Even those who love living in Las Vegas admit that our fast-paced environment can get exhausting, particularly when the mercury soars past triple digits. So if the number of us who have never escaped to our city’s backyard, Red Rock Canyon, is confounding, then the number of us who have yet to chill in Zion National Park is astounding.
Consider this: One can hit Interstate 15 by 6 a.m., be hiking by 9 a.m., enjoying a beer and burger at the lodge by 2 p.m., and be back home for dinner by 6 p.m. That’s four hours of driving, eight hours of mental and physical rejuvenation, and a tidy elimination of the excuses you’ve had for not having already visited. Up the ante with an overnight stay, and Zion—paired with its doorstep hamlet, Springdale, Utah—offers perhaps your most un-Vegas nearby escape hatch.
The cruise to southern Utah is a rapid decompression to bliss. What unfolds as you wind toward the park is a technicolor illustration of awesome: Grassy meadows give way to peaks towering breathtakingly high above the Virgin River. That river carved the narrow Zion Canyon—the most accessible portion of the park, particularly from Southern Nevada, and where day-trippers and overnighters usually spend their entire visit.
Because it is accessed via a dead-end two-lane blacktop, private vehicles are prohibited in Zion proper during the busy season (roughly March-November; overnight lodge guests excepted). So park in Springdale and walk up, or find a spot at the main-entrance lot. Inside, the Park Service shuttle departs every 15 minutes on its foray through the canyon. Stops include trailheads with restroom facilities and picnic areas. (The shuttles also have bike racks—it’s uphill going into the canyon, downhill coming back).
Zion has day hikes for every level of enthusiast, from the cardio-intense switchbacks and dizzying drop-offs of Angels Landing and Hidden Canyon, to the paved and wheelchair-accessible Riverside Walk and Pa’rus trails. If hiking is not your thing, you can ride the shuttle up and walk the road back, taking time for photos, to visit the museum and to while away an afternoon with lunch on the gorgeous lawn at the lodge.
Really, Zion can be whatever you want—as long as you want picturesque, natural beauty in a compact, accessible package.
How to get there
Fly low on Interstate 15 north for about 130 miles, through St. George—hint: watch your speed during the brief Arizona pass-through—to Exit 16 for UT-9E toward Hurricane. In 12.5 miles, turn right onto W 500 9/UT-9 and continue for 20 miles.
Where to stay
If you aren’t camping (Watchmen Campground) or staying inside the park (Zion Park Lodge), Springdale has plenty of options. Our faves are the stylish, outdoorsy luxe of the Desert Pearl Inn—which was built using reclaimed trestlewood—and the value-packed La Quinta Inn.
Where to dine
Springdale is chock-full of restaurants. Oscar’s Café is a longtime favorite three-meal diner, but quickly rising is Meme’s Cafe & BBQ, a terrific European eatery that, along with tasty items such as pork-and-brisket tacos, serves its amazing breakfast all day. … For dinner only, Zion Pizza & Noodle Co. is a great stop for carb-loading and beer, while Bit & Spur is a go-to for Southwestern fare.
What to do
In addition to the requisite hiking and camping, Zion offers horseback riding and tubing along the Virgin River when conditions allow (remember: Zion can get warm, and visitation is heavier during the summer months). There’s also the Zion Human History Museum. … Springdale is very walkable, with shops and galleries, as well as the Deep Creek Coffee Co., which, like all great coffeehouses, is a perfect spot to mindfully waste an hour—or an afternoon.
The Zion Park Lodge is a great place to unwind, take in the park’s scenery, and be amazed that you’re just 160 miles from Las Vegas. Pack a lunch or buy one on-site, nosh at a table or spread a blanket on the lawn under the huge trees. Kids playing, couples canoodling, hipsters doing yoga. Ahhh!