10 Things to Know before Visiting Zion National Park: Helpful Tips and Interesting Facts

What do you need to know before visiting Zion National Park? It’s big. It’s popular. And it’s way too different from other national parks. Therefore, be sure to equip yourself with all the possible helpful tips and interesting facts – things you need and want to know before visiting Zion National Park.

 National Park, Utah - Roads and Destinations

Everything You Need to Know before Visiting Zion National Park: Helpful Tips, Interesting Facts, and More

Can you find at least one person who doesn’t read an article or two in attempt to find any specific recommendations on how to make the most of a visit to a national park? Although exploring these protected areas are usually a no-brainer, you want to be well equipped with all possible information. Why do you want to take chances and miss something unique and important if you can do a little research up front?

Like most of you, we’ve been to a fair amount of national parks. Thus, preparing an itinerary and doing a research before setting out for an adventure has become second nature to us. Yet when it comes to visiting Zion National Park, you want to know far more information, go through abundant helpful tips, and take note of a number of specific to this area facts prior to your trip. Why all the trouble?

Not even the biggest national park in the United States, Zion imposes some strict regulations all its visitors must abide by to preserve the unique environment. Luckely, a wide array of interesting facts and incredible stories make these regulations less rigid, further explaining what you should expect when visiting Zion National Park.

Why do You Need to Know Specific Facts before Visiting Zion National Park?

“No big deal”, you might think. Every park – Zion National Park is not an exception – unveils its secrets and fascinating facts when you dig deeper. Fair enough. But did you know that Zion has one of the oldest lodges in the country? Technically, the original hotel was destroyed by fire in 1966. The most incredible fact is that a new building rose and resumed the old lodge’s operations mere 108 days later.

If you think that the detailed information about the area is indeed fascinating, but is not important and certainly not useful for a visit to Zion National Park, think again. All park’s guests – whether they’ve been or just planning to visit the area – know about the remarkable Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. Have you, however, heard that bicyclists can’t pass through the structure?

Now we’re really talking about cohesiveness of the interesting facts and helpful tips one should know before visiting Zion National Park. Let’s go over these 10 things you must know about Zion and its surroundings one by one. 

Zion Riverside Walk Trail hike - Roads and Destinations

TIPS AND FASCINATING FACTS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING ZION NATIONAL PARK: 

Helpful Tips to Know before Visiting Zion National Park 

While I’m a huge fan of the fascinating facts and interesting details about Zion National Park, I know not everybody shares the same passion. Thus, I’ll start with the more practical information. Here are 6 tips to help you enjoy your visit to the Zion National Park area to the fullest. 

1. Zion National Park Has Several Unique Sections

Did you know that Zion National Park consists of a few unique sections, most of which are often overlooked? The chances are that you’re planning to visit Zion Canyon, an area you can get into by driving or taking a shuttle along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.

Tips and Facts to Know before Visiting Zion National Park: Main Canyon

How do I know it? Because the majority of Zion’s guests aim at exploring the same section. The main canyon certainly deserves all the attentions. Needless to say, it’s a place where some of the iconic landmarks of Zion National Park, such as Emerald Pools, Angels Landings, and Riverside Walk, reside.

TIP: Make sure to visit this section of Zion National Park early. The main canyon gets busy during the day. 

Tips and Facts to Know before Visiting Zion National Park: Upper East Canyon

On another note, Zion Canyon with its iconic scenic drive is just one place you want to visit. Interesting to know, Upper East Canyon, nestled in the eastern corner of Zion National Park, enjoys different views and trails you might also want to check out. Home to such popular natural wonders and the Canyon Overlook, Checkerboard Mesa, and a plethora of secret trails and hidden canyon, the place further instills a sense of exploration in all of its visitors.

TIP: Drive along Route 9, passing through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, to access the area from the South Entrance. 

Tips and Facts to Know before Visiting Zion National Park: Kolob Canyons

If Upper East Canyon still feels too crowded, venture to the Kolob Canyons, the lesser-known and frequently overlooked area of Zion National Park. The place sits about 30 miles northwest of the main canyon.

Although just a small portion of a few millions of nature lovers visiting Zion National Park yearly know or ever visit this secluded section, the Kolob Canyons boasts some of the most stunning sites. From the Taylor Creek Trail to the Timber Creek Overlook, the place astounds with its rare beauty and endless adventures.

