boy paddle boarding away from camera with kayak and red rocks in back

Epic Things to Do Near Zion National Park 

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I love Zion National Park and have been visiting since at least 1993. One of my favorite parts about this red rock wonderland is the number of things to do near Zion National Park in the Greater Zion area.

This post is a compilation of experiences visiting the area alone, with my family, with extended family, and with one of my teens from 1993- 2022. 

All of the things we love about Zion – red rocks, slot canyons, soaring vistas, meandering creeks, petroglyphs, scenic drives, and endless adventures can be found outside the park’s borders too. Often, the crowds are thinner when you find adventurous things to do around Zion National Park than they are in the park.

Definitely mix it up with these activities and design your own epic trip. I’ll include a 3-day itinerary for Greater Zion in case you want someone else to plan your trip. 

Even though this article is about things to do near Zion, I’ll include one super fun, and minimally crowded way to see the park. Because Zion really is spectacular and you don’t want to miss it!

teen hiking in Water Canyon among red rock cliffs

A few things to know before deciding what to do near Zion National Park. 

  • The Greater Zion Area can also be defined as Washington County (mostly) and it’s HUGE! It can easily take you a couple of hours to drive from one place in the county to another. Try to group your activities geographically and plan for long drive times (or multiple trips). 
  • Not all roads are paved in Greater Zion. I won’t send you anywhere that I couldn’t get to in a 2-wheel, front-wheel-drive car, but you are going to want a little clearance for a couple of these outings.
  • Cell service is spotty. Make sure you have a paper map or have downloaded the area on Google Maps. GPS should work.
  • Southern Utah is a desert. It’s extremely arid (unless there’s a flash flood), it’s hot in summer and cold in winter. Bring sunscreen, a hat, lots of water, warm clothes, and plenty of snacks. Plants will poke and scratch you. 

family of four in front of red cliff and arch

3-Day Itinerary for Greater Zion

Day 1

  • Arrive in St. George.
  • Wander at Red Hills Desert Garden and Red Cliffs National Conservation Area
  • Dinner at La Concina Mexican Street Food
  • Sunset at Snow Canyon State Park

Day 2

  • Canyoneering at Lamb’s Knoll
  • Lunch at Cafe Soliel, Springdale
  • E-bike Zion Canyon
  • Cliffside dinner or BBQ at your glamping spot

Day 3

  • Hiking at Water Canyon and late lunch at Edge of the World
  • OR Paddling at Quail Creek or Sand Hollow State Parks
  • Dinner near hiking trail or lodging
  • Stargazing on the Kolob Terrace

Keep reading for descriptions of each activity and how to do it!

Adventurous Things to Do Near Zion National Park

teen paddle boarding with red rock island in back

Paddle and Play in Utah State Parks Near Zion

We always pay a visit to one or two of Utah’s State Parks while in the Greater Zion area. You get all of the Navajo Red Sandstone and spectacular scenery and less of the crowds. Some of the State Parks are more motor-friendly, so be aware of that if you are looking for a quiet nature experience.

man and woman standing on petrified red sand dune near Zion National Park

Snow Canyon State Park 

This beautiful park on the north end of St. George is a true gem. There are miles of hiking trails and you can visit petrified sand dunes, petroglyphs, ancient lava flows, arches, and more.

Snow Canyon is open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. And there is a campground should you wish to spend the night. 

Snow Canyon State Park Entrance Fees

  • Utah Resident: $10 per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 per vehicle (up to eight people) Seniors 65 and older (with UT driver’s license); $5 pedestrian/cyclists (up to eight people)
  • Non-resident:  $15 per vehicle (up to eight people); $5 pedestrian/cyclist (up to 8 people)
two kayaks with red and white rock in back utah

Quail Creek State Park

Honestly, this isn’t my favorite Utah State Park, but we did have a lovely time kayaking around the reservoir one day with my mom, her partner, and my brother and his wife and 2-year-old. It’s a good multi-generational spot.

There are motorboats on the reservoir, but I don’t think you can ATV around there, so there it can be a little quieter. 

