Millions of people head to Zion and Red Rock each year and it’s easy to see why. Zion is known for its huge sandstone walls and incredible breathtaking views, Red Rock for its crazy geology and stripes of grey limestone, as well as white and red sandstone. Zion or Mukuntuweap National Monument is on just about everyone’s bucket list to visit, but it’s time to rethink your plans. If you’re flying to Vegas, why bother to go all the way to Utah when you can stay in Nevada instead? Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area is an equal, if not better, park to go to and I’m going to tell you exactly why I don’t go to Zion anymore.
Sprawling Vegas is home to more than 600,000 people. Right off the plane, you have access to the Strip, Summerlin, and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. The total drive time from the airport to Red Rock Canyon is about 20 minutes. Taking the trek to Zion is more than three hours of desert driving on flat roads surrounded by sprawling rocky ground. Zion may have taller walls and deep canyons with Instagram-worthy views, but the effort level to get and stay there is drastically higher than Red Rock. Both parks deliver a similar experience: gorgeous red sandstone, desert vibes, great hiking, and views unlike anywhere else. Why spend hours, if not days getting to Zion when Red Rock Canyon is literally right there? What will you do with all that extra time?
One of the biggest reasons I stick to Red Rock is the food choices. Just a short drive away from Red Rock, you’ll find multiple Michelin Star restaurants, not to mention tons of delicious affordable food options, like the famous Bomb Tacos. Zion has a few good food options, like Feel Love Cafe and the Bit & Spur, but despite those being decent eats, it’s nothing compared to the food in Vegas. For me, that’s enough to head to Red Rock over Zion any day.
More than 4.6 million people visit Zion each year and if you want to do famous hikes, like Angel’s Landing, you’ll need to register in advance. Red Rock requires a timed-entry, which might seem like an inconvenience, but it makes parking much easier, and keeps traffic on the loop road to a minimum. Parking can be nearly impossible in Zion too, so much so that they utilize a shuttle service to take visitors around the park. The downside to the shuttle bus? You still have to find a competitive parking space in order to catch it, but traffic does turn over as people leave the park. The shuttle takes around 40 minutes to get across the park, so if you’re looking for a shorter day, Zion will be tough. The Red Rock Canyon Loop allows you to drive your own car and explore the park at your own pace. Red Rock still has millions of visitors, but the park is so huge that sometimes you can feel like you’re completely alone. Many visitors come in just for the epic loop drive, so if you’re stopping to hike, by the time you pass a few gigantic boulders, there’s a good chance you won’t see many other visitors. The further, more difficult hikes, like Turtle Peak, are often empty, so bring a map and do some exploring.
When I think of Zion, I certainly think of climbing the huge rock faces like Moonlight Buttress or Shune’s Buttress. Zion has a reputation for being intimidating, not just due to its size but also due to the poor rock quality and sometimes loose hiking paths. The canyons go so high, you feel like you’re on top of the world. The view is incredible—but also can be terrifying. For people who just want to have a good time, the climbing and hiking in Red Rock can be a bit less stressful and more fun. A great day out in Red Rock might require a relatively flat hike or scramble over some huge sandstone boulders, but the hiking and climbing are super accessible. There is something for almost any level, plus it is close to town and easy to access.
Is Skipping Zion Worth It?
Only you can make the decision as to whether skipping Zion entirely is worth it. Maybe it is still on your bucket list and you’d like to plan a trip there, but Red Rock could be a good option for shorter, regular adventures. Or, maybe you are simply looking for a desert vacation involving red rocks and good food, in which case, I’d encourage you to stick to Red Rock Canyon. Either way, you won’t be disappointed in your decision.