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6 Unmissable State and National Parks Near Zion

Utah National Parks Hiking
by Suzie Dundas Aug 14, 2023

If you got lucky and managed to snag a permit to hike Zion National Park’s gorgeous Angel’s Landing trail, lucky you! While the trail itself can be done in a few hours, most people schedule it as their only activity of the day, especially considering they’ll likely have to wait in lines to use the town’s shuttle to the park entrance, then wait again for the park shuttle to the trailhead.

If that kind of wait just to reach a trailhead sounds, well, not all that great, you’re right. While it’s totally worth the wait to see Zion Canyon and reach amazing hikes like Angels Landing or the Narrows, dealing with that level of crowds isn’t something you’ll want to contend with every day of your vacation.

Fortunately, there are tons of options for great state and national parks near Zion you can add to your Utah park itinerary, whether you’re trying to avoid crowds, want to see something different, or want to do something you can’t find within Zion, like paddleboarding or ATV tours.

Where to find the best state and national parks near Zion

All the state and national parks near Zion listed below are day-trippable from the Zion area, though factors like weather and snowfall can make some drives take much longer than GoogleMaps estimates. And know that drive times are also dependent on what entrances you’re using and how deep into the park you’re driving, since traffic and dirt roads within parks can slow your speeds.

Traveling to Zion? Check out Matador’s Zion National Park lodging guides:

The best national parks near Zion

Zion is one of the most popular national parks in the US park system, but with that comes crowds. However, Utah has five national parks, plus a few other federal managed sites. That means you don’t have to travel too far to visit not just another national park near Zion, but also national monuments, national forests, and more. Here’s where to go when you want to add an extra National Park Service site to your Utah park agenda.

Bryce Canyon National Park

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  • Distance from Zion: 80 miles
  • Camping: Two campgrounds. Reservations required from April – Oct, depending on campground. First-come, first-served outside of that window.

The most well-known of the national parks near Zion is Bryce Canyon National Park. It’s not nearly as busy as Zion, and can be a great place to go on busy days when it feels like Zion’s trails and parking lots are already full by 8 AM. The park’s high elevation (ranging from 6,600 to 9,100 feet above sea level) also means it has generally cooler temperatures than Zion, even in the hot summer months.

Bryce is also in southern Utah and is renowned for its otherworldly landscapes, the most notable features of which are the rock formations known as hoodoos. The spire-like structures, formed by erosion, create an at-times surreal environment, forming arches, towers, narrow passages, and giant swaths of land that look like something from a Dr. Seuss book. Depending on lighting and the time of day, the hoodoos can be orange, pink, red, or other extremely vivid tones.

Hiking is the most popular activity in the park, and good options include:

The Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail: (2.9 miles/625-foot gain). This is probably the most popular hike in the park and goes directly through hoodoos to the iconic Thor’s Hammer rock formation.

Fairyland Loop Trail: A harder 8-mile/1,900-foot-gain hike that passes through a variety of landscapes, with views of the Bryce Amphitheater.

Bristlecone Loop Trail: An easier (1-mile/200-foot-gain) trail in the highest point of the park. At more than 9,000 feet above sea level, this area receives a bit of snow, so don’t plan on hiking it in winter.

Bryce is also one of the best national parks near Zion for astrophotography and night sky viewing as it’s an International Dark Sky Park. It has guided full moon hikes, a June astronomy festival, ongoing evening ranger programs throughout the year, and summer telescope lessons and events.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

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  • Distance from Zion: 57 miles
  • Camping: Free, first-come, first-served. Get a self-serve permit at a visitor center or trailhead. Dispersed camping is also available.

Okay, Grand Staircase isn’t a national park — it’s a national monument. But it’s a great one (and also federally managed). It’s known for rugged canyons, colorful cliffs, and unique geological formations, much like Zion. It’s one of the best national parks near Zion (well, national monuments), designated in 1996 and covering 1.9 million acres of remote and largely undeveloped terrain.

The monument is divided into three main regions: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Escalante Canyons. Each area showcases distinct landscapes and ecosystems, from the multicolored mesas and buttes of the Grand Staircase to the expansive, high-elevation plateaus of the Kaiparowits. The Escalante Canyons, on the other hand, feature a maze of intricate slot canyons carved over eons by the Escalante River. It’s also a hotspot for fossils and dinosaur bones, and its geology has long attracted scientists and researchers.

Escalante Canyons is the most popular region to visit, with many trails for various abilities. Some trails are accessible via paved roads, like Upper Calf Creek Falls (2.1 miles/650 foot gain) or the point-to-point Phillips Arch (10 miles, 900 foot gain). But others require a bit of backcountry driving.

The Grand Staircase area is harder to reach and the least visited, but it’s filled with amazing slot canyons. And even though the Kaiparowits Plateau didn’t make it into the official park name, it’s still pretty darn rad. It has arches, gulches, washes, and all the other features you’d expect from someplace so close to Zion. Hikes range from the easy .9-mile Bull Valley Gorge Trail to harder hikes in the 10-mile range, most of which are in the Cottonwood Canyon area.

Grand Canyon National Park

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The Grand Canyon is in northern Arizona, which makes it one of the best national parks near Zion and totally day-trippable at under two hours. Of course, Grand Canyon National Park gets almost as busy as Zion, but if you’re looking to maximize how many parks you visit in one trip, add it to your itinerary.

Zion is closest to the north rim of the canyon, which is the lesser-visited side of the park. The north rim is home to several fantastic sunrise and sunset viewing points, plus hikes like the North Kaibab Trail. There’s also a scenic drive along the north rim (called “Scenic Drive”) that goes past some stunning natural formations. And if you’re a very fit, very experienced, very knowledgable hiker, you can even hike from the North Rim to the South Rim — a major hike recommended for experts only.

