Looking for the best things to do near Zion National Park?
Zion National Park is Utah’s earliest and most recognized park that offers an immense number of activities for its visitors. Located in southwest Utah, Zion National Park features an astonishing rolling canyon with rising sandstone cliffs. These cliffs compete against some of the tallest cliffs in the world with some towering over two thousand feet.
Zion National Park features rock arches, slot canyons, vitality through the green brimful nature, and the Virgin River that visitors can take a swim in. Established in 1919, Zion National Park has not surprisingly become increasingly more popular for tourists over the last one hundred years, surpassing five million visitors in 2021.
The months of June and July see the largest crowds at Zion, averaging six hundred thousand visitors each month. The park’s position in Utah makes travelling to it from Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and the Grand Canyon extremely easy, further bringing in more visitors.
Occasionally, these types of numbers can become visible within the park, revealed through long lines and obstructed views by other visitors. Of course, you cannot have the Park to yourself, but sometimes there are just too many people to enjoy the true glory of the park. Nevertheless, there are numerous perplexing locations to visit outside of Zion National Park that are relatively empty in comparison with the park. Here are fifteen of the absolute best things to do and visit outside of Zion National Park.
15 Best Things to do Near Zion National Park
Red Hollow Slot Canyon
This slot canyon is located approximately thirty minutes outside of Zion National Park, and it is the one of the best slot canyons for hiking novices.
It is a great time if you do have hiking experience as well. The trail is well-defined through sublime red sandstone canyon walls and concludes with a dry fall. It will take you between one and two hours to complete the hike through this slot canyon. The views are great, and you will not expect to see many other visitors as it is not as well known as Zion National Park.
The quality and scenery of this slot canyon is comparable to the scenery inside Zion, so it makes an obvious alternative for a breathtaking experience and healthy exercise. This canyon is suitable for children and not just adults, so the destination is family compatible.
Visiting at least one slot canyon is a must if you are taking a trip to Zion National Park, and this is a perfect choice if the crowds within the main park become a problem for you or your family.
Water Canyon Trail
This trail is slightly different than Red Hollow as it is vastly more spacious. You will have lots of room to breathe and embrace Utah’s beauty while hiking this trail. The destination features a permanent stream of water and slightly more difficult navigation.
A tip for this trail is to follow the stream of water to best navigate it. One of the main attractions attributed to this trail is a waterfall less than a mile from the trailhead. It is a great location to practice intermediate canyoneering and hiking. This trail is much longer than many other trails and takes an average of four hours and seventeen minutes for the average hiker.
It is ideal for a full day’s trip of uncrowded sightseeing. This trail will most of the time beat the Zion crowds, as the length of it frequently offers a great chance of not seeing or interacting with other hikers.
If you are looking for views of both cliffs and being within Utah’s pine forests, this trail is the one for you. You will only be within the cliffs for about a quarter of the trail. Making sure you are well equipped for this hike is important because of its length.
Something a little more light-hearted and fun outside of Zion National Park is Fort Zion. This miniature village and fort looks like it was taken straight from a movie. It is a gift shop/entertainment site on the drive to Zion National Park.
It is hard to miss because of its flamboyant nature and large wooden walls. In case you miss it, look for a Fort Zion sign on the way to Zion National Park that outlines what it has to offer. It features a restaurant, a petting zoo with deer, llamas and goats, and a gift shop inside the fort for visitor gifts and souvenirs.
The western style outlaw town situated in front of the fort is available for exploration. You can go inside the bank, brothel, jail, and shop.
If you have children, this is a very helpful stop where you can let them have fun together and take a break, especially if they are having trouble with the physically demanding hiking within the main park. This spot outside Zion National Park is one of the easiest to find and makes for a great, prompt visit.
Belly of the Dragon
Returning to the most popular activity outside and inside of Zion National Park, Belly of the Dragon is a very short path through a manmade drainage tunnel that, over a long period of time, has eroded into what looks like a belly of a dragon.
Once again, this hike is great for children and even better for social media posts, personal photos, or professional photos if you are a photographer. The most difficult part of the hike is a five-foot steep descent to the floor of the tunnel at the entrance.
For this trail, you will need a flashlight or your phone light as the middle of the tunnel can get slightly too dark for clear vision. This is a unique location and a great place to adventure. It is located right outside of Kanab, Utah and is a great visit if you are mainly interested in visiting Zion National Park but desire some side adventures.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
If you are interested in vehicles or have a passion for off roading, this location will be at the top of your list to visit outside of Zion National Park. This is an open ranged, spacious dunes area with ninety percent of the area being available to ATV riders.
