Before coming to Zion, I’d only really heard about the extreme hikes – the Narrows, the Subway, and Angels Landing  – known for their steep drop-offs, unique waterways and harrowing cliffside exposures. 

As someone who loves a challenge, I was bummed that I was coming to Zion with only a day to explore (you really need at least a half-day to do one of the major hikes) and while I was sick, a double negative. Not wanting to push it, FOMO set in, and I wondered how much I would actually get to see without doing one of the “signature” Zion activities.

My worries were completely unfounded as soon as I stepped through the gates.

The free hop on/hop off shuttle is the perfect way to maximize your time in the park and get a good taste of the various recreational areas. Unless you’re visiting in the winter, the only time you’re allowed to drive through the park, you’ll be riding the shuttle (which connects to a separate Springdale Town Shuttle). More a guided tour than simply a way to get from point A to point B, I highly recommend riding the entire route to get your bearings before determining where you want to explore.

Running every 5-15 minutes from sun up to sun down, the shuttle route takes 40 minutes each way from the entrance to the last stop (the Narrows). The bus makes eight stops with an audio tour explaining each area from the origins of the Pioneer names to where the best photos can be found, which hikes are accessible and which should be left only to the extreme adventurers. At each stop, a different ranger or guide comes over the speaker system to talk about the animals, history and vegetation of the park. There are also designated ranger-led rides, where a naturalist is on the bus with you identifying things you may miss on your own. Some of my best pictures were taken right out the bus windows, and my Instagram had everyone fooled I was being super outdoorsy and adventurous. Little did they know I just got out at each stop, snapped a few photos, and continued the ride…

Here’s a quick run down of what you’ll see at each stop:

1. The Zion History Museum – Just a half-mile from the entrance, the Park Museum is a great way to get an overview of the area and history of the pioneers and Indians who settled the area.

2. Canyon Junction – The first nature stop on the bus, this is where you’ll have the best views of the Watchman, and an easy 1-mile hike back to the visitor’s center along the Virgin River.

3. Court of the Patriarchs – This is the place to see three high peaks named after the Old Testament, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

4. Zion Lodge – Food, shelter and restrooms, this is where you’ll get off for the Emerald Pools if you like chasing waterfalls (a short 1-mile trail to the lower pools that I thoroughly enjoyed) or meet for one of the ranger-led hikes.

5. The Grotto– This is the stop for Angel’s Landing, listed on the National Registrar of Historic Places. Even if you don’t do the full climb (so intense chain rails are provided for stability), you can still get great photos of the ascent from flat land.

6. Weeping Rock – Weeping Rock Trail is one of the park’s hidden gems where dripping springs create breathtaking hanging gardens. 

7. Big Bend – Called the Great White Throne, it’s hard to miss the White Mountain amongst the red cliffs.

8. Temple of Sinawava – This riverside walk takes you to the beginning of the Narrows. 

Sponsored by St. George Tourism