One Day in Zion National Park, Utah
People often spend a week or more in Zion exploring the endless hikes there one by one. However, if you're like and are only passing through, you'll likely only have time for one or two. In my case, I was driving from Las Vegas, Nevada to Denver, Colorado and only had time for a one night stay in Zion. Even though there was a lot I missed out on, I felt really fulfilled by my Zion experience. Here are my suggestions if you only have a short amount of time in this gorgeous national park.
Accommodations in and Around Zion
We under-planned pretty badly and ended up not making a reservation at a campsite beforehand so needless to say I was pretty stressed out when it came to being able to book a site. I thought there would have been plenty of first-come, first-serve spots, but when I looked at the reviews on Yelp, everyone said they had got there at 6am and there was already a line. We got on the road from Vegas at like 11 so chances are we were screwed. So number #1 most important thing is to make sure that you reserve a spot a few weeks in advance!
We even joked that we’d have to sneak our tent into Zion and just pitch it in the middle of nowhere (we were kind of kidding), but in all seriousness we were desperate so refer to the above statement. We somehow got the very last spot at an RV and camp park right outside Zion, which was just dumb luck.
I definitely recommend staying outside of Zion at this RV/Camp park called Zion Canyon Campground. It was only $40 for a campsite and we got free shower tokens, which is much needed after a hike! If you’re also like me, and aren’t well equipped to make campfire food like hotdogs and marshmallows (what else do you eat at a campsite?), then there are some great restaurants and cafes across the street and to the side so no driving required!
Getting into Zion
Everyone recommended that we leave our car at the campground and take the free shuttle that comes every 7- 15 minutes to the Zion Visitor Center and drops people off at Zion Lodge, which is in the park. The issue that we had with that is that the last shuttle out of the park during spring (hour later during summer) is 8pm so we would have had to miss the sunset, which everyone knows is when you actually want to be in the park. So we risked bringing our car in and not having a parking spot (which everyone warned us would happen). I guess the stars were aligning for us that day, because we had no trouble finding a parking spot. The fee to get our car in was $25, but that also included us getting in as well.
Hiking in Zion
We really wanted to catch the sunset and didn’t get into the park until 7pm or so and so we opted for the shorter, easier hike. However, if you’re a newcomer to Zion, then I recommend choosing between these two hikes depending on how much time you have and what your hiking skill level is at.
Note: I was also pretty disappointed that Zion didn't let people in to see the sunrise. That's the prettiest time of day and I can't imagine what the sunrise looks in Zion! Really not sure why they don't open their doors until 7am.
Short Beginner Hike: Canyon Overlook Trail
Distance: 1 Mile
Time: Less than an Hour
The good news about this short hike, is that many say it gives you some of the best photographs in the whole park! So if you’re short on time and want to feel like you still got to experience Zion, this is likely the hike you want to go for. Although the hike was shorter than I would have wanted, I still felt really satisfied with the hike and in fact the view that I saw at the top made me feel like I had done a much more exerting hike than I actually did.
Longer, More Strenuous Hike: Angels Landing
Distance: 5 Miles
Time: 2-4 Hours
If you have more time to spare and are up for a more strenuous hike, then Angels Landing is sure to not disappoint. Many consider it to be the best hike in all of Zion and it’s at least very iconic. Although I wasn’t able to do it on this trip, I recommend doing it if you have more time on your hands, because you’ll feel more fulfilled as far as getting in a full hike!
Eating and Drinking at Zion
After your strenuous or not so strenuous hike, you deserve a nice cold beer and lucky for you, there’s a brewery right next to Zion. However, be warned: there are some pretty severe alcohol laws in Utah. This means that your beer won’t be over 3.5%, you are required to get food with it and under no circumstances can you drive under the influence, even the influence of a single 3.5% beer. We got a pitcher (because hey, they didn’t say how much you could drink) and a soft pretzel (covering our food requirement) from Zion Canyon Brewing Company, which was decent. I got the IPA and it did taste a little watery, but hey it’s not their fault. The great think is this brewery is walking distance from the campsite so no need to break the law!
For dinner, we went right next door to Whiptail Grill, where i had one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. Not even kidding, it was randomly really good.
There’s also a cute little convenience store/ cafe that we went to for breakfast called Perks. They made our coffees way too sweet, but might have been a one time thing so try it for yourself. It's also a good place to stock up on some snacks if you’re planning on going on a second hike before you leave Zion
Next Day Hike at Zion
If you have time for a second hike before you leave Zion the next day, then I recommend doing something a little different than your hike the day before.
Short Beginner Hike: Emerald Pools Trail
Distance: 1.2-3 Miles
Time: 1-3 Hours
This is a great hike to go on if you’re short on time and want to see something different than your first hike. It’s also quite easy and feels more like a stroll than a real hike, but you still get to see a lot of cool stuff along the way. I was hoping that the pools would actually be emerald, like the Emerald Pool in Yosemite, but they’re more a mucky brown until you get to the very end to find low and behold--the last pool is actually emerald! Kind of. Not as crystal clear and green as the one in Yosemite, but still pretty cool. There is also a nice waterfall that you get to pass under on your way there. The downside of this hike is that it can get a little crowded so it’s best to go early in the morning!
Longer, More Strenuous Hike: Zion Narrows
Distance: 3-8 Miles
Time: 2-6 Hours
I didn’t get a chance to explore this one, but have been told it’s super awesome. The thing is you need to prepare for it by bringing water shoes, a waterproof backpack, etc. It’s also more of a full day hike. What’s special about it though is that you pretty much get to hike through water while in canyon narrows so you can’t really get much more epic. If you can make time for it, then the Zion Narrows is a really unique experience that will round out your overall Zion trip quite well.