Zion National Park, Utah
Value for Money:
Personality Types that Like it Best
Did You Know … ?
- Part of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1969) was filmed in Zion National Park.
- Zion’s Virgin River carries a million tons of sediment out of the park and to the Colorado River yearly.
- Steep cliffs seen today were formed from sand deposited 150 million years ago.
- Erosion will eventually reduce Zion’s landscape to a flat plain.
- “In Old Arizona” (1929), with scenes filmed in Zion, was the first talkie to be shot outdoors.
Zion National Park, which covers about 147,000 acres of colorful canyon country, was Utah’s first national park in 1919 (it had been a national monument for a decade before that). Over time, it has become the state’s most popular park.
Zion has some stiff competition, too, including four other national parks, plus 43 state parks, seven national monuments, two national recreation areas, five national forests and another 17 designated wilderness areas.
Nevertheless, Zion attracts nearly 3 million visitors a year who will walk, ride horses, drive the park’s roads or sit in a shuttle bus for a chance to see and maybe photograph the wonders nature hath wrought here.
The park is characterized by high plateaus, seemingly sliced to ribbons by a maze of deep sandstone canyons. Visitors are struck by the size of the formations — sheer cliffs rise 2,000 feet above canyon floors, and some rise 2,400, 2,600 or, in the case of the highest peak, West Temple, more than 3,600 feet above that base. The canyons are made all the more dramatic when, as is often the case, they are narrow passages.
Visitors are awed, as well, by the colors, ranging from cream to pink to red, but the red is most memorable — and very photogenic.
Zion Canyon, which continues to be shaped by the Virgin River at its heart, is the main destination in the park, but other areas, such as Kolob Canyons in the park’s northwest corner, offer alternatives for exploration and outdoor activities — and under less-crowded circumstances.
Zion is a park specifically to preserve the best of nature’s gifts, in terms of flora and fauna as well as the landscape, but the park protects some evidence of human occupation, as well. Early Americans left rock art, including carvings and paintings, some of which can be viewed by modern visitors. Most examples, however, are off limits to prevent damage from human activity, whether inadvertent or not.
Things to do for Venturers
- Hike to Angels Landing, a high vantage point offering views of Zion Canyon below you plus countless red sandstone cliffs easy to view at eye level. This trail has steep drop-offs on both sides.
- Make it an overnight backpacking trip and hike the La Verkin Creek Trail to the Kolob Arch and back. The two-way trip is a strenuous 14-mile excursion.
- Participate in one of the outdoor workshops offered by the Zion Canyon Field Institute. Topics include archaeology, the flora and fauna of southern Utah, geology and photography.
- Camp in the park, choosing one of two campgrounds with tent, trailer and RV sites. Or, obtain a permit and camp in the backcountry.
- Combine Zion with other parks. For the ambitious, consider the 900-mile trip along the so-called Grand Circle to visit Utah’s five national parks. All — Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonland, Capitol Reef and Zion — are in the southern part of the state.
- Arrange for a canyoneering adventure in the park. Permits are required for all trips that require the use of descending gear or ropes. In addition, group size for nearly all canyoneering trips is limited to six to minimize the impact on the environment.
Things to do for Centrics
- Hike the paved Riverside Walk alongside the Virgin River, with 2,000-foot canyon walls on either side.
- Wade in Virgin River — while exercising caution. Avoid rushing waters because flash floods are unpredictable.
- Take a half-day tour in the park on horseback.
- Make a side trip to the Rainbow Bridge National Monument to see the world’s largest natural bridge. It’s taller than the U.S. Capitol and nearly as long as a football field.
- Go cross-country skiing or snowmobiling on the Kolob Plateau.
- Attend one of the park’s free interpretive talks or audiovisual programs to learn more about its natural wonders.
Things to do for Authentics
- Ride the free shuttle service (available April through late October) on the six-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to view some of the park’s most beautiful sights in a short time. With more time, do your own driving along the Zion Park Scenic Byway, for example, which crosses the park.
- Stay in the park at the Zion Lodge, which is open throughout the year.
- Photograph the park in spring when the flowers are in bloom. Or time your trip to see fall colors in the park.
- Cycle or walk the Pa’rus Trail (3.4 miles total out and back) along the Virgin River. Bring a picnic lunch, too. The path is fairly level and is wheelchair accessible. Only here are pets allowed in the park, provided they are on a leash.
- In areas near the park, play golf at any of the courses on the Red Rock Golf Trail.
- Visit the Zion Human History Museum in Springdale near the park’s south entrance. The facility aims to tell the story of human history on the park’s lands.
For more information, consult the National Park Service at www.nps.gov/zion