Zion National Park is known throughout the world and consequently, can be very busy. While it’s true that by visiting during the off-season can help reduce the crowds, you’ll continue to find people on the popular trails such as Angels Landing and Emerald Pools. For crowd-averse people like Steve and I, we gravitate towards seeking out trails less traveled. So then what’s the secret to ditching the crowds at Zion National Park? Hit the trails on the east side of the park! Because most visitors drive into Zion National Park through the west entrance, they tend to stay on that side and take the shuttle through the main canyon. We had a chance to explore the main canyon two years ago and it was incredible! If you’ve never been, it is highly recommended. However, if you’ve been before or want to find some hidden gems, then the East Side is for you!
When you’re done with this article make sure to check out this Epic Road Trip Guide to ALL of the National Parks!
Where to stay
When visiting Zion National Park you should treat yourself to a one of a kind stay at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort! We were honored to be guests for two nights and got to experience the charm that we had heard about from many of our friends and family members. What’s nice about this resort is that they have many different types of accommodations. We stayed in the cabin suites but they also have large Vacation homes, Cowboy cabins, Conestoga wagons, Glamping/deluxe glamping, and Campsites. Our cabin suite was homey and had an incredibly comfortable bed! (Steve and I always rate the beds wherever we travel and this cabin easily scored a 10/10).
In the morning we enjoyed eating a deluxe breakfast buffet which was a perfect way to start off the day. Steve’s recommendation? The waffles! I would tell you that if you don’t build your own parfait you are missing out! Amazing food and even more amazing staff. We even dined for dinner one evening at their on-site restaurant and have nothing but good things to say about the food choices. Pro tip- After finishing up dinner, enter the lobby and take a seat in one of the rocking chairs by the fireplace. It’s an extraordinary way to end your night.
Now on to the many activities offered by Zion Ponderosa! Here are just a few of them->
Jeep Tours, Guided Hiking, Horseback Riding, Bike rentals, Climbing Wall, Mini golf, and Paintball.
And that’s just listing a few of them! As much as we enjoy scenic drives and hiking, it’s nice having other activities available while visiting National Parks. Unfortunately for us during our stay, we were hit with unseasonably cold weather which kept us from enjoying a lot of the activities, but we did get to participate in a jeep ride. Our guide was actually the Rec Director and boy did he have interesting facts about the area and the history of the park. It was great being able to drive around the property and down a few trails that led to incredible lookout points. The small details were not forgotten on this tour as they had heated seats and blankets available!
For a full list of activities to enjoy, click here.
East Side Trails
If you are staying at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch, it’s a quick 20-30 minute drive to the trailhead of Canyon Overlook. Canyon Overlook is one of the few “official” trails on the east side. Right before you hit the famous Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel there will be a parking lot to your right. Park there and walk towards the tunnel and you’ll find stairs on the right-hand side. This is a beginner trail but there are spots that are fall risks. Be careful and if you have little kids, keep them close. Pro tip- we found the secluded spot in the photo below to the left of the official lookout point (left if you are looking down into the canyon). This spot was perfect for a photo-op and we didn’t run into anyone!
The friendly staff at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort told us about this hidden gem! The easiest way to find this canyon is to look for the wooden fence along the side of the road if you are heading into the park from the east. This wooden fence is one of a kind in the East Canyon so it won’t be hard to miss. In order to keep this spot from becoming overrun by visitors, this is all the information that we can provide. However, we recommend asking the staff at the Resort or calling the Visitor Center for additional details on how to find these astonishing petroglyphs.
We didn’t get a chance to explore Clear Creek but we were told that it’s an incredible spot to do a little self-led exploration. However, here’s a description from Joe’s Guide to Zion National Park that you’ll find very helpful!-
“There aren’t too many official trails in the upper East Canyon, but who says you can’t wander around and do your own exploring? Clear Creek is the main dry stream bed that follows Route 9 throughout the East Canyon. If you can ignore the occasional sounds of motorcycles and RV’s coming from above, this is really quite a beautiful canyon to explore. Many sections actually do loop away from the road, so you can get that sense of being away from it all in only a few minutes.”
Observation Point Via East Mesa Trail-
Many people say that Observation Point has a better view than Canyon Overlook and Angel’s landing…combined! So this is definitely a trail that should make your list. Another bonus of staying at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort is that from the property there is a shortcut! Most people will reach this spot by hiking up the strenuous Weeping Rock trailhead from the main canyon. From the property, you will simply take the short drive to the East Mesa Trail. Once parked, you’ll find the trailhead. This trail is a shortened and less demanding route.
We hope you enjoy exploring the less-visited Upper East Side in Zion National Park! Happy trails!
Our stay was hosted by Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort but all opinions remain my own.
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