More than Just One National Park – Exploring Greater Zion

Zion National Park is the fourth most visited national park in the country. But how do you go and escape the crowds?

A majority of the traffic is in the canyon, an eight-mile corridor. Most of the year, you can’t drive in, shuttle buses move visitors throughout. Located at the entrance of the park, you don’t need the shuttle bus to hike the Watchman Trail because it’s an easy walk from the Visitor Center. But its’ convenient location doesn’t mean it’s not going to impress you. A little more than three miles round trip, plan on about two hours, depending on how many pictures you stop to take. There’s less than a 400-feet elevation gain, so it’s great for a novice hiker, but the views will make the hardcore hiker just as happy.

If you’ve never visited in Zion before, taking the shuttle bus as far as it will go into the park, is a great way to see the canyon and give you the lay of the land. I visited right after Halloween, and I never waited more than five minutes to catch a shuttle.

But the park isn’t limited to the canyon. Coal Pits Wash is part of Zion National Park but you hop on the trail before the pay gate, so most folks drive by without realizing it’s even there. Coal Pits Wash is what’s considered a Wilderness Trail. To protect it and lessen impact, you won’t find water or bathrooms, but you also typically won’t find other people. I was hiking with a handful of folks all morning and we had the place to ourselves.

Being a bit off the beaten path makes all the difference. The general area surrounding the park is worth your vacation days. And it’s important to remember just because you leave park boundaries, doesn’t mean the scenery disappears.

But how you get to explore can change. Sand Hollow State Park became a state park in 2003, and one of the best ways to see its towering sand dunes is zipping around on an all-terrain vehicle or ATV. In between playing in the sand, you’ll learn about the plants and animals that call the desert home, and take in the scenery. If you’ve never been on an ATV, it’s easier than it looks, but if the thought is maybe a bit overwhelming, I understand – you don’t necessarily have to drive. ATV & Jeep Adventure Tours offers all sorts of different vehicles to explore in, including two-seaters, side cars, and air conditioned jeeps. (Tours start at $149.)

If you’re looking for something that moves at a bit slower speed, that can be arranged too. Welcome to Snow Canyon State Park. Loaded with lava flows and sandstone cliffs, it boasts more than 15 miles of equestrian trails, making a leisurely horseback ride is a great way to enjoy the views. No experience is needed with Snow Canyon Trail Rides; these horses know the way. Which is good, because you’re going to be too busy taking in the scenery. (Prices start at $65 for 90 minute ride.)

Snow Canyon State Park features offers more than 38 miles of hiking trails. Easy, family-friendly hikes lead to slot canyons and caves. Just a five minute or so walk from the road you can be climbing on petrified sand dunes. $10 per car and you’re set for the day – but this is one of those parks where you could easily spend a number of days. It gives Zion National Park some serious competition, but it’s still relatively unknown, making it a great place to get outside without the crowds.

Dana’s trip was arranged by Greater Zion, but as always all of her thoughts and opinions are her own.

For more about Dana’s adventures and writing, follow her on Instagram @danarebmann and Twitter @drebmann. You can also visit her website.

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