Two Days in Zion National Park (Red Rocks, Emerald Pools, and Delicious Breakfast Sandwiches)

Zion. No blog or photo can truly do this park justice. Our trip in 2022 was my second time visiting and it was just as spectacular the second time. This was our last National Park stop on our 12 Day Southwest Road Trip. So far on the trip we visited 9 other National Parks with the most recent being Bryce Canyon.

Getting Here:

This park is one of the “Mighty 5” National Parks in Utah. It’s located in the southwest corner of the state, and each time I’ve come here I’ve flown into Vegas and made the 3 hour drive to the park. You could also fly into the Salt Lake City airport which is about a 4.5 hour drive.

When to Visit:

We visited in late February over President’s Day which is considered part of the off season of the park. Even during the off season it gets pretty busy, especially on holidays and weekends. May through September is when the park seeks the most visitors, so if you’re planning to visit then, be prepared for huge crowds.

Where We Stayed & Why:

We booked a night at Zion Lodge because it was the most convenient and because we then didn’t have to worry about getting on the shuttle. The prices were affordable since it wasn’t peak season, and they sent us a tag in the mail so we could enter the scenic drive with our car and keep it there through the end of the day on our checkout date.

We booked the most inexpensive room they had and it had a little balcony with views of other cabins and Zion canyon. Because there were quite a few open rooms at that time, the front desk let me pick which floor and view I wanted which was rare, especially in a National Park.

On site of the lodge is a gift shop, a cafe, as well as restaurant so we ended up eating dinner here during our stay rather than leaving the park.

Getting Into & Around the Park:

Beginning in Spring, the shuttle returns to full service which means that you are unable to access the scenic road by private vehicle. Parking by the Visitor Center in town can also be crazy, as is parking in some of the paid lots. I recommend getting a spot very early in the morning so you can grab the shuttle into the park before everyone else is in Disney type lines trying to do the same thing.

Hiking Trails:

Since our lodge was right across from the Emerald Pools Trail we decided to make that our first hike after checking into the hotel. Since the shuttles were picking up last stops about an hour or so before sunset, we ended up having the trail pretty much to ourself aside from other lodge guests. We hiked up the Lower Emerald Pools trail and then back down the Middle Emerald Pools trail since they connect making it about 2-3 or so miles. We didn’t end up taking the spur to Upper Emerald Pools as the sun was beginning to set and we didn’t want to hike in the dark. Coming down the trail gave incredible views of the canyon, and was especially beautiful right before sunset.

The other hike we did the next morning was very easy but had beautiful scenery. It was the Riverside Walk which is the trail that is at the very back of the Canyon and takes you to the beginning of the Narrows. It’s about 2 miles round trip and a somewhat paved, flat path. You get great views of the canyon on both sides along the way.

Zion / Springdale Eats & Treats:

  • Zion Canyon Brewpub – We had lunch here after getting into town. We got wings, fries, a shrimp salad and a beer. We thought all of the food was incredible. We ate at an odd time around 3:00 PM and the place was still pretty full for an off season weekend so be prepared to wait.
  • Dining at Zion Lodge – At the loge, there’s the Castle Dome Cafe and then the Red Rock Grill. We had dinner at the grill. When we visited, they had you place the order with the hostess and then they would deliver the food to your table upstairs or you could get takeout. It was kind of a long process to place the order, but overall we were happy with the food and appreciated the convenience of not having to leave the park to find food.
  • Deep Creek Coffee – On our way out of town after our visit, we popped into Deep Creek Coffee. It was one of a few coffee shops I had bookmarked on my Yelp app and was beyond blown away with the food and coffee. I ordered the Piton Bagel Sammie (Bacon, Scrambled Eggs, Provolone Cheese, Tomato, Onion, Chipotle, and Fresh Spinach on a toasted bagel.) and it was top 3 best breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever had. If you don’t know, I adore a great breakfast sandwich and this was absolutely divine. Their coffee was also smooth and just an overall great little spot in town. I can’t recommend it enough.

Additional Tips:

  • Zion Canyon is open daily throughout the entirety of the year.
  • You do have to pay to enter the park, so if you’re planning on visiting any other National Parks or recreation areas within the year, I highly recommend the America the Beautiful Pass which is $80. I’ve purchased one every year for the past 4 years and always get my moneys worth out of them.
  • Parking is just a mess downtown. When we visited, again in the off season on a holiday weekend, the Visitor Center had no parking and was turning people away, downtown parking was pretty much full, and so people were parking pretty far out to get either to the shuttle or into town.
  • Temperatures in the park can get down into the 30s overnight in the winter, and can be up to 100 degrees in the summer on average. Pack for the weather you expect on the trip and bring layers as it can warm up during the day even with cold nights.
  • The only trail that allows dogs is the Pa’rus Trail, which starts at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.

Teddy and I both recently made a ranked list of all of the National Parks we’ve visited (21 for him and 38 for me). Zion is in both of our top 5 parks we’ve ever been to. It is such a magical place to visit. We saved this as our last big stop on our trip because we knew it would be a wonderful sendoff before returning to Pennsylvania. Thanks for following along!

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