You can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and other things that float at the park. Fishing is good and there is a fish cleaning station, boat ramp, restrooms, a campground, and mountain bike trails.

Quail Creek State Park Entrance Fees

  • Utah Resident: $15 per vehicle with up to 8 people.
  • Utah Resident Senior: $10 (Seniors 65 and older) per vehicle with up to 8 people.
  • Non-resident: $20 per vehicle with up to 8 people.
teen jumping off red cliff into lake

Sand Hollow State Park 

Sand Hollow is an ATV paradise, which makes it a bit loud and whiney for those who aren’t on an off-road vehicle. We spent a day paddling on the lake and hanging out on the beach and could mostly ignore the motors. This time it was my family plus my mom and her partner. Again, it’s a good spot for a multi-generational or big family outing.

The highlight of visiting Snow Canyon for us, besides paddling out to the scenic island, was jumping off the cliff (or watching Anders jump off the cliff as the case may be). 

We were warned about Swimmer’s Itch when we were there. Fortunately, it wasn’t warm enough for this microscopic parasite when we visited. Swimmer’s Itch is an irritating, yet harmless rash. Still, it sounds yucky.

You can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and other things that float at the park. They also rent ATVs and UTVs. Fishing is good and there is a fish cleaning station, boat ramp, restrooms, camping, and miles and miles of ATV “trails.” 

Sand Hollow State Park Entrance Fees

  • Utah Resident: $15 per vehicle.
  • Utah Resident Senior: $10 Seniors (65 yrs old).
  • Non-resident: $20. (no senior discount)
woman on paddle board on turquoise lake with red rocks in background

Wander at Red Hills Desert Garden and Red Cliffs National Conservation Area

sign for Red Hills Desert Garden in St George Utah

Red Hills is a sweet little botanic garden on the edge of St. George below Pioneer Park and the Dixie Red Rocks. There are short, paved trails meandering among local plants, water features, and an aquarium. There are interpretive signs along the way.

We stopped at Red Hills before scrambling about on the rocks at Pioneer Park. Exit at the back of the parking area at Red Hills to take a super short scenic drive with opportunities to see Powell Eagle Nest, St. George Narrows, Pioneer Park Arch, or to drive into the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. 

Red Hills Desert Garden is free and has a restroom. Red Cliffs NCA day use fee is $5 (or use your America the Beautiful Interagency Pass). 

two people hanging from ropes in a sandstone canyon

Drop into Canyoneering in Zion’s Backyard

I’ve long wanted to go canyoneering in Zion and I was so pleased with how it turned out. While there are several companies that offer canyoneering, we went with Amazing Adventures. 

Canyoneering is basically going down canyons with ropes. We hiked up Lamb’s Knoll on the Kolob Terrace and then rappelled down three cliff faces. It was incredibly fun and the views were delightful.

They take kids as young as four and you don’t have to have any experience to participate.  Zion Amazing Adventures also offers rock climbing tours in addition to canyoning tours.

teen on ebike riding away from the camera with red cliffs

E – Biking in Zion

I know I said this would be about adventures near Zion, but I have to include biking in the park because it is so much fun and a great way to avoid crowds.

We rented e-bikes in Springdale, just outside of Zion. There are several places to do this and I recommend calling around to see if any of them have parking or are near parking. That’s the biggest issue with Springdale. We ended up parking 0.5 miles from the rental place, which isn’t a huge deal, but it added a mile of walking along a busy road in the heat of the day. 

Aside from the parking situation and a lot of people at the entrance to the Zion, we loved everything about e-biking in the park. The electric bikes were super easy to ride and we were quite glad for them when we watched people on regular bikes struggle through the wind on the ride back.

teen biking away from the camera toward red cliffs in Zion National Park

Anders and I zipped along, soaking in the dramatic scenery. There are bike racks at every trailhead and a bike lock was provided with the bike (a helmet too!). We rode to the end of the road at the Temple of Sinawava (the start of the Narrows) and back and still had a lot of battery life left on the bikes.

