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Why Go to Zion National Park

Named for the Hebrew word "refuge," Zion National Park – nestled in Utah's southwest corner – is no longer the quiet sanctuary it once was. In 2016, the park saw a record-breaking 4.3 million visitors, a 17 percent increase from its last record-breaking year in 2015. It's as if travelers stumbled upon a secret and can't get enough of the apricot-colored Zion Canyon, which they can view wading through its Virgin River or ascending Angels Landing, with each bend in the river or turn in the trail affording an even more breathtaking view. Plus, the blanket of stars that illuminates the night sky is a welcome nightcap to a day filled with active pursuits. And when it's time to come back from the refuge to reality, the 166-mile drive from Las Vegas or the 308-mile drive from Salt Lake City is just about the right amount of time to process all the beauty you just experienced.

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Zion National Park Travel Tips

What You Need to Know

  • Check the weather Wait for a day with a clear forecast before visiting the park. The canyon can fill with flash floods, and the hiking trails can become slippery and dangerous during storms.
  • Pack layers Even during the summer, Zion National Park is prone to fluctuating temperatures and chilly nights.
  • Plan in advance This national park is becoming increasingly popular, so make your accommodation reservations and get your permits (if applicable) months in advance of your trip.

How to Save Money in Zion National Park

  • Leave your car outside the park Using the park's free shuttle, offered nine months out of the year, saves you time and money. Not only is it by far the easiest way to get around the park, but it also cuts your park admission in half (as a pedestrian, you'll be charged a $15 entrance fee instead of the $30 motorists are required to pay).
  • Pitch a tent Save money on accommodations by camping at one of the park's three campgrounds. But plan to make a reservation in advance to ensure your spot.
  • Stay in Springdale, Utah If you're not willing to rough it, bedding down in Springdale – the closest town that sits just outside the park's west entrance – may be your best bet, as it's home to a variety of accommodations and also operates a free shuttle to the park.

What to Eat

Zion National Park isn't known for its plethora of dining options. Inside the park, travelers can enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at the Red Rock Grill or coffee, snacks and beer at the Castle Dome Café. Both are located within Zion Lodge.

In neighboring Springdale, there are a few more options. Deep Creek Coffee Co., which serves coffee, as well as breakfast and lunch, is a favorite spot. Recent travelers also highlight breakfast joints like Café Soleil Zion and the Spotted Dog Café.

For more options, consider making the drive west to St. George, which offers nearly 200 establishments. The Painted Pony – which plates Southwestern dishes in a cozy, art-filled space – and Cliffside Restaurant – where panoramic views of the city and surrounding canyons are served alongside upscale American fare – are two of St. George's more popular restaurants.

If you want to pick up snacks for the hiking trails, you might want to stock up in places like Las Vegas, Salt Lake City or St. George – depending on where you're traveling from – since there aren't any major chain grocery stores in this part of rural Utah. However, the town of Springdale does boast a local supermarket, Sol Foods.

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Safety

As with other national parks, Zion National Park is filled with awe-inspiring sights – from its Zion Canyon to its Virgin River – that can also pose as safety hazards if not approached appropriately. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and avoid hiking during thunderstorms, especially on trails such as the Narrows , which are predisposed to flash floods. Also, remember that summertime's high travel season – especially July through September – are particularly prone to heavy precipitation.

Temperatures during the peak season can also reach into triple digits, which means that staying hydrated and wearing hats and sunscreen is very important. The National Park Service recommends carrying one gallon of water per person and bringing snacks. If any of your hiking companions become disoriented or confused – perhaps even have seizures – it's important to cool them down and seek medical attention immediately, as they could be experiencing heatstroke. Headaches, fatigue, clammy skin, nausea and vomiting are all symptoms of heat exhaustion and should be treated with food and fluids.

Some of the hiking trails feature narrow areas with steep drop-offs – take your time, stay on the trails, keep away from the cliff edges, observe any posted warnings and keep a close eye on any children. For more information on staying safe in Zion National Park, visit the park service website .

Getting Around Zion National Park

The best way to get around Zion National Park is on the park's free shuttle during the nine months of the year that it runs. Between December and February, your only option is a car since the shuttle pauses service during the winter months. If you choose to drive into the park, you'll have to pay a $30 entrance fee, which is valid for seven days. If you enter as a pedestrian or bicyclist (or via the free shuttle from the neighboring town of Springdale), you'll be asked to pay $15.

The closest major airport is McCarran International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas. It's about 172 miles (or about a three-hour drive) southwest of the park. There are also two regional airports in St. George and Cedar City, Utah, but they only offer limited flights from Salt Lake City, Denver and Phoenix.

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