Zion National Park
Information: (435) 772-3256
While many people enjoy the top-down views of Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park is most frequently experienced from the bottom up. Zion National Park hosts approximately 2.5 million visitors per year, who come to experience the awe-inspiring scenery, which includes narrow canyons, waterfalls, hanging gardens and enormous stone monoliths that tower 2,000 to 3,000 feet above the canyon floor. Zion offers numerous short, scenic hiking trails that are perfect for the entire family to enjoy, including Weeping Rock, Emerald Pools and the Riverside Walk. The Zion Canyon Shuttle, the only way to access the most-visited section of the park during the peak season (April through October), provides visitors an excellent preview of Zion’s scenery as well as background information about the park through narration from the shuttle driver. Hikers and rock climbers from around the world come to Zion to experience the vertical climbs and zigzagging trails that ascend to pinnacles, domes, arches and spires.
Visitors’ first stop in Zion National Park should be the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, which provides an outstanding outdoor interpretive experience that features panels describing the park’s scenery and trails, including their length and difficulty. From this “menu,” visitors can choose what they want to do in the park according to the scenery they want to see and the amount of time they have to spend. The visitor center itself is an attractive structure built to blend into the natural environment. It is a prime example of sustainable, environmental-friendly design. It boasts solar panels, cool towers (an evaporative cooling system using natural air flows), trombe walls, passive solar heating, and day lighting. In its construction, the National Park Service retained existing vegetation and irrigation ditches for shade and cooling purposes.
Throughout Zion National Park, iron oxide has colored the sandstone myriad shades of red while white or ochre hues have remained in other sections and layers. Water from rain and the Virgin River has etched through the rock and created twisted and convoluted deep chasms. When it rains on the massive plateaus of Zion National Park, water gushes over precipices, descending hundreds of feet to create awe-inspiring waterfalls, disappearing within minutes of the conclusion of a storm. The upper layers of porous sandstone allow water to seep thousands of feet through the rock, but the more dense lower layers force the water to exit and pour down the faces of sheer walls. Where the water leaves the rock, hanging gardens and natural stains line the walls, creating a tropical-looking paradise in the midst of an otherwise arid desert.
The most-visited section of the park, Zion Canyon is home to many of its most famous natural landmarks, including the Court of the Patriarchs, Angels Landing, and the Great White Throne. Zion Canyon boasts hiking trails for every level of hiker, from strenuous climbs to amazing top-down viewpoints such as the Observation Point and Angels Landing trails to short strolls on paved paths such as the Riverside Walk and Weeping Rock Trail.
In addition to its natural scenic attractions, Zion Canyon is also home to the Zion Lodge, the only lodging available inside the park boundaries. The Lodge boasts a large lawn in front if it, which is an ideal spot to relax or enjoy a picnic, taking in the picturesque atmosphere – a combination of rustic architecture and towers of stone. The Lodge features two restaurants, a gift shop and restrooms.
Plant and Animal Life
Mountain lions, ring-tailed cats, kangaroo rats, mule deer and bighorn sheep are only a few of the 75 species of mammals that inhabit Zion National Park. The park is also home to 290 species of birds, including peregrine falcons, bald eagles, blue grouses, wild turkeys, and spotted owls. Zion also contains 32 species of reptiles and amphibians, along with eight different fish, including the Virgin Spinedace, found nowhere else in the world. The park’s variations in elevation (approximately 4,000 to 9,000 feet) create diverse environments that boast approximately 900 native species of plants, giving Zion National Park the greatest botanical diversity in all of Utah.
Park Interpretive Programs
Covering topics such as plants, animals, geology, and human history, ranger-led activities enhance visitors’ enjoyment and understanding of Zion National Park. Regular, daily programs commence in April and end in September, with limited activities available during the off-season on holiday weekends. The park’s interpretive staff posts schedules at the visitor center, on park bulletin boards and on the park web site. Popular ranger-led activities include patio talks, guided hikes, evening programs and “Ride with the Ranger” shuttle tours. All guided interpretive programs are free.
Park Junior Ranger ProgramDesigned for children ages 6-12, Zion National Park offers Junior Ranger Discovery and Explorer programs that provide them with up-close, personal educational experiences that teach them about the natural environment, including its plants, animals, geology and human history. The programs encourage participants to explore national parks and help them become more environmentally conscious. Junior Ranger Program activities include hands-on learning experiences and lessons, guided hikes, and more. Each participant earns a Junior Ranger patch. During the summer, the Zion Nature Center near the South Campground hosts daily Junior Ranger activities.
Day & Overnight Hikes:
Zion Canyon features some of the most dramatic hikes and scenery in the world. Among the classic trails of Zion National Park are Angels Landing (West Rim), East Rim, Weeping Rock, Pa'rus, Watchman, Emerald Pools, Hidden Canyon, Observation Point, and The Narrows. National park rangers urge prospective hikers to be prepared by having the right equipment; but most of all, hikers need to have current trail information and know what their personal limitations are. Permits are required for The Narrows and other back country hikes. Call (435)772-0170 for information on back country hikes.
A favorite among Zion National Park adventurers, the Zion Narrows does not disappoint in the scenery department. The 16-mile journey is a spectacle of hanging gardens, waterfalls, lush vegetation, and narrow canyon walls, which are only 15 feet wide in some places. Much of the hike requires wading through the river, which is full of slippery rocks. Swift current envelops hikers in some spots. Sturdy shoes (not sandals) and hiking sticks (one for each hand is desirable) will make the hike more enjoyable. Hikers can traverse the Narrows in one day or make their journey an enjoyable overnight backpacking trip, camping at one of 12 designated campsites along the route. The hike begins at Chamberlain’s Ranch along the North Fork Road, whose turnoff is approximately 2.4 miles outside Zion’s east entrance on UT 9. The hike ends at the Temple of Sinewava, the last shuttle stop along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
To complete the hike most conveniently, hikers should leave a car at the visitor center or in Springdale and have someone drop them off at the trail head, or arrange a shuttle through a local outfitter. Hikers must also check the weather before hiking. Flash flooding is a very real possibility in narrow slot canyons and can be extremely dangerous since the Narrows offers little high ground. The best times to do the hike are late June and early September, when thunderstorm potential is at a minimum. Hiking the entire Zion National Park Narrows requires a permit, obtainable at the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center or the back country office at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center.
Storms, Flash Floods, Temperatures:
Weather is an important factor in Zion National Park's back country areas. Stay away from narrow or slot canyons on bad weather days to avoid the dangers of high water levels and flash floods. Water temperatures are generally fine during the summer months, but shaded canyons are less likely to keep you warm as you spend significant amounts of time in the water. Special preparations are required to enter the narrows in the colder months of the year. Check with Zion National Park to obtain details.