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Zion National Park
IUCN Category II (National Park)
Location Washington, Kane, and Iron counties, Utah, United States
Nearest city Springdale, Utah(south), Orderville, Utah (east) and Cedar City, Utah near Kolob Canyons entrance
Coordinates 37°18′0″N 113°3′0″W / 37.3°N 113.05°W / 37.3; -113.05Coordinates: 37°18′0″N 113°3′0″W / 37.3°N 113.05°W / 37.3; -113.05
Area 146,598 acres (593 km2), 143,035.07 acres (579 km2) federal
Established July 31, 1909
Visitors 2,697,182 (in 2007)
Governing body National Park Service
Zion Canyon as seen from the top of Angels Landing at sunset

Zion National Park is a national park located in the Southwestern United States, near Springdale, Utah. A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile (593 km2) park is Zion Canyon, 15 miles (24 km) long and up to half a mile (800 m) deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, the park's unique geography and variety of life zones allow for unusual plant and animal diversity. Numerous plant species as well as 289 species of birds, 75 mammals (including 19 species of bat), and 32 reptiles inhabit the park's four life zones: desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest. Common plant species include cottonwood, Cactus, Datura, Juniper, Pine, Boxelder, Sagebrush, yucca , and various willows. Notable megafauna include mountain lions, mule deer, and Golden Eagles, along with reintroduced California Condors and Bighorn Sheep.

Human habitation of the area started about 8,000 years ago with small family groups of Native Americans; the semi-nomadic Basketmaker Anasazi (300 CE) stem from one of these groups. In turn, the Virgin Anasazi culture (500 CE) developed as the Basketmakers settled in permanent communities.[1] A different group, the Parowan Fremont, lived in the area as well. Both groups moved away by 1300 and were replaced by the Parrusits and several other Southern Paiute subtribes. The canyon was discovered by Mormons in 1858 and was settled by that same group in the early 1860s. In 1909, U.S. President William Howard Taft named the area a National Monument to protect the canyon, under the name of Mukuntuweap National Monument. In 1918, however, the acting director of the newly created National Park Service changed the park's name to Zion as the original name was locally unpopular. Zion is an ancient Hebrew word meaning a place of refuge or sanctuary. The United States Congress established the monument as a National Park on November 19, 1919. The Kolob section was proclaimed a separate Zion National Monument in 1937, but was incorporated into the park in 1956.

The geology of the Zion and Kolob canyons area includes 9 formations that together represent 150 million years of mostly Mesozoic-aged sedimentation. At various periods in that time warm, shallow seas, streams, ponds and lakes, vast deserts, and dry near-shore environments covered the area. Uplift associated with the creation of the Colorado Plateaus lifted the region 10,000 feet (3,000 m) starting 13 million years ago.[2]


Geography and climate

On the Zion Plateau

The park is located in southwestern Utah in Washington, Iron, and Kane counties. Geomorphically, it is located on the Markagunt and Kolob plateaus, at the intersection of three North American geographic provinces: the Colorado Plateaus, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert. The northern part of the park is known as the Kolob Canyons section and is accessible from Interstate 15, exit 40.[3]

The 8,726-foot (2,660 m) summit of Horse Ranch Mountain (photo) is the highest point in the park; the lowest point is the 3,666-foot (1,117 m) elevation of Coal Pits Wash, creating a relief of about 5,100 feet (1,600 m).[4]

Streams in the area take rectangular paths because they follow jointing planes in the rocks.[5] The stream gradient of the Virgin River, whose North Fork flows through Zion Canyon in the park, ranges from 50 to 80 feet (15 to 24 m) per mile (0.9–1.5%)—one of the steepest stream gradients in North America.[6]

View from the end of the Riverside Trail

The road into Zion Canyon is 6 miles (9.7 km) long, ending at the Temple of Sinawava ("Sinawava" refers to the Coyote God of the Paiute Indians).[7] At the Temple the canyon narrows and a foot-trail continues to the mouth of the Zion Narrows, a gorge as narrow as 20 feet (6 m) wide and up to 2,000 feet (610 m) tall.[8] The Zion Canyon road is served by a free shuttle bus from early April to late October and by private vehicles the other months of the year. Other roads in Zion are open to private vehicles year-round.

The east side of the park is served by the Zion–Mount Carmel Highway, which passes through the Zion–Mount Carmel Tunnel and ends at Mount Carmel Junction. On the east side of the park notable park features include Checkerboard Mesa (photo) and the East Temple.

The Kolob Terrace area west of Zion Canyon features The Subway, a slot canyon hike, and Lava Point, with a panoramic view of the entire area. The Kolob Canyons section, further west near Cedar City, features one of the world's longest arches, Kolob Arch.[9]

Zion rock formation, photo c. 1941 by Ansel Adams

Spring weather is unpredictable, with stormy, wet days being common, mixed with occasional warm, sunny weather. Precipitation is heaviest in March.[10] Spring wildflowers bloom from April through June, peaking in May. Fall days are usually clear and mild; nights are often cool. Summer days are hot (95 °F to 110 °F; 35 °C to 43 °C), but overnight lows are usually comfortable (65 °F to 70 °F; 18 °C to 21 °C).[10] Afternoon thunderstorms are common from mid-July through mid-September.[10] Storms may produce waterfalls as well as flash floods. Autumn tree-color displays begin in September in the high country; inside Zion Canyon, autumn colors usually peak in late October. Winter in Zion Canyon is fairly mild. Winter storms bring rain or light snow to Zion Canyon and heavier snow to the higher elevations. Clear days may become quite warm, reaching 60 °F (16 °C); nights are often 20 °F (−7 °C) to 40 °F (4 °C) .[10] Winter storms can last several days and make roads icy. Zion roads are plowed, except the Kolob Terrace Road which is closed when covered with snow.[10] Winter driving conditions last from November through March.[10]

Notable geographical features of the park include: Virgin River Narrows, Emerald Pools (photo), Hidden Canyon (photo), Angels Landing (photo), The Great White Throne, Checkerboard Mesa (photo), The Three Patriarchs (photo) and Kolob Arch.

