How to prepare for Zion National Park
5 things to know before going to Zion National Park to prepare and maximize your experience.
You landed here because you are planning to go to Zion National Park. Thousands of visitors go to Zion National Park every day for the breathtaking sights and the unique hikes. It is important to do your research so you can be prepared and maximize your experience at Zion National Park. Keep reading to get all the travel tips and hiking advice.
*This article has been updated after Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted in 2022.
1) Get familiar with the Zion Canyon shuttle system.
The shuttle system at Zion National Park is enforced seasonally to maintain capacity and traffic on the road along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
Permits and reservations are not needed to take the shuttle so it is on a first-come, first-served basis and the best way to know when the shuttle operates is to visit Zion National Park's official website. The shuttle is almost unavoidable during peak seasons because the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed off to personal vehicles which leads to the most popular hikes.
Parking fills up quickly at Zion National Park, but you can also park in the town of Springdale (for a fee) and take the free shuttle to and from the park entrance. The shuttle that runs through Springdale is also part of the park service and stops at 9 locations.
Pro tip: Arriving earlier always has the perks of fewer people.
What are alternative ways of transit besides the shuttle?
Bike rentals: There is plenty of bike parking at each shuttle stop and bike rentals at Zion National Park. It is a beautiful ride if you don't mind the inclining hills.
Walking: Many visitors attempt to walk, but they soon find out they are miles from their desired destination.
2) Research Zion National Park activities
Zion National Park has so many activities, so it would be difficult to do everything in one day. It all comes down to what you want to do and see because it offers many activities for different experience levels whether you are a beginner or an advanced hiker. If you are short on time like I was, here are itineraries for 1-day or 2-days:
The most popular activities to do:
Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
Lower Emerald Pools
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (this is closed during peak season)
3) Understand parking restrictions
Parking at the Zion National Park Visitor Center can fill up quickly in the morning. Once parking fills up at the visitor center, street parking in Springdale is available with a fee and you can take the city shuttle to the park. Give yourself extra time to find parking and walk to the shuttle. Here is a list of alternative parking if the visitor center parking is full.
4) What to bring
Always pack plenty of water, sunscreen, and snacks at a minimum. There are many trials that are unshaded so a hat or sunglasses can also be useful. Closely monitor the weather forecast because it can be a 30-degree difference between the morning and afternoon. If you plan on hiking The Narrows, the 2nd most popular Zion National Park experience, I suggest you keep reading
5) Preparing to hike The Narrows at Zion National Park
If you plan on hiking The Narrows in the Fall or Winter, I suggest getting proper gear to stay warm because the water can get cold. I went through Zion Outfitters, located next to Zion National Park, and rented a package that comes with hiking boots, neoprene socks, a hiking stick, and dry pants. It was so useful and kept me warm in October, so this is recommended in the Fall and Winter. The Narrows close in the Spring if the water level is too high from snow melt so I recommend checking with the National Park Service on closure dates in the Spring.
Pro Tip: Bring a mini disposable bag to appropriately discard your garbage at the end of your trip.
5) Get a national park pass
America the Beautiful annual pass is worth every penny if you plan to see more than two national parks in a year. The Zion National Park entrance fee is $35 per vehicle with access for 7 consecutive days, but most park-goers combine their trip with other national parks like Bryce Canyon, Arches National Park, or Capitol Reef National Park. You have the option to make an advance online purchase or at the entrance office at Zion NP. If you plan on purchasing it online, make sure you give yourself at least three weeks for the pass to be mailed to you. A receipt or purchase confirmation will not be accepted at the entrance.
Note: America the Beautiful pass gives you access to all U.S. national parks only. State parks have their own passes.
6. Angel's Landing requires a permit from the lottery system.
Most notably the epic scenery that brings thousands of people to Zion National Park is Angel's Landing. I personally felt that this was a moderate hike with it being a roundtrip 5-mile hike, but others may think it is strenuous with the ascending switchbacks and the need to overcome any fear of heights if you want to complete the last half mile of the hike where it'll require visitors to hold onto chains. This is a hike that requires good hiking shoes or boots and not your regular tennis shoes.
Angel's Landing started requiring permits in 2022 due to its high popularity which can be reserved on recreation.gov. The permit allows you to hike Scout Lookout to Angels Landing (the peak) along the half-mile section of the trail with chains. To obtain the permit is through a lottery system that can be requested at least 3 months in advance or a day-before lottery request. If you don't plan on reaching the peak, then the permit is not needed because you'll still get some great views during the switchbacks up the mountain.
Comment below if you have questions and want to know more!