpoint, where you can marvel at the series of lofty red cliffs standing sentinel-like at the entrances to the “finger canyons” (narrow canyons bunched together like the fingers on a hand) for which this area of Zion National Park is known. Picnic tables and the Timber Creek Overlook are a short walk from the viewpoint.

Day 2: Afternoon
The spectacle of Zion Canyon is a lot to take in, but a 40-minute film shown at Zion Canyon Giant Screen Theatre can help you grasp its scale and beauty. Shown on a 60-foot-high screen, “Zion Canyon Treasure of the Gods” includes aerial sequences that give you the sensation of flying over the canyon as well as narration explaining the Zion's history. Warning: The footage of rock climbers dangling thousands of feet in the air by their fingers may give you the willies.
For lunch, the Castle Dome Café offers fast food—hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza and the like—but also has a patio for alfresco dining.

Day 2: Evening
Reward yourself at the end of this very active day with dinner at the upscale Switchback Grille , pricey by Springdale standards but worth it. The restaurant, inside the Holiday Inn Express Zion National Park , offers a selection of wood-fired pizzas as well as pasta dishes, seafood and steaks. Windows look out onto canyon scenery, and patio seating provides even better views. After selecting from the restaurant's extensive wine list, raise your glass in a toast to an unforgettable day in Zion National Park.

Day 3: Morning
Removed the description for Pioneer Restaurant because it is out of business. mp 2/13/17
Start your third day at Wildcat Willie's Restaurant (Shuttle Stop 5) in the center of town, a place with Western-themed décor on the wood walls. Breakfast items include traditional egg offering as well as bumbleberry pancakes and options made with Mexican flare.
For a completely different kind of landscape, embark on the 90-minute drive from Zion's East Entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park . Drive into Zion National Park as far as you're allowed during the April-through-October high season and turn right onto scenic Zion-Mount Carmel Highway , which leads through a series of switchbacks up into Pine Creek Canyon. Pullouts allow you to stop for photos of erosion-sculpted sandstone formations.
The highway leads into a mile-long tunnel blasted out of the cliffs at great expense. When completed in 1930, it was the longest tunnel in the United States. The relatively narrow tunnel can accommodate most cars traveling in opposite directions, but larger vehicles (wider than 7'10” or taller than 11'4”) must be escorted (for a fee).
As you pass through the tunnel you'll notice rough “windows” in the rock through which you can glimpse canyon scenery. Drivers used to be allowed to park at these galleries to enjoy the view, but that became too dangerous over the years as the volume of automobile traffic increased. Today you'll have to be satisfied with a quick glance.
At the tunnel's eastern end is a small parking lot on the right, and across the street is the trailhead for the Canyon Overlook Trail , a relatively easy half-mile hike ascending 163 feet to an overlook with a phenomenal view of Pine Creek Canyon and the southern end of Zion Canyon. The thousand-foot drop off may give you a bit of vertigo, but there's plenty of room here to enjoy the vista while staying safely away from the edge.
As you head east along the highway the landscape takes an otherworldly turn. Low hills of slickrock—petrified desert sand dunes—look more like carelessly poured concrete than natural rock. Pull off for a closer look at one of the most unusual landmarks, Checkerboard Mesa, a conical mound etched with a pattern of vertical and horizontal lines.

Day 3: Afternoon
As you approach Bryce Canyon National Park you'll see glimpses of intensely orange rock, with a few pinkish-orange spires appearing alongside the roadway. Before reaching the park entrance, stop for lunch at Ruby's Cowboy's Buffet & Steak House in the BEST WESTERN PLUS Ruby's Inn , one of the few restaurants in the area. Pick up a boxed lunch for a picnic inside the park or buy a sandwich or snack at the nearby General Store, which in addition to grocery items sells hiking and camping gear, Western art and clothing, Native American jewelry and every imaginable Bryce Canyon souvenir.
If you've never been to Bryce Canyon before, stop by the Bryce Canyon National Park Visitor Center to watch the 22-minute orientation film about the canyon's formation. Technically Bryce isn't even a canyon but the eroded edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Over the centuries rainwater dissolved the plateau's colorful limestone as winter frost expanded in cracks breaking down the rock further, producing U-shaped hollows or amphitheaters filled with arrays of delicate spires called hoodoos.
From the visitor center, drive along the scenic Park Road , which extends 18 miles south to Rainbow Point. Once you've seen the views of Rainbow Point and neighboring Yovimpa Point, return north: The remaining dozen or so overlooks will now be on your right. Look down through a near-perfect arch at the Natural Bridge overlook and check out the others—Fairview Point, Piracy Point, Swamp Canyon and Paria View—as time permits. Just don't miss the four viewpoints (Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce) that peer down into spectacular Bryce Amphitheater , one of the park's highlights.
Bryce Amphitheater is jam-packed with hoodoos, and the overlooks here offer picture-perfect views. You can walk among the four Bryce Amphitheater viewpoints by way of the Rim Trail. Below the rim are several trails threading among the hoodoos, but you'll have to come back another day to explore those.

