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Zion National Park, UT

One Day in Zion National ParkAAA editors suggest these activities for a great short vacation experience. Those staying in the area for a longer visit can access a 3-day itinerary at AAA.com/TravelGuides.

Morning Springdale has an enviable setting along the North Fork of the Virgin River, just outside the park's south entrance. Both lodgings and restaurants take full advantage of the view, so fortify yourself with a hearty breakfast beforehand, or relax and discuss your Zion adventures over dinner at the end of the day. Cafe Soleil has fresh coffee, fruit and bagels to fuel your visit; they'll also pack a lunch for later. Try waffles with berries or the granola parfait at MeMe’s Café , which has outdoor seating.

If you only have a day to explore the park, begin at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center , near the southern entrance, or the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center , off I-15 exit 40. You'll avoid delays during the busy summer season by parking in Springdale and boarding the free shuttle.

Afternoon One of the park's highlights is Zion Canyon itself. The round-trip ride on the shuttle takes about 90 minutes, and you’ll get to see some of the most famous things to see. But it's also rewarding to get off the shuttle and explore; many of the stops are also trailheads. Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava is even partially handicapped accessible. This 1-mile paved trail follows the Virgin River; the canyon gradually narrows on either side of you as you head north. Soaring walls of red Navajo sandstone press in on both sides, giving you the impression that you've entered some vast, imposing place of worship.

flickr/Joel Sowers
Have lunch at the Red Rock Grill in the Zion Lodge . Items on the menu include burgers, chicken and portobello mushroom sandwiches. The dining room has lots of rustic touches you'd expect at a national park lodge—rough-hewn wooden chairs, stacked stone walls—and the outdoor terrace offers fantastic views.

Another beautiful walk is right across the street: the Emerald Pools Trails. A footbridge over the Virgin River connects to a paved path that continues to the Lower Emerald Pool, which shimmers beneath a curved, projecting ledge over which water trickles (or, during rainy weather, pours). Vegetation thrives here thanks to water seeping from the porous sandstone cliffs.

The Grotto Trail is also worth walking, and you can then reboard the shuttle at the Grotto stop.

The Zion Human History Museum has rotating art exhibits, ranger-led programs and great views of The Towers of the Virgin and Bridge Mountain . From the museum there's access to the Pa’rus Trail, an easy hike.

Evening You’ll be starved after a day of hiking and taking in the park's majesty. Not ready to relinquish the view? Then head to the Spotted Dog Cafe at Flanigan’s Inn . For a casual, cozy atmosphere, good Mexican food and portions big enough to fill the Court of the Patriarchs, duck into Oscar's Cafe .

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Zion National Park, UT

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Best Western Plus Zion Canyon Inn & Suites

668 Zion Park Blvd. Springdale, UT 84767

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SpringHill Suites by Marriott Springdale Zion National Park

1141 Canyon Springs Rd. Springdale, UT 84767

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Hampton Inn & Suites Springdale Zion National Park

1127 Zion Park Blvd. Springdale, UT 84767

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Best Western East Zion Thunderbird Lodge

Jct US 89 & SR 9. Mount Carmel Junction, UT 84755

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