At St George Utah Hand Surgery, we know just how lucky we are to be so close to one of the top national parks in the U.S. But we also know that the popularity of this park and its unique layout can make it tricky to visit, especially as a first-time visitor or during the busy season. That’s why we’ve compiled the ultimate guide to visiting this special place.
Whether you’re new to the area or planning your first visit to Southern Utah, keep reading to learn how to visit Zion like a pro.
Choosing When to Visit Zion National Park
The first thing you’ll need to do is decide when to visit Zion. If you’ve recently moved to Southern Utah or are close enough to travel there a few times a year, visiting at least once during each season is a great way to experience the many different sides of this unique national park. But if you’re planning a visit from elsewhere, you might be more limited on when you get to visit.
Ask any seasoned local, and you’ll quickly learn that the season that most people visit Zion isn’t necessarily the best. Summer tends to be the most popular time of year to visit. Many stores and restaurants are open late this time of year, tour companies have a full list of options and times to choose from, days are long, and rainy days are few and far in between. However, the triple-digit temperatures and summer tourist crowds can make this a tough season to visit, especially if you want to hike some of Zion’s most popular trails.
If you want to enjoy the park with fewer crowds, consider visiting during the “off-season.” Crowds start to fade in the late fall and stay low through the early spring. While you might face cooler temperatures and some snow, winter can still be a great time to do some hiking if you have the right gear.
Mastering the Zion Shuttle System
One thing that often confuses first-time visitors to Zion National Park is the shuttle system. Usually, when you visit a national park, you can drive your personal or rental vehicle into the park to see the sights. When you want to hike, stop in the visitor center, or check out an overlook, you simply look for a parking lot and pull over. This isn’t the case in Zion for much of the year.
Most of Zion’s most popular trailheads overlooks, and other attractions are located in the Lower Canyon. You’ll enter the Lower Canyon from the park’s South Entrance. As you move into the canyon, it slowly narrows. Because space is at a premium, parking is limited in the Lower Canyon. As Zion grew increasingly popular in the late 1990s, traffic and overcrowding became a serious problem. To alleviate traffic and prevent parking along roadways, which led to damage to the natural habitats found there, the National Park Service implemented a shuttle system in 2000.
Shuttle buses ferry guests from the South Entrance through the Lower Canyon, making 8 additional stops before turning around and making the same stops on the way back. No personal vehicles are allowed on roadways in the Lower Canyon when the shuttles are in operation. An additional shuttle line ferries guests through Springdale, connecting hotels and vacation rentals to the South Entrance of the park.
Riding the shuttle is free. Both shuttle loops are in operation daily from April through November, and on weekends in February and March, as well as around the December holidays.
Hiking Angels Landing
Zion National Park has dozens of hiking trails to choose from. But the park’s most famous—or perhaps infamous—is Angels Landing. This 5.4-mile roundtrip hike has nearly 1,500 feet in elevation gain. The trail has a few iconic features, including a set of 21 steep switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles and a .7-mile section of trail at the summit that traverses a narrow ridgeline, with only chain link handrails separating you from steep drop-offs on either side.
Hiking Angels Landing is on many of Zion’s visitors’ bucket lists. However, that goal got a bit more complicated in 2022. This past year, the National Park Service implemented a new lottery system to allot permits for the trail. Visitors have 2 opportunities to obtain a permit. The first is a Seasonal Lottery, held each season to allot permits for the following season. The second is the Day-Before Lottery, which allots any remaining permits for the following day.
Entering the lottery costs $6 for up to 6 people. You’ll also need to pay an additional $3 per person for the permit if you receive one. Without a permit, you won’t be permitted to hike past Scout Lookout.
Choosing Your Zion Lodging
When you visit Southern Utah, you have no shortage of options when it comes to where to stay. Here in St. George, you’ll find endless hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals. But if you do plan to spend a lot of time in Zion, consider staying in Springdale.
Located less than an hour from St George Utah, Springdale is the town just outside of Zion’s South Entrance. Despite being home to just 500 year-round residents, Springdale is full of hotels, resorts, restaurants, shops, art galleries, and more. Most of the town’s lodging options are located on the Springdale Shuttle loop. This means that you can leave your car parked at your hotel or vacation rental, and ride the shuttle to the entrance to the park. Not only will this help you avoid traffic and parking shortages, but it’s also a great way to get to the park early in the day—a must if you plan to take on a challenging hike in the heat of summer.
How to Visit Zion Like a Pro
Now that you know how to visit Zion like a pro, it’s time to start planning your next visit! Whether you’re a visitor planning your first trip or a local navigating the park’s latest changes, like the new lottery system for hiking Angels Landing, these tips can help you make the most of your time in Zion National Park.
With the winter season already in full swing, now is a great time to experience Zion as many visitors never get a chance to. This time of year, you’ll enjoy fewer crowds and stunning winter landscapes.
If hand or wrist pain is holding you back from your own bucket list hike, we can help. At St George Utah Hand Surgery, we’re experts in treating hand and wrist conditions of all shapes and sizes. We offer a full range of both surgical and non-surgical treatment options to help you get back to enjoying life pain-free. Schedule an appointment today to start the road to recovery.