It’s no secret that Zion National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States. Attendance has risen steadily over the past decade, setting a new visitation record of 4.4 million visitors in 2017. But don’t let the growing crowds deter you from visiting Utah’s oldest national park. The majority of Zion’s visitors generally stick to the main canyon area, leaving the less traveled—yet equally majestic—cliffs and canyons waiting to be explored. Are you ready to experience Utah?
Answer 1 of 5: I've been told just recently that I should cancel my Antelope canyon reservation and do a slot canyon tour in the Zion area instead. Reason being stated that at Antelope, 'you are herded in like cattle, and its very crowded and loud and you.
Discover a new side of Zion with these seven hidden gems.
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The thrill of hiking, rappelling and wading through Zion’s water-carved sandstone landscape is a major draw for slot canyon adventurers from all around the world. While most Zion visitors are familiar with the renowned Zion Narrows, others look to lesser known slot canyons for canyoneering adventures. Two must-see secrets are Mystery Canyon and Echo Canyon.
Photo Credit: Mystery Canyon, @sammyb_canyoneering
When people think of the most thrilling hike to reach the best view in Zion, thoughts often go straight to Angels Landing. As it turns out, there’s an even more spectacular viewpoint. At 6,521 feet, Observation Point is nearly 1,000 feet higher than Angels Landing, and is one of the best viewpoints to capture the grandeur of Zion National Park’s vast expanse. In fact, Backpacker magazine named Observation Point as the best view in Utah.
Reaching Observation Point from the Zion Canyon floor requires an epic, 8-mile round-trip hiking adventure along the East Rim Trail that ascends more than 2,100 feet to reach the sweeping canyon view. What many hikers don’t know is that there’s a secret way to reach Observation Point’s same sweeping vista without the 2,148-foot climb. Accessing the trail from the eastern plateau of Zion National Park eliminates the massive uphill climb with a breathtaking hike through Ponderosa pine forest. The time and energy saved by hiking to Observation Point across Zion Ponderosa is invaluable—and the reward is the same magnificent 270-degree view.
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Located within Pine Creek Canyon, this serene and remote waterfall is one of Zion’s best-kept secrets. The waterfall flows year-round and the swimming hole is perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day. The round-trip hike is relatively short but rugged. The 0.7-mile out-and-back trek requires some boulder scrambling and stream crossings that are well worth the effort. When you arrive at the spectacular 15-foot waterfall, you may never want to leave.
Photo Credit: Pine Creek Waterfall, @cara_lilyy
The majority of visitors flock to Zion for the scenery and outdoor activities, unaware of secret petroglyphs adorning Zion’s red sandstone walls. Paiute, Anasazi, Fremont and other ancient peoples have occupied Zion’s canyons and plateaus for thousands of years, and proof of their existence endures throughout the region. Inside Zion, Petroglyph Canyon is a fascinating rock art site featuring two panels with over 150 symbols created by one of Zion’s ancient cultures. The rock art is highly protected and largely unadvertised, but accessible to visitors who obtain special permission from the Zion National Park Visitor Center.
Photo Credit: Petroglyph Canyon, @29_bea
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A hike doesn’t have to be long and challenging to be satisfying—especially with the kids in tow. The Canyon Overlook Trail is a short and sweet, kid-friendly hike without huge crowds. Beginning at the parking lot east of the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel, the 1-mile round-trip trail follows the hillside above Pine Creek Canyon to a large overlook with sweeping views of the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel windows, Zion Canyon, Streaked Wall and East Temple. Warning: There is a 163-foot elevation gain on this trail, so assess energy levels before you begin. For most families looking for a short hike with a great view, Canyon Overlook Trail is the best pick in the park.
Photo Credit: Canyon Overlook Trail, @bzwang43
Zion’s main canyon tends to get most of the attention—and that’s okay, because it means the Kolob Canyon area is largely unvisited. This quieter section of the park features a 5-mile scenic drive and access to beautiful remote hikes, like La Verkin Creek and Taylor Creek trails. Hidden inside a small canyon is one of Zion’s best-kept secrets: Kolob Arch. The massive sandstone arch is one of the world’s largest free-standing arches, spanning 287 feet and second only to Utah’s renowned Landscape Arch.
Photo Credit: Kolob Arch, @iridescent_luminescence
One of the best ways to experience Zion’s splendor is spending the night under the stars. The Watchman Campground is close to the park’s south entrance and can accommodate both tents and RVs. Reservations are recommended and can be made up to six months in advance for campgrounds, 176 tent sites, two wheelchair accessible sites or six group sites. However, reservations for the campground inside Zion National Park fill up fast, so Zion visitors need another option. Zion Crest Campground, located near the park’s east entrance, offers a high-altitude camping experience on the East Zion plateau above Zion National Park. Bordering the park’s boundary, Zion Crest features 50 shaded tent camping sites plus RV spaces with full hook-ups and plenty of overflow camping. More perks include an on-property restaurant, a two-tiered swimming pool, hot tub and mini golf course.
Photo Credit: Zion Crest Campground
Are you ready for an adventure? Learn more about Utah State Parks and Recreation.