Furthermore, did you know that this area of Zion National Park has its own scenic drive? Stretching for 5 miles, the route displays the best sights of the area without requiring any strenuous hikes.

TIP: This lesser-know area of Zion National Park is the playground for the most experienced hikers. Although a regular visitor can still enjoy some easy trails, most paths often feel too challenging. Moreover, some of the trail, such as the remarkable Subway, require a hiking permit. You can obtain it in person at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center the day before visiting the Kolob Canyons, or on the day of your hike.

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2. Zion National Park Has Three Entrances

The more practical tips for your Zion trip continue rolling up. We all agree that learning how to get to Zion National Park is by far the first thing you must know prior to your visit. So Utah’s favorite park has three entrances: the South Entrance, the East Entrance, and the Entrance near the Kolob Canyons area. The first two are the most popular ways to access Zion National Park and visit its iconic natural features.

The South Entrance sits right near the town of Springdale. Assisting more visitors that the East Entrance, it first of all welcomes Zion’s guests coming from the west. Think Nevada or Western Arizona.

The East Entrance nestles along Route 9. Right from the start, his part of the park astounds with the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway Scenic Drive, one of the most picturesque routes in Utah. As you drive farther, the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel that the majority of the visitor know as an architectural marvel of the area connects Upper East Canyon with the main section of the park.

TIP: The East Entrance of Zion National Park works best for the visitors traveling from Bryce Canyon National Park or the Grand Canyon.

The entrance near the Kolob Canyons is located near the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center. This area see even fewer visitors.

Good to Know: No official booth by the side of the road marks the entrance to Zion National Park. Upon arrival, pay at the Visitor Center and continue on to your next destination. 

3. Alternative Ways to Hike to Observation Point

Even if you don’t know exactly what to see or expect from Zion National Park, iconic vistas over the canyon surely grabbed your attention at one point prior to your visit. Although the park displays different lookout points, Observation Point remains the most popular among them. Moreover, unlike it’s the case with many other landmarks, the iconic vantage point has a few alternative routes to get to.

The shortest of them is the East Mesa Trail. The 6.6-mile, round-trip path starts on the upper east plateau and takes approximately 4 hours to complete. The path is long, but not particularly challenging. The biggest obstacle here is to find the trailhead. Once you succeed, the place is a piece of cake, topped with the astonishing views over the canyon.

The alternative route, the East Rim Trail to Observation Point, is longer. Stretching out for 11 miles one way, it’s a whole day hike. Not surprisingly, this distance scares many nature enthusiasts. For those who still want to give it a try and want to know where to start, head to the Zion Ponderosa Resort. The trailhead nestles right behind the property.

TIP: Don’t mistake the East Rim Trail for the popular West Rim Trail that leads to the Grotto in Zion Canyon.

Good to Know: The most popular way to get to Zion Observation Point is trekking down the Weeping Rock Trail. Eventually, the path runs past the Weeping Rock pantheon and continues on for nearly 4 miles. As of August 24, 2019, the trail is, however, closed due to a massive rockslide that buried the trail and the Weeping Rock pantheon.

4. Toxic Cyanobacteria is Found in the Virgin River

An unprecedented fact, but it’s as true as the notion that Zion is one of the most gorgeous national parks in the country. While you can figure out how to get to the park and its specific sections when you’re already in the area, you must know about the presence of the toxic bacteria way before visiting Zion National Park. This is especially relevant to the outdoor enthusiasts that plan to hike along the Riverside Walk Trail or the Narrows.

The Virgin River has been on the Utah Department of Water Quality’s radar since summer 2020. Interesting to know, the toxic cyanobacteria was discovered by accident when a dog died after drinking water from the river.

What You Should Know about Toxic Cyanobacteria before Visiting Zion National Park

The foreign organisms in the river should not to be taken easy. It’s a known fact that the toxins target the nervous system. As they spread in the body, rushes, numbness, seizures, vomiting, and diarrhea occur. Death is not uncommon in the cases with the toxic cyanobacteria.

Since the toxics can be absorbed tough the skin, eyes, and mouth, the Utah Department of Water Quality recommends staying away from the Virgin River as much as possible. In 2020, the toxic levels increased to that point that a Danger Advisory was imposed.

