Zion Canyon: Most visited in the Zion National Park

North America | | January 5, 2011 at 5:01 am


Nestled at the main entrance and off the Utah Route 9, the Zion Canyon is the most visited site in the Zion National Park. This deep as well as narrow gorge sculpted naturally by the Virgin River persuades the tourists to either hike or drive over its meandering routes to explore the myriad of attractions. Ending at the Temple of Sinawava that is a vertically deep amphitheater, the Zion Canyon takes one on its southward trip (16 miles) via the Narrows the North Fork above a high waterfall, forest, Pine Creek Canyon outside the park, and the Springdale settlement before meeting the Virgin after 100 miles.

Passing through the canyon are the two key roads: Zion Canyon Drive and Zion-Mount Carmel Highway of which the former ends at the Temple of Sinawava from where the hiking trails start along the river, descends into the Narrows featuring low water levels, and passes through the Emerald Pools. As opposed to hiking, I chose to explore the canyon via the free as well as convenient shuttle bus that makes a circular trip covering all famous sights. I was not allowed to take my won vehicle as private vehicles are not permitted in the canyon. The bus service takes you around the Zion Valley and runs at regular intervals with tour guides.

Your first attraction is the Zion Canyon Visitor Center via this bus tour from where your real Zion Canyon experience starts. Pick up the maps and inquire about the park attractions with the rangers. There are two campgrounds, restaurants, and gift shops here. The famous Watchman trailhead begins here if you want to hike that takes you until the soaring Watchman towers. Next, the Zion Museum houses all the memorabilia related to the creation of the canyon. Erosion since millions of years left behind these great Navajo cliffs and towers. The Court of the Patriarchs is the next attraction where a short hike leads one to the bottom of these three sandstone monoliths: Issac, Abraham, and Jacob. From here, the Sand Bench Trail leads to the Zion Lodge, famous stay option in the heart of the canyon. From this lodge, the Emerald Pools Trailhead starts leading one to the three pools showing the reflection of flanking cliffs.

The Grotto is the point from where one of the spectacular trail – Angels Landing & West Rim Trailhead – begins. If you are fearful of heights, then do not take this one as 2000-foot vertical cliffs plunge from the edges of this thin trail giving you the breathtaking vista of the Zion Canyon. Weeping Rock features the Observation Point Trailhead where water leaks into the porous sandstone monoliths. At Big Bend, you are below the 6000-m cliff viewing to giant ‘Organ’ Monolith nestled at the river’s edge.

Finally, you reach the Temple of Sinawava where the canyon ends. From here, explore the famous Riverside Walk by the side of the Virgin River and if you wish to go further, be at the Narrows (16-mile hike). For photography featuring the famous monuments as the backdrops, be at the Patriarchs, Great White Throne, and scenes along the Virgin River.

Admission cost

Zion Canyon: Private Vehicles/RVs – $25 per vehicle

Pedestrian/Bicycle/Motorcycle: $12 per person (not to go beyond $25 per family)


South Campground, Watchman Campground, and group campsites are fine for tent camping. Backcountry camping is also there, but as backcountry is an ancient zone managed by proper regulations, camping is limited only permissible via a backcountry permit. Permits are for $5.00 per person per night and the group should not be more than 12 people. Campfires are banned here.

I recommend the Zion Lodge with proper reservations. You can book a motel room, suite, or a cabin for $180. There is also a restaurant, post office, and a gift shop. Outside the park, there are many options in Springdale or in St. George.

Other activities

  • Biking
  • Horseback riding
  • Camping

Best time to come

The Zion National Park is accessible throughout the year. Among all the accommodations, the Watchman Campground as well as the Zion Lodge is open throughout, while others are only open from March to October.

The peak season of tourism is Spring and Fall, while only some visitors come in December to March. The visitor’s center remains closed on Christmas.

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