Human history

Archaeologists have divided the long span of Zion's human history into three cultural periods: the Archaic, Protohistoric and Historic periods. Each period is characterized by distinctive technological and social adaptations.

Archaic period

The first human presence in the region dates to 8,000 years ago when family groups camped where they could hunt or collect plants and seeds.[11] About 2,000 years ago, some groups began growing corn and other crops, leading to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.[12] Later groups in this period built permanent villages called pueblos. Archaeologists call this the Archaic period and it lasted until about 500 CE.[13] Baskets, cordage nets, and yucca fiber sandals have been found and dated to this period. The Archaic toolkits included flaked stone knives, drills, and stemmed dart points. The dart points were attached to wooden shafts and propelled by throwing devices called atlatls.[13]

By 300 CE some of the archaic groups developed into an early branch of seminomadic Anasazi, the Basketmakers.[13] Basketmaker sites have grass- or stone-lined storage cists and shallow, partially underground dwellings called pithouses. They were hunters and gatherers who supplemented their diet with limited agriculture. Locally collected pine nuts were important for food and trade.

Protohistoric period

Kaun huts were used by Southern Paiute

Both the Virgin Anasazi and the Parowan Fremont disappear from the archaeological record of southwestern Utah by about 1300.[13] Extended droughts in the 11th and 12th centuries, interspersed with catastrophic flooding, may have made horticulture impossible in this arid region.[13]

Tradition and archaeological evidence hold that their replacements were Numic-speaking cousins of the Virgin Anasazi, such as the Southern Paiute and Ute.[13] The newcomers migrated on a seasonal basis up and down valleys in search of wild seeds and game animals.[14] Some, particularly the Southern Paiute, also planted fields of corn, sunflowers, and squash to supplement their diet.[14] These more sedentary groups made brownware vessels that were used for storage and cooking.[13]

Exploration and settlement by Euro-Americans

The Historic period begins in the late 18th century[13] with the exploration of southern Utah by Padres Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Francisco Atanasio Domínguez. The padres passed near what is now the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center on October 13, 1776, becoming the first people of European descent known to visit the area.[15] In 1825, trapper and trader Jedediah Smith explored some of the downstream areas while under contract with the American Fur Company.[15]

In 1847, Mormon farmers from the Salt Lake area became the first people of European descent to settle the Virgin River region.[6] In 1851, the Parowan and Cedar City, Utah areas were settled by Mormons who used the Kolob Canyons area for timber, and for grazing cattle, sheep, and horses.[16] They prospected for mineral deposits, and diverted Kolob water to irrigate crops in the valley below. Mormon settlers named the area Kolob—in Mormon scripture, the heavenly place nearest the residence of God.[17]

A ranch located near the mouth of Zion Canyon

Settlements had expanded 30 miles (48 km) south to the lower Virgin River by 1858.[6] That year, a Southern Paiute guide led young Mormon missionary and interpreter Nephi Johnson into the upper Virgin River area and Zion Canyon.[15] Johnson wrote a favorable report about the agricultural potential of the upper Virgin River basin, and returned later that year to found the town of Virgin. In 1861 or 1862, Joseph Black made the arduous journey to Zion Canyon and was very impressed by its beauty.[1]

The floor of Zion Canyon was settled in 1863 by Isaac Behunin, who farmed corn, tobacco, and fruit trees.[1] The Behunin family lived in Zion Canyon near the site of today's Zion Lodge during the summer, and wintered in Springdale. Behunin is credited with naming Zion, a reference to a place of peace mentioned in the Bible.[1] Two more families settled Zion Canyon in the next couple of years, bringing with them cattle and other domesticated animals. The canyon floor was farmed until Zion became a Monument in 1909.[6]

The Powell Geographic Expedition entered the area in 1869 after their first trip through the Grand Canyon.[6] John Wesley Powell visited Zion Canyon in 1872 and named it Mukuntuweap, under the impression that that was the Paiute name.[18] Powell Survey photographers John K. Hillers and James Fennemore first visited the Zion Canyon and Kolob Plateau region in the spring of 1872.[6] Hillers returned in April 1873 to add more photographs to the "Virgin River Series" of photographs and stereographs.[19] Hillers described wading the canyon for four days and nearly freezing to death to take his photographs.[19]

Protection and tourism

Painting of Zion Canyon by Frederick Dellenbaugh (1903)

Paintings of the canyon by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh were exhibited at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904,[6] followed by a glowing article in Scribner's Magazine the next year. That, along with previously created photographs, paintings, and reports, led to U.S. President William Howard Taft's proclamation on July 31, 1909 that created Mukuntuweap National Monument.[15] In 1917, the acting director of the newly created National Park Service visited the canyon and proposed changing its name to Zion from the locally unpopular Mukuntuweap.[20] The United States Congress added more land and established Zion National Park on November 19, 1919.[1] A separate Zion National Monument, the Kolob Canyons area, was proclaimed on January 22, 1937, and was incorporated into the park on July 11, 1956.[21]

