Located in Southern Utah, Zion National Park is a must-visit destination for any desert lover or outdoor adventurer. The park’s awe-inspiring canyons and lush valleys are unlike anywhere else in the Southwest. Spending 3 days in Zion National Park is the perfect amount of time to get acquainted with the area if you’re planning a first-time trip.
This article shares a detailed 3 day itinerary for Zion National Park, including recommendations on where to stay, what trails to hike, how to navigate around Zion, and other activities to do in the area. Get ready to plan the ultimate trip to Zion National Park!
Affiliate Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. This means if you click a link and make a purchase Kate Outdoors will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Having affiliate links on the site allows Kate Outdoors to provide you with valuable, free content.
Table of Contents
About Zion National Park
Zion National Park is truly an adventurer’s paradise. The park boasts over 90 miles of hiking trails ranging from easy, paved trails, to difficult scrambles. Zion National Park also contains 124,000 acres of designated Wilderness, which ensures this magnificent environment is protected for generations to come.
It is important to acknowledge that present-day Zion National Park is located on the ancestral homelands of numerous Indigenous groups, including the Southern Paiute. The Southern Paiute referred to Zion Canyon as Mukuntuweap, which is said to mean “straight canyon.” The park was originally designated as Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909, but heavy Mormon influence in Utah led to the name being changed to Zion when the park was given national park status in 1919.
Zion National Park Entrance Fee: The entrance fee for Zion National Park is $35 for a private vehicle, but I always recommend having an America the Beautiful pass if you’re planning on taking more than one national park trip within a year. The pass is $80 and provides access to hundreds of federal fee areas across the United States.
How to Get to Zion National Park
Zion National Park is located 2 ½ hours from Las Vegas and 4 ½ hours from Salt Lake City.
From Las Vegas:
To get to Zion National Park from Las Vegas, take I-15 north out of the city. Drive into Utah and get off at Exit 16, which is just north of St. George. Continue on Utah State Route 9 passing through the towns of Hurricane, La Verkin, and Virgin before reaching Springdale, Utah- the gateway for Zion National Park.
From Salt Lake City:
To drive to Zion National Park from Salt Lake City, head south on I-15 to Exit 27 near Toquerville. Take Utah State Route 17 to Utah State Route 9, which will take you to Springdale.
Flying into Las Vegas is the most convenient way to get to Zion National Park. You’ll need to rent a car in order to drive from Las Vegas and get around while spending 3 days in Zion. There are shuttle services that can take you from Las Vegas to Zion, but you will only be able to access areas where the Zion National Park shuttle makes stops.
Find affordable flights to Las Vegas:
Rent a car to drive to Zion National Park:
When to Visit Zion National Park
Zion National Park sees millions of visitors each year. In fact, it’s one of the most visited Utah national parks. It’s not a huge park, but certain areas of Zion see more visitors than others. Zion Canyon is one of the most popular areas of Zion National Park and home to a variety of scenic and well-known hiking trails. I recommend using some strategies to beat the crowds when visiting a popular national park, including getting an early start to the day and traveling during the off-season.
Peak season in Zion National Park occurs during the spring through fall from April/May through August/September Summers in Zion National Park are hot, with temperatures typically reaching 90°+F. Winters in Zion National Park are cold, with temps dropping below freezing. The area typically sees at least a few inches of snow each year.
My favorite time of year to visit Zion National Park is during the late fall or winter when crowds and temperatures are low. Hiking in Zion in November typically provides perfect conditions, and while it will still be fairly busy, you won’t have to fight your way through hoards of crowds. Lodging in the area is also more affordable this time of year.
Recreating Responsibly in Zion National Park
With so many people visiting and enjoying Zion National Park’s trails, it’s incredibly important that everyone does what they can to minimize their impact on the land.
Here’s how you can recreate responsibly in Zion National Park:
Leave No Trace
Follow the 7 Leave No Trace principles. This means:
- Plan ahead & prepare. Hiking in the desert comes with unique considerations, so make sure you research your trails and pack appropriately.
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces. Stay on trails or other durable surfaces like slickrock and washes.