It is the perfect place to have an insane adrenaline filled drive that normal roads are unable to offer. However, the entirety of the park is open for hiking and playing in the pink sand, so you do not need to have an ATV to visit this location. The pink sand, and how the park got its name, comes from the erosion of surrounding Navajo sandstone that originated in the Middle Jurassic period. It is the only place in the world where you can find the Coral Pink tiger beetle, so keep an eye or two out.
This park stretches 3,730 acres, leaving plenty of room if you want distance from the ATV riders or are a more advanced ATV rider and want to avoid visitors. These dunes are guaranteed to have a unique adventure for all different types of people, reasoning for why many consider it the most underrated location outside of Zion National Park.
Hurricane Valley Heritage Park & Museum
What is a vacation without a little history! This Museum and small park tell the history of the small city Hurricane and is located on the main road through the middle of Hurricane. It predominantly focuses on the history of the canal and how/when it was constructed.
It took thirteen years to construct and allowed water to enter the valley in proximity to Hurricane. It tells its visitors the story of the original family and their descendants that settled in Hurricane around 130 years ago. It has an expansive collection of artifacts that pertain to and explain the local history around Hurricane. One of the most humorous artifacts on display, with many of the artifacts pertaining to food, is a one-hundred-year-old wedding cake.
The cake was retrieved from Grafton, which is now Grafton Ghost Town not too far from the museum. Outside the museum includes a relaxing park and play set with an area for children to enjoy. This location is perfect for those who need a break from outdoor activity before they continue the next day.
Sand Hollow State Park
This park is a magnificent water state park. There are various waterfalls, coves, and beaches to explore around this serene oasis. This park is one of the newest parks in Utah and is rapidly gaining traction, so visiting it sooner rather than later is beneficial.
It features very warm, blue water that you can spend the day kayaking, boating, and fishing in. You also have the option to go swimming or diving if you choose to. Off-road vehicles like ATVs, similarly to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, are permitted and ready to excite you as you drive on the unpredictable and fun sand dunes. This park is forty minutes from Zion National Park, making it one of the most accessible and must try spots outside of Zion.
Camping is an additional option at this park but must be reserved in advance. Both kayaks and ATVs are rentable at this reservoir, so anyone can access all that this park has to offer very easily. The diversity of outdoor activity at this park is what makes it so attractive and why it is growing so rapidly despite being relatively new.
If you are looking for water but do not want to go to the crowded Virgin River inside of Zion National Park, this is the ideal location for you.
Kanab Sand Caves
These sand caves, also known as the Moqui Caverns, are manmade caves ready to be explored just north of Kanab. The origin of these caves was to mine and collect sand for use in the production of glass. The result is intriguing, exciting caves that have been sculpted by the wind. You can walk through and explore the entirety of them with no restrictions.
Making it up to the caves is moderately difficult, so make sure to wear sneakers or boots with a good grip if you choose to make a stop at these caves. It is a quick stop, but surely worthwhile enough to be included on this list. There is easy parking for this location, and the caves are visible and easy to spot from the road. Inside the caves, there is plenty of room for many visitors and space to take photos.
The sand inside the caves is very soft to the extent that you can lay comfortably in it. This is the quickest stop on the list, so spending a full day here is not necessary. Total visit time will most likely be less than an hour, making it perfect for a day when you plan on visiting multiple locations outside of Zion National Park.
Grafton Ghost Town
Perhaps more eerie than the one-hundred-year-old cake that was retrieved from it is Grafton Ghost Town. Although abandoned, the town has since been refurbished, making it a little less eerie. This town is in very close proximity to Zion National Park and is just south of its border.
It boasts a very low volume of visitors so you can expect to see only one or two groups if any when you visit. The town showcases old wooden buildings from the 1800s. If you would like to experience some of Utah’s rich historical sentiment first-hand, this is a great place alongside the Hurricane Museum. Coinciding with the town is Grafton Cemetery, where you can witness the graves of settlers of Grafton as well as several Native Americans who are buried there.
Each grave has writing on it with some explanation of the person and their fate. It gives a lot of insight on the difficulty of both settlers and the Native Americans’ lives back in the 1800s-1900s. Plan to visit this spot if you are interested in early American settlement.
Red Reef Trail
This trail is another must see trail for multi-day visits to Zion National Park. Its stones and walls are undeniably a luscious red, and lovely to look at. This trail is very easy and takes no longer than an hour to an hour and a half to traverse. It spotlights a stream and waterfall and offers a lot of fun when dancing around in the water. This trail encompasses all the elements of scenery in Utah and is an authentic trail to experience everything Utah’s beauty is known for.