Travel to the area before it was a national park was rare due to its remote location, lack of accommodations, and the absence of real roads in southern Utah. Old wagon roads were upgraded to the first automobile roads starting about 1910, and the road into Zion Canyon was built in 1917, to as far as The Grotto.[13]

1938 poster of Zion National Park

Touring cars could reach Zion Canyon by the summer of 1917.[13] The first visitor lodging in Zion Canyon, called Wylie Camp, was established that same year as a tent camp.[13] The Utah Parks Company, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad, acquired Wylie Camp in 1923, and offered ten-day rail/bus tours to Zion, nearby Bryce Canyon, Kaibab, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.[22] The Zion Lodge complex was built in 1925 at the site of the Wylie tent camp.[13] Architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood designed Zion Lodge (photo) in the "Rustic Style" and the Utah Parks Company funded the construction.[13]

Work on the Zion–Mount Carmel Highway started in 1927 to enable reliable access between Springdale and the east side of the park.[1] The road opened in 1930 and park visitation and travel in the area greatly increased.[23] The most famous feature of the highway is the 1.1-mile (1.8 km) Zion – Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which has six large windows cut through the massive sandstone cliff.[6]

In 1896, local rancher John Winder improved the Native American footpath up Echo Canyon, which later became the East Rim Trail.[24] Entrepreneur David Flanigan used this trail in in 1900 to build cableworks that lowered lumber into Zion Canyon from Cable Mountain. More than 200,000 board feet of lumber were lowered by 1906.[24] The auto road was extended to the Temple of Sinawava, and a trail built from there 1 mile (1.6 km) to the start of the Narrows.[25] Angel's Landing Trail was constructed in 1926 and two suspension bridges were built over the Virgin River.[18] Other trails were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s.[18]

More recent history

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive provides access to Zion Canyon. Traffic congestion in the narrow canyon was recognized as a major problem in the 1990s and a public transportation system using propane-powered shuttle buses was instituted in the year 2000.[26] As part of its shuttle fleet, Zion has two electric trams each holding up to 36 passengers. [27] From April through October, the scenic drive in Zion Canyon is closed to private vehicles and visitors ride the shuttle buses.[26]

On April 12, 1995, heavy rains triggered a landslide that blocked the Virgin River in Zion Canyon.[28] Over a period of two hours, the river carved away part of the only exit road from the canyon, trapping 450 guests and employees in the Zion Lodge.[28] A one-lane temporary road was constructed within 24 hours to allow evacuation of the Lodge.[28] A more stable—albeit temporary—road was completed on May 25, 1995 to allow summer visitors to access the park.[28] This road was replaced with a permanent road during the first half of 1996.[28]

The Zion–Mount Carmel Highway can be traveled year-round. Access for over-sized vehicles requires a special permit, and is limited to daytime hours, as traffic through the tunnel must be one way to accommodate large vehicles. The 5-mile (8.0 km)-long Kolob Canyons Road was built to provide access to the Kolob Canyons section of the park.[29] This road often closes in the winter.

In March 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which designated and further protected 124,406 acres (503.5 km2) of park land as the Zion Wilderness.


The Three Patriarchs in Zion Canyon are made of Navajo Sandstone.

The nine known exposed geologic formations in Zion National Park are part of a super-sequence of rock units called the Grand Staircase. Together, these formations represent about 150 million years of mostly Mesozoic-aged sedimentation in that part of North America. The formations exposed in the Zion area were deposited as sediment in very different environments:

  • The warm, shallow (sometimes advancing or retreating) sea of the Kaibab and Moenkopi formations;
  • Streams, ponds, and lakes of the Chinle, Moenave, and Kayenta formations;
  • The vast desert of the Navajo and Temple Cap formations; and
  • The dry near-shore environment of the Carmel Formation.
The Kolob Canyons are a set of finger canyons cut into the Kolob Plateau.

Uplift affected the entire region, known as the Colorado Plateaus, by slowly raising these formations more than 10,000 feet (3,000 m) higher than where they were deposited.[30] This steepened the stream gradient of the ancestral Virgin and other rivers on the plateau.

The faster-moving streams took advantage of uplift-created joints in the rocks. Eventually, all Cenozoic-aged formations were removed and gorges were cut into the plateaus. Zion Canyon was cut by the North Fork of the Virgin River in this way. During the later part of this process, lava flows and cinder cones covered parts of the area.[31]

High water volume in wet seasons does most of the downcutting in the main canyon. These flood events are responsible for transporting most of the 3 million short tons (2.7 million metric tons) of rock and sediment that the Virgin River transports yearly.[6] The Virgin cuts away its canyon faster than its tributaries can cut away their own streambeds, so tributaries end in waterfalls from hanging valleys where they meet the Virgin.[6] The valley between the peaks of the Twin Brothers is a notable example of a hanging valley in the canyon.

