With a worldwide pandemic hitting its one year mark on altering all of our plans in life, the idea of a real vacation has been dancing in my head for months. One of my best friend’s weddings had us planning a weekend in Temecula, California in March. We played with the idea of heading north to Nick’s hometown in Monterey Bay or spending a few nights in San Diego.
Ultimately, we settled on extending our trip an extra 3 days in Zion National Park along with another few days in Vegas. Nick took the time to do a ton of research for us beforehand and pulled together a loose itinerary before we visited.
When to Visit Zion National Park:
The time of year you plan to spend 3 days in Zion will determine what you decide to do on your trip. Monsoon season, July through mid-September, may knock the Narrows off your list of hikes. If you’re braving the cold and going in the winter, several of the higher elevation trails could be closed due to snow or ice. With that said, I would say the best time to spend 3 days in Zion would be between March – June and September – October. We hit the Spring Break crowds when we visited Sunday, March 21 to Wednesday, March 24. This made it busy, but it was still manageable because Zion does its best with crowd control.
Where We Stayed for 3 Days in Zion:
Springdale, Utah, sits right on the outskirts of the entrance to Zion National Park. It’s a tiny town, but the best spot for anyone spending more than one day in the National Park. There are several hotels along the main road in Springdale. If you book far enough in advance, you may be able to snag a room at Zion Lodge. As one of the National Park shuttle stops, it would be a neat location to stay.
The Springhill Suites we chose to stay in was charming and exceptionally clean. Our room was comfortable but I was surprised they didn’t utilize the views more. Bigger windows or balconies would’ve been so nice for morning coffee. We both noted that the walls were thin because we could literally hear the guy next door snoring one night. The hotel did offer complimentary breakfast each morning which consisted of Jimmy Dean sandwiches, fruits, yogurts, and cereals. My favorite part was that they had Uncrustable sandwiches out each morning and “to-go” bags. We took a few pb&j’s each day and damn did they ever hit the spot mid-hike! TWF Tip:
Springdale is a very small town. If you’re staying in Springdale, you can’t choose a bad location for visiting Zion National Park. The main road through the downtown area has a shuttle that will pick you up at several spots along the way. Eventually, it ends at the Visitor’s Center for Zion National Park. This shuttle is free and our stop was right in front of the hotel.
Plan For Your Zion National Park Entry.
With 3 days in Zion National Park, you’ll want to make sure you can get
into the park. Here’s a quick breakdown of your options: Get shuttle tickets.
Upper Zion Canyon and the Scenic Drive of Zion National Park are not accessible for private vehicles spring through fall, but instead, the park shuttle takes you to the various stops.
: Shuttle tickets become available on the 16th and last day of the month. We visited on March 22, so we could’ve gotten tickets on the last day of February, but missed the memo. Half of the tickets get distributed in advance and then they become available the day before entry at 5:00pm. Shuttle tickets are $1 per person. The tickets repeatedly disclose that they are not transferable, but we were never asked to show an ID. How to Get Shuttle Tickets
Important Shuttle Ticket Tip:
If you’re getting your tickets the day before, you’ll want to be online as soon as they become available at 5:00pm. We had to get our tickets this way for two of the days and by 5:02pm, they were sold out. Luckily, we snagged the tickets and times that we wanted. The shuttle tickets are distributed by hour increments, starting at 7:00am until 2:00pm. If you choose the 9:00-10:00am slot, you have to enter the shuttle bus between those times.
If you miss out on shuttle tickets for a day you want to enter the park, they also offer tickets for walk-ups starting at 2:00pm each day. Again, there’s no guarantee but it’s worth a shot.
The park seemed pretty relaxed about times, giving you a 10-15 minute grace period if you aren’t as punctual as the typical Type A personality. However, if you’re really late, you do risk losing your spot. They say they’ll try to add you to additional shuttles, but you never know. I feel confident they would, but I wouldn’t risk it.
Pay to enter the park by vehicle.
Private vehicles are allowed to enter Zion National Park on the Zion-Mt. Carmel highway throughout the year. You do have to pay an entry fee per vehicle but hold onto your receipt. You’ll be able to use it for 7 days of entry. Trails like Angel’s Landing and the Narrows are only accessible by the National Park Shuttle or by foot/bicycle starting in the Spring. However, you
can drive through the tunnel in your vehicle and on through the rest of the park. Canyon Overlook Trail is the best trail to access with your private vehicle. Enter by foot or bicycle.