As of June 1, 2021, the toxic levels has lowered based on May 2021 sampling results, and a Warning Advisory has been admonished. For the updated information, refer to department’s official site.

TIP: The Utah Department of Water Quality still insists on avoiding submerging your head in the water when visiting Zion National Park.

Good to Know: Zion National Park’s wildlife gets its water supplies from the Virgin River and its streams and can transmit the toxic cyanobacteria. Thus, it’s recommended to avoid any contacts with the park’s animals along the Riverside Walk Trail and the Narrows Trail. 

Hiking in Zion National Park - Roads and Destinations

5. Zion National Park Has a Subway

The majority of the visitors certainly don’t know this interesting fact about Zion National Park. And we’re not talking about public transport or popular fast-food chain here. The Subway in Zion is far more impressive. Spreading along the Left Fork of North Creek, this picturesque trail astounds with secluded natural tunnels and a plethora of irresistible views.

The next thing you must know is that this remote area of Zion National Park is extremely challenging. Two routes comprise the popular Subway. The 9-mile, round-trip Left Fork Bottom-Up route (or simply the Subway) runs through the Left Fork of North Creek and requires extensive route finding and scrambling over boulders.

TIP: This Zion National Park’s lesser-known trail starts and end at the Left Fork trailhead off the Kolob Terrace Road.

The Left Fork Top-Down canyoneering route is even more strenuous. Beginning at the Wildcat Canyon trailhead, the trail runs for 9.5 miles and ends at the Left Fork trailhead. Extensive route finding along with rappelling and swimming are also required.

TIP: A visit to the Subway of Zion National Park is allowed by hiking permits only. Furthermore, daily limits ensure that fewer people traverse this remote section of the park.

National Park, Utah - Roads and Destinations.

6. Use Zion Shuttle to Get to and around Main Canyon

How to get around Zion National Park is one of the most important things you should know before visiting the area. Unlike many other national parks and reserves, driving along the scenic drive in the main section of Zion is prohibited most of the year.

From mid-March through November, the free Zion shuttle operates along the route. The bus departs from the Visitor Center and takes the passengers to nine specific areas along the scenic drive. The shuttle stops are not chosen randomly, though. On the opposite, they connect the visitors of Zion National Park with the popular natural landmarks and favorite trailheads.

TIP: Even if you don’t know where to hop off the shuttle in Zion Canyon, study directory signs at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to learn how far you need to travel and were you should get off the bus.

Things to Know about Zion Shuttle before Visiting Zion National Park

The problem with the shuttle is that getting on board can take at least an hour. The hordes of travelers flock to Zion National Park from March through November, creating long lines. If you’ve ever visited Zion National Park, you surely know that it can result in quite a serious issue.

TIP: Thus, it’s always recommended to start your Zion National Park’s exploration early in the morning to avoid the crowds and save time. Furthermore, if you plan to board one of the first busses of the day, arrive 30 to 60 minutes prior to the scheduled time. If you know anything about Zion, this extra step is not an overzealous nature lover’s whim. The early birds usually have more chances of catching the worm, aka a seat on the first shuttle.

Good to Know: The shuttle doesn’t operate along the Zion Scenic Drive during the slow season. Normally, it falls on December, January, and February. During this time, you can freely and legally drive up and down the route and visit any places along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive at your own pace. 

READ MORE: How to Get around Zion National Park: Explore Zion’s Sections by Car, Shuttle, and Bicycle

National Park, Utah - Roads and Destinations

Interesting Facts about Zion National Park

Before our visit to Zion National Park, I promised myself that I wouldn’t focus on the detailed facts about the park. Our itinerary was taking longer to prepare than I expected and, knowing myself, it would take me twice as much time to go through the most interesting things one should, but don’t have to know before visiting Zion and its surroundings.

As fate would have it, I learned more than enough interesting facts and fascinating stories about Zion National Park from a shuttle driver. The man couldn’t stop relating the historical and fictional details about the area while he was driving us back from the Temple of Sinawava to the Visitor Center. Indeed, Zion National Park astounds not only with its stunning natural wonders, but a myriad of incredible facts, tales, and speculations. 