Table of formations exposed in Zion National Park[32]


Rock layer Appearance Location Deposition Rock type Photo
Dakota Formation Cliffs Top of Horse Ranch Mountain Streams Conglomerate and sandstone Dakota Sandstone
Carmel Formation Cliffs Mt Carmel Junction Shallow sea and coastal desert Limestone, sandstone and gypsum Carmel Formation
Temple Cap Formation Cliffs Top of West Temple Desert Sandstone Temple Cap Formation atop Navajo Sandstone
Navajo Sandstone Steep cliffs 1,600 to 2,200 ft (490 to 670 m)

thick; red lower layers are colored by iron oxides

Tall cliffs of Zion Canyon; highest exposure is West Temple. Cross-bedding shows well at Checkerboard Mesa (photo) Desert sand dunes covered 150,000 mi2 (390,000 km2).Shifting winds during deposition created cross-bedding Sandstone Navajo Sandstone showing its two tones
Kayenta Formation Rocky slopes Throughout canyon Streams Siltstone and sandstone Kayenta Formation
Moenave Formation Slopes and ledges Lower red cliffs seen from Zion Human History Museum Streams and ponds Siltstone and sandstone Moenave Formation
Chinle Formation Purplish slopes Above Rockville Streams Shale, loose clay and conglomerate Chinle Formation
Moenkopi Formation Chocolate cliffs with white bands Rocky slopes from Virgin to Rockville Shallow sea Shale, siltstone, sandstone, mudstone, and limestone Moenkopi Formation
Kaibab Formation Cliffs Hurricane Cliffs along I-15 near Kolob Canyons Shallow sea Limestone Hurricane Cliffs/Kaibab Fm.


Taylor Creek with Horse Ranch Mountain in background. Desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest habitats are all visible.

The Great Basin, Mojave Desert, and Colorado Plateau converge at Zion and the Kolob canyons.[33] This, along with the varied topography of canyonmesa country, differing soil types, and uneven water availability, provides diverse habitat for the equally diverse mix of plants and animals that live in the area. The park is home to 289 bird, 79 mammals, 28 reptiles, 7 fish, and 6 amphibian species.[34] These organisms make their homes in one or more of four life zones found in the Park: desert, riparian, woodland, and Coniferous forest.[35]

Desert conditions persist on canyon bottoms and rocky ledges away from perennial streams. Sagebrush, Prickly pear Cactus, and Rabbitbrush, along with Sacred Datura and Indian Paintbrush, are common.[36] Utah Penstemon and Golden Aster can also be found.[37] Milkvetch and Prince's Plume are found in pockets of selenium-rich soils.[35]

Sacred Datura grows on the canyon floor and blooms at night.

Common daytime animals include Mule Deer, Rock Squirrels, Pinyon Jays, and Whiptail and Collared lizards (photo). Desert Cottontails,[38] Jackrabbits, and Merriam's Kangaroo Rats come out at night. Cougars, Coyotes, Gray Foxes, and Ring-tail Cats are the top predators.[38]

Cooler conditions persist at mid-elevation slopes, from 3,900 to 5,500 feet (1,200 to 1,700 m).[35] Stunted forests of pinyon pine and Juniper coexist here with manzanita shrubs, cliffrose, serviceberry, Scrub Oak, and yucca.[35] Stands of Ponderosa Pine, Gambel Oak, manzanita and aspen populate the mesas and cliffs above 6,000 feet (1,800 m).[35]

Golden Eagles, Red-tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, and White-throated Swifts can be seen in the area.[39] California Condors and Bighorn Sheep were introduced in the 1990s. Nineteen species of bat also live in the area.[40]

Boxelder, Fremont Cottonwood, maple, and willow dominate riparian plant communities.[35] Animals such as Bank Beavers, Flannel-mouth Suckers, Gnatcatchers, Dippers, Canyon Wrens, the Virgin Spinedace, and Water Striders all make their homes in the riparian zones.[41]


Zion Canyon

Driving through the east side of Zion to U.S. Route 89 allows access to Bryce Canyon National Park in the north or to the north rim of the Grand Canyon in the south. Due to the narrowness of the Zion–Mount Carmel Tunnel, RVs and buses must obtain a special pass and can only drive through the tunnel during limited hours.[42]

The more primitive sections of Zion include the Kolob Terrace and the Kolob Canyons. The Grotto in Zion Canyon, the Visitor Center, and the viewpoint at the end of Kolob Canyons Road have the only designated picnic sites.[4]

Seven popular trails with round-trip times of half an hour (Weeping Rock) to 4 hours (Angels Landing) are found in Zion Canyon.[43] Two popular trails, Taylor Creek (4 hours round trip) and Kolob Arch (8 hours round trip), are in the Kolob Canyons section of the park, near Cedar City.[43]

Hiking up into The Narrows from the Temple of Sinawava is popular in summer. Orderville Canyon, a narrower slot canyon, is also popular. Backpacking down The Narrows from the top takes 12 hours.[44] Other often-used backcountry trails include the West Rim and LaVerkin Creek.[45]

The final ascent at the Top of the Angels Landing Trail

Zion is a center for rock climbing, with short walls like Touchstone, Moonlight Buttress, Spaceshot, and Prodigal Son being very popular.[46]

Lodging in the park is available at Zion Lodge, located halfway through Zion Canyon. Zion Lodge is open year-round and has motel units and cabins, as well as a restaurant, café, and gift shop, but rooms fill up fast. Three campgrounds are available: South and Watchman at the far southern side of the park, and a primitive site at Lava Point in the middle of the park off Kolob Terrace Road.[47] Watchman is the only campground in the park that takes reservations. Lava Point has only primitive facilities and is usually open from June to October. [47] Overnight camping in the backcountry requires permits.[48]

Guided horseback riding trips, nature walks, and evening programs are available from late March to early November.[49] The Junior Ranger Program for ages 6 to 12 is active from Memorial Day to Labor Day at the Zion Nature Center.[50]

Rangers at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and the smaller Kolob Canyons Visitor Center can help visitors plan their stay. A bookstore attached to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, run by the Zion Natural History Association, offers books, maps, and souvenirs for sale, with proceeds benefiting the park.[51]

Adjacent to the park on the south is the town of Springdale, Utah, which offers services such as lodging, food, and entertainment. Zion Canyon IMAX in Springdale offers many interesting documentaries about the natural history of Zion Canyon and the American Southwest. Lodging, food, and entertainment are also offered on the east side of the park along the Zion–Mount Carmel Highway and in Mount Carmel Junction.


