The majority of the National Parks in the United States are natural, preserved, beauties of Mother Nature. They are incredible works of geology, force, time, and nature that creates a place that mesmerizes all. One of these places is Zion National Park. Thousand foot vertical cliffs of varying colored sandstone eroded by millions of years of water erosion form a place of beauty, scale, intrigue, and depth that has your eyes captured from the second you arrive.
The majority of the National Parks in the United States don’t allow the riding of bicycles but Zion National Park is one exception. Biking in Zion National Park will be one of the most scenic rides you will ever do as you ride on the park road along the canyon floor which is surprisingly empty despite all the people due to vehicle restrictions. The biggest challenge is keeping your eyes, at least somewhat, on the road with the surrounding rock features, which go almost straight up from the canyon floor, that draw your eye every second.
Where and What Is Zion National Park
Zion National Park is situated in southern Utah in the western half of the United States. The area is a geological masterpiece with Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon National Park not too distant. Zion is a massive canyon, or rather multiple canyons, that were eroded by water cutting through soft layers of sandstone down to depths of over two thousand feet. The main canyon is wider at the bottom toward the entrance of the park and gradually becomes narrower and narrower further upstream to the point of which a person can no longer fit. Endless small canyons and gullies dart off the main canyon creating a place of forever exploration. The rock walls in the canyon are sought after the world over by rock climbers.
Where To Rent A Bike
To experience Zion by bike you will first need a bike. You will only be riding on paved surfaces (you can’t ride on the hiking trails) so a hybrid, cruiser, or road bike is ideal. There are no major climbs unless you choose to ride up to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel which is a considerable climb but unnecessary to experience the majority of the canyon. To rent a bike in Zion, there are a few options:
-Zion Cycles: Located in downtown Springdale just outside the main park entrance.
-Zion Lodge: Zion Lodge in the park part way up the canyon offers bike rentals. To get there, you must either stay at the Zion Lodge to be allowed to drive to it or you must take the park bus up the canyon road from the Visitor Center. A great option if you only have a limited amount of time but still want to be able to go biking in Zion National Park.
Where To Start Your Ride
There are two main ways to experience Zion Canyon. The first is to drive your car into the park which costs $30 of which is good for a week. The second, and cheaper option, is to park in town, Springdale, or at the Visitors Center before you enter the park. You then cross a foot bridge where you can purchase a “walk-in” pass for $15. This is the best option as you can’t drive up the main park road into the canyon anyway. This is the best place to start your ride from.
Where To Go Biking In Zion National Park
From the Visitors Center there is the main, busy, park road along with the Pa’rus Trail which parallels the Virgin River up the canyon for a few miles. This trail connects to the main park road up the canyon that is only accessible by bus or Zion Lodge guest, which is part way up the canyon. Upon reaching the park road, you continue on up the canyon on the road. Buses pass the pickup points about once every fifteen minutes but since you are moving in the direction of the bus, it will be closer to every 20 to 25 minutes that a bus will pass. Expect 3 to 4 buses per hour to pass you to as few as one if you are riding a bit quicker. One requirement of the park for cyclist’s safety is that you pull over, completely off the road when a bus is passing. They will not pass you otherwise.
You will continue riding approximately 6 miles (10 kilometers) to the end of the park road at the Temple of Sinawava. The canyon continues but is only accessible via trail and then just by hiking up the Virgin River itself, often reserved for the warmer, low water level months of the year.
The road up the canyon is slightly up hill but is easily ridden by beginner cyclists and kids. The ride back down will be a bit quicker and you go the same way you came up the canyon back to the Visitors Center. If you are a more advanced rider, when you get back to the Pa’rus Trail you can take the road to the left up to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. It is a substantial climb with wide, sweeping switchbacks but not overly steep. At the top of the climb you come to a long tunnel that goes through the cliff to the east side of the park. You cannot ride through the tunnel so can either turn around or hitchhike through. During the day, there is often a line of cars on both ends waiting to go through so asking for a ride should not be an issue. Rangers however will not provide or arrange for a ride.
If you are looking to ride more after you’ve returned to the Visitor’s Center, you can ride along the road into town (Springdale). On the opposite side of town a bike path begins that parallels the road. This continues for a few miles but then just turns back into the main road. There are no other side roads close by due to the nature of the canyons. It is not advised to ride this main road despite the size of its shoulder as it can see a lot of tourist traffic.
The Ideal 2 or 3 Day Itinerary
Zion is a big park and taking two or three days to experience it is advised. The best way to include biking in Zion National Park is to arrive at the park by early afternoon, go and get settled at your lodging option, and then do a ride in the park. Later in the day, into the evening offers less people and traffic in the park not to mention the amazing alpenglow of twilight off the sandstone walls. Riding before you go into the park to hike and/or see allows you to experience the park for the first time from the bike giving you the greatest views and experience. It’s also a great way to get whatever drive you may have just completed out of your legs and to get the lay of the land before embarking on any major hikes, explorations, or climbs.
On the second day, take the bus in from the Visitor Center and do one or many of the numerous hikes in the canyon. If you didn’t check out the Visitor’s Center the first day, do it before you go up the canyon so you know a bit more about what you’re looking at and experiencing.
On the third day, if you’re lucky enough to have this many days in Zion, check out another hike or part of the park or even do the ride again or both. Just simply being in the park and seeing everything is incredible.
What Else To Do In The Park
-Angels Landing: Angels Landing is one of the feature hikes in the park that is sought out by most. The hike takes you along a ten to twenty foot wide spine with drops off either side of over 1,000 feet to the canyon floor below. The top takes in incredible views down and up the canyon. There are chains to assist your climb but you should make sure you are sure-footed and not afraid of heights. After going to the top, take the West Rim Trail for a little while to experience more of the park but away from all the people, particularly those going up Angels Landing.
-Other Hikes: There are dozens of hikes ranging from easy walking trails to long, strenuous, overnight trips. This Zion Hiking Guide gives a great breakdown of hikes to do and their features.
-Mountain Bike Riding: You can’t go mountain biking in Zion National Park on the trails but surrounding Zion is an area that’s incredible for mountain biking. Biking Zion lists a few great trails to check out.
-Guided Bike Tours: If you’re looking for a guided tour, Biking Zion has a host of tours available from Family Rides, to Mountain Bike Rides, to Road Rides.
-Horseback Rides:You can also go horseback riding in the park ranging from one to three hours from March through October.
Where To Stay – Camping and Other Lodging Options
–Zion Ponderosa Ranch:This ranch is located outside the East entrance to the park high up on the plateau of which Zion Canyon is carved out of. Its amenities range from tent camping to luxurious cabins. Well worth the drive out of the park, away from all the people.
–National Park Campgrounds: Just inside the park boundary by the main entrance are two large campgrounds. One is first come, first serve, while the other accepts reservations although it’s advised to do that far in advance of your trip.
–Zion Lodge – In The Park: Zion Lodge is the only non-camping lodging option within the park and is located part-way up the canyon with spectacular views.
–In Town Options: There are a number of hotels in Springdale along with a privately owned campground both of which can be pricey depending upon the time of year.
–Airbnb: There are a number of Airbnb options located just outside the park in Springdale as well as in nearby towns.