What is the Best Entry to Zion? Zion’s Three Entrances

Overlook of Zion National Park
Zion Overlook

If you have never been to Zion National Park, you may be wondering, what’s the best entrance to Zion? In fact, you may not be aware that there are multiple entrances! But don’t worry! We have been visiting Zion National Park for years and are here to help!

Zion National Park has three entrances, the South Entrance, East Entrance, and Kolob Canyons Entrance. As far as which one is best, really depends on where you want to go in Zion, but by far the most popular entrance is the South Entrance.

In this article we will be discussing each of the entrances, where they are located, and what you can access from each one, including hikes, camping, scenic drives, shuttles, and more.

The Main Entrance-The South Entrance

People at entrance of Zion Canyon
Zion Canyon View

The South Entrance is by far the most popular entrance of Zion National Park, and as such, sees the most crowds.

Location: The South Entrance is located nearly 4 hours away from Salt Lake City in Southern Utah. The South Entrance is near the small Utah town of Springdale which has plenty of restaurants, hotels, rentals for the park, and shuttles that will bring you to the visitor center.

Visitor Center: The South Entrance has a great visitor center, a bookshop, and large bathrooms. This is a great place to speak with rangers if you have any questions about trail conditions or anything else about the park.

This is also where you will get onto the shuttles that will take you up into Zion Canyon. For most of the year, personal vehicles cannot be driven up Zion Canyon. We talk about what to expect at each of the Zion shuttle stops in an earlier article.

Entrance & Parking: During the peak seasons this entrance can be backed up, and you can generally expect some delays and wait time to enter the park. However, we have never had to wait longer than 30 minutes or so.

There is a large parking area at the visitor center, this can fill up! Get to the park early to avoid this (before 9 am). If it is full when you arrive, there are some options:

  • Park in Springdale and ride the shuttle into the park!
  • Check out the Zion tunnel and the East side of the park (that you are able to drive through with your personal vehicle), then a couple of hours later, head back to the South Visitor Center and try again.
  • Bike into the park using bike rentals from Springdale or your personal bikes!

Hikes: There are many hikes that you can access from the Southern Entrance, including the incredibly popular Angels Landing, and The Narrows.

zion narrows
The Narrows

There are hikes for every ability and skill level and even some that leave directly from the visitor center! Here is a list of hikes you can do:

  • Pa’rus Trail: 3.5 miles, paved, follows the Virgin River and begins at the visitor center
  • Archeology Trail: 0.4 miles, short but steep trail that begins near the visitor center with trailside exhibits.
  • Lower, Middle, and Upper Emerald Pools: Mileage varies depending on which trails you do, or if you visit all three. Lower Emerald Pools is the easiest and shortest trail that is 1.2 miles on a paved trail that takes you behind a waterfall. Take the trail towards the middle & upper Emerald Pools to see reflective pools and another tall waterfall.
  • Grotto Trail: 1 mile, goes between shuttle stops 5 & 6 and follows nearby the road.
  • Weeping Rock: 0.4 miles, short but steep to a viewpoint of the Weeping Rock and Zion Canyon.
  • Riverside Walk: 2.2 miles, paved trail that follows the Virgin River all the way to the entrance of the Narrows. (The first 0.4 is accessible, after that there are many steep slopes).
  • Watchman Trail: 3.3 miles, starts at the visitor center and has viewpoints of the Temples and Towers, lower Zion Canyon, Watchman Peak, and Springdale.
  • Sand Bench Trail: 7.6 miles of hiking in deep sand atop a massive landslide under the sentinel.
  • Kayenta Trail: 2.0 miles, this trail connects the middle Emerald Pools to the Grotto.
  • Canyon Overlook Trail: 1 mile, this trail is located right by the Zion Tunnel on the East side of the Park and is accessible to those traveling from the South entrance (just drive your car through the tunnel to the small parking areas on the other end). This rocky trail has many drop-offs, but hikers are rewarded with sweeping views of Zion that are said to rival Angels Landing.
  • The Narrows via Riverside Walk: 9.4 miles, however, you can hike in as far as you like and turn around. This hike is through the river and your feet will get wet, rocks are also uneven and slippery, and hiking poles and neoprene socks are encouraged. Do NOT ENTER The Narrows while it’s raining or if there is rain in the forecast as flash floods are common. The park is good at closing the hike during those events, however, it is best to check the weather before entering.
  • Angel’s Landing: 5.4 miles, this hike is incredibly beautiful and strenuous. Hikers can climb to Scout Overlook without a permit, and this Overlook offers incredible views. However, to go up the chains section to the top you must have reservations.
  • There are a couple of other hikes, but they are closed indefinitely for rock falls.
Angel's Landing

Campgrounds & Lodging: The South Entrance does have both camping and lodging options available. There is camping at the South Campground (currently closed for rehabilitation) and the Watchman Campground which is open. This campground is 1/4 mile from the visitor center, making it an easy spot to stay and catch the shuttle. All sites include space for a tent, RV, picnic table, and fire ring. To book or reserve a spot, make sure to visit the National Park website.