Day 3: Evening
Once you're back in Springdale, take one last opportunity to admire the beautiful canyon setting while enjoying a farewell meal at the Spotted Dog Cafe At Flanigan's Inn (Shuttle Stop 2). The dining room has large picture windows, but sit outside if you can. The ambience could be described as “upscale ski lodge,” combining old-fashioned country touches with modern art. The seasonally varying menu includes homemade soups, gourmet pizzas, Black Angus beef, rabbit and lamb.

Attractions
In a national park with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
By Frank Swanson
Begin your visit to Zion National Park at the Zion Canyon Giant Screen Theatre , just outside the south entrance. The film “Zion Canyon Treasure of the Gods” not only dramatizes the area's history but offers an amazing bird's-eye perspective of the canyon and can help you decide what sights you want to prioritize during your visit.
If you visit from April through October, when Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to private vehicles, you literally can't miss the Zion Canyon Visitor Center at the park's southern entrance (after crossing a footbridge over the tree-lined Virgin River). Outdoor displays describe the park's history, geology and plant and animal life. The building's environmentally friendly design incorporates several innovative methods to save energy.
Exhibits at the Zion Human History Museum explain the canyon's Native American and pioneer heritage, its history as a national park and the importance of water in creating and shaping the canyon as well as attracting humans to the area. The patio behind the museum offers an excellent view of the peaks known as the Towers of the Virgin, the Altar of Sacrifice and the West Temple.
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive ends at the Temple of Sinawava , a natural amphitheater at a bend in the Virgin River with two sandstone pillars at its center. In spring and summer, water seeps from the cliff walls here into clear pools fringed with ferns—not what you'd expect to see in a desert environment.
Beginning at the Temple of Sinawava, the paved, 1-mile-long Riverside Walk winds along the Virgin River's east bank, offering a pleasant stroll in the shadow of sandstone cliffs more than 1,000 feet high. The river supports a lush environment of cottonwood trees, ferns and grasses, and the sound or rushing water echoes off the canyon walls. Where the pavement ends, a trail continues that follows the riverbed into the Narrows, where the canyon is only a few yards across.
The best views of Zion Canyon usually entail a rigorous hike up from the canyon floor, but the viewpoint at the end of the Canyon Overlook Trail is an exception. You'll find the trailhead across the highway from a small parking lot at the eastern end of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. The trail ascends 163 feet, hugging the edge of a narrow slot canyon. At one point it disappears entirely and becomes a boardwalk embedded into the cliff face before reappearing and curving through a cave-like cleft. At trail's end is a spectacular vista of Pine Creek and Zion canyons from more than a thousand feet above.
The view is just as spectacular—if not more so—at the end of the Angels Landing Trail . This is a rigorous hike that climbs up the west side of Zion Canyon in meandering switchbacks leading into narrow Refrigerator Canyon, then proceeds in a series of tight zigzagging switchbacks called Walter's Wiggles up to Scout Lookout. That's the easy part; it's the last half mile along the top of a 1,500-foot-tall fin of rock that's a doozy (if you have the stomach for it). A chain along this part of the trail offers a not entirely reassuring handhold for your white-knuckled grip.
Although Zion Canyon is the national park's centerpiece, it's only one part of a vast tract of land stretching across more than 147,000 acres. Make a reservation with Zion Outback Safaris and Jeep Tours to tour the park's less-visited areas aboard a customized open-air truck. The Outback Safari Tour takes passengers into rugged backcountry most visitors don't get to see.
The Kolob Canyons area may be just off I-15, but it doesn't draw the tourist hordes the way Zion Canyon (on the park's opposite side) does. That's a pity, because the lineup of soaring red rock monoliths is amazing, particularly at sunset. Stop by the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center to pay your park entrance fee, if you haven't already, then head to Kolob Canyons Viewpoint at the end of the main road for the best vantage point.
You might be tempted to skip a side trip to AAA GEM-rated Bryce Canyon National Park ; it's just another canyon, right? Not by a long shot. While Zion awes visitors with its imposing vertical walls and massive reddish-brown sandstone cliffs, Bryce displays delicate hoodoos, limestone spires in shades of pink and orange arranged in curved hollows called amphitheaters. The main road into Zion Canyon lies at its bottom, with hiking trails leading up to the rim; the main road at Bryce Canyon follows its edge, from which hiking trails descend. Although only 85 miles from each other, the two canyons seem worlds apart.
Stop by the Bryce Canyon National Park Visitor Center to see a 22-minute orientation film about the canyon's formation, and be sure to check out the large model of the Colorado Plateau rock strata underlying not only Bryce Canyon but Zion Canyon (and the Grand Canyon, too). It also has maps, hiking directions, weather forecasts and a current schedule of ranger-led activities.
Bryce Canyon's 18-mile Park Road is a scenic drive through a pine forest offering intermittent views of the canyon. It also connects a chain of 15 overlooks along the canyon's rim, including Rainbow and Yovimpa points at the road's southern end; Natural Bridge, from which you'll have an up-close view of a limestone arch; and by way of spur roads, the four main viewpoints around Bryce Amphitheater —Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce.
Like Bryce Canyon—which isn't actually a canyon but the eroded edge of a plateau—the central feature of Cedar Breaks National Monument , a AAA GEM, is a limestone amphitheater. If anything, the hoodoos, fins and arches here display an even more vibrant palette of colors. Park at the Chessman Ridge Overlook for a great view of these weathered cliffs, and from there you can hike the Alpine Pond Nature Trail along the rim to a lovely spring-fed lake nestled among evergreens.
About 60 miles from Springdale and Zion National Park's south entrance, in an isolated area known as the Arizona Strip, is Pipe Spring National Monument . Mormon settlers began building a fortified ranch compound here in 1870. You can tour the sandstone fort, called Winsor Castle, which sits directly on top of a freshwater spring. Ranching equipment, livestock pens and vegetable gardens are on the grounds. Exhibits in the visitor center describe the Ancient Puebloan and Paiute Indian cultures that preceded pioneer settlement.
If you've had your fill of canyons and are ready to spend some time indoors—especially in the heat of summer—drive to the town of St. George , about an hour west of Zion Canyon, and visit the Rosenbruch Wildlife Museum . This AAA GEM attraction is filled with animal dioramas that will make you think you're outdoors. There's even an indoor “mountain” with waterfalls.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.

