If you are someone who loves adventuring outdoors, Zion National Park is the park for you. While hikes such as Angels Landing and The Narrows receive most of the attention, hiking is not the only way to enjoy the National Park.
Cole and I are both avid hikers and still many of our best memories in Zion National Park don’t involve hiking at all. The beauty of Zion can be witnessed in a multitude of ways – not just by hiking!
The best part? When you opt to explore the park in ways other than just hiking, you get to skip many of the crowds as well.
In this guide, I highlight five epic ways to explore Zion National Park. Additionally, I cover everything you need to know about the park shuttle, as well as general tips to know before you go.
(Due to park restrictions some of the described activities are conducted on the outskirts of Zion National Park, rather than inside park lines).
The Best Things to do in Zion National Park That Don’t Involve Hiking
1. Go Rock Climbing or Canyoneering
Zion is one of the most sought out climbing destinations in the world. Towering Navajo Sandstone mountains encompass the entire park, beckoning climbers and adrenaline seekers from all over the world. Rock climbing is possibly my favorite thing we did in Zion National Park.
Zion Guide Hub is a great company with several tour options. We actually booked a multi-sport tour (more on mountain biking below) and got to experience the day with just the two of us and our guide.
We got a 7:00 a.m. start to beat the heat and were the first out on the rock. Our guide was awesome and felt more like a friend than a tour guide by the end of the trip. He was calming, knowledgeable, and great at making us feel safe while climbing. He not only led our tour but also helped us improving our climbing.
Gear provided will vary by tour company. We brought our own climbing shoes but our helmets, ropes and technical gear were all provided for us, as well as transportation.
Cole and I have climbed in some pretty incredible places, but Zion National Park was definitely among the most beautiful.
If you’ve never rock climbed or rock climbing isn’t your thing, I suggest canyoneering! Canyoneering requires no previous experience. What better way to explore the beautiful rock formations of Zion National Park than by repelling down into them?
I went canyoneering for my first time during our road trip in Utah and absolutely loved it. We opted to rock climb in Zion, but we did go canyoneering in Moab and I cannot recommend the experience enough.
Repelling off towering red cliffs is adrenaline pumping and nerve racking, in the best way. The activity pushes you mentally but it is such a rewarding experience. Canyoneering will have the whole group bonded by the end of the day.
In our experience, adventure guides are great with keeping things fun, making everyone feel confident and helping people overcome their fears. If canyoneering intrigues you at all, go for it!
2. Swim in the Virgin River
On a hot day in Zion National Park there is nothing more refreshing than an ice-cold plunge in the Virgin River. My biggest regret when visiting the park was not having a bathing suit on hand. If you are visiting during the summer months as we did (June – September) I highly suggest adding a fun river dip to your itinerary of things to do.
Not only will the cold water provide some escape from the heat, but views of the park from the river are incredible. There are several small pooling areas along the river perfect for swimming.
We were surprised that more people were not enjoying the river. Chances are they also didn’t know how easily accessible the river is. Zion National Park’s best kept secret is simply enjoying the river while soaking in the views.
Pack a towel, maybe even a book, and snag a place along the riverbank for a nice relaxing day in Zion.
3. Go Mountain Biking or eBiking
When we booked our multi-sport tour with Zion Guide Hub we paired a half-day of climbing with a half-day of mountain biking. I’m not a confident mountain biker, per se, and absolutely loved this experience. It was challenging, hot, and a little out of my comfort zone. However, I cannot think of a more adventurous thing to do in Zion National Park.
During our tour we explored the Hurricane Cliffs Trail System and had the trails all to ourselves. The area was great for riders of all skill levels. I was able to ride the easier routes while Cole navigated more technical runs. We rode a lot of flow trail (berms and rollers), single track, and one gnarly section of technical downhill.
If you’re not an experienced mountain biker don’t let the details deter you. I walked a couple of sections and still had a great time. Our guide was very experienced, patient and helpful.
Rent an E-Bike
If cruising is more your style, rent an e-bike for a unique day of exploring. We didn’t know that the park could be explored via e-bike or we would have taken this route rather than riding the shuttle! Experiencing the park via bike is definitely one of the best things to do in Zion National Park. Why view the park through a window on a bus when you can explore the whole thing on wheels?
Bicyclist are required to enter the park near Springdale (South Entrance) and pass through a fee station. The entrance fee for bikers is $20/person and good for 7 days. However, park passes can also be used.
Once in the park, bicyclist can cruise the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Personal cars are not allowed in the park, making biking a great way to explore Zion. Keep in mind, shuttles run frequently throughout the park. Be aware of your surroundings and pull over to the side when a shuttle is coming.
For more information on biking in Zion National Park, click here.