Zion Lodge is located smack dab in the middle of Zion Canyon and offers visitors a chance to stay right in the middle of the beauty! Zion Lodge has cabins, hotel rooms, and suites, as well as two restaurants (anyone can eat at them, even if you aren’t staying) the Castle Dome Cafe (seasonal) a patio-style casual spot featuring breakfast and lunch items, such as cinnamon rolls and hot dogs. The Red Rock Grill (open year-round) is a sit-down, more upscale spot offering lunch and dinner options such as steak, pasta, trout, and more.

If you choose to stay outside of the park, Springdale is the closest city with several chain and local hotel options. If you wish to spend a little less, La Verkin and Hurricane are about 30 minutes away. To save some real money (or stay somewhere really nice) try St. George, UT. It’s an hour away and is a large city with several lodging options for all kinds of travel budgets.

The Tunnel Entrance- The East Entrance

road coming out of Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel
Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel

The East side of Zion National Park is lesser visited but holds some true gems, such as Checkerboard Mesa, Canyon Overlook, and the Mt Carmel- Zion Canyon Tunnel.

Location: The East Entrance to Zion is 4 hours and 48 minutes from Salt Lake City, and is closest to the tiny town of Mt. Carmel. It is also not too far from one of our favorite desert towns in Utah, Kanab, and the awesome, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. These are both easy visits to tack onto an East Zion trip! Many people also choose to stay here if they are wanting to also visit Bryce Canyon National Park.

Entrance: You are much less likely to encounter long lines on this side of the Park, but it is possible. Zion is always busy, and we always recommend visiting Zion before 9 am to take advantage of fewer crowds!

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Tunnel: The famous Zion tunnel spans a full mile and spits you out with incredible views of Zion National Park. We recommend going through it East to West for the Best Views! Be prepared to wait in line for the tunnel. If an RV is going through the tunnel, they close down the other side and make it a one-way road while the RV drives down the middle of the road (the only way taller vehicles can fit through the tunnel). This causes traffic jams regularly.

Pro tip: if you’re driving an RV, you must pay for a permit at the entrance station to drive through this tunnel.

Hiking: There are many hiking trails located near the East side of Zion National Park:

  • Canyon Overlook: 1 mile, moderate hike that has steep drop-offs and rocky pathways, but incredible views at the end.
  • East Rim Trail is closed due to rockfall.
  • East Mesa Trail to Observation Point: 6.8 miles, only accessible with 4wd high clearance vehicles and not to be attempted when it has been rainy. Please only park in designated spots and enjoy the incredible views and juniper forests along the way.
  • Deer Trap Mountain Trail & Cable Mountain Trail are both accessible off of the Stave Spring area on the East Rim Trail. Both are very long hikes (16-20 miles) but feature early settler cabins, cable works, and incredible views.

When hiking in the Zion Wilderness (all the trails other than Canyon Overlook), hikers must limit their group size to 12, this is an enforced rule. Please practice leave-no-trace principles on any trail and be prepared with water (there are no fill-up stations) and pit toilets are only located at the Canyon Overlook trail. If you are hiking the other trails, you will need to pack out any and all human waste.

Camping: While there are no designated campgrounds or lodging options on the East side of Zion National Park, it is not too far of a drive from the South & Watchman Campgrounds near the Southern Entrance. There are also many options for camping and lodging outside of the park near the East Entrance.

The Highway Entrance- Kolob Canyons

Kolob Canyon Scenic Drive
Kolob Canyon Scenic Drive

Kolob Canyons Entrance, also known as the Highway Entrance actually gives you access to a totally different part of Zion National Park. Kolob Canyons does not connect to Zion Canyon, instead, it offers scenic drives and hiking trails without nearly as many crowds.

Location: Kolob Canyons is located right off I-15, 3 hours and 48 minutes from Salt Lake City. Kolob Canyons is right in between Cedar City and St. George and is a perfect park to visit when you are short on time. Or if you are looking to ditch crowds and be able to drive your own car.

Entrance & Visitor’s Center: The Entrance to the Park usually has no lines, and visitors need to check in and pay fees at the Visitor’s Center before entering the Park. The visitor center is small but is a great place to ask the Rangers any burning questions before heading out to explore.

Seasons: This Park can close during the Winter, depending on the weather, so if you are planning to visit in the Winter, be sure to check the Zion National Park website for any closure information.

Drive: Kolob Canyons offers a five-mile-long scenic drive ending with the Timber Creek Overlook, with sweeping views of Kolob Canyons, Kolob Terrace, and the Pine Valley Mountains. Currently, you can only drive as far as South Fork due to Road Damage. However, you can continue on foot or bike to the Overlook.

view of kolob canyons zion

Hiking: There are three main hiking trails in Kolob Canyons, each with varying difficulties and accessibility. All the trails other than Timber Creek Overlook are in the Zion Wilderness and the group can only have a max of 12 people.

