It's difficult for not to sound biased when describing this national park. But Zion is just one of the favorites in the country. Located in Utah's high plateau county, the Virgin River has carved a gorge so deep that sunlight rarely reaches the bottom! The canyon is wide and completely stunning with sheer cliffs dropping some 3,000 feet. Weathered sandstone shines red and white, and creates amazing sculptured rocks, cliffs, peaks, and hanging valleys. Whether you hit the remote trails in the backcountry or stick to the park's major attractions, your experience at Zion will be anything but typical.
It's almost hard to believe that Zion's canyon actually used to be a vast desert millions of years ago. In fact, reminders of dunes created by wind can be found in the crossbedded strata of the park's cliffs. The canyon itself was formed a million years ago thanks to flowing water which moved sandstone to form the sheer walls that we admire today.
Almost 12,000 years ago, Zion welcomed its first inhabitants. People tracked and hunted the mammoth, giant sloth, and camel that were common in the area. But climate change and overhunting led to the extinction of these animals about 8,000 years ago. Humans were quick to adapt and cultures evolved over the next 1,5000 years. Thanks to a farming tradition developed by the Virgin Anasazi, people thrived in the area as Zion provided level land to grow food and a river to water.
As the land and those who lived in it continued to evolve, people began to recognize the importance of preserving the land. In 1909, President Taft dubbed the land Mukuntuweap National Monument and on March 18, 1918, the monument was enlarged and renamed Zion National Monument. The following year, Zion was established as a national park on November 19, 1919.
When to Visit
The park is open year-round but Zion is most popular from March through October thanks to mild weather which is perfect for hikers. While the summer is full of life and green foliage, don't let the winter weather scare you away. In fact, the park is not only less crowded in the winter but the canyons pop with even brighter colors in contrast to the white snow.
The closest major airport is Las Vegas International, located about 150 miles from the park. There is also a smaller airport in St. George, UT which is 46 miles from the park. (Find Flights)
For those driving, you can take I-15 to UT-9 and 17 to the park. Another option is taking US-89, which passes east of the park, to UT-9 into the park. The Zion Canyon Visitor Center is located not far from the park's South Entrance adjacent to Springdale. The Visitor Center at the Kolob Canyons entrance is accessible from I-15, exit 40.
A note to those traveling in RVs, coaches, or other large vehicles: If you are traveling on UT-9, be aware of the large vehicle size restrictions. Vehicles sized 7'10'' in width or 11'4'' in height, or larger, are required to have a traffic control escort through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Vehicles this size are too large to stay in their lane while traveling through the tunnel. Nearly all RV's, buses, trailers, 5th wheels, and some camper shells will require an escort. There will be an additional $15 fee added to the standard entrance fee.
Visitors are required to purchase a recreational use pass to enter the park. All passes are valid for 7 days. All America the Beautiful park passes may be used to waive the entrance fee.
Student groups (ages 16 or older) may have their entrance fee waived if the curriculum relates specifically to the resources at Zion National Park. Applications can be found online or by calling the park. All applications must be received three weeks prior to anticipated trip.
Pets are not permitted in backcountry, in public buildings, on shuttles, or on trails. Pets are allowed elsewhere, including the Pa'rus Trail, as long as they remain on leashes. Service Animals are allowed on all of Zion's trails and shuttles.
Angel's Landing: For the best view of the park, consider hiking this strenuous trail. A 2.5 mile climb takes visitors upwards to see dramatic cross-canyon views and steep 1,500 foot drops.
The Narrows: These walls stand tall at 2,000 feet high, yet only 18 feet apart in some places. This is a place where flash floods can cause great danger. In fact, deaths have occurred here in the past.
Weeping Rock: A self-guided nature trail leads to a curtain of water and to a rock that indeed seems to weep. Water travels through sandstone and shale until seeping though the surface of the Weeping Rock.
Temple of Sinawava: Named for the coyote-spirit of the Paiute Indians, this is a great place to spirit canyon tree frogs, pocket gophers, lizards, and birds.
Emerald Pools: This trailhead is very popular for visitors looking to relax in an oasis of small streams, natural cliffs, and maple trees.
Zion Mt. Carmel Tunnel: Drivers are amazed to see the road literally disappear into the canyon walls for 1.1 miles. The tunnel was completed in 1930 and is still a sight to behold.
Riverside Walk: One of the most popular trails, this easy 2-mile stroll on a paved path begins at Zion Canyon and ends at the Temple of Sinawava, through gardens of ferns and golden columbine.
For those who enjoy camping, this park will not disappoint. Three campgrounds are available with 14-day limits and offer beautiful views of the park. Watchman is open year-round while South is open May through September, and Lava Point is open May through October. Watchman is the only campground that requires a reservation.
If you want to take camping to the next level, be sure to check out the backcountry of Zion. Permits are required and are available at the visitor center. Remember dogs are not allowed in backcountry and neither are camp fires.
For those looking for indoor accommodations, Zion Lodge is located inside the park with 121 beautiful rooms. Other hotels, motels and inns are available outside the park walls. Check out Driftwood Lodge in Springdale for reasonable rates.
Areas of Interest Outside the Park
Bryce Canyon National Park: Ever seen a hoodoo? These unique rock formations are colorful and stunning in this Utah park. The park follows along the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Heavily forested lands reaching 9,000 feet high are on the west, while carved break drop 2,000 feet into the Paria Valley on the east. And no matter where you stand in the park, something seems to grab hold creating a sense of place. Visitors can enjoy afternoons of hiking, backcountry camping, horseback riding, and more.
Cedar Breaks National Monument: Located only 75 miles north of Zion is this spectacular park. Visitors will be in awe of bright amphitheaters filled with spires, fins, and the hoodoos that fill the land. Consider a visit during the summer months when the meadows are rich with colorful wildflowers. Activities include hiking, ranger programs, camping, and scenic driving.