Restaurants
Our favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
By Inspector 39
as told to Frank Swanson
Note: A free shuttle service operates April through October with one loop running inside Zion National Park and a second loop traveling along SR 9 through the center of Springdale . Shuttle stop information appears after each listing.
Thanks to its prime location inside Zion National Park, Red Rock Grill offers great views. This restaurant within Zion Lodge has a very helpful, full-service, uniformed staff and a menu offering such standbys as prime rib, flat iron steak and Alaskan salmon. Vegan choices are also available. (Zion Lodge Shuttle Stop)
Also inside Zion Lodge, the Castle Dome Café is good for a quick bite. Continental breakfast is served in the morning; burgers and hot dogs are on the menu in the afternoon and evening. This is a great spot for a soft-serve ice cream cone on a hot day. (Zion Lodge Shuttle Stop)
Cafe Soleil , right outside the park entrance, has bagels, oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, plus fresh hot coffee. The staff will also pack a lunch to go, ideal to take on a hike. (Shuttle Stop 1)
The Spotted Dog Cafe At Flanigan's Inn is a casual American-style bistro with an outdoor dining area and bar. The menu is a step above in terms of variety, with entrées like lamb, Black Angus beef, locally caught trout, rabbit and pizzas baked in a wood-burning oven. (Shuttle Stop 2)
Zion Pizza & Noodle Co. is a popular casual restaurant with a small indoor dining room and two outdoor dining areas. The menu is basic Italian—pizzas, calzones, pasta dishes. Order at the counter, pay and you're given a number; servers bring the food to your table. The outdoor Beer Garden at the back of the restaurant offers a long list of Utah-brewed beers. (Shuttle Stop 3)
Blondie's Diner is a small, country-style diner located next to an antelope and buffalo farm. Check out the humorous signs on the dining room walls while you wait for your food. The menu features simple home-style cooking: buffalo burgers, grilled trout, fried chicken. Breakfast items are served all day, too. For dessert, have a slice of apple or cherry pie. (Shuttle Stop 3)
A prominent location in the center of Springdale makes Wildcat Willie's Restaurant a hard place to miss. Large windows facing Zion Park Boulevard provide good people watching, and the friendly staff is very knowledgeable about the area. You can't go wrong with choices like bumbleberry pancakes (made with seasonal berries), a buffalo burger or fettuccine Alfredo. Box lunches can be prepared to go for a picnic. (Shuttle Stop 3)
In contrast to many local restaurants, the Switchback Grille is more upscale, with a large wine rack covering one of the dining room walls. Menu items can be described as urban, fun and upscale. The menu offers baby back ribs, prime rib, pastas and wood-fired pizzas in addition to USDA Prime steaks, bacon-wrapped meatloaf, pan-seared scallops and a daily fresh fish selection. (Shuttle Stop 4)
The changing artwork on the wood walls at the Bit & Spur Restaurant & Saloon often features larger-than-life creepy crawlers—everything from king snakes to praying mantises—as well as art depicting the Southwest. Dine outside on the expansive covered deck at this casual watering hole for a spectacular sunset view of Zion's red-hued cliffs while noshing on stuffed poblano chiles or a plate of beef fajitas. (Shuttle Stop 4)
Arkansas Al's Pub & Eatery , adjacent to the lobby of the Majestic View Lodge , has log cabin-style décor and lofted ceilings that give you the feeling of really being in the mountains. The casual menu includes club sandwiches, a New York strip steak and local trout; it's a good choice if you're in the mood for a meat-and-potatoes kind of dinner. (Shuttle Stop 6)
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
Diana Robinson / flickr

