A 6-hour drive from my home in Los Angeles, southern Utah is a red rock wonder of canyons, wild rivers, and blue sky vistas. Among the area's many natural sites ripe for exploration, Zion National Park is a must—and one of my favorites. Whatever outdoor pursuit you fancy, you'll find it, including slot canyon rappelling, horseback riding, hiking, and Jeep touring.
The park can be broken down into three sections. There's Zion Canyons, composed of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and the Zion-Mt. Caramel Highway. Then there's Kolob Terrace Wilderness and the somewhat hidden Kolob Canyons. This 3-day itinerary should set you up for exploring the best of all sections, and more.
Despite the desert landscape, the Zion area has four seasons; dress appropriately.
If you only have time for one thing, make it Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
At the end of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is The Narrows hike, which wanders through a river flowing in a narrowing canyon. Some preparation is necessary to take this hike on, but it is memorable. At the very least, I suggest the 1-mile Virgin River hike, which takes you along the river into the canyon to the trailhead.
Today you'll visit two of the park's hidden gems, stopping by Kolob Canyons for a half- or full-day trip for views of the canyons and wilderness. You'll then take a side trip to the ghost town of Grafton to see why many Western movies, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, were filmed in this historic Mormon settlement.
Reward your appetite on your way back to Zion with some tasty Mexican bites at the local favorite, Oscar's Cafe in Springdale. If you can, squeeze in some outdoor adventure, whether that be horseback riding into the canyon, a via ferrata climbing experience, or canyoneering.
Jump onto the Zion-Mt. Caramel Highway to experience the eastern portion of the park for strange rock formations, wildlife (such as bighorn sheep) and vistas. For the latter, try the short but sweet Canyon Overlook Trail, one of the few official trails in the Upper East Canyon.
Travel a little further out of the park to the nearby community of Kanab—a small Western town that has seen its fair share of movie making. In recent years, it has also become a popular base camp for outdoor adventuring to Coral Sands State Park, Peek-a-Boo Slot Canyon, and the Sand Caves.