- Dispose of waste properly. Pack out all waste and trash, including food scraps.
- Leave what you find. Don’t carve into, take, or stack rocks.
- Minimize campfire impacts. Check for fire bans and practice campfire safety. This means creating your campfire in an existing fire ring; making sure the fire is attended and doesn’t get out of control; and making sure the fire is out completely (stir the ashes until they are cool to the touch).
- Respect wildlife. Never feed wildlife. Make sure to maintain a safe distance from wildlife.
- Be considerate of others. Wear headphones instead of blasting music over a bluetooth speaker. Remember uphill hikers have the right of way.
The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.
Respect Archaeological Sites
This 3 day itinerary does not include any trails where archaeological sites are located, however Zion National Park is the ancestral home of the Southern Paiute and there are petroglyphs and other archaeological sites located within the national park. These sites are protected by federal laws, including, but not limited to, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and the National Historic Preservation Act. Damaging, defacing, or destroying archaeological sites is a federal crime. Please treat the land and any archaeological sites with respect when visiting Zion National Park.
Here are some best practices when visiting an archaeological site:
- Never sit, touch, lean, or stand on walls of archaeological sites.
- Don’t touch petroglyphs and pictographs (the oils from your fingers can break them down faster).
- Leave all artifacts where you find them.
- Don’t allow pets or small children in archaeological sites.
- Don’t share locations or coordinates of archaeological sites online.
Don’t bust the crust!
A lot of the exposed land around Zion National Park is covered in biological soil crust, otherwise known as cryptobiotic soil. Cryptobiotic soil plays a critical role in the desert ecosystem and is extremely delicate. It can take years to decades to recover from damage, so it’s important to stay on developed trails, or travel over durable surfaces like dry washes or slickrock, to avoid disrupting the cryptobiotic soil!
Most of the trailheads in Zion National Park either have limited or no parking available. If you’re planning on hiking in Zion Canyon you need to take the FREE Zion National Park shuttle (unless you use my travel hack to stay at the Zion Lodge so you can drive in).
Is Zion National Park Dog-Friendly?
Generally speaking, Zion National Park isn’t very dog-friendly. Dogs are allowed in parking lots, campgrounds, and other developed areas, however the only dog-friendly trail in Zion National Park is the Par’us Trail. Unfortunately you won’t be able to complete this Zion National Park 3 day itinerary with a dog, but there’s plenty of other public lands around Southern Utah that are dog-friendly.
It’s also important to note that the Virgin River, which runs through Zion National Park, may also contain toxic cyanobacteria, so you should take care to keep dogs away from the water.
How to Navigate the Zion National Park Shuttle
Zion National Park is extremely popular and sees millions of visitors every year. In order to help cut down on some of the congestion in the park, the National Park Service has implemented a shuttle system to help transport visitors through Zion Canyon.
You can catch the shuttle in Springdale or at the Zion Visitor’s Center. From there the shuttle will take you through Zion Canyon, making 9 stops along the way. The final stop is the trailhead for hiking the Narrows, which is one of the most popular hikes in Zion.
If you don’t enjoy public shuttles, you can always opt to ride a bike through Zion Canyon to access the trailheads in the canyon or stay at the Zion Lodge.
Trip Itinerary: Three Days in Zion National Park
If you want to complete this itinerary and spend 3 days in Zion National Park, I recommend visiting in the spring, fall, or winter. If you’re traveling to Zion National Park during the summer consider substituting the afternoon hikes that are included for some time by the water.
Alternative activities to do during 3 days in Zion include hiking the Narrows or the Subway (permit required). Be aware hiking through narrow canyons comes with flash flood risks. These hikes may also be subject to seasonal closures. If you’re looking for more adventurous activities, rock climbing and canyoneering are also popular in Zion.
This three day itinerary covers some of the best viewpoints and hikes in Zion National Park. If you only have time to spend one of two days in Zion National Park, feel free to pick and choose your favorite activities from this itinerary!