Oasis in the High Desert
By Frank Swanson
During Zion National Park's long hot summer, whiptail lizards seek shade beneath boulders as soaring red cliffs bake in the sun. Yuccas, cactuses and hardy, gnarled pinyon pines offer a hint of green in a landscape dominated by the browns and tans of barren earth. There's no mistaking it; this is a dry country, and it's no wonder why. Perched at the edge of the semiarid Colorado Plateau where it meets the Mojave and Great Basin deserts, the park receives a mere 15 inches of rain on average each year. While you could say that water shapes the character of any desert by its absence, that truism doesn't come close to describing Zion. Perhaps more than anything else, it's water's unambiguous presence here that makes Zion one of the national park system's most stunning jewels.
In Zion Canyon—the park's central feature and most popular destination—the desert gives way to a narrow corridor of lush vegetation bordering the meandering North Fork of the Virgin River, a haven for cottonwood, boxelder, maple and willow trees. Rain and meltwater percolating through sandstone seep from the canyon's sheer rock walls at Weeping Rock and Emerald Pools, nourishing hanging gardens and trickling into pools lined with wildflowers and maidenhair ferns.
With so many elevations, exposed plateaus and sheltered niches creating a multitude of habitats, Zion National Park is home to more than 800 plant species, which according to the National Park Service is more variety than anywhere else in Utah. There also are 75 species of mammals, more than 30 species of reptiles and amphibians and nearly 300 species of birds. And you won't find the moisture-loving Zion snail outside the park's boundaries.
n4rwhals / flickr
No other experience captures the stark contrast between Zion Canyon's damp microenvironments and the surrounding desert than a hike through the Narrows, where the canyon constricts into a rock-strewn defile just a few feet across. Shaded by vertical walls a thousand feet or more high, the Narrows remain cool even on the hottest summer day and the Virgin River, through which hikers exploring the Narrows must wade, can be downright chilly. Rangers repeatedly remind visitors that flash floods here and elsewhere in the park are a danger during storms even when the rain is falling miles away.
Zion's weeping rock walls, fern-lined pools, abundant flora and fauna and cold, clear streams are not even the most dramatic evidence of water's presence here. Hike up to any one of many scenic overlooks and behold what millions of years' worth of flowing water created: the canyon itself. Formed at the bottom of ancient seas and lakes, the multihued sandstone has been beautifully eroded into the breathtaking chasm you see today. What's more, flash floods and periodic rock slides prove that the work is ongoing. Like a sculptor who can never be content with what he has carved, water in Zion Canyon continues to make and remake this exquisite, natural work of art.