While you still have to pay the
park fee for your party to enter Zion National Park, if you’re unable to get shuttle tickets for your visit, you can still get to the trails by walking or riding a bike. Keep reading to find out more about our E-bike experience. We totally recommend it! Go hiking in Zion National Park.
With 3 days in Zion, you’re probably looking for an outdoor adventure. While you won’t be able to knock all of the trails off your list in 3 days, you can definitely hit several of them. Pick your favorites ahead of time to help you make the most of your days in the park. It’s important to also do some research to find out which trails are open or closed during your stay. We would’ve hiked the Observation Point Trail while we were there but it was closed due to a rock slide covering the trail.
Canyon Overlook Trail – Moderate // Trailhead is accessible by private car, not the park shuttle.
By the time we checked into our hotel on a Sunday afternoon, we had just enough daylight left to head into the park with our rental car and hike up
Canyon Overlook Trail. This trail is located right on the other side of the historic tunnel and has a small parking lot for cars. If it’s busy, you’ll have to find parking spots along the side of the road farther down.
This trail had plenty of traffic, but it wasn’t overwhelming. As our first taste of Zion views, we stopped often for photos, soaking in the beauty of the sandstone cliffs around us. Once our trip was over, I still felt like these views were some of the absolute best. Canyon Overlook Trail should 100% be on your list of hikes.
Angel’s Landing – Strenuous // Trailhead is accessible by foot, bike, or shuttle bus (recommended). Note that you now
need a permit to access Angel’s Landing.**
If you’re spending 3 days in Zion National Park, this hike will be on your list. While it’s not for the weak, we saw all ages and sizes making the difficult trek to the top.
Angel’s Landing is a little over 5 miles round trip and about 1500ft of climbing. It’s famous for its narrow, more technical trail towards the top where you need to hold onto chains that were installed along the side of the canyon to keep your footing/pull you up, at times.
If you’re terrified of heights, making it to the top of Angel’s Landing probably isn’t for you. I’d recommend Angel’s Landing for anyone that feels confident in hiking for 3 hours while also dealing with some technical footing and steeper inclines. We did see kids on the trail, but it totally gave me anxiety to see them near the edge. We also saw retired couples making their way to the top and enjoying the views. Assess your own physical ability and go from there. The views at Angel’s Landing are so worth it. As a Florida girl, any kind of elevation climb is exciting for me, but this was next level. Photos literally can’t do it justice.
Riverbend Walk – Easy // Trailhead is accessible by foot, bike, or shuttle bus.
The final stop on the park shuttle drops you off at the Temple of Sinawava. This takes you to the scenic and easy trail, Riverbend Walk, to the beginning of The Narrows. It’s a 2 mile round-trip journey that would be perfect for anyone needing an easy little trip. We took this walk after Angel’s Landing and had another afternoon snack in the sun.
The Narrows – Moderate/Strenuous // Trailhead is accessible by foot, bike, or shuttle bus.
If you’ve heard of Zion National Park, you’ve probably heard of
The Narrows. The weather will play a huge role in whether or not you get to hike The Narrows. Arguably, the most famous hiking in Zion, The Narrows take you through the most narrow parts of Zion as you trek through the Virgin River. It’s about 16 miles round trip, but being an out and back route, you can go as far as you choose.
The Narrows are known for their flash flooding and you are responsible for evaluating the risk during your hike. Flash floods can be unexpected and really aggressive, causing injury or even drowning. If I learned one thing during my
family adventures in our RV, it’s that you don’t mess around with Mother Nature.
Unfortunately, the weather got a little unpredictable on our trip. We were still going to rent the gear to go, but then the local guide said they had canceled several tours and strongly advised us not to go. We made the tough decision to save The Narrows for our next trip. It gives us a reason to go back, right?! If The Narrows are high on your list during your 3 days in Zion, I suggest planning it for the beginning.
You’ll want to check the rain forecast for north of the canyons, but also make your decision based on the temperature. The day we planned to go, the water was about 40 degrees. That’s freaking cold and could have made the hike pretty miserable, even with the right gear.
Emerald Pools Trail – Easy // Trailhead is accessible by foot, bike, or shuttle bus.
Emerald Pools Trail is an easier hike that almost anyone could do. If you or your family aren’t up for the more difficult hikes, this one will certainly be just fine for an adventure with younger kids or less athletic visitors. We explored the lower, middle, and upper pools of this trail, but I have to admit that it was very underwhelming for us. The waterfall going into the lower pool was minimal and the upper pool was pretty dull. I had previously read that the Emerald Pools would be a great hike for a rainy day and that’s probably the only time I would give it another shot. I would hope for a more impressive waterfall and possibly some emerald colors in the small pools. Rent an E-Bike in Zion.
