Zion National Park is truly an awe-inspiring place to visit. Stunning views, incredible adventures, and a plethora of wildlife are a few of the amazing features the park has to offer. It’s no surprise that it is the third most visited National Park in the U.S.
There are many popular hikes and sights located along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The Scenic Drive is closed to private vehicles most of the year. The shuttles typically run weekends only in February, daily in March-November, and daily during the last week of December.
Shuttles are often full and crowded the majority of the year. You will often have to wait in line for 30 minutes or longer to board the shuttle.
If you want to avoid the shuttle, do not fret! There are plenty of amazing views, hikes, and activities to experience that do not require riding the shuttle to access.
10 Things to Do in Zion National Park
If You Don’t Want to Ride the Shuttle
1. Watch the Sunset From the Canyon Junction Bridge
Canyon Junction Bridge is located near the Visitor Center in Zion Canyon. This is definitely one of the best spots in the park to watch the sunset.
During golden hour, you will have a perfect view from the bridge of the iconic Watchman peak glowing orange in the setting sunlight. You will also have river access, so you can walk around and explore the Virgin River.
This is one of the most popular photography spots in the park, especially at sunset. I would recommend arriving early so you can get a good spot. It would likely be easiest to park at the Visitor Center lot and walk over.
Sunset Views from Canyon Junction Bridge
2. Drive the Mt. Caramel Highway
The Zion-Mount Caramel Highway is an incredibly scenic drive through Zion National Park. It connects the south entrance station to the east entrance station and continues east out of the park. The section of the road that is within the National Park is about 12 miles long.
The road consists of winding switchbacks, multiple scenic pullouts, trailheads, breathtaking views, and a fun excursion through a long narrow tunnel that slices through the mountains.
Important note: The Zion-Mount Caramel tunnel requires vehicles 11’4″ or taller in height and 7’10” or wider in width to have an escort through the tunnel.
3. Hike the Canyon Overlook Trail
Canyon Overlook is a 1-mile roundtrip hike. You must climb some stairs at the beginning, but there is not too much elevation gain overall, making it a fairly easy hike. There are some drop-offs, so just be careful and keep children close by.
Parking is very limited near the trailhead. You may have to drive back and forth waiting for parking if you go during peak times. I would recommend going early.
This hike is really fun! There are many neat features along the way, and the view of the canyon at the end of the hike is absolutely stunning.
4. Visit Checkerboard Mesa & Look for Wildlife
Checkerboard Mesa is east of the Zion-Mount Caramel tunnel along the Zion Mount-Caramel Highway.
Pull over and explore a bit. Snap some photos of the unique checkerboard pattern and white coloring of the iconic landmark. Keep an eye out because you might just get lucky and spot some wildlife!
5. Check Out Kolob Canyon
Kolob Canyon is a separate district of Zion National Park located 40 miles north of the main Zion Canyon. You can access this park via Exit 40 off Interstate 15.
• Drive Kolob Canyon Road
A beautiful 5-mile road with access to trails and scenic viewpoints.
• Hike Taylor Creek Trail
This hike is moderate in difficulty and is 5 miles roundtrip. This hike offers incredible views. There are 2 historic homestead cabins along the trail, varying terrain and vegetation, and multiple creek crossings, making it fun and interesting. The hike ends in a sunning double-arch alcove.
• Hike Timber Creek Overlook Trail
This is an easy 1-mile round trip hike. This hike is family-friendly and offers spectacular views. You can also see wildflowers if you hike in the spring or early summer months. There is also a picnic area here.
6. Rent Bikes & Go For a Scenic Ride in the Park
There are a handful of places in the town of Springdale (right outside Zion National Park) to rent bicycles.
The Pa’rus Trail is the only trail within the park that allows bicycles. Bikers are permitted on all of the roads in the park but are prohibited from riding through the Zion-Mount Caramel Tunnel.
I would recommend the Pa’rus trail if you are looking for a beautiful, leisurely bike ride. The Pa’rus Trail is a paved trail that begins near the Visitor Center. It is 3.5 miles roundtrip and is mostly flat. The trail follows the Virgin River and offers beautiful views.
If you are feeling ambitious, you could bike down the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. You would be able to experience everything along the scenic route without riding the shuttle.
7. Lower Pine Creek Falls Hike
This is a hidden gem hike that many people do not know about and therefore it is significantly less crowded than other hikes in the park! The hike is unmarked and not advertised by the National Park.
This hike is only 3/4 of a mile roundtrip, but to make it to the waterfall, you must do a little bit of climbing and creek crossing, as well as navigating around boulders.
There is a pull-off for this hike just before the big curves heading up toward the Zion Mt. Caramel Tunnel if you are heading east, and just after the big curves if you are heading west. Here are the coordinates for the parking at the trailhead: 37°12’59.9″N 112°57’56.0″W
We have done this hike 3 times, and the difficulty was different each time because of varying water levels. The second time we tried it we could not get to the waterfall because of high, dangerous water levels. DO NOT attempt to do this hike if there is rain in the forecast or water levels are high. Flash flooding can be deadly at Zion NP.
There is definitely a lot of climbing required if you don’t want to get wet even when water levels are fairly low. I feel like Spiderman when I do this hike, and that is part of the reason we love it so much. It is an absolute blast!
Small children probably cannot make it all the way to the waterfall unless the water levels are low, but even doing part of this hike is worth it, as it has so much to offer! We have seen wildlife every time that we have hiked this trail.
8. Pack a Picnic & Hike the Watchman Trail
Watchman Trail is a 3.3-mile roundtrip hike with about 500 feet of elevation gain, making it a decent workout, but not too difficult. This hike has wonderful views, especially at sunset.
It is family-friendly and is great for any age/experience level. The trailhead is located near the Visitor Center.
Bring along some food and sit on one of the viewing benches or spread a blanket out and enjoy lunch with a view!
9. Hike Observation Point via East Mesa Trail
Observation Point might offer one of the best views in Zion National Park. It actually looks down on Angels Landing! Observation Point via East Mesa Trail is a 7-mile, moderate difficulty hike on the east side of the park.
Observation Point could previously be accessed from the Zion Canyon shuttle road via East Rim Trail. However, that route has been closed for over 2 years due to major rockfall and will be closed until further notice.
There is another way to access Observation Point, and it is actually much less steep and less strenuous and avoids the shuttle road.
10. Explore Off-Trail
One of our absolute favorite things to do at Zion National Park is exploring off-trail along one of the many pull-offs on the east side of the park.
East of the Mt. Caramel Tunnel, there are dozens of places to pull off the road and park. Pick a few of these pull-offs and just start exploring! Make sure not to go too far and ensure that you will be able to find your way back.
We have found slot canyons, waterfalls, wildlife, and incredible views exploring the areas near these pull-offs. The best part is that you will likely have it all to yourself!
I hope this list of 10 things to do in Zion National Park without riding the shuttle leaves you feeling inspired and excited to visit this incredible park. Whether or not you decide to take the shuttle, you are guaranteed to have plenty of amazing options to explore & experience Zion!
Traveling with kids? Check out these posts for tips on traveling with young children!
Planning a Utah Road Trip? Read about Bryce Canyon National Park!