What do to with one day in Zion National Park?
A 12-hour itinerary to Utah’s most visited national park
While you could spend a couple of weeks navigating the canyons and Instagramming the vistas of Zion National Park, sometimes all you have is a day.
So, for those of you needing to escape from the buzz of the Las Vegas Strip, or if you’re trying to squeeze in one more park on an epic western road trip, here’s what to do when you have one day to spend in Zion National Park.
River Rock Roasting Co.
If coming from Las Vegas, start your day at this trendy cafe (deservedly so) in La Verkin, UT, between St. George and Zion. Rich in fresh pastries, locally-sourced ingredients, and skilled baristas, River Rock Roasting gets you fueled and full before you hit the trail. Early riser? Grab a patio seat to watch the sun slowly illuminate the Virgin River canyon.
While most people will park at the Zion Visitor Center just inside the Springdale entrance, you’re not most people. Drive to and park at Canyon Junction, the split of Scenic Highway 9 and Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Grab the shuttle on its way into the canyon, which is restricted to shuttles, buses, and lodge guests in the summer months.
Shuttle stop #7 accesses the Weeping Rock Trail, but the mission here is Observation Point. This eight-mile (round trip) hike is a Ranger-favorite, and a top choice of guides who lead hiking trips in Zion. It has better views and fewer people than Angel’s Landing. It’s a burly climb to the overlook, but your screaming quads will go silent when you’re staring down the searing red rock gorge that is Zion Canyon. (If not feeling the full eight miles, turn around after visiting Echo Canyon, the first slot canyon after the switchbacks.)
Strong hikers can make it back from Observation Point by early afternoon. Shuttle to Zion Lodge to claim a spot on its lush front lawn under the massive cottonwood tree standing proud in its center. Grab a beer or beverage from the patio, and food can be purchased inside the lodge. Turn off your phone, and take some time to sip, snack, and breathe deep. It’s time to relax barefoot in the grass.
Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway
If time allows once back at your car, head up Highway 9 on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. You’ll pass through the remarkable canyon tunnel, completed in 1929, and enter a world of beige and scarlet mountains. Rounds of stoic sandstone pinch the road for miles as it twists through a labyrinth of classic Navajo sandstone. It’s one of our country’s truly great drives. Drive slow, windows down, and watch for desert bighorn clomping along the roadside.
Cordwood / Springdale
If up for an early dinner, continue another few miles outside the park to Cordwood, the on-site restaurant of Zion Mountain Lodge, a popular destination for Utah hiking vacations. Or, head back to Springdale to stroll the many shops and eateries that beckon tourists the world over. Your dining and drink options are many, from family-style to relaxed-formal. Whatever you decide, you’ll leave full, tired, and wondering one last thing: isn’t it amazing how much you can see in one day?