The canyon’s north rim is only open from mid-May to the end of November, with all roads and amenities closed outside of that window. Reservations are required for camping between mid-April and mid-October.

If you decided to visit the south rim of the Grand Canyon, the much larger and more developed section of the park, it’s a longer drive and may be better for an overnight trip. It takes about five hours to get from Zion to the south rim, since you have to make a giant loop around the actual canyon.

The best state parks near Zion

Utah is covered in gorgeous places that could probably be national parks in their own right, if they weren’t in the shadow of better-known destinations. Fortunately, that makes these beautiful parks less crowded than their national park siblings, even when they’re just as pretty.

Snow Canyon State Park

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  • Distance from Zion: 40 miles
  • Camping: Available; reserve in advance online.

Snow Canyon State Park is a relatively lesser-known park compared to the national parks in the state, but it’s just as awe-inspiring as any of the state’s current national parks. One of the best things about Snow Canyon compared to a park like Zion is that it offers a quieter and more intimate way to see similar remarkable geological features. It covers about 7,400 acres and has iconic red rock formations, lava flow tubes, and sweeping desert panoramas.

Popular trails include the 1.2-mile Petrified Dunes Trail to suspended rock formations, the Johnson Canyon Trail to a lush waterfall canyon (closed mid-summer), the 1.5 mile interpretive Hidden Pinyon Trail (great for wildflowers), and the 2.5-mile Lava Flow Trail to ancient tubes formed by lava flow. Canyoneering and climbing are also popular activities in the park.

There are no places to buy food or anything else you may need inside the park, so stock up on supplies in nearby St. George. Summer is the slow season as it’s incredibly hot, and during that time, it’s best to stick to early morning and late evening visits. There are no ranger programs or activities in the summer, but the rest of the year, you’ll find plenty of popular programs ranging from history lectures to guided walks. Snow Canyon is open 6 AM-10 PM, and the fee to enter is $15 per vehicle (or $10 if you’re a Utah resident).

Quail Creek State Park

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  • Distance from Zion: 21 miles
  • Camping: Available, reservations open four months in advance and are $28 per night

Zion National Park doesn’t have too many places to get out on the water, but fortunately, Quail Creek State Park near Zion is only a few minutes away.

The park’s focal point is the 600-acre Quail Creek Reservoir, open to both fishing and swimming. But most visitors come to get out on the water with the park’s varied rentals. You can rent paddleboards and kayaks or sign up for paddleboard yoga classes with DIG Watersports, which operates every day in the summer and on weekends in spring and fall. You can reserve your equipment online in advance.

For something a bit faster, Mad Moose Rentals is the go-to in the park, offering jet ski rentals and captained (or not) powerboat rentals. Rates start at $95 an hour. It operates at the park from early spring to the end of October. And an even more unique option is booking an hour’s worth of time on the Island Swing. It’s a floating platform with rope swing, trampolines, and slides into the water, and is rentable by the hour. It’s open 11 AM-6 PM.

Quail Creek has a $20-per-vehicle entry fee and is open 7 AM-9 PM year-round.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

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Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is a mesmerizing natural wonder spread across 3,730 acres. It’s a good one to add on to your trip since it’s equidistant between one of the best national parks near Zion — Bryce Canyon — and Zion itself.

The park most distinctive feature are the coral-pink sand dunes, with sandboarding and sand sledding being popular activities for visitors. You can rent sandboards at the visitor center for $25. Rentals are on a first-come, first-served basis, but they rarely run out. ATV and rapelling tours are also available through licensed outfitters within the park.

The park doesn’t have as many hiking trails as other area options, but the three miles of trail it does have winds through the prettiest dunes. The hiking trail is also convenient for photographers, since photographing sunrise and sunset dune photos (and the night sky) are among the most popular non-hiking activities in the park.

The best times to visit are during the cooler months of fall through spring, with spring offering pleasant weather and the possibility of wildflower blooms. Summer can be scorching, weather-wise. Park entry fees are $10 per car, and the park is open during daylight hours year-round.

Where to stay in southern Utah

What town you should stay in depends mostly on what parks you want to visit other than Zion. But the hotels below are great picks in the vicinity of Zion, which makes them more or less in the vicinity of the parks listed above.

We hope you love the

spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.

The Dwellings: La Verkin, UT

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Photo: Expedia

The Dwellings is a group of 14 or so tiny homes, all of which back to a huge canyon. Units have outdoor space with great views, and all have kitchenettes, roomy living spaces, and are dog-friendly. There’s a communal fire pit, the Wi-Fi is fast, and you can rent e-bikes on-site in case you’d rather not deal with finding parking. Rooms start around $160 per night.

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The Advenire: St. George, UT

adventure st george national parks near zion

Photo: Expedia

Decked out with some of the coolest, most modern lobby art you can image — and equally creative cocktails at the on-site bar — the Advenire is arguably the hippest hotel in St. George. It’s close to Snow Canyon State Park, has a great on-site restaurant, and is walkable to lots of restaurants and coffee shops in St. George’s historic area. Rooms start around $199 per night. This hotel is worth checking out for summer visits, since it has a nice outdoor living deck with an inviting outdoor pool.

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Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel

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Photo: Expedia

Clean, simple, and close to Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Staircase, Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel is a great place to stay for people who plan to spend most of their time outdoors. While the property is your standard chain hotel, it does offer some useful amenities, like included daily breakfast and a big outdoor pool and hot tub. Rooms start around $120 per night.

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