Day 1 in Zion National Park
Drive to Zion
Start your first of 3 days in Zion National Park by driving to Springdale, Utah. If you’re driving to Zion along Utah State Route 9 from St. George, make a pit stop at Fort Zion to experience a taste of the Old West. It’s a fun, tourist stop with plenty of unique photo opportunities. If you’re coming in along Mount Carmel Highway take in the scenic views along the drive as you get your first taste of Zion National Park’s beauty.
Grab lunch in Springdale and take some time to explore the town. There are a number of unique shops and art galleries that are worth a visit. Once you’ve had your fill of Springdale, you’re going to head into Zion National Park.
Be aware: you may or may not encounter a line to enter Zion National Park in the early-mid afternoon, but you want to be sure you have your car for the rest of the day 1 itinerary, so don’t hop on the shuttle!
Walk the Par’us Trail
Your first stop in Zion National Park is going to be the Visitor Center. This will allow you to pick up park maps, grab souvenirs, check the weather, see if there are any trail closures, and learn more about the ecology and rich cultural history in Zion National Park.
From the Visitor Center, head out for an afternoon walk along the Par’us Trail. This easy, dog-friendly walk will give you an opportunity to stretch your legs after a long morning of driving.
Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive
After your walk, get back in the car and prepare for a scenic drive along Mount Carmel Highway through the park. The drive is stunning and takes you through a meticulously constructed tunnel complete with windows so drivers don’t miss out on the breathtaking views. If you have a large vehicle you may need to arrange an escort through the tunnel as it is very narrow.
There are a number of places where you can stop along Mount Carmel Highway to take in the views, including pull offs along the road at unique rock features like Checkerboard Mesa. Find a scenic place to pullover and enjoy the sunset before driving back to your hotel or campsite.
Day 2 in Zion National Park
Hike Angels Landing
Kick off day 2 of your trip to Zion National Park with a sunrise hike along the iconic Angels Landing Trail. While the hike to the top of Angels Landing is roughly 4.5 miles roundtrip, it packs in over 1,800 ft. of elevation gain along highly exposed terrain, so it’s not for inexperienced hikers. Chains are built into the rock in certain sections to help you navigate the risky terrain.
Cars are generally prohibited from the Zion Canyon scenic drive, so plan to be on the first shuttle of the day to get an early start and beat the crowds. You can also rent bikes in Springdale and ride them up Zion Canyon if you want to get an extra early start.
Permits are required to hike Angels Landing and can be obtained two ways. You can enter the seasonal lottery on rec.gov, or you can score a last-minute permit the day before your hike by submitting an application between 12:00 am-3:00 pm MST.
If you’re unable to secure permits to hike Angel’s Landing you can still hike up to Scout’s Lookout for breathtaking views of Zion Canyon. You can also continue hiking from Scout’s Lookout along the East Rim Trail if you want a longer hike, but the best views are at the lookout.
Another way to hike Angels Landing if you’re unable to get your own permit is to hire a permitted guide:
Lunch at Zion Lodge
After hiking Angels Landing, you’re going to head to the Zion Lodge to grab lunch and soak in the views in Zion Canyon. The Zion Lodge is a short walk from the trailhead. If you don’t want to pay the national park premium to eat at the lodge, you can pack your own lunch to enjoy on the lawn under a giant cottonwood tree.
Hike Emerald Pools Trail
Enjoy a little siesta on the lawn before going for another hike along the Emerald Pools Trail. Normally you can hike the trail directly from the Zion Lodge, but there’s a bridge that is currently out so you’ll need to hike from the Grotto Trailhead. The trail takes you to two desert waterfalls with emerald pools at the bottom. Be aware, the Emerald Pools Trail can be icy in the winter, so be sure to have traction, like a pair of microspikes.
Sunset at Canyon Junction
End day 2 of your trip to Zion National Park by watching the sunset from the Canyon Junction Bridge. This is a popular sunset location for photographers thanks to its accessibility and stunning views of the Watchman towering over the Virgin River.
If you want to get away from the crowds and haven’t had enough hiking for the day, you can also hike the Watchman Trail from the Visitor Center to watch the sunset. This short, 3-mile trail packs in over 600 ft. of elevation gain, providing stunning views of Zion National Park.
