zion national park watchman trail

Zion National Park, is without a doubt, one of Utah’s most beloved destinations. With the current pandemic ravaging the world, those living in the U.S. have found themselves with a sort of dilemma: no international travel. If you’re anything like me, that can be devastating. 

But fear not!

Although Americans most likely won’t be able to travel internationally until mid 2021, many are hitting the roads in their cars and flying domestically to discover all the beautiful places that the U.S. has to offer. It’s no surprise that Zion National Park is one of the most popular destinations due to its vibrant canyons and mountains, panoramic views, and thrilling hiking trails. 

Whether you only have a day or a whole week to explore the park, I created a list of 10 must see attractions. To make the most of your trip and fully experience all that Zion has to offer, continue reading! 

How to Get Around Zion National Park

Source: NPS

The main sights can be found along either the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive or the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.

  1. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive: From mid-March to the end of November, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is not accessible to personal cars or RVs and must be accessed via the national park shuttle busses. In order to ride the shuttle, tickets for specific time slots must be made in advance on their website. To purchase the clicks, go to the Recreation website HERE, create an account, search for Zion National Park shuttle tickets, choose the time slot, and purchase them. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • Tickets sell out fast so make sure to buy them ahead of time
  • You must board the shuttle within your selected time slot. Ex: A 2-3pm ticket means you can board the shuttle between 2 pm and 3 pm
  • There may be a line to get onto the shuttle
  • Masks must be worn 
  • Tickets are $1 per person
  • Tickets are available from 6 am to 6 pm

     2. Zion Mount Carmel Highway: Cars are allowed on this scenic road. A $15       entrance fee is required for all vehicles, even if they are just going on this highway. The shuttle does not operate on this highway.

10 MUST SEE ATTRACTIONS IN ZION NATIONAL PARK

1) Watchman Trail

Zion national park watchman trail

The Watchman Trail is a moderate 3 mile round trip trail, climbs 400 feet in elevation, and offers some of the most spectacular, panoramic views of Zion National Park. If you’re short on time and can only choose one hike, I would recommend this one. The Watchman Trail does not offer much shade and is subject to lots of sun so it’s important to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

Situated next to the Pa’rus trail, the trailhead is near the Zion Canyon visitor center and has a sign with some steps that marks the start of the trail. For the first 15 minutes, the trail is relatively flat and easy, but then, it sharply starts to ascend up the mountain. The path is not paved but is well kept, and it is surrounded by green desert plants, such as shrubs and prickly pear cactus. Once you reach the end of the trail, you will experience the stunning views of Springdale, the majestic and colorful mountains, and green scenery that Zion is known for. On average, the hike should only take 1.5-2 hours roundtrip and is best done at sunrise and sunset for the best views. 

2) Pa'rus Trail

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The Pa’rus trail is family friendly, paved, and is the only hike that allows pets and bikes. Just north of the visitor center and located in the South Campground, the Pa’rus Trail winds along the Virgin River and ends at the Canyon Junction. The trail crosses over several bridges and the entire trail offers scenic views of the tranquil river, rock formations, and green shrubbery. At only 1.7 miles long one-way, this relatively flat trail can be done in approximately 1-2 hours, depending on how fast you walk.  If you look carefully, you might even see some deer foraging for deer…they’re quite popular around this area! 

3) Riverside Walk

riverside walk zion park

To get to the Riverside walk, you will have to take the Zion shuttle and get off at the very last stop called the Temple of Sinawa. The Riverside walk is a very pleasant and easy 2 mile long roundtrip walk that leads to the start of the infamous Narrows. The Riverside walk is on a paved road with a few hills, making it perfect for the whole family to do. Here, the main canyon gets very tall and has a godly and majestic feel to it. Additionally, there are several points where you can easily venture off the main trail and go into the Virgin River to cool off. The Riverside Walk is extremely popular because it is the only path to get to the start of the Narrows, a famous hike in the Virgin River. The other great thing about the Riverside Walk is that there are lots of shaded areas so you’re not constantly under the hot sun. 

4) The Narrows

The Narrows is the narrowest section in Zion National Park and is the most popular attraction. Hiking through the Narrows is unlike any other hike because it is in the Virgin River between two monstrous walls. To hike the Narrows, it’s important to check the river conditions beforehand, wear the correct pants (preferably shorts or pants that can get wet and dry fast), wear closed toe shoes, bring a sturdy hiking stick because you will be walking on rocks in the river, and bring snacks and lots of water. This is a seasonal hike and should only be attempted during Spring and Summer, when the weather is warmer and the water level is lower. Although the Narrows is 16 miles long, most people turn back earlier because it can get really intense, especially when the water gets waist-level. To avoid the crowds, try to get to the Narrows between 6-7 am. 