E-biking is not only fun but the smartest way to explore Zion National Park. As of July, 2021, the park has discontinued the shuttle ticket system. Meaning, you no longer reserve tickets for the shuttle. It runs on a first-come first-serve basis. The first shuttle begins running at 6:00 a.m. We arrived at 5:15 a.m. and there were already a couple hundred people in line before us.
By opting to bike the park instead of take the shuttle, you not only get to skip the lines but you also get to start at whatever time you want! It’s a win-win.
You can check here for shuttle updates.
4. Take a Scenic Drive on Mount Carmel Highway
Even just driving through Zion National Park is a treat in itself. If you are short on time or just exhausted, opt to drive the Mount Carmel Highway, nonetheless. You know a park is miraculous when simply driving through it is one of the best things to do.
The highway runs through the National Park so you do have to pay the $30 park entrance fee. If you’re short on time and this is your only option, it’s still worth it.
The Mount Carmel Highway stretch between the East Park Entrance and the South Park Entrance is 11.6 miles. While driving this portion of the highway you will get to pass incredible landmarks such as Checkerboard Mesa, as well as pass through the 1.1 mile-long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.
We were immediately blown away by the winding road, towering rock formations and expansiveness of the park. Not to mention, slowly driving through a pitch-black 1.1 mile-long tunnel is a pretty remarkable experience.
5. Go Camping / Stargazing
There is something so magical about camping in the desert. The lack of light pollution and dry air creates the perfect space for stargazing. Camping, in my opinion, is one of the best things to do in any National Park or surrounding area.
Both of these campgrounds are within walking distance of the Visitor Center. Keep in mind, due to their close proximity, these campgrounds book up months in advance.
If you are unable to reserve a campsite at either campground, don’t fret. There is plenty of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) camping near the park. Apps like Dyrt and FreeRoam are great resources when looking for BLM campsites.
However, if you really want to experience the best camping Zion National Park has to offer consider camping along La Verkin Creek Trail. Although, you caught me, getting to these campsites does require hiking.
You can read about our epic backpacking trip in my guide How to Backpack Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek Trail, and why it’s a must when visiting Zion National Park.
What to Pack for Full-Day Adventures in Zion National Park
Adventuring in Zion National Parks is epic but does take some planning. Make the best of your time in Zion by ensuring that you are well prepared for a full day in the park. Below I’ve outlined things I recommend to pack for a fun day of adventuring in Zion.
Water (Reusable Bottle)
As with all adventures, it’s crucial that you pack enough water. The recommended amount of water is about one liter for every two miles of walking.
Plastic water bottles are not sold in the park but reusable bottles can be purchased in the gift shops. There are several refill stations located throughout the park. Click here for a list of refill locations.
It’s always a good idea to carry a small day pack when exploring. Carrying a pack allows you to keep all of your belongings in one place, and minimizes the chances of accidentally leaving personal items and waste behind.
You can view my go-to day pack here.
The park is exposed and very hot. Reduce your risk of heat stroke by protecting yourself from the sun. Be sure to pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and or a hat (or all three).
When choosing a sunscreen, please be mindful of environmentally harmful ingredients. To read more about which ingredients to avoid and their effect on the environment click here.
Packing snacks is always a smart move. You never know when you’re going to need an extra sugar boost. Please pack out all of your trash and dispose properly. Do not throw food scrapes on the ground, even biodegradable items.
Zion Park Map
The cell service in Zion National Park is limited. Having a map of the park came in handy more than once. The park map is not only helpful in orienting yourself, but also in understanding the shuttle stops. You can grab a map at the fee station or Visitor Center.
Things to Know Before Visiting Zion National Park
Due to the fact that over four million people visit Zion National Park each year, the park operates a little differently than other parks in Utah. Here are some things we wish we would have known before our trip:
Personal Vehicles are Not Allowed on the Zion Scenic Canyon Drive (March – November)
Personal cars are not allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to help traffic flow smoothly. All visitors must park in the Visitor Center (or in Springdale) and ride the shuttle into the park.
The Visitor Center Parking Lot Fills Up Early
Since personal vehicles cannot park throughout the park, visitors must park at the Visitor Center. The Visitor Center fills up very quickly.
According to the nps.gov website, the parking lot is usually full by 9:00 a.m. However, we visited during the summer and it was at full capacity long before then. If the parking lot is full, you must park in Springdale and take an additional shuttle into the park.
The Shuttle Line Backs-Up Before 6:00 A.M.
As of May 2021, visitors do not need to reserve shuttle tickets. The shuttle now operates on a first-come, first serve basis. As a result, visitors begin lining up for the shuttle well before it’s running. For the first shuttle (6:00 a.m.) people will begin lining up before 5:00 a.m. The silver lining? It’s free.
Even if you pull up to Zion National Park and every plan you made immediately goes out the window, you’re going to have an amazing trip. Adventure begins where your plans run out. Always remember that.
If you have any further questions about adventures in Zion or general park questions, drop me a message in the comment section below.
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