Day 3 in Zion National Park
Sunrise at Canyon Overlook Trail
Start the last of your 3 days in Zion National Park by taking in the sunrise at the Canyon Overlook Trail. This short 1-mile round trip hike is right off of Mount Carmel Highway, so it’s easy to access first thing in the morning. Because the trail is so short and provides gorgeous views, it gets very crowded, so arriving early will ensure you find parking and have an enjoyable experience.
Hike to Observation Point
After watching the sunrise, drive out of the park on Mount Carmel Highway to the East Mesa Trailhead for a hike to Observation Point. Parking at the trailhead is on public land, but the surrounding land is private. This means you either have to snag one of the limited parking spots or pony up $5 to take a shuttle from the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort.
The hike to Observation Point via East Mesa Trail is 7 miles roundtrip with 700 ft. of elevation gain. It’s a fairly easy-moderate hike depending on your hiking experience and fitness levels. The majority of the hike takes you through a pinyon-juniper forest and past towering ponderosas. The highlight of the hike is arriving at Observation Point where you’ll have the best view of Zion Canyon (even better than Angel’s Landing, which you’ll see in the distance).
Be advised, the East Mesa Trail is currently the ONLY trail you can hike to access Observation Point. There used to be an alternative way of hiking to Observation Point from Weeping Rock in Zion Canyon, but the trail is closed due to rockfall.
Bonus: Drive to St. George & Visit Snow Canyon State Park
After hiking to Observation Point you can head to your next Southwest travel destination. If you’re flying out of Las Vegas I recommend spending an extra night in St. George, Utah, for an easy drive the following day. The Petrified Dunes Trail in Snow Canyon State Park is an excellent place to watch the sunset.
Where to Stay When Visiting Zion National Park
There are a variety of lodging options available in and around the park that you can choose from when spending 3 days in Zion. Springdale, Utah, is the gateway town for Zion National Park and has a variety of hotels, resorts, and cabins to choose from. There are also a variety of unique resorts and rentals in the greater Zion area.
Hotels & Resorts
Whether you’re looking for a luxury resort, a cozy cabin, or a budget-friendly hotel to lay your head at night, you can find it near Zion National Park. Hotels in Springdale can be pricey, but you can find more affordable options nearby in La Verkin or Hurricane.
For the purpose of these hotel recommendations, the “off season” in Zion is from November-March, while “peak” season is from May-August.
Here are some local hotels and resorts to stay at during your 3 day trip to Zion National Park:
The Zion Lodge is located inside of Zion National Park in Zion Canyon making it the best place to stay if you’re spending 3 days in Zion National Park. The Zion Lodge provides easy access to popular hiking trails like Angel’s Landing and Emerald Pools. Staying at the Zion Lodge also allows you to drive up the canyon to the hotel, which is a unique experience when the shuttles are running.
I stayed in a cabin at the Zion Lodge in the fall of 2020 and had a fantastic experience. The cabins have a rustic vibe with a hint of Southwestern flair. I thought the Zion Lodge made a fantastic basecamp for adventures during my trip to Zion National Park.
The Zion Lodge features two dining options, the Red Rock Grill (which was closed when I visited) and the Castle Dome Café. Due to its coveted location it’s an extremely popular place to stay. Reservations open 13 months in advance so plan ahead if you want to stay during peak season. It’s easier to snag a reservation during the off season.
Average Price: From $165/night in the off season and $245/night during peak season for rooms in the lodge (cabins cost more and book up quickly).
The Cliffrose Springdale is part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, so it provides a unique lodging experience that compliments the natural beauty of Zion. There’s a restaurant and bar on site, as well as a hot tub to soak your sore muscles after a long day of hiking.
Average Price: Rates start around $135/night during the off-season, and go up to over $400/night during peak season.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly hotel in Springdale, then check out the Zion Park Motel. The accommodations are simple, but the motel features a pool on site, which is an essential during the summer in the desert.
Average Price: Over $200/night during peak season. Less than $100/night during the off season.
