Zion National Park is one of the more distant day trips from the Riviera Hotel, taking about 21/2 hours to reach (driving directions here). In fact, it’s actually located across state lines, in southern Utah, but it is beautiful and offers unique attractions that make it worth a (very) long day.
Western pioneers named the park after the Hebrew word for “refuge” or “safety.” The title was perhaps aspirational, because it’s a very harsh environment prone to flash floods. But for a visit, it’s nothing short of spectacular, offering a maze of deep, sandstone canyons and imposing rock towers and plateaus.
It’s also a surprisingly verdant place, home to almost 900 native species of plants and hundreds more species of native mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
Leaving Las Vegas
Despite its distance, it’s a relatively straight shot to Zion National Park from the Riviera Hotel and Casino.
Just head northeast along I15 for most of the trip, shifting to State Highway 9 in Utah. The majority of the park is accessible by car – in fact, even a simple driving tour is visually awe-inspiring. However, parts of the park are not connected by roadways, and Zion Canyon is only accessible by a free shuttle from late March through the end of October (the shuttle helps eliminate congestion in the canyon). During that timeframe, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is also closed to private vehicles, unless you’re staying at the Zion Lodge and obtain a red pass.
Prep yourself: make sure the gas tank is full and bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and lots of water.
Attractions in Zion National Park
Zion Canyon Visitor Center
Located near the south entrance, the Visitor Center is a standard first stop. It’s a great place to plan your visit, view some exhibits, and speak with rangers about the park.
The canyons in Zion are magnificent. Unlike many parks, where the best views are from high elevations, Zion is more about walking along the canyon floors and looking up at the dramatic scenery. Canyoneering is an activity that combines hiking, swimming, rappelling and route finding. And with literally dozens of different canyons, everyone from beginners to experienced canyoneers will find a spot to meet their needs. Permits are required.
From April to November, the park hosts numerous free ranger-led activities that explore the geology, biology, zoology and history of the park. These activities include guided walks, lectures, shuttle tours and more.
Zion Canyon Scenic Drive
Although not open year round, if you’re able to hit the 6-mile road that winds through Zion Canyon, you can tour some of the park’s most striking rock formations and 3,000-foot tall cliffs, all from the comfort of your car. As you drive through, consider the amazing fact that this canyon took 13 million years to form.
The Narrows: The full hike is a 16-mile one-way trip, but you can also access just the end portion from Zion Canyon. Wading will be required (in fact, the Narrows may be closed due to high water), so wear clothing that can get wet.
Weeping Rock: This short and easy ½ mile (0.8 km) round-trip trek leads to a rock alcove with dripping springs and hanging gardens of wildflowers. Beautiful!
Angels Landing: A strenuous, steep hike that lasts 5.0 miles (8.6 km) round-trip, this path leads you to a point overlooking Zion Canyon and the Virgin River. This one is for experienced hikers.
Riverside Walk (pictured at the top of this post): An easy paved trail follows the North Fork of the Virgin River, starting at the Temple of Sinawava in the Zion Canyon. This easy 2.0 mile (3.3 km) round-trip walk explores the surprisingly lush and dramatic canyon landscape.
And so much more!
Dozens of canyons begging to be explored and climbed. Hiking trails littering the landscape. Subterranean territory to sink in to. There’s so much to see and do in this park, we strongly suggest you visit the Zion National Park website for more information.
Time flies when you’re having fun. If you end up departing later than expected, note that the park offers the Zion Lodge year round, along with two campgrounds. The Lodge tends to get booked up early, however. Visit the website for more details.
Always prep well for outdoor adventures. Bring plenty of water (you cannot trust that the water in the canyons will be safe to drink), protection against the sun, and water-appropriate wear or extra clothes.
Flash floods are a real danger because of canyon structure. It is not safe when it rains. If you’re out and the water begins to rise even just a little bit, seek higher ground immediately. Flash floods are so named because they happen fast.
On a related note, watch out not just for wet and slippery surfaces, but also for loose and crumbling surfaces. This is true whether you’re hiking horizontally or climbing vertically!