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Park Service.
PD-icon.svg This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Geological Survey.

  1. ^ a b c d e f Tufts 1998, p. 45
  2. ^ Tufts 1998, p. 43
  3. ^ NPS website, How to get here
  4. ^ a b NPS website, Accessibility
  5. ^ Harris 1997, p. 33
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Harris 1997, p. 29
  7. ^ Alexander, Charles P. "Records and Descriptions of North American Crane-Flies (Diptera). Part VII. The Tipuloidea of Utah". American Midland Naturalist 39 (1): 1–82.  
  8. ^ NPS website, Zion Narrows (archive)
  9. ^ NPS website, Freestanding Arches
  10. ^ a b c d e f NPS website, Weather and Climate
  11. ^ NPS website, History and Culture
  12. ^ NPS website, Archeology (archive)
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m NPS website, People
  14. ^ a b NPS website, Human History (archive)
  15. ^ a b c d Kiver 1999, p. 457
  16. ^ Arrington, Leonard J.. "Colonization of Utah". Utah History Encyclopedia. Salt Lake City, Utah: State of Utah. Retrieved January 18, 2009.  
  17. ^ NPS contributors (Summer 2008). "Zion Map and Guide" (PDF). Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. Retrieved January 18, 2009.  
  18. ^ a b c Powell, Allen Kent (1996). "Zion National Park". Utah History Encyclopedia. Salt Lake City, Utah: University of Utah Press.   Retrieved on January 1, 2009.
  19. ^ a b USGS contributors. "Virgin River Canyons: Historic 3D Photographs of Powell Survey in the Zion National Park Area". in Stoffer, Phil. Washington, D.C.: United States Geological Survey. Retrieved January 18, 2009.   (public domain text)
  20. ^ Albright, Horace M.; Schenck, Marian Albright; Utley, Robert M. (1999). "18 - Exploring a New World of Parks, 1917" (PDF). Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman Publishing. p. 243. Retrieved January 18, 2009.  
  21. ^ "Appendix C" (pdf). Leave No Trace Principles. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service.  
  22. ^ (PDF) Cape Royal Road. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. after 1968. p. 4. HAER AZ-40. Retrieved January 18, 2009.  
  23. ^ NPS website, The Zion–Mount Carmel Tunnel
  24. ^ a b ZNHA contributors. A Guide to the Trails: Zion National Park. Springdale, Utah: Zion Natural History Association. Retrieved January 18, 2009.  
  25. ^ Kiver 1999, p. 465
  26. ^ a b NPS website, Green Transit - The Zion Shuttle
  27. ^ "Zion Traffic Mitigation Report, Department of Transportation". United States Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. Retrieved 2009-12-19.  
  28. ^ a b c d e Mentz, Kevin M.; Worrell, Eric; Zanetell, F. Dave (1997). "Park Project Is a Paragon of Partnership". Public Roads (Federal Highway Administration, United States Department of Transportation) 60 (4).   Retrieved on January 18, 2009.
  29. ^ Kona, Srividya. "Zion National Park, Utah". Travel. Texas Tech University. Retrieved January 1, 2009.  
  30. ^ Kiver 1999, p. 461
  31. ^ Harris 1997, p. 42
  32. ^ NPS contributors. "Geology Fieldnotes: Zion National Park". Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. Retrieved January 1, 2009.   (public domain text and table)
  33. ^ NPS website, Home page
  34. ^ NPS contributors. "Wilderness Stewardship Plan Handbook" (doc). Washington, D.C.. p. 31. Retrieved December 20, 2008.  
  35. ^ a b c d e f Leach 2007, p. 39
  36. ^ NPS website, Plants (subpages)
  37. ^ NPS website, Wildflowers
  38. ^ a b NPS website, Animals (subpages)
  39. ^ NPS website, Bird list
  40. ^ NPS website, Mammal list
  41. ^ Leach 2007, p. 40
  42. ^ NPS website, Fees & Reservations
  43. ^ a b NPS website, Day Hiking (archive)
  44. ^ NPS website, Zion Narrows
  45. ^ NPS contributors (2008) (PDF). Backcountry Planner. Washington, D.C.: National Park Service. p. 10. Retrieved January 18, 2009.  
  46. ^ NPS website, Backcountry Reservations and Permits (archive)
  47. ^ a b NPS website, Campgrounds
  48. ^ NPS website, Backpacking
  49. ^ NPS website, Outdoor Activities
  50. ^ NPS website, For Kids
  51. ^ NPS website, Commercial Tours


Zion National Park facing southwest from the road to Cedar Breaks National Monument
  • Harris, Ann G.; Tuttle, Esther; Tuttle, Sherwood D. (1997). "2: Zion National Park, Southwest Utah". Geology of National Parks (5th ed.). Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing. pp. 28–42. ISBN 0-7872-5353-7.  
  • Kiver, Eugene P.; Harris, David V. (1999). Geology of U.S. Parklands (5th ed.). New York: Jonh Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-33218-6.  
  • Leach, Nicky (2007). Zion National Park: Sanctuary in the Desert (6th ed.). Mariposa, California: Sierra Press. ISBN 1580710204.  
  • NPS contributors. "Zion National Park, official website". Washington, D.C.: National Park Service.   (public domain text)
  • Schneider, Stuart (2001). Kolob Canyons Road Guide. Zion Natural History Association. ISBN 0-915630-28-1.  
  • Tufts, Lorraine Salem (1998). Secrets in The Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks (3rd ed.). North Palm Beach, Florida: National Photographic Collections. ISBN 0-9620255-3-4.  
  • Woodbury, Angus M. (July–October 1944). A History of Southern Utah and Its National Parks. XII. Utah State Historical Society.  