Find Sustainable Hotels Near Zion:
If you want to visit Zion National Park on a budget, camping is the best way to do it. For the most convenience, stay at a campground inside of Zion National Park. If you’re looking to save even more money (or the campgrounds are full), then opt for dispersed camping outside of the park. While dispersed camping is free, it also means there are no amenities, so plan to be fully self-sufficient and practice Leave No Trace.
Zion only has 3 campgrounds inside of the park, and only 2 of them (Watchman Campground and South Campground) are located near Zion Canyon. If you’re planning on camping in Zion National Park, plan to make reservations well in advance or come with a backup plan.
The Watchman Campground is conveniently located inside of the park near the visitor center. Due to its popularity, you should plan to make reservations in advance on rec.gov. Reservations are released on a 6-month rolling basis.
Season: Open year round
Cost: $20/night for tent & walk in sites; $30/night for electric hookups
South Campground is also a great options if you’re spending 3 days in Zion National park. The campground is located near the Visitor Center, just up the road from the Watchman Campground. Be aware, the campground is currently partially closed due to a long term rehabilitation project, so sites are limited. Reservations are available on a 14-day rolling basis on rec.gov.
Season: Closes October 29, 2023
Cost: $20/night (electric hookups not available)
Lava Point Campground
The Lava Point Campground is located near the Kolob Canyon area of Zion National Park, which is an hour away from Zion Canyon. The campground is open seasonally, typically from May through September. Reservations are available on a 14-day rolling basis on rec.gov.
Season: Typically May-September
Cost: $20/night (electric hookups not available)
There is no dispersed camping available inside of Zion National Park, but there are options outside of the park on surrounding BLM land. If you’re planning on dispersed camping during your 3 days in Zion National Park, plan to do some extra driving and prepare to be fully self-sufficient. Most dispersed camping areas do not have amenities like trash service or toilets, so it’s important to pack everything out (this includes human waste in the desert!).
What to Pack to Go Hiking in Zion National Park
Hiking pack recommendations are incredibly subjective. I personally use and love the Osprey Sirrus 24L. However, you don’t necessarily need a pack that large for the Zion National Park hikes included here. A trail running vest is a great option if you want to carry water while staying light on the trail.
You should plan to carry at least 1L per hour of hiking that you plan to do in the desert. Depending on the time of year, temperature, and how acclimatized you are to the desert, you may need more or less. Also consider carrying electrolyte packs like Liquid IV to add to your water, especially if you’re hiking during warmer months!
Most of the best day hikes in Zion National Park are fairly short. You don’t need to pack a ton of food, but you should carry snacks. A protein bar, trail mix, pb&j, dried fruit, and jerky are great snack options!
If you’re going on a sunset hike it’s important to carry a headlamp to help you see the trail after it gets dark.
A well stocked first-aid kit should always be in your pack as part of the 10 essentials, but when hiking in the desert make sure you have band-aids, moleskin, tylenol, and tweezers.
Map & Compass
While all of the trails on this list are easy to navigate, you should always carry a map & compass in the event you get lost. At the very least be sure to download the trail map to your phone before heading out!
A knife can come in handy for a variety of purposes from cutting an apple to fixing your gear. It’s also one of the 10 essentials, so it should be one of those items that just lives in your pack.
While unlikely to occur, injuries that require a hiker to spend an emergency night in Zion can happen. It’s important to carry an emergency bivvy or space blanket to help you stay comfortable during an emergency situation.
Trekking poles are optional but recommended to help your knees during some of the steeper hikes.
The clothing you need to wear on a hike in Zion depends on a number of factors. These include, the forecast, time of year, and your personal preferences. Keep in mind that even if it’s going to be hot during the day, temperatures drop quickly once the sun goes down behind the canyon walls so be sure to carry an extra layer on afternoon hikes. Helpful layers to consider wearing/bringing include a sun shirt and outer layer. How heavy of an outer layer you need to carry will depend on the month you’re hiking.
You won’t have cell service in Zion National Park. I recommend carrying a Garmin in-reach mini GPS on hikes, so you can easily get in contact with authorities in the event of an emergency.