During the busy spring, summer, and fall seasons, you'll be traveling up and down Zion Canyon in a shuttle bus. Most visitors find this to be an easy and enjoyable way to visit the following sites.
The park's sprawling visitor center (8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily in summer, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily in spring and winter, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily in fall), between Watchman and South campgrounds, is a hub of activity. The plaza outside the building features several interpretive plaques, including some pointing out environmentally sensitive design features of the visitor center. Inside, a large area is devoted to backcountry information; staff members can answer your questions about various trails, give you updates on the weather forecast, and help you arrange a shuttle to remote trailheads. From late April to late October, the backcountry desk opens at 7 a.m., an hour earlier than the rest of the visitor center.
The busiest part of the visitor center is its bookstore, which is stocked with an excellent selection of books covering natural history, human history, and regional travel. Topographic and geologic maps, posters, slides, postcards, and film are sold here, too.
The best way by far to get a feel for Zion 's impressive geology and variety of habitats is to take a hike with a park ranger. Many nature programs and hikes are offered late March-November; check the posted schedule. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, children's programs, including the popular Junior Ranger program, are held at Zion Nature Center near South Campground; ask at the visitor center for details.
At the northern end of South Campground, the Nature Center (noon-5 p.m. daily in summer) houses programs for kids, including Junior Ranger activities for ages 6-12. Although there's no shuttle stop for the Nature Center, it's an easy walk along the Pa'rus Trail from the visitor center or the Human History Museum. Check the park newsletter for kids' programs and family hikes. Programs focus on natural-history topics such as insects and bats in the park. Many Junior Ranger activities can be done on your own—pick up a booklet ($1) at the visitor center bookstore.
The old park visitor center has been retooled as a museum of southern Utah's cultural history (9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily in summer, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily in spring and winter, closed Dec.-early Mar.), with a schmaltzy film introducing the park and fairly bare-bones exhibits focusing on Native American and Mormon history. It's at the first shuttle stop after the visitor center. This is a good place to visit when you're too tired to hike any farther or if the weather forces you to seek shelter.
A short trail from the parking area leads to the viewpoint. The Three Patriarchs, a trio of peaks to the west, overlook Birch Creek; they are (from left to right) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Mount Moroni, the reddish peak on the far right, partly blocks the view of Jacob. Although the official viewpoint is a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the view, you'll get an even better view if you cross the road and head about 0.5 mile up Sand Bench Trail .
Rustic Zion Lodge, with its big front lawn, spacious lobby (with free but incredibly slow Internet access), snack bar, restaurant, and restrooms, is a natural stop for most park visitors. You don't need to be a guest at the lodge to enjoy the ambience of its public areas.
Cross the road from the lodge to catch the Emerald Pools trail , or walk a half-mile north from the Zion Lodge shuttle stop to reach the Grotto.
The Grotto is a popular place for a picnic. From here, a trail leads back to the lodge and, across the road, the Kayenta Trail links up with the Emerald Pools trails.
Visible from several points along Zion Canyon Drive is the Great White Throne. Topping out at 6,744 feet, this bulky chunk of Navajo Sandstone has become, along with the Three Patriarchs, emblematic of the park. Ride the shuttle in the evening to watch the rock change color as the setting sun lights it up.
Several trails, including the short and easy Weeping Rock Trail , start here. Weeping Rock is home to hanging gardens and many moisture-loving plants, including the striking Zion shooting star. The rock "weeps" because this is a junction between porous Navajo sandstone and denser Kayenta shale. Water trickles down through the sandstone, and, when it can't penetrate the shale, moves laterally to the face of the cliff.
While you're at Weeping Rock, scan the cliffs for remains of cables and rigging that were used to lower timber from the top of the rim down to the canyon floor. During the early 1900s, this wood was used to build pioneer settlements in the area.
Look up! This is where you're likely to see rock climbers on the towering walls. Because outfitters aren't allowed to bring groups into the park, these climbers presumably are quite experienced and know what they're doing up there.
The last shuttle stop is at this canyon, where 2,000-foot-tall rock walls reach up from the sides of the Virgin River. There's not really enough room for the road to continue farther up the canyon, but it's plenty spacious for a fine paved walking path. The Riverside Walk  heads a mile upstream to the Virgin Narrows, a place where the canyon becomes too narrow for even a sidewalk to squeeze through. You may see people hiking up the Narrows  (in the river) from the end of the Riverside Walk. Don't join them unless you're properly outfitted.