External links

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

Looking up at the cliffs of Zion Canyon from the Emerald Pools trailhead
Looking up at the cliffs of Zion Canyon from the Emerald Pools trailhead

Zion National Park [1] is a United States National Park located in the southern Utah regions of Dixie and Canyon Country. The park protects the incredible rock formations and high sandstone cliffs within its boundaries and is a favorite spot for hiking, backpacking, canyoneering and climbing. In fact, Zion has some of the most spectacular trails in the National Park System. Visitors to Zion walk on the canyon floor and look up, rather than looking down from the rim as in many parks. In addition to the magnificent monoliths and cliffs, the park is known for its desert landscape of sandstone canyons, mesas, and high plateaus.



Mormon pioneers arrived in Zion in 1863. Issac Behunin built the first log cabin in Zion Canyon, near the location of the current Zion Lodge. Behunin Canyon, a technical slot canyon, was named after him. During the remainder of the century, small communities and homesteads in the area struggled to survive. Pioneers gave the canyon the name "Zion", a Hebrew word meaning safety, or a place of refuge. Despite the name, the canyon offered little arable land, poor soil, and catastrophic flooding, making agriculture a risky venture. By the first decade of the 20th century, the scenic qualities of southern Utah, and Zion Canyon in particular, had been recognized as a potential destination for tourism. In 1909, a presidential executive order designated Mukuntuweap National Monument. The new monument was, however, virtually inaccessible to visitors, since the existing roads were in poor condition and the closest railhead was a hundred miles away. The park's name was changed to Zion National Monument in 1918, and in 1919 the park was expanded and became a national park. Visitation to the new national park increased steadily during the 1920s, and in 1930, the newly completed Zion-Mt Carmel Highway allowed motorists to travel through the park to Mount Carmel Junction, then on to Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. This highway was one of the greatest engineering feats of modern times, requiring the construction of a 5,613-foot tunnel, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, to negotiate the vertical sandstone cliffs of Zion. The switchbacks leading up to the tunnel proved to be an even greater task to accomplish. The Kolob Canyons section, near Cedar City was established as a National Monument in 1937 and added to Zion National Park in 1956.

The hanging gardens of Zion

Throughout Zion Canyon, you will find life growing on the steep cliffs. Beautiful wildflowers, hanging ferns and moss thrive in the micro-environment. How does it survive in this seemingly arid land?

It's the surprisingly porous Navajo sandstone that makes up the high cliffs of Zion. Rainfall and snow melt collect on the top of the mesas and seep through the sandstone until it reaches the tougher Kayenta formation, where it is forced out of the rock, creating springs in Zion Canyon and allowing hanging gardens to grow. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Weeping Rock, which lies below the mouth of two hanging canyons. The canyons serve as drainages, collecting surface water runoff and concentrating it into the Navajo sandstone, supporting the Weeping Rock spring. Other springs can be seen in various places of the park including along the Riverside Walk at the Temple of Sinawava.

In addition to plant life, the springs also provide a home for freshwater snails, like the tiny Zion Snail, which is only found in Zion National Park. Keep an eye out for other wildlife around the springs, such as birds, lizards, and various insects.

Zion National Park encompasses some of the most scenic canyon country in the United States. The park is characterized by high plateaus, a maze of narrow, deep, sandstone canyons and striking rock towers and mesas. The North Fork of the Virgin River has carved a spectacular gorge in the park called the Zion Narrows. The canyon walls in some places rise 2000-3000 feet above the canyon floor. The southern part of the park is a lower desert area where colorful mesas border rocky canyons and washes. The northern sections of the park are higher plateaus covered by forests. To the east is amazing slickrock country and a vast array of unpaved trails, hidden canyons and peaks to explore.

Sacrad Datura
Sacrad Datura

Although Zion is in an arid desert climate, the park has almost nine-hundred native species of plants, seventy-five species of mammals, two-hundred-ninety species of birds including the recent addition of the California Condor, forty-four species of reptiles and amphibians and eight native fish.

Mammals commonly found within the park's borders include bats, jack rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, gophers, kangaroo rats, beavers, mice, porcupines, coyotes, gray fox, ringtails, skunks, mule deer and the rarely seen mountain lions. Peregrine falcons, rattlesnakes and numerous lizards are also species that visitors may recognize.

There is a wide variety of plant life in the park, seeing that the unique geology has created diverse environments such as deserts, canyons, slickrock, hanging gardens, riparian, and high plateaus. There are many beautiful wildflowers, including the Sacrad Datura, which is common in Zion and is often found along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and on the canyon floor in Zion Canyon.


Weather in the park varies greatly with elevation, and even at the same elevation may differ by over 30°F between day and night. During the spring the weather is very unpredictable, with stormy, wet days common, although warm, sunny weather may occur too. Precipitation peaks in March. Summer days are hot (95-110°F), but overnight lows are usually comfortable (65-70°F). Afternoon thunderstorms are common from mid-July through mid-September, making flash floods (if hiking in one) in the canyons a danger. Autumn days are usually clear and mild with cool nights. Winter storms bring rain or light snow to Zion Canyon, but heavier snow to the higher elevations such as the east side of the park, Kolob Terrace and Kolob Canyons. Clear days may become quite warm, reaching 60°F; nights are often in the 20s and 30s. Winter storms can last several days and cause roads to be icy, but the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway is owned by the park and the NPS keeps it in excellent condition even in the winter.


