I’ll be honest…Zion National Park is a hiker’s park. Yes…most national parks have excellent hiking, but this one is special. Some of the most famous, legendary hikes in the US National Park system are here…Angels Landing and the Zion Narrows. And the percentage of visitors you’ll see here that look like serious hikers (the GEAR!) is…high.
BUT. Don’t count yourself out if you’re not a hiker. As someone who will hike if necessary, but does not identify as a hiker, I’ve always got my eyes peeled to see what an outdoorsy destination has to offer if you’re not someone who travels with hiking poles and a Camelbak.
There’s a lot to be impressed about the National Parks, but one of the things I always find most impressive is HOW MUCH YOU CAN SEE FROM YOUR CAR. It’s almost like the infrastructure for these parks was built during the…golden age of automobile touring ; )
Can you see more if you get out into the backcountry on a 10 mile hike? I’m sure. Is it still 100% worth your time if you can’t? Absolutely.
So that being said, after spending a few days at Zion doing and seeing ALL the things, here are the best things to do in Zion National Park besides hiking:
Things to Do in Zion National Park BESIDES Hiking
Go for a Drive
I love a good scenic drive and Zion has some SPECTACULAR ones. The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive through the main part of the park may be closed to traffic March through November (you have to ride a shuttle), but the Mt. Carmel Scenic Byway is open even during Zion’s busiest season.
It’s not for the faint of heart…there are some hairpin turns and it’s pretty high as the road climbs out of the canyon, but it’s one of the best scenic drives in the country. Plus there’s a mile long tunnel!
Also if you’re staying near Virgin, definitely do the Kolob Terrace Scenic Drive. I stayed at UnderCanvas Zion and the entrance to this part of the park was right near the turnoff or I probably wouldn’t have made it over here. This is a much less visited portion of the park but it’s so beautiful.
Ride the Shuttle
If you’re visiting from March to November, you can’t do the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in your own vehicle, but the park runs a shuttle from the visitor center along the drive through the park that makes over half a dozen stops.
Ride the Shuttle with a Ranger
The park’s shuttle is efficient and it has a narration, but it’s mostly just transportation for people going to hike at different trailheads.
But every day there’s a FREE two hour ranger led shuttle tour through the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. If you’re not going to do any big hikes, I would definitely prioritize getting a spot on this tour.
Capacity is limited and you’ll need reservations in advance, but you can only sign up IN PERSON at the Zion visitor center. You can sign up three days in advance though so if you’re going to be in the Zion area for a few days, definitely go to the visitor center on your first day and sign up to get a spot on the tour during your trip.
Go for a Bike Ride
If you want the best views of Zion Canyon, the shuttle has its limitations. But on a bicycle, you’ll be able to soak up almost unlimited views. It’s about 7 miles from the visitor center to the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop (as far as you can go) which is a pretty comfortable distance to cover on a bike.
Next time I go to Zion, I’m going to look into renting an electric bike from somewhere in Springdale (I saw quite a few of them) so I can ride through the park. FYI – Electric bikes are allowed in the park but they’re not allowed on the park shuttle (regular bikes are).
Visit Zion Lodge
I never miss a historic National Park lodge and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t super impressed with Zion Lodge (it’s not known for being one of the grandest), but it’s still something to see!
The great lawn out front is really inviting if you packed a picnic (there’s also a place to grab pizza and ice cream as well as a full service restaurant). And of course, there’s a great gift shop!
I feel like this is always a good National Park activity, but it would be especially good here. If you want to go horseback riding INSIDE Zion, book a ride with Canyon Trail Rides. East Zion Adventures offers rides with great views of the park including Checkerboard Mesa plus one of their tours even goes into a slot canyon.
Zion National Park offers GREAT conditions for dark sky stargazing, but if you need a little direction, you can book a tour with Stargazing Zion. Plus here are some tips from the NPS for stargazing inside the park.
Take a Jeep Tour
If you want a more active adventure, there are a few companies that offer Jeep tours in and around Zion National Park. These tours aren’t going to be going through the main part of the park where the hikers are, but if you want to see some of the Zion backcountry, this is a great options. Zion Jeep Tours offers tours on the Kolob Terrace side of the park whereas East Zion Jeep Tours runs tours, well, on the east side!
Short & Easy Hikes
I know, I know, I know, this is supposed to be a post about what to do in Zion National Park BESIDES hiking, BUT if you’ve got just one tiny hike in you, here are two that I recommend:
Canyon Overlook Hike
This is my kind of hike. It’s short and sweet with a big payoff! And the hike itself is really fun. It’s only about a mile round trip and you will climb quite a bit at the beginning, but the views out over Zion Canyon are pretty spectacular.
There’s limited parking around the trailhead though (you’ll find it as soon as you come through the tunnel on the Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway) so it’s a good thing to do first thing in the morning.
Even if you’re not up for hiking the Zion Narrows, the area where people are entering and exiting the river is some of the best people watching you’ll do in the park.
From the last stop on the shuttle (Temple of Sinawava), it’s about 1 mile down a paved trail that follows the Virgin River. It’s mostly shady and relatively flat (you could push a wheelchair) and at the point where people get in the river to start hiking through the Narrows, there’s a concrete overlook with some benches.
You can stand there are watch people start their hike and honestly, it’s pretty entertaining ; )