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.
The best time to visit Zion National Park is between the months of May and November when the park's free shuttles are running and the weather is amenable to enjoying attractions. December through April constitutes the park's low season, but although there will be fewer crowds, some attractions, such as the Narrows and Angels Landing, might be too cold to fully enjoy. The park is open to the public 24 hours a day, every day of the year.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
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.
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 .
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.See details for Getting Around
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