General Information
The park and its main roads are open all year. Scenic drives include a 13-mile round-trip through Zion Canyon from the southern entrance and a 22-mile round-trip from the eastern entrance to Zion Canyon. A paved road from SR 9 at Virgin joins an unpaved road leading north to Lava Point and Kolob Reservoir; the unpaved road is closed in winter. A 5-mile drive from the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center at I-15 exit 40 offers spectacular views. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive stretches from Zion Canyon Visitor Center to the Temple of Sinawava.
Note: Exercise caution along SR 9 to Bryce Canyon City. The road is not illuminated at night and has hairpin turns that are difficult to maneuver; there are no guardrails.
From early April through October Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible by park shuttle bus. Parking at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center fills up quickly during peak summer months; free parking is available in Springdale, near the park's south entrance. A free shuttle service departing from several points in town provides transportation to and from the park daily 6 a.m.-9:15 p.m., in summer; 7 a.m.-8:30 p.m., in spring; 7 a.m.-7:30 p.m., in early fall; 7-6:45, in late fall.
This shuttle drops passengers off just outside the park entrance; from this point visitors enter the park on foot and walk a short distance to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, where another shuttle to Zion Canyon Scenic Drive can be boarded. Shuttles run on a continuous loop, making stops at points of interest along the way; visitors can disembark and board another shuttle as many times as they wish. The park shuttle runs daily 7:10 a.m.-9:45 p.m., in summer, 8:10 a.m.-8:45 p.m., in spring; 8:10-7:45, in fall. Shuttles run between 7 and 30 minutes apart and are equipped with storage areas for bicycles. Pets are not permitted; a kennel service is available in Springdale.
Personal vehicles wider than 7 feet, 10 inches (including mirrors) and/or higher than 11 feet, 4 inches must be escorted through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, which is on the park road between the east entrance and Zion Canyon. The fee for this service is $15, which includes two trips for the same vehicle within 7 days from the date of purchase. Escorts are stationed at tunnel entrances daily 8-8, early May-Labor Day; schedule varies rest of year. Phone ahead to check tunnel escort availability, or, upon arrival, confirm the hours at the main park entrance stations; phone (435) 772-3256.
Single vehicles more than 40 feet long or combined vehicles longer than 50 feet are prohibited. Vehicles exceeding 19 feet in length may not park in the Weeping Rock Parking Area or at the Temple of Sinawava.
About 65 miles of trails are open all year; some in the canyon may close due to the potential danger of ice falling from above. Permits are required for all backcountry camping and day trips going down the Narrows and its tributaries, the Subway and all canyons that require mechanical aid; a fee is charged for the permits. Phone (435) 772-0170 for backcountry information.
Park rangers give talks and lead guided walks from April through October (weather permitting). The Junior Ranger Program, an outdoor learning experience for ages 6 through 12, is held at the park nature center Memorial Day through Labor Day.

ADMISSION
ADMISSION is $30 (per private vehicle); $25 (per person arriving by motorcycle); $15 (per person arriving by other means). These fees permit entrance to the park for 7 calendar days from the date of purchase. Note: Visitors who do not plan to take the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive are still required to pay the $30 park entrance fee to use SR 9 between Springdale and the east Zion entrance station. The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel is within the park boundaries.

PETS
PETS must be physically restrained at all times and are not permitted in public buildings, on trails or aboard shuttles.

ADDRESS
ADDRESS inquiries to the Superintendent, Zion National Park, 1 Zion Park Blvd., Springdale, UT 84767-1099; phone (435) 772-3256.
KenLund / flickr

