Zion is one of my favorite parks in Utah, but during certain times of the year it is insanely crowded. However you are in luck, there are a multitude of amazing things to do near Zion National Park including river rafting, spectacular Instagram worthy hikes and even private photo sessions.
If you are planning a trip to Zion National Park or Bryce Canyon, check out all the other options of things you can do near Zion to avoid the crowds, but still get an amazing vacation.
Of course when you are in the area, you must make time to visit Zion National Park as well for one of the best hikes in the world through the Narrows.
13 Epic Things to Do Near Zion National Park
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
One of the most overlooked sights near Zion is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Located only about 30 minutes from the eastern park entrance, this sand playground is a fun excursion when you are looking for things to do near Zion National Park.
These orange-red dunes are created when wind blows through the mountains and erodes the nearby sandstone. The sand is brightly colored due to the iron oxide (rust) and other elements naturally found in sandstone.
The red sand isn’t the only cool thing about this park, more than 90% of the park is dedicated to off road vehicles and ATVs. Much like Pismo Beach in California, visitors can spend the day playing in the sand or getting their adrenaline flowing by riding dune buggies and ATVs. Coral Pink ATV Tours is one of the recommended tour agencies that offer rides through the dunes.
For families, there are tons of secluded places to set up for a while with sand toys, sleds and more. Take note, there is NO shade here, so avoid the hottest part of the day as the sand gets toasty.
Red Hollow Slot Canyon
You cannot visit the Southern Utah region without visiting at least one slot canyon. Red Hollow Slot Canyon located just outside of Zion National Park near the Coral Pink Sand Dunes is perfect for beginners. To reach this hike, you will have to drive on dirt roads. You do not need a 4×4, but be wary of the road after recent rains if you don’t have an all wheel car.
The trail itself is about 1/2 mile to Red Hollow Slot Canyon from the parking area, and the actual canyon isn’t very long, maybe a few city blocks long, so the hike is just a little over 1.0 mile total. This is a fun place to explore on your way to or from Coral Sand Dunes.
Red Reef Trail
One thing you will see plenty of in this region is amazing red rock desert backdrops. The Red Reef Trail offers more of the same, but adds in arches, petroglyphs, rock caves and even a surprise waterfall to explore when you are in the St George area. This trail is also known by some as the Red Cliffs Hike, as it can be traveled to from the Red Cliffs Recreation Area Campground up to the pools and back. The hike is easy and about 1.5 miles round-trip. Besides the Water Canyon Trail below, this is one of the top, not to be missed things to do near Zion National Park.
Sand Hollow State Park
Families in the know, have flocked to this water oasis in the desert! One of Utah’s newer state parks is also one of its most popular. You can easily spend a day kayaking, playing in the sand, lounging by the water and then ride ATV’s in the afternoon all without leaving the park. One of our favorite spots to hide away is by the waterfall in the sand alcoves. However there are plenty of places to explore here to get your own little hideaway.
Sand Hollow State Park is about 40 minutes from Zion, which makes it a decent option for a place to stay while in town as well as one of the best things to do near Zion National Park. Camping can be booked through their website here. During the busy summer season, we highly recommend you book well in advance.
Note: If you want to kayak, don’t have your own, you can rent them (as well as ATVs) on the south side of the reservoir.
Water Canyon Trail
Water Canyon Trail is a lush, lightly trafficked trail with a beautiful creek and from what I hear some of the best tasting spring water out in the wild. This hidden gem of a hike is located just outside of Hildale Utah, which is a little bit of a drive from Zion National Park, but well worth the excursion. While this isn’t Angels Landing or Emerald Pools inside Zion, this is a fun, beautiful unexpected view of Southern Utah.
This is a moderate hike at 4.25 miles (out and back) with around a 500 foot elevation gain. Adventurous families can definitely do this hike even with the bit of rock scrambling that is required. During the summer season this is a popular hike due to the water to cool off in, so we recommend arriving early or later in the afternoon to avoid the rush.
While you don’t need a 4×4 to access the dirt road, if it has rained I would avoid the road without one.
Snow Canyon State Park
One of the many state parks in this region of Utah that is well worth a visit. This park is popular with locals, but almost unknown to out of state visitors who are more interested in the well known parks like Zion National Park. However, for those of you who have already made trips into Zion and covered all the best things to do inside Zion National Park, this is a good place to spend your time outside of the national park.
There are a variety of trails here worth exploring from lava tubes to slot canyons. The trails inside the park are typically short, but can be combined to form longer trails.
Petrified Dunes Trail is one of the most enjoyable hikes in the park and is great for all ages and abilities. With only 1.2 miles, there are plenty of places to explore – curving lines, beehive shaped mountains and possibly even water pools for reflection photos. Note, the trail is not really defined for much of the route, just a field of wavy petrified sand dunes that come with a sense of freedom, so keep an eye on how you walk so you can easily find your way back!
Other hikes to check out:
- Hidden Pinyon is a 1.5 mile interpretive trail
- Lava Flow is a 2.5 mile hike – don’t miss the outlook about halfway through
- Johnson Canyon is a 2 mile hike worth exploring
- Whiptail Trail is a 3 mile paved trail perfect for strollers or wheelchairs
River Tubing on the Virgin River
Something fun and different to do during the busy summer months in the Zion area is to go tubing on the Virgin River. Tubing rentals are only available May through July while river conditions are appropriate for this, but is a great way to cool off in the summer heat. This is recommended only for kids 12 and up as it can be quite strenuous. The river is not a lazy river.
We recommend starting at Zion Outfitter where the 2 mile float begins. The river goes through a shady area with the towering sandstone cliffs above. The finish is near Springdale Park, where it is a short walk to the shuttle which will bring you back to the shop. Due to COVID, you will need to book in advance to make sure you have shuttle access.
