Zion Outdoor Adventures

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Zion Outdoor Adventures
There are plenty of ways to interact with Zion National Park, no matter your fitness level. Explore the sights of Zion Canyon by shuttle, take scenic drives, or—if you want to be more active—go hiking, biking, rock climbing, or canyoneering.
Photo courtesy of Zion NPS
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    Tour Zion Canyon by Shuttle
    The shuttle bus is easily the best way to get the lay of the land in the park’s iconic Zion Canyon. Bus drivers are technically drivers only, but often offer sightseeing information and fun stories. Use a park map to identify some of the park's big cliffs and other geologic features. Don’t hesitate to hop off at any of the nine stops along the out-and-back route to explore the canyon more closely. The Court of the Patriarchs and the Temple of Sinawava stops are stunningly beautiful, and if you want to stretch your legs then get off at the Emerald Pools stop.
    Photo courtesy of Zion NPS
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    See the Sights by Road
    The paved roads of Zion National Park are a true pleasure to drive. Narrow, curvy, rusty-red in color, and chock-full of scenic pullouts, the park’s roads may look like they belong in a car commercial, but they are real and are yours to use in discovering some of Zion's far-off corners. While Zion Canyon is the park’s most famous attraction, there’s plenty more to take your breath away along the endlessly switchbacking Zion–Mount Carmel Highway, which connects Zion Canyon and the park’s east entrance. Also check out the Kolob Terrace Road—a long, out-and-back route through the middle of the park—and Kolob Canyons Road in the park’s northwest corner, a short road which offers big bang for your buck.
    Photo courtesy of Zion NPS
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    Beautiful Short Hikes
    Hiking is an absolute must in Zion. Seventy-plus miles of trails await, but you don’t have to walk far to see something special. Weeping Rock Trail in Zion Canyon is short and steep—a half-mile round-trip to see a rock alcove with water seeping from it and with beautiful ferns near the water. Perhaps even better than the Weeping Rock itself is the view of the rest of Zion Canyon. The Emerald Pools in Zion Canyon look just as they are named. There are three of them—the Lower, Middle, and Upper Pools—each surrounded by lush greenery in an otherwise desert landscape. During spring, you’ll also find a couple of small waterfalls and pour-offs.
    Photo by Meghan M. Hicks
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    Longer Hikes for Longer Views
    There are plenty of Zion trails if you want to take on a longer hike. Observation Point is an eight-mile round-trip; you’ll climb over 2,000 vertical feet to the point, through a lovely side canyon, and eventually to a literal bird’s-eye view of Zion Canyon. Angels Landing is another advanced hike. While only around five miles round-trip, there’s insane exposure on the last half-mile, with only metal chains to hang on to; it's not a walk for children or those afraid of heights! Since this is a national park, you are responsible for safely planning your trip; a map, food, water, and appropriate clothing should always be in your pack.
    Photo by Caitlin Ceci/Zion NPS
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    Museums, Exhibitions, and Rangers
    Almost 12,000 years of human history, 900-plus species of plants, 291 species of birds, and 250 million years of recorded geologic history are ready for your discovery in the wilds of Zion National Park. As that could be multiple lifetimes of exploration and study, the Visitor Center, Human History Museum, and Nature Center break it down into interactive indoor and outdoor exhibits. Find a subject that entices you and learn more, or consult the on-duty park rangers with your questions. You could consider joining a field excursion with a park ranger if you want to learn even more. You can also visit the more remote Kolob Canyons Visitor Center, though it's not open all year.
    Photo courtesy of Zion NPS
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    Wade, Swim, and Hike through The Narrows
    The Narrows is a deep, narrow canyon through which runs the North Fork of the Virgin River—the river that carved Zion Canyon. You can still hike The Narrows, even though the river runs through it; much of it requires wading or even swimming. The most popular way to access the canyon is out-and-back from its mouth in Zion Canyon, at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop. From there, walk one mile up the paved Riverwalk Trail and then continue up The Narrows as far as you like. A 16-mile, one-way trip from the top of The Narrows to the bottom is also possible. This can be done independently or with a guide, but you need to be very fit and experienced in backcountry travel. Permits are required for traveling all the way through The Narrows.
    Photo by Marc Neidig/Zion NPS
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    Cycling the Roads
    Those same paved roads on which you can enjoy a scenic drive are also popular with road bikers. The road through Zion Canyon, the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, the Kolob Terrace Road, and the Kolob Canyons Road are all fair game. However, bikes are not permitted in the Zion-Mount Caramel Tunnel; cyclists get around this short hitch with an independent sag wagon that shuttles them through. Zion’s roads are pretty serious, with steep grades, narrow shoulders, many switchbacks, and some traffic, making it terrain that is appropriate for experienced road bikers only. If you’re looking for solitude, try the Kolob Terrace Road, which is used infrequently by vehicles.
    Photo by Stefan Eisend/age fotostock
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    Canyoneering is the sport where you (mostly) descend tight, narrow canyons, of which Zion National Park has dozens. These canyons don't have trails and almost always require technical gear: harnesses, ropes, and other tools. This is a serious adventure that you should undertake independently only if you have canyoneering experience. You can also go with a guide, which is a fantastic way to safely experience and learn about this sport. Orderville Gulch is a great destination for your first guided outing, as there are only two obstacles requiring canyoneering expertise. The Subway is usually classified as a moderate route. Icebox and Imlay Canyons are Zion's most famous and challenging canyoneering routes.
    Photo by Howie Garber/age fotostock
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    Rock Climbing
    Another adventurous way to experience Zion is by rock climbing. If you’re comfortable with the sport, you’ll find some of the faces of Zion Canyon’s cliffs a perfect playground. If you’d like to learn, a number of guiding services offer beginner lessons to beginners. Beginner classes generally head to the Practice Cliffs, located not far from the Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop. If you’d like to watch some advanced rock climbers in action, look up at the east face of Angels Landing from the Angels Landing shuttle stop. You'll want binoculars to see those human spiders at work!
    Photo courtesy of Zion NPS
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    Mountain Biking
    While mountain biking isn’t allowed in Zion National Park proper (as is the case with many national parks), there are multiple world-class locations within an hour’s drive. You’ll find variable terrain, including rolling desert singletrack with steep, short, and rocky pitches, as well as some slickrock. Gooseberry Mesa is an excellent slickrock mountain biking destination at which you’ll find everything from beginner to expert trails. If you can manage it, stay at Gooseberry Mesa for sunset—from many places atop the mesa, you have an almost unbelievable view of Zion’s cliffs and canyons.
    Photo by Stefan Eisend/age fotostock