There are unique petroglyphs to view as well as arches and unusual rock formations. While walking this trail, your eyes will always be occupied with something as there is so much to view and experience. Along with the Water Canyon Trail, this trail is the most popular for visitors outside of Zion National Park.
Located near Kanab, Mansard Trail is yet another worthwhile trail to visit. If you are making a trip to Zion National Park, these trails will never get old or boring, and you will need each of them to stay busy if you are staying multiple days.
They are all different and worth visiting in every aspect. This specific trail exhibits the largest number of petroglyphs for viewing at the end in Mansard Cove. The trail is similar in length to the Water Canyon Trail, so prepare for a long and strenuous journey. It is worth it to make it to the end and see the distinctive petroglyphs and, of course, the shade.
What’s unique about this trail is the abundance of desert flora that other trails have, but not in the quantities of Mansard Trail. Plan on taking this trail if you want a more challenging route than trails like Red Reef.
Snow Canyon State Park
Snow Canyon State Park is an additional park to spend your time outside of Zion National Park. This park is one of the largest on this list spanning 7,400 acres of pure scenic landscape and nature. There are three miles of paved trail for biking and stable walking, over thirty-eight miles of trails for hiking and fifteen miles of trails designated for equestrian.
That’s right, you can ride horseback in this park, and it is encouraged for visitors to try this new activity while visiting Zion National Park. The park has the word Snow in it because it was named after Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, pioneering leaders in Utah during the 1800s. You will see a lot more wildlife in this park compared to others because of its size such as coyotes, roadrunners, leopard lizards, gopher snakes, canyon tree frogs and the federally protected desert tortoise.
If you enjoy wildlife viewing or if it is one of your hobbies, this park will provide a complete experience for you. You can easily expect to spend a full day here because of the park’s sheer size, so plan accordingly.
Yant Flat & Candy Cliffs
This trail is very sizeable and great for hikers looking for an intermediate hiking experience. The trail appears boundless when looking at the open flat from above. It can take you anywhere from two to five hours to make a full round trip of this trail.
The trail will hastily take you through a forest near Pine Valley Mountain, and then into the sandstone flats for the rest of the journey. Visitors of Yant Flat & Candy Cliffs have described their visits as out of body experiences because of the scenery and topography.
The cliffs at this location are called the Candy Cliffs because of the swirl of colors each cliff and stone exhibits. The two primary colors are orange and white, so some view it as a naturally occurring creamsicle. The hike through Candy Cliffs is relatively undemanding. If you are a person who is in tune spiritually, then selecting this location may be a superior experience compared to the other trails on this list.
Quail Creek State Park
This park is an alternative to Sand Hallow State Park. It features traditional beaches and sensuous turquoise blue water. This is a reservoir that is perfect for cooling off if there are any hot days during your visit to Zion National Park. The water in the reservoir is diverted from the Virgin River inside of Zion, so you can expect the same quality of water without having to visit the Virgin River. Sandstone mesas surround the water adding to the horizon.
Most people go paddleboarding as opposed to kayaking at this park. You can hike, spend time on the beach or go in the water. There are paddleboards for rent and paddleboard tours that you can reserve. As you hike the surrounding trails, you can find hidden petroglyphs on the stones. The hike is beginner level suitable for all visitors. This spot is extraordinarily relaxing and makes for another great location to visit outside of Zion.
Kanab Dinosaur Tracks
The final destination on this list is something special, but more difficult of a trail than others. It is short, only lasting half a mile, but has steep inclines and loose rocks with a hard path to follow as you ascend.
If you are up to the challenge, reaching the top of the trail provides an awing view and the most amazing part, dinosaur tracks. These are 185-million-year-old prints from the ancient beasts, a truly stunning thing to experience. They form through a process that starts with the creatures leaving footprints. They are then filled with rocks and mud that dry over time and transform into sediment. With more time, the sediment forms into hardened rock that preserves the footprints.
Today, the hardened rock has eroded, leaving the footprints visible to us travelers. You can anticipate spending around forty-five minutes at this site, making it perfect to add to a day when you visit multiple locations on this list. This trail landmark is located three miles north of Kanab.
If you are looking for places to visit outside of Zion National Park, Kanab is a great place to become familiar with as many of the places on this list are outside of Kanab. Kanab is located roughly one hour outside of Zion National Park, and tourists have many options for transportation to make their way to Kanab and through this list in one visit to Utah.