Nick and I love anything on two wheels. We both raced dirt bikes as kids (he was an amateur badass, to say the least), and now we share our love for triathlons and cycling. Renting a bike is always one of my favorite ways to check out a new place. The cherry on top with renting an electric-assist bike in Zion is your ability to get to trailheads without shuttle tickets. It’s a beautiful and easy way to get through the canyons. You could also rent regular bikes or bring your own, but the E-Bike makes it much more enjoyable.
We rented our bikes from Zion Guide Hub. Nick, being a strong and avid cyclist, didn’t realize his E-Bike wasn’t making things easier for him until I started passing him going uphill without a sweat. Being miles away from the bike shop, he sucked it up. He dealt with minimal assist on his bike during the 4 hour trip. It was disappointing, to say the least. When we got back to the shop we kindly explained our frustrations with the bike and what a bummer it was for him. We expected a little more than a lackluster “sorry” for the $100 rental.
Overall, our customer service experience there makes me want to encourage you to try a different bike rental shop. There are several to choose from, so give another one a shot. E-Bikes are more popular than ever, so make a reservation ahead of time!
Other Adventures for 3 days in Zion:
More Hiking: There’s a lot of hiking in Zion! Several of the trails were closed while we were visiting due to rockslides or other covid-related reasons, but take a look at the Season Guide when you choose to visit. It’s the same guide you’d get at the entrance of the park, so you’ll be able to determine which trails are right for your trip!
Horseback Riding: Zion National Park offers horseback riding! We walked up one morning before the Emerald Pools hike, only to find out they were completely booked up for the day. Make reservations ahead of time if you want the gentle giants to do the walking for you.
Tubing: If you’re going to spend 3 days in Zion during summer, stay cool in the Virgin River! You can rent tubes and spend about 80 minutes casually cruising through the waters. Where to Eat in Springdale:
Let’s be honest. Some of the best memories of a vacation are revolved around dining experiences. If your 3 days in Zion is all about hiking and exploring, you’ll probably be diving into complimentary hotel breakfasts and then stashing snacks and sandwiches into your bags for lunches on the trails. So that means you’ll want to check out a couple of these places when you’re ready for an exceptional vacation meal.
Oscar’s Cafe: Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this is a casual and delicious spot with something for everyone.
Meme’s Cafe: A local’s favorite, Meme’s Cafe is a must. Try their burgers or crepes!
Bit & Spur: Dive into chips and salsa, and grab a fresh-fruit margarita! This place has a great atmosphere and awesome menu.
Pizza & Noodle Co.: We didn’t get to eat here, but they had a wait every night we drove by. If you’re looking for carbs like pizza and pasta after a day on the trails, this could be your spot.
Skip: The Brew Pub: Look, I get it. A cold beer is so tempting after a day in Zion National Park. The Brew Pub is the first restaurant/bar you’ll see when you exit the park. We caught the bait and headed in on a Sunday evening. The service was terrible and the food was very mediocre. Even the beer didn’t make up for the experience. So, I say pick up a 6 pack of beer and go get in your hotel’s hot tub instead. 3 Days in Zion National Park May Not Be Enough…
But it’s better than nothing! Overall, if you get to spend a few days in Zion National Park, you’re treating yourself to one of the greatest National Parks in our country. I love that we had time there and discovered even more reasons to go back.
When planning your trip, especially if there’s still a pandemic going on in the country, I suggest browsing this website and checking out Zion’s latest season guide. To recap this post real quick:
Stay in the town of Springdale. There are about a dozen hotels to choose from, but book early! Shuttle tickets are important throughout the busy times of the year. Don’t forget to go online and book them a couple of weeks in advance or the day before you go in. If shuttle tickets have you stressed, plan on renting an E-Bike to get into the park where only shuttle buses can take you! Hiking: From easy to palm-sweating difficult, there is a hike for everyone. My favorite was Angel’s Landing (difficult) for the actual hike and my favorite views were at Canyon Overlook (moderate). If you want to hike The Narrows, plan it early on in your trip. If weather affects the day you chose, you may still be able to get it in on another day. Downtown is small, but don’t miss out browsing some of the shops and getting ice cream. Pin the image below to save this guide for later!