Photo Session With Zion Adventure Photographers
One of the coolest things you can do while in southern Utah is to book a photography session with Zion Adventure Photographers to commemorate your visit. A friend of mine just returned from her 40th birthday trip and the photos she came back with were amazing and perfect to remember her monumental birthday excursion. The lady who runs Zion Adventure Photographers is also in the know for all the best hikes and photo spots in the area.
Great Trails & Things to Do Near Kanab
Belly of the Dragon
Belly of the Dragon is another Instagram worthy “hike” that clocks in at a minuscule .5 mile round trip. Regardless, it is a fun mini adventure through a manmade tunnel that was originally created as a water culvert. Over time, drainage from water has carved the sandstone walls creating a beautiful rippling effect that is perfect for photos. The best time visit this trail is from March until October. Remember, this is an active drainage tunnel, so please be cautious about visiting during rain.
Sand Caves aka Moqui Caves and Moqui Caverns
The Sand Caves, aka Moqui Caves aka Cave of Wonders are located 5 miles north of Kanab on the right side of the highway. These sand caves are easy to access and can actually be seen from HWY 89. The hike itself is only a short half mile round trip hike, so don’t come expecting to get your exercise in. However this is another place for cool Instagram worthy photos.
Please take note that there are drop offs inside the caves, so wear grippy shoes as you will have to climb up a small wall to get inside the caves. This is a great stop if you are staying or visiting the Kanab area, but maybe not necessarily a place to go when you have to drive far! We went through this area on our way from Page to Zion on our road trip from the Grand Canyon to Zion.
If you are visiting Kanab for either hiking, delicious food options or to visit the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the Mansard Trail hike is another great one for your to do list. Located just 6 miles east of Kanab, the Mansard Trail is better for later in the day. This 4 mile round trip strenuous hike will take you to Mansard Cove, where you will find some cool petroglyphs that are thought to date back to the Anasazi period (the what?? From 0 AD to 1250 AD). As this is a historical site (even though it’s not protected), please try to take extra care here. Do not touch the ancient drawings as your hand oils can destroy the petroglyphs.
If you happen to do this near sunset, look forward to seeing a beautiful sunset over the valley below.
Volunteer at the Best Friends Sanctuary
This is our go to place when in the area of Kanab. At this time due to Coronavirus, Best Friend’s Sanctuary is not fully open to all visitors (check their website for the latest), but when it is, this is a wonderful place to visit for the day or even for a few nights. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is a haven for a variety of animals, from birds to dogs to horses. Nestled in between the red rocks Southern Utah, the sanctuary offers accommodation options, volunteer programs and day visits. For an extended trip in the area, definitely spend some time here at the sanctuary while also taking in the hikes in the area.
Dinosaur Tracks Trail
Do you have dinosaur loving kiddos? If you are in or near Kanab, don’t miss the Dinosaur Tracks Trail. This trail is located about 3 miles outside of the town.
Clocking in at just 1 mile round trip, it is not as easy as you might think only because of the slippery path and decent elevation gain. The trail takes hikers to a plateau with lovely views of the surrounding area and of course, quite a few 185 million-year-old dinosaur tracks in well preserved slick rock outcrops. Trust me, you will find them. Don’t worry about not being able to spot them along the way.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of things to do near Zion National Park. This area of Southern Utah is an outdoor lovers playground waiting for you to explore. Don’t forget to check out other activities like horseback riding, rappelling, rock climbing and more.
Where to Stay Near Zion National Park
There are a variety of great options to stay while visiting the Zion area. We have a post on accommodation options near Zion that you should read, but below are a few other options of places that we have on our list while in the area – both near Zion and a bit further out. Inside the park, the best option is Zion Lodge, but that is not easy to get a reservation in, so check out some of these other great options.
Coral Spring Resort
Coral Spring Resort is a condo complex that offers units with balconies, patios and more. It is in the middle of everything in St George.
Under Canvas Zion
I have long dreamed of staying at one of the Under Canvas properties in the US. These glamping tents are luxury all the way and well worth the price tag from what I hear! Luxury surroundings but this is still camping, FYI! There is no AC, however you do have your own stove to keep warm in colder months.
Accommodation in Springdale
In Springdale, there are a ton of hotel options right at the doorstep of Zion National Park. In this guide to Zion, we list out all of the best options inside and outside the park.
For a fantastic family friendly budget option, check out Zion Park Motel. The rooms are basic motel style albeit with a bit more comfortable beds. The hotel boasts a 1970s play set that will keep the kids busy, a pool with unbeatable views and each room has a mini fridge and microwave.
Another budget friendly option is Canyon Ranch Motel where all of the rooms are free standing with no shared walls. Their grassy lawn and pool are great for kids needing space to run around. Keep an eye out in the morning and late afternoons for deer hanging out on the grounds.
On the higher end, Cable Mountain Lodge ($160-300 a night) is a family favorite.
La Quinta, a chain hotel, is also a great option for families with their picturesque pool complete with fountains for the kids to frolic in. No matter where you stay in Zion, you will be surrounded by gorgeous cliffs and blue skies high above you.
The Inn At Entrada
Looking for luxury outside of Zion, the Inn at Entrada is a great spot to check out. This is close to Snow Canyon State Park if that is a place you plan to spend quite a bit of time. It is a bit of a drive to Zion and to the Kanab area however.
In addition to these great places, there are also a ton of options on Airbnb that are worth checking out.
While you are in the area, make sure to check out the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, Kolob Canyons and of course the Narrows that starts at the Temple of Sinawava. This popular Riverside walk is worth the effort! While in the area, visit the visitor centers for the different towns and parks as they can provide a great deal of information on what is currently open and hikable.
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