Top 10 Things To Do Near Zion National Park

Author: Mark Wade
Zion National Park is one of the primary attractions in the western United States, and it's popularity can make it a busy experience.

Zion National Park is one of the primary attractions in the western United States, and it's popularity can make it a busy experience.  With that in mind, here's a list of some of the best things to do while visiting Zion National Park, that are nearby, but outside the national park boundaries. We've divided our recommendations into two simple categories; Outdoor Adventures and Scenic Drives and Historic Sites.

group in a slot canyon
Outdoor Adventures
1- Canyoneering & Guided Hikes To Slot Canyons
Whether you choose to rappel into the top of a slot canyon and drop-down, or simply walk-in from the bottom-up, exploring slot canyons on a canyoneering adventure may rank as one of the top experiences of your life. These narrow openings in massive rock formations are caused be dramatic erosion forces of wind and water. These deep and thin sandstone passageways are carved in such a convoluted fashion that every bend in the route offers a new masterpiece of natural art. These canyoneering adventures into slot canyons are best experienced with a guide who knows the route to access the slot canyon and also understands how to safely navigate over obstacles with these narrow pathways. East Zion Adventures company is the premiere slot canyon / canyoneering guide company in the region surrounding Utah's Zion National Park. Many slot canyon adventures start from the property of Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort.
2- Jeep Tours / Off-Road Adventures
Number two on our list of Top 10 Things To Do Outside Zion National Park, is taking an off-road adventure via Jeep or other 4x4 vehicle. Theres nothing like a four-wheel-drive (4x4) Jeep Tour or traveling on a UTV or ATV to explore the scenic back-country surrounding Utah's Zion National Park. Large plateaus, desert landscapes, and scenic overlooks await the adventurer who wishes to experience the true west. Guided Jeep Tours or guided side-by-side UTV trips, where you drive your own vehicle in a tag-along fashion, are just two of the ways you can discover the secret places outside of Zion. It is said that all of southwestern Utah could be a national park, and these adventures will take you places that most people will never see as they visit Zion National Park. View these Jeep Tours and Side-By-Side excursions.
driving UTV
3- Coral Pink Sand Dunes
The Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is just 30 minutes from Zion National Park, is a favorite for those who wish to view the unique colored sand dunes, and to walk, hike, or ride the dunes on ATV's, UTV's, or sand sleds or sand boards. Wind erosion of the surrounding sandstone formations has created these beautifully shaped dunes.
girl on coral pink sand dune

4- Roadside Adventures

Number four on our list of Top 10 Things To Do Outside Zion National Park, are three roadside adventures or experiences you can enjoy as you travel on Scenic Highway 89.

Belly Of The Dragon  

Just south of Mt. Carmel Junction is a flood tunnel that has been cut under Scenic Highway 89 that passes through sandstone. The tunnel has been said to look like the inside of a dragon, assuming you were swallowed by one. Hence the name “Belly Of The Dragon”.  This is found just off the main road and makes a quick stop along your way.  Be safe as you navigate the Belly Of The Dragon passageway and be aware of weather conditions on dirt roads, or for floodwater passing through this tunnel.

people in belly of the dragon

 Moqui Cave

Further south on Highway 89, near Kanab is Moqui Cave. This is a man-made cave that became a hangout (bar and dancing) during the heyday of western movie making in the Kanab area. Many famous movie stars have spent plenty of time at Moqui Cave. Here you'll also find great collections of history and museum quality antiquities such as Native American pottery, dinosaur bones and tracks, and more.

Sand Cave

Just south of Moqui Cave on Highway 89 are the so-called “Sand Caves” which have been carved primarily by wind passing through these caverns.  A hiking route from the roadway leads along a rock-face toward the entrance of these caves.  Sand is piled deep on the floor of this passageway with multiple rock windows that peer out across Highway 89.

