Zion is a place of reverence where you’ll cast your head back to gaze skyward at soaring domes that bear religiously inspired monikers: Court of the Patriarchs, Mount Moroni, and Temple of Sinawava. Yea, though you walk through the Valley of Zion, you have to ride a shuttle to get there mid-March through October; this is Utah’s busiest park, albeit one with a comfortably revamped lodge. With the Virgin River running through it, the landscape can resemble a hand-tinted Yosemite, especially when the occasional rainstorm sends waterfalls plunging down the near-vertical cliff faces. Outside Zion’s entrance, the town of Springdale has character and history, along with shops and restaurants. Ditch the masses and get a new perspective by challenging yourself with the steep climb into Zion’s high country. Reaching the 5,790-foot pinnacle at Angels Landing demands a 5.4-mile round-trip hike that ascends 1,488-feet, with the last stretch, where hikers become supplicants, the stuff of falling dreams as you traverse a narrow ledge fitted with chains.
Where to stay
Springdale’s Desert Pearl Inn ($138-$359) is accented with decorative tin headboards, plank floors, and balconies within earshot of the Virgin River. The nearby Bit & Spur is the go-to spot for live music as well as a spicy chile verde and a chocolatey Polygamy Porter, a beer that asks the question, “Why stop at just one?”
Beat the crowds
Visitors don’t realize that November, with tourist buses long gone and the cottonwoods turning gold, is prime time at Zion. Nor do most people explore the park east of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel for walks along the slick rock at Checkerboard Mesa—a dome of Navajo sandstone. Don’t miss taking in the scenery from the Canyon Overlook Trail, a one-mile round-trip hike.
+On I-15 from Vegas to Zion, slow for the 750-foot cliffs of the Virgin River Gorge, the most expensive stretch of rural interstate when it was finished in 1973.
+A 55-minute drive from Zion’s valley, the park’s Kolob Canyons has trails along creeks to remote arches as well as a view from the end of its road that rivals the park’s best.
+On the way to the park, turn off at Rockville to stop by the ghost town and farming community of Grafton.