Tip: While some people choose to rent gear such as walking sticks, canyoneering shoes, neoprene socks, you can actually save money and time by buying your own walking stick and wearing a pair of worn-in running shoes and sweat-wicking pants or shorts. 

Source: Type 1 Traveler

5) Drive On Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

zion mount carmel highway

Zion Mount-Carmel Highway is a beautiful, scenic 12 mile road that winds through Zion park and connects the South entrance with the East entrance. The views on this road are stunning and there are numerous spots where you can pull off the road for a better view or take a short walk while soaking in all the sights. The scenery on this side of the park is slightly different from the other side, as it is covered with a higher concentration of green shrubbery and white “granite-like” rocks. One of the highlights of driving on this highway is going through the tunnel. Built in the 1920s, this 1.1 mile long tunnel cost a fortune and took several years to complete. Although cars are not allowed to stop inside the tunnel, there are small windows, or openings, where you can slow down and catch a glimpse of the beautiful views. One thing to note is that if someone drives a vehicle that is taller than 11 feet, the tunnel will only allow 1 way traffic since the oversized vehicle will take up both lanes.

zion mount carmel highway

6) Checkerboard Mesa

The Checkerboard Mesa is located right after the tunnel on Zion Mount-Carmel  Highway and is a unique rock formation, unlike any other formation typically found in Zion National Park. There is a pullout where cars can stop and you can take a closer look at it. The Checkerboard Mesa gets its name from the unique checkerboard like pattern on its sandstone hills. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can cross the road from where the cars are parked and head up the trail to the checkerboard mesa highpoint. The hike is quite strenuous and takes approximately 3-4 hours.

7) Canyon Overlook Trail

Source: Wildland Trekking

The Canyon Overlook trail is one of the easiest and most photogenic trails at Zion National Park. It is only 1 mile round trip and is not very steep, so both children and some of the elderly can do it. In the beginning of the trail, shady trees and green shrubs cover most of the surrounding areas, while the end of the trail is more open and stops at the edge of the cliff, revealing impressive rock formations on either side of the canyon. Come here during sunrise or sunset for the most stunning views and when the light is softer than during the day. 

8) Angels Landing Trail

Source: Utah

Considered as one of the most dangerous, but highly popular, trails, Angels Landing is 5 miles round trip, strenuous in difficulty, and is quite steep. Since Angels Landing does not offer much in terms of shade, it’s best to do this hike during Spring, Fall, or Summer mornings when it is less hot. The trailhead is located near the bridge across the road from the Grotto Picnic Area. While the trail starts off relatively flat and easy, it slowly ascends its way via a series of switchbacks, until you reach the top part of the trail, where it becomes extremely narrow and steep. This hike is not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. However, once you reach the top, all the hours of intense hiking will be worth it for the stunning, panoramic views of Zion Canyon.

Source: Backpacker

9) Emerald Pools Trail

Source: Family Can Travel

Emerald Pools offer 3 separate trails that lead to sparkling waterfalls and lush pools. These include the lower (1 mile round trip), middle (2 mile round trip), and upper (3 mile round trip) trails. The lower trail is the easiest and is great for kids and the elderly, whereas the upper trail is the hardest and longest of the three trails. Offering spectacular views of the waterfalls and majestic mountainous cliffs year round, it’s no surprise that Emerald Pool is on the top of the bucket list for many people.

10) Zion Human History Museum

Zion Human History Museum
Source: Zion National Park

Located approximately 1 mile from the South entrance, the Zion Human History Museum displays the rich human history from the American Indians who inhabited Zion all the way to the first pioneer settlers. Additionally, it shows the interesting timeline of how Zion has changed over several centuries. The museum is open daily and offers free admission to everyone. 

*Update: The museum is still closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic*

Other Places to Visit in Utah

Utah offers a plethora of hiking and outdoor activities for the whole family. In addition to Zion National Park, some popular places to visit in Utah include:

  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonland National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Grand Staircase National Monument
  • Dixie National Forest 

Let me know in the comments below what place you’re most excited about visiting at Zion National Park!

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