Updated: May 21, 2015
Zion National ParkZion National Park is located in southwest Utah, about 2.5 hours from Las Vegas, and 3 hours from Salt Lake City. The name itself doesn't tell you much about the park or what to expect. If you have been to Yosemite or know what Yosemite looks like, think of Zion as the Yosemite of the desert. The waterfalls are missing, but the river carving the canyon is still alive, and you will find yourself in a magnificent valley with red desert sandstone cliffs all around you. The colors and scenery are intense, and the hiking trails around the park will take you to vistas you have only dreamed of. Read on below to learn about the new bus system, Zion lodging and hotels, Zion maps, Zion photos, and much more.
Getting to ZionZion National Park is located far away from major airports. Most visitors arrive via plane and then rent a car for their trip around the southwest desert area. Las Vegas International Airport is about 150 miles away. St. George, UT has a small airport less than an hour away, but you may be hard-pressed finding a connecting flight to that airport. Zion is located off Interstate 15 in Utah, just north of St. George. Take the turnoff for route 9 and follow it east until you get to the park entrance. Getting around the park from April to October is a bit of a pain. They implemented a bus system to take visitors on the so-called "scenic route", which is the main, and only, road into the canyon along the river. Route 9, taking you from the west side to the east side of Zion, is open year around to car traffic - the bus route affects only the drive into the main canyon, which include access to the Zion Lodge and the main sights of the park. Amazingly enough, they have managed to turn a 15 mile loop into a 90 minute bus ride -- you can do the math, but it works out to about a 10MPH bus ride, to which you will be held captive. The bus system is supposedly designed to decrease traffic problems, noise, and congestion, but having personally visited the park before and after the bus system, I can say I prefer the old traffic and congestion to this newly imposed, restrictive system. The buses run continually, about every 10 minutes or so, but they stop at only 8 stops along the route, meaning that if you want to take pictures, you have to get off at each stop, take your photos, wait for the next bus, ad nauseam. Let's face it, America is built around the personal freedom of the car, and this system has a totalitarian feel to it. Anyways, if you visit outside the winter months, you are stuck with this system.
Park at the visitor center just inside the south entrance. The bus stop is clearly marked. The shuttle will take you all the way up into the canyon, stopping at the following stops: Zion Human History Museum, Canyon Junction, Court of the Patriarchs, Zion Lodge, The Grotto, Weeping Rock, Big Bend, Temple of Sinawava, and Riverside Walk. The area around the Zion Lodge is a nice place to jump off. The Emerald Pool Trails are there, with 3 paths to choose from, from easiest to hardest. You can also walk up to the Grotto from here, following the Grotto Trail through the picnic area. If you arrive in mid to late summer, you may be able to follow the riverside walk up into the narrows. The Virgin River enters the north side of the park through a narrow canyon. During times of heavy melt and run-off, the river runs high and you cannot hike very far up into the canyon. But in the summer months, when the river is an its minimum, you can take this fun hike/swim/wade up into some amazing desert canyons, with spectacular color and views. Always check with the rangers as to the status of the river - and be aware of flash floods if there are thunderstorms in the area. Plus you need a gallon of water per person for a whole day hike. For kids in Zion, the Lower Emerald Pool Trail is an easy 1 mile hike, with a paved trail and view behind the waterfalls. The Grotto Trail is another short, easy hike, and it is shaded as well, helping minimize the heat in the summer months.