There are sections of the park that are not connected by road; the Kolob Canyons area is in the park's northern area and offers interesting canyon views and hiking. The remote Kolob Terrace offers an uncrowded and scenic drive, spectacular slot canyons and hiking. The highly photographed "Subway" is found in this section of the park. The more popular (and more crowded) Zion Canyon area is in the southern portion of the park and contains many of the park's most famous scenic wonders such as Angels Landing and the Great White Throne. The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway runs from the south entrance of the park to the east entrance featuring magnificent landmarks and hiking along the way such as East Temple, Checkerboard Mesa and the Great Arch. The Zion Narrows and Orderville Canyon, two of the parks most popular canyons begin on the east rim of the park and end in Zion Canyon.

Zion National Park area map
Zion National Park area map

By car

Zion Canyon, the most popular section of the park, is accessed by taking SR-9 from the east or the west.

From the west: I-15 passes west of Zion and connects with SR-9 just north of St. George. From there SR-9 travels through the towns of Hurricane, Virgin, and Springdale before entering Zion Canyon.

From the east: US-89 passes east of Zion and connects with SR-9 (The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway) at Mount Carmel Junction. From there SR-9 travels through the park's east Entrance and into the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel before descending into Zion Canyon.

The Kolob Terrace road is accessed off SR-9 in the town of Virgin, west of Zion. The Kolob Canyons entrance is accessible from I-15, exit 40, near Cedar City.

Cars can be rented in Salt Lake City, Cedar City, St. George, and Las Vegas. McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas offers rental cars that usually have good rates.

NOTE: Visitors driving RVs, pulling trailers, or with any vehicle that is over 7'10" wide or over 11'4" tall should be aware that due to the small size of the tunnel an escort is required to pass through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel; the fee for this escort is $15, valid for a round-trip. Most RVs, buses, trailers, 5th wheels, and some camper shells require an escort. Escorts are at the tunnel from 8AM-8PM during the busy season and arranged at the entrance gate in the winter. Semi-tractor trailers are not permitted in the park.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible only by the Zion Canyon Shuttle the majority of the year, but from November until the end of March, private vehicles are allowed to drive into the canyon.

By plane

St. George is the closest city with commercial airline service. St. George is building a larger airport, but in the meantime the St. George Municipal Airport [2] services the area with flights from Salt Lake City or Los Angeles on SkyWest.

The nearest major airport is McCarran International Airport [3] in Las Vegas, about a three hour drive to the park on Interstate 15.

The second closest major airport is in Salt Lake City [4], about a five hour drive on I-15.

By bus

There is no public transportation into the park. Tour buses can be arranged through travel agencies, and Greyhound buses visit the cities of Salt Lake City, Cedar City, St. George, plus Las Vegas in Nevada. For Utah Greyhound information call +1 435 586-9465.


A $25 entrance fee is required for all private vehicles entering the park that is good for seven days; the America the Beautiful pass may be purchased for $80 that waives entrance fees for all federal lands for one year. Motorcycles, individuals on foot, and bicyclists are charged a $12 entrance fee. Private vehicles which only visit Kolob Canyons still need to pay the $25 entrance fee (good for the whole park).

Zion Canyon map
Zion Canyon map

By car

The majority of the park is accessible by car, although Zion Canyon is accessible only by the free shuttle from April through the end of October. Large vehicles, (7'10" in width or 11'4" in height), (RV's, buses, trailers, 5th wheels, and some camper shells) that wish to travel the length of the park, require an escort to be stationed at both ends of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Large vehicles have trouble staying in their lane while traveling through the tunnel. Escort costs are $15 per vehicle, valid for two trips through the tunnel during a seven day period. Very large vehicles, including those taller than 13'1", may be prohibited from entering the tunnel.

During the winter Zion roads are plowed and sanded, except the Kolob Terrace road, which is closed. Be prepared for winter driving conditions, including potentially icy roads, from November through March.

By shuttle

From mid-March through the end of October, Zion uses a shuttle system to eliminate congestion in the canyon. The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to all private vehicles during this time (except those with a red pass that are staying at the Zion Lodge). Shuttles are fully accessible, with extra room for bikes, backpacks, and climbing gear.

Zion operates two different shuttle routes. One goes through the town of Springdale (see the Get around section on Springdale), and terminates at the Park entrance, within walking distance of the visitor center.

The other route goes through Zion Canyon and has 9 stops: the Visitor Center, the Zion Human History Museum, Canyon Junction, Court of the Patriarchs, Zion Lodge, Grotto, Weeping Rock, Big Bend, and the Temple of Sinawava.

Frequency of the Zion Canyon route depends on the time of day. In Spring and Fall the shuttle runs from 6:45AM-10PM every day, with 7-15 minute frequency. In the Summer (mid-May to early September) the shuttle runs from 5:45AM-11PM every day, with 6-15 minute frequency, and 30 minute frequency in the very early morning and late evening.

By foot

The beautiful scenery of the park makes a hike practically a mandatory event. Some of the best hikes in the National Park System are in Zion, including Angels Landing and the Zion Narrows. The park offers trails of varying difficulty and length, suitable for twenty minute strolls or multi-day backpacking trips.