We rented from Utah E-Bike Adventures. They have different sizes and bikes with kid carriers. You must be 18 years old to rent and at least 12 years old to ride if you are accompanied by a parent or guardian.

food on a blue plate with person in background near Zion National Park

Eat Adventurously with Clifftop Dining

Even dinner is an adventure when you meet your personal chef on the edge of a cliff overlooking Zion National Park. 

For this epic dining experience, we were given GPS coordinates and told to drive a car with some clearance (my rental car was deemed too low, so I had to hitch a ride with someone else). As we came to the literal edge of a cliff, we saw the most beautiful table, charcuterie board, and view. 

Chef Jeff Crosland creates a dreamy meal in a dreamy location for groups, couples, or whoever wants to enjoy it. It was one of the most special dining experiences I’ve had and highly encourage you to do it if you can. 

teen with arms raised in red rock canyon

Hiking Near Zion National Park 

There are a ton of hikes not far from Zion National Park. And those trails pass some of the same types of features that make Zion so special. 

In Snow Canyon State Park (mentioned above), our whole family was enamored with the Petrified Sand Dunes Trail and Johnson Canyon Trail. I’m sure we’d love the others, but that’s what we’ve hiked so far.

The Petrified Dunes Trail is especially great for younger kids as you can run all over the place and it’s a blast. Johnson Canyon is pretty flat and only 2 miles. It crosses lava flows, meanders up a sheltered canyon, and has a view of an arch. It’s closed from March 15- September 15 annually.

red cliffs with a tree in Greater Zion Utah

Water Canyon Trail is a popular trail about 27 miles and 40 minutes from Hurricane, Utah, outside of Hildale. The trail is about 3.3 miles round trip and moderately steep. The farther you get into the canyon, the more impressive the canyon walls get until eventually you are at a little waterfall. You can continue beyond the waterfall where a lot of canyoneering takes place.

Before heading back to St. George, Anders and I stopped at the family-friendly Edge of the World Brewery in Colorado City, Arizona (it’s immediately adjacent to Hildale). I was a little surprised to find a brewery there given that everything I know about the twin towns comes from Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, but I was definitely pleased. 

pizza and beer

woman and teen holding lantern in front of rock formation at night

Join a Stargazing Party Under Zion’s Dark Sky

Zion National Park is a designated Dark Sky Park and the area around it is just as dark and starry.  Anders and I attended a program with Stargazing Zion on the Kolob Terrace, just feet from Zion National Park.

The program consisted of a short walk-and-talk to the viewing location. Then we plunked down on bean bag-type pods and stared at the sky while an astronomer walked us through what was going on above us. Everyone had a blanket and binoculars to use. And there were hot drinks.

We also got to use some incredible telescopes that brought the stars and planets down to us.

I loved it, of course, but so did 15-year-old Anders. He said it was “much more interesting than he expected,” which means a lot from a teenager. 

Stargazing Zion is both educational and entertaining.

covered wagons and tipi at night with lots of stars

Glamping Near Zion 

There are so many glamping operations around Zion and it seems like another one or two or three pops up every time I visit. I am a big fan of glamping so I am here for it. 

Anders and I stayed at Weeping Buffalo in a covered wagon with two queen beds. There was a bathroom with shower, mini fridge, heater and air conditioning, and a private gas campfire ring on the patio. It was so cute and comfortable. 

Some of the covered wagons have private outdoor kitchens in addition to all I mentioned above. On the trip in which Anders and I stayed here, a fellow travel blogger had a luxurious tipi with an outdoor kitchen and hot tub. For big families there is a wagon with a queen bed and 2 bunk beds

This glamping location in Virgin, Utah was pretty central to everything we did on one trip — canyoneering, stargazing, and cliffside dining were all about 20 minutes away on the Kolob Terrace, while Zion was roughly 14 miles away. Water Canyon was a bit further, but we were headed back to St. George anyway. 

On other trips to Zion, we’ve stayed in vacation rentals in La Verkin and Hurricane

mom and son on edge of cliff overlooking Zion National Park

For more adventures and hikes near Zion, check out my post of the best hikes near Kanab, as it’s not far from Zion’s east entrance. 

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