Recreation
Biking, swimming, backpacking, fishing, hiking—whatever your interest, make sure you experience these recreational highlights, as chosen by AAA editors.
By Frank Swanson
Because Zion National Park is largely undeveloped desert and steep-walled canyons, outdoor activities are limited mainly to hiking—although it's hard to imagine more spectacular day hikes than those offered here. Most trails are in Zion Canyon, but three in the Kolob Canyons area are popular as well. The less difficult trails tend to meander along the bottom of Zion Canyon to picturesque settings, while those ascending to truly breathtaking viewpoints require a more, well, breathtaking hike.
Some of the easiest trails lead to the three Emerald Pools (the trailhead is across from Zion Lodge). The .6-mile concrete path to the Lower Emerald Pool is no more challenging than a city sidewalk. A waterfall spills into the green-tinted pond from a curved rock overhang, and pinyon pines and junipers line the way.
Once you reach the lower pool, the pavement continues behind the falls to a short but steep unpaved trail leading to the Middle Emerald Pool. From there, climb another 200 feet—this part is strenuous—and you'll reach the Upper Emerald Pool at the base of the cliffs below Heaps Canyon. From the Emerald Pools you'll have a great view across Zion Canyon to Red Arch Mountain.
The Watchman Trail, which begins near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center , starts out among the water-loving cottonwood trees bordering the Virgin River and winds into a dry, sunny canyon strewn with boulders and dotted with prickly pear cactus. This moderately strenuous trail ends at an overlook on a low hill, a vantage point that encompasses Springdale and the lower portion of Zion Canyon. You'll also be in the shadow of the trail's namesake, a jagged 6,545-foot peak known as the Watchman.
On the western side of the park you'll find another moderate trail extending from the parking lot at Kolob Canyons Viewpoint to Timber Creek Overlook. The view of the series of reddish peaks marking the entrances to five “finger” canyons is actually best from the parking lot; hiking the rocky .5-mile ridgetop trail to the overlook adds little to the spectacle. You will, however, have a nice perspective at trail's end of the mountains and mesas south of the park, and on a clear day you can see all the way to the Kaibab Plateau at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Near Zion Canyon's northern end, where the Virgin River slinks around two slivers of rock known as Angels Landing and the Organ, are two of Zion's most spectacular overlooks. To get to either one, however, you'll have to hike your heart out. Angels Landing Trail , the somewhat easier trek, ascends the towering, same-named formation, a climb of about 1,490 feet over a distance of 2.5 miles. A chain embedded into the rock guides you the last half-mile out onto Angels Landing for a gorgeous 360-degree view. Have someone take a picture, because you'll want proof that you're crazy enough to scramble out along a ledge with a 1,500-foot drop on either side.
Although harder on the body, the 4-mile-long Observation Point Trail is a bit easier on the nerves. The drop-offs are just as dizzying but are limited to one side of the trail. You do have to be prepared to ascend a stamina-testing 2,150 feet. The mostly paved path climbs up the east wall in a series of switchbacks, enters Echo Canyon—a pretty slot canyon with curving, water-smoothed sides—then traverses another set of switchbacks to the East Rim. One more mile atop this plateau and you're there, the Observation Point, from which you'll have what are arguably the best views of Zion Canyon. Standing here, you'll look down on Angels Landing.
Don Graham / flickr
You don't have to endure an exhausting climb, however, to enjoy a wonderful view. One of Zion's easiest trails, and consequently one of its most popular, is Riverside Walk . Following the Virgin River, this paved path begins at the Temple of Sinawava , the last shuttle stop on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, and extends 1 mile north. The distance from one side of Zion Canyon to the other gradually decreases as you approach the Temple of Sinawava, and continues to do so the farther you walk. By the time you reach the pavement's end, you'll likely be in the shade of one side or the other.
If you have the proper shoes (waterproof with good anti-slip soles), continue down a short flight of stone stairs that leads down from the end of Riverside Walk to the riverbed and actually hike in the river—a challenge thanks to patches of slippery stones and boulders. You can continue north for another 5 miles up the Narrows, one of the park's most photographed areas.
Splashing through a cool river as it meanders between beautiful, erosion-sculpted sandstone walls soaring thousands of feet above you is an experience you won't soon forget. If you hike the full 5 miles you'll pass Mystery Falls—where streams of water trickle down the rock face, and through Wall Street, which is so narrow it's almost like a tunnel—all the way to Big Springs, where the park service requires day hikers to turn around. Just check at the visitor center to make sure river conditions are safe; you don't want to be caught in a flash flood, a real danger in these parts.
The more easily accessible campgrounds in the park's developed areas fill up quickly, so reservations are advised if you want to camp. The Watchman campground is at the park's southern entrance (campsites right along the Virgin River cost extra). The South Campground is open from early March through late October and also offers sites along the river. Outside the park boundaries are Zion Canyon Campground & Quality Inn At Zion Park and Zion River Resort , both of which cater mainly to RV owners but rent a few tent sites as well.
Cyclists can take advantage of the 3.5-mile, paved Pa'rus Trail, which follows the Virgin River. And from April through October, when Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is open only to park shuttles, cyclists can enjoy the canyon scenery without fear of getting creamed by a driver distracted by the view.
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