  • Timber Creek Overlook Trail: 1 mile, easy to do for all ages, and offers incredible views of Kolob Canyons, Kolob Terrace, and the Pine Valley Mountains. You can even find wildflowers along this trail during the spring and summer months. This is the trail we take when we bring grandparents or other family members who do not hike as often. Currently, you cannot drive to this trailhead, you must park at South Fork and walk 2 miles to the trailhead each way, until the road damage is fixed
  • Taylor Creek Trail: 5 miles, traverses through the forests and across the creek 100 times (we counted! It’s 50 times each way!) It brings you past old historic cabins, the Kanarraville Fold, and eventually a double arch alcove that is really incredible to see up close. This trailhead is before South Fork, so there is no issue with road closures for this trail. 
  • La Verkin Trail: 14 miles, hikers can enjoy the primitive areas of the Zion wilderness, and enjoy the solitude of a trail without crowds or many other hikers. The trail begins at Lee’s Pass and offers views of Kolob Canyons, Timber Creek, and La Verkin Creek, it eventually ends with the Kolob Arch. The Kolob Arch is one of the world’s largest natural arches, spanning 287 feet. Due to the road damage, to reach this trail, park at South Fork, and hike .5 miles to the Lee’s Pass trailhead.

Camping: Backcountry camping is the only camping allowed in the park and must be reserved in advance. The same Zion Wilderness rules apply, and camping groups can only have a max of 12 people.

The “Non- Entrance”- Kolob Terrace

Entrance sign to Zion National Park
Zion National Park Entrance

Kolob Terrace Road is possibly the least visited section of Zion National Park! Probably because it is a little hidden and does not have its own entrance and visitor center. So where is it located?

Location: The entrance to Kolob Terrace is located in the small town of Virgin, Utah. To get there, leave the park’s South Entrance driving on SR-9 towards Virgin. Just after entering the town you will see a road sign for Kolob Terrace Road, turn there and follow the drive up.

Drive: Kolob Terrace Road is 21 miles long and can be closed throughout the winter due to snow. But when it is open, it offers visitors scenic views that are much different from the ones in Zion Canyon and ends at Lava Point.

Hiking: Kolob Terrace Road offers hiking through the Zion wilderness, and the same rules of 12 apply. Any and all human waste needs to be packed out, and water needs to be brought in as there are no water-filling stations. Here are some of Kolob Terrace Road’s trails:

  • Hop Valley Trail: 13 miles, hike through sandy trails on the valley floor amongst towering rocks and the occasional cow!
  • WildCat Canyon Trail: 5.8 miles, offering views of Northgate Peaks, pine forests, and ending at the edge of Wildcat Canyon.
  • Connector Trail: 5.1 miles and connects Hop Valley trail to Wild Cat Canyon Trail.
  • Northgate Peaks: 4.2 miles, walk through quaking aspens to views of the Northgate Peaks, Guardian Angels, and more of the Zion Wilderness.
  • West Rim Trail via Lava Point: 19 miles, hike along a high elevation rim with views of WildCat Canyon, Potato Hollow, and Phantom Valley. End this hike at Cabin Springs and turn around, or continue to Zion Canyon and hike down to the Grotto.

Camping: Lava Point Campground, located at the end of Kolob Terrace Road offers camping from May- September (depending on snowfall). Reservations must be made in advance on a two-week rolling window. There are six primitive campsites located at this campground. There are pit toilets and trash cans but no water.

stream in Zion

What Else Do I Need to Know?

Zion National Park is an incredible Park to visit, and every Entrance and area of Zion is well worth exploring. However, there are some things that can help your trip run smoother and safer:

  • Bring plenty of water and snacks. Zion can be HOT and the hikes are tiring, keep your body hydrated and fueled properly.
  • Be aware of the weather and do not enter the Narrows if it is supposed to rain.
  • Check the Zion National Park website for any closures prior to your trip.
  • Check for any harmful bacteria in the Virgin River (also on the website) before hiking near (or in) the Virgin River, and follow safety protocols if there are any.
  • Research the trails before you hike them so you know what to expect and can properly plan.
  • Arrive EARLY to beat the crowds and beat the heat!
  • Create a game plan for how you want to visit Zion, what trails are at the top of your must-do list? Do those first!
  • Be prepared for some traffic and crowds, and pack your patience!
  • Have fun and enjoy the incredibly unforgettable views!

Zion National Park is incredible to visit, and each entrance to Zion holds so many gems and incredible views that you can’t go wrong with any of them. However, if it is your first visit to Zion National Park, we would suggest visiting from the southern entrance. This will give you direct access to the main visitor’s center, shuttles, and Zion Canyon which features Zion’s most popular hikes, such as Angel’s Landing and the Narrows. If you are a veteran of visiting Zion then we would encourage you to explore the other parts of the park, Zion has so much to offer and it is well worth taking the time to really explore it.

Planning a vacation shouldn’t be stressful. We created a step-by-step itinerary so you can visit the best places at the right times.

Not only that, but we’ll tell you about the park while you drive with our audio guide!  Stop planning and start having the vacation of your dreams now!



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