7. Necessary Facts to Know before Visiting Zion National Park: No Biking or Walking through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel

Whether you drive or bike, visiting the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel is a must during your first trip to Zion National Park. Known as an engineering wonder, the structure stretches for 1.1 miles and is as dark inside as night. Several “windows” along with the entrances on the both sides serve as the only suppliers of light into this mysterious black realm.

It took three years (from 1927-30) to dig the tunnel, which was the longest tunnel of its kind in the country. According to the old-day standards, the structure was designed to assist only small cars. In fact, large tracks didn’t even exist back then. The two-lane tunnel hasn’t gone through major reconstruction since its “birth” and works best for the smaller vehicles.

Good to Know: The large cars can still traverse the Route 9, including the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, but only during specific hours. Traffic in the opposite directions is closed at this time to let the “heavyweights” pass.

TIP: Here comes another interesting fact to know before visiting Zion National Park. Bikers and pedestrians are not allowed inside the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. If you want to explore Upper East Canyon after renting a bike in Springdale, located near the South Entrance, hitchhike with the trucks passing through the tunnel to reach its opposite side.  

8. Terracotta Color of Zion’s Roads and what You Should Know about it before Visiting the Park

Every few years, the roads in Zion National Park get resurfaced, in other words, coated with local red cinder that give them their signature terracotta color. Interestingly enough, a fresh coating of oil and rock chips is put on the roads. The new layer of the volcanic ashes usually stays on the roads for approximately 2-3 weeks. After the sediments settle, the remaining loose chips are removed.

TIP: The refreshment of the roadways of Zion National Park affects first of all motorists and bicyclists who should know about the damage and injuries the loose rock chips might cause. Usually, the park informs its visitors about the road works and instructs to slow down while traveling through the affected sections. 

National Park, Utah - Roads and Destinations

9. Mysterious Boulders Near Zion Lodge – Facts and Fictions

An easily noticeable area with large, “bald” boulders comes into view as you drive from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center to the Zion Lodge along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Surrounded by other rock formations covered with vegetation, with particular spot looks odd.

As our shuttle driver who never ran out of the intriguing facts about Zion National Park stated the rocks had gotten loose and fallen off the cliff on the road nearly 30 years ago. Rockslides are not uncommon in the area. And soon, the destroyed portion of the route had been reconstructed. Everything seemed to work smoothly for a while. People who visited Zion National Park at a later time didn’t even know about the incident.

Our shuttle driver didn’t mention any casualties. So I assume there were none. The travelers who had stayed at the Zion Lodge at the time of the incident, however, had been trapped and evacuated by helicopters. Their cars and other large belongings had stayed at the lodge until the road had been rebuilt.

Three years later the park’s history repeated itself. Another boulder above the same section of the road fell off and temporarily discontinued any transit along the scenic drive.

Is the place haunted or was it just a coincidence? Some people believe that the nature tries to protect its wonders from excessive human intervention. I’ll stick to the coincidence theory, but the fact remains that you should always exercise caution when visiting Zion National Park.

Zion Riverside Walk Trail hike - Roads and Destinations

10. One of the Most Popular National Parks in the Country

Did you know that Zion National Park is one of top 5 most visited parks in the United States? Given that the 229-square-mile park doesn’t even make into the top 30 largest parks in the country, this fact certainly raises eyebrows.

Yet the statistics doesn’t lie. Almost 4.5 million travelers visited Zion National Park in 2019. It’s quite a staggering number, isn’t it? Far fewer nature lovers (only 3.59 million) explored the area in 2020. But hey, due to COVID-19, travel was practically on hold during that year. Don’t be surprised if the number of travelers visiting Zion National Park reaches or even exceeds its pre-pandemic highs this year. 

Final Thoughts on 10 Things and Interesting Facts to Know before Visiting Zion National Park

I’d like to give you the last, important tip you need to know before visiting Zion National Park. Take it easy and enjoy your trip. You can’t learn absolutely everything about Zion National Park prior to your visit? The place is big enough to keep you busy for days and even months. On top of that, unforeseen incidents happen all the time.

Therefore, keep your planning simple. First, get familiar with these 10 things and interesting facts to know before visiting Zion National Park. They cover pretty much everything to ensure an enjoyable trip. Second, refer to the Zion National Park’s website if you’re interested in specific hikes and need to know the conditions of the trails and roads. Now you’re ready. Enjoy your trip!

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