5- Horseback Riding
Traveling by horseback in the canyons and along the plateaus of this Zion National Park region is an experience that seemingly transports you back in time to the days of the old wild-west.  If you've ever watched a western movie then you'll begin to appreciate the feelings of the pioneers, Native Americans, and even famous outlaws, as they traveled by what was then the fastest and most effective mode of transportation. Horseback riding isn't just transportation, but it is more of a feeling of working together with a strong and elegant animal to explore the terrain, and discover the natural beauty of the all that encompasses the horse and rider. Local outfitters provide horseback riding adventures.
horses and people on a ridge
Scenic Drives & Historic Sites

6- Number six on our list of Top 10 Things To Do Outside Zion National Park, is driving The Zion Mount Carmel Highway, which is also known as Utah State Route 9. This Utah scenic drive connects Interstate 15 on the west with Scenic Highway 89 on the east. This route runs east/west through Utah's Zion National Park and is open year-round to traffic, and your national park pass enables you to drive this road through the park. Traveling east from I-15 this road passes through the towns of Hurricane, LaVerkin, Virgin, Rockville, and Springdale before entering Zion National Park. In Rockville you'll have the option of turning south on Old Bridge Road and following a dirt road just 2-3 miles to the Grafton Ghost Town.

herd of Buffalo
7- Grafton Ghost Town
Between Springdale and the east gate of Zion National Park, the Zion Mount Carmel Highway (Highway 9) begins a 2,500' ascent, or descent – depending on the direction you're traveling.  Upon entry of the southwest gate of the park at Springdale you'll pass the Zion National Park visitor center and quickly come to the junction of the main canyon of the park. For 10 months of the year this main canyon scenic drive is open only to official Zion National Park shuttles or to vehicles driven by guests staying in the Zion National Park lodge.  Continuing east you'll cross the Virgin River bridge, and then another bridge over Pine Creek, and then begin a steep ascent on switchbacks that lead to the famous Zion Tunnel which is one mile in length. Please note that oversize vehicles have some guidelines for passing through this tunnel. Traveling east from the tunnel you'll pass through a second short tunnel as you wind through the upper east side of Zion National Park toward Checkerboard Mesa, and the east gate. Once you've passed through the park, the road continues along the upper East Zion National Park plateau, and then descends to Mt. Carmel Junction at Highway 89.
people at a cabin in Grafton
8- Highway 89
Number eight on our list of Top 10 Things To Do Outside Zion National Park, is taking a drive on Highway 89.  From Mt. Carmel Junction this highway runs north toward Cedar Breaks National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park, and south toward Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, and the city of Kanab. Going south you'll pass attractions such as The Belly of The Dragon, Peekaboo Slot Canyon, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, Moqui Cave, The Sand Caves.  Read more about some of these in this post. Going north you'll pass through the quaint Utah towns of Mount Carmel, Orderville, and Glendale with options at Todd's Junction (Scenic Highway 14) to go west to Cedar Breaks National Monument, or right (Glendale) into the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. This is a beautiful drive in either direction.
9- Cedar Breaks National Monument is found just north of the summit of Scenic Highway 14, near Navajo Lake and Cascade Falls. Cedar Breaks sits at over 10,000' in elevation and is accessible during non-winter weather months.  This national monument looks a great deal like Bryce Canyon National Park and is a great place for stargazing as there is no nearby light pollution to obstruct the night view of the stars.
photographer at cedar breaks
10- Bryce Canyon National Park
Just 70 minutes from the east gate of Zion National Park is Bryce Canyon National Park.  This 20 mile long national park is actually a series of rusted iron colored limestone rock amphitheaters that open up on the eastern edge of a plateau.  Bryce Canyon be experience as a day-trip from Zion National Park, or as a stop along an expanded driving tour.  The Bryce Canyon plateau sits between 8,000' and 9,000' feet in elevation and offers otherworldly views of rock formations called Hoodoos that have eroded over millennia to create dramatic and awe-inspiring shapes.
Bryce Canyon formation and trees

This summarizes our list of the Top 10 Things To Do Outside Utah's Zion National Park. Look for other Top 10 lists on our website.

August 18, 2023