By bike

Zion is one of the most bike friendly parks in the National Park System. Bicycles are an excellent option for traveling the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Shuttle buses are equipped with bike racks for those wishing to ride only part of the way. Bicycles are permitted only on established roads and the Pa’rus Trail which goes from the Watchman Campground to Canyon Junction. If you're riding from the south entrance into Zion Canyon, take the Pa'rus Trail since it's safer than the main road.

Cyclists must obey traffic laws. Bicycles are not allowed on hiking trails (except the Pa'rus Trail) or off-trail. Ride defensively; automobile traffic can be heavy and drivers may be distracted by the scenery. Park shuttles will not pass bicycles, so use turnouts to allow them to pass. Riding through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel is prohibited; bicycles must be transported through the tunnel by motor vehicle. Usually the ranger (escort) at the tunnel will ask those driving a truck if bikers can hop in the back of their trucks. If you aren't bringing your own bike there are a few rental agencies in Springdale.

By guided tour

A number of companies provide guided tours of Zion National Park that include transportation from the surrounding areas. Some companies will provide bus travel from nearby towns while others begin in Zion National Park. Some will provide just a brief tour with small stops, while others may take you on a hike, and arrange all your meals.

  • Hydros Adventures Tours, 928-310-8141. [5] Offers one day and overnight hiking, rafting, backpacking, and adventure tours to Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon, Northern Arizona, and Southern Utah. Pickups in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon area.
Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway
Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway
  • Zion Canyon Visitor Center, +1 888 518-7070, [6]. Located near the south entrance and the main access to the Zion Canyon Shuttle. There's some interesting exhibits to help further plan your visit, like topographical models of the park and video screens. Rangers are on hand to answer all your questions. There's also a nice bookstore.  edit
  • Zion Human History Museum, on the main road, 1/2 mile north of the south entrance to the park, [7]. 10AM-5PM Daily, longer hours in the summer. Closed November through February. Exhibits about human activity in the park and an orientation film shown every half-hour. The Zion Canyon Shuttle stops here from April through October.  edit
  • Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The 6 mile road through Zion Canyon leads past some of the most fantastic rock formations in the world, with colorful sandstone cliffs rising 2,000 to 3,000 feet from the canyon floor. The seemingly mild Virgin River has almost single handedly created this canyon over a period of 13 million years, with much of the work happening during periods of intense flash flooding. The road into the canyon is closed to private vehicles from mid-March until November.
  • The Narrows. This hike is accessible from Zion Canyon, but the full hike begins in East Zion and ends in Zion Canyon. The Narrows is an extremely popular off-trail hike. The route follows the North Fork of the Virgin River, along the floor of a very narrow canyon with impossibly high walls. This trek is one of the park's most amazing destinations. The full hike is a 16-mile one-way trip. The Narrows may close at times due to high waters or flash-flood danger. Wading will be required, so wear footwear and leg coverings that can get wet. Water depth in June 2007 was approximately mid-thigh. The river flows right up to the canyon walls for much of the hike, so you can't avoid wading. Sturdy hiking poles will help navigate the river.
  • Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. A 10-mile road that connects the east and south entrances. One of the highlights of the drive is a mile-long tunnel, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, that was completed in 1930. East of the tunnel is Checkerboard Mesa, a sandstone mountain that is etched with fantastic cross-bedding of lines and shapes, made through the forces of erosion. The surrounding slickrock area is full of similarly amazing rock formations.
  • Kolob Canyons. Located in the parks northwestern corner, Kolob Canyons is a less-crowded area of the park that contains beautiful red-rock canyons, incredible overlooks, and lush scenery. A visitor center is located at the entrance to Kolob Canyons, just off of Interstate 15.
  • Kolob Terrace. To get to this remote and beautiful area turn off Highway 9 at Virgin. Follow the Kolob Reservoir Road for 21 miles to the park boundary at Lava Point.



Simply driving through Zion is an incredible experience, but to enter Zion and not take at least a short walk would be almost foolish. The park is a hiker's mecca! The trails are of varying difficulty and length, ranging from easy strolls to steep climbs or backcountry hikes. The park information desk provides detailed information and overview maps for the main day hikes and trails ranging from short strolls to strenuous hikes of several hours. Longer backcountry hikes with overnight camping have to be discussed with the park rangers in order to reserve spots for the limited back country camp sites in the park.

The most famous trail, and arguably the most spectacular, is the 2.5 mile strenuous climb up to Angel's Landing. Of the easy walks, Weeping Rock and the Emerald Pools Trails are classics. For those seeking a longer, full-day hike, the classic Zion hikes are along the East and West Rims. And for serious backpacking, the Trans-Zion route is the full 48 mile hike across the entire park, from Lee's Pass in the west of the Kolob Canyons to the east entrance of the Park.

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Zion Canyon trails

A View on the Pa'rus Trail
A View on the Pa'rus Trail
  • Pa'rus Trail (3.5 mile / 5.6 kilometer round-trip). Trailhead is at Canyon Junction. An easy paved hiking/biking trail that follows the North Fork of the Virgin River from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center past the South Campground to the Zion Canyon Junction shuttle stop. This is the only trail in the park that allows pets or bicycles.
  • Court of the Patriarchs (100 yards round-trip). Trailhead is at the Court of the Patriarchs shuttle stop. A very short trail leading to a view of the Three Patriarchs and the Sentinel.
  • Weeping Rock (0.5 mile / 0.8 kilometer round-trip). Trailhead is at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop. A short but mildly steep, paved trail ends under a rock alcove with dripping springs. In the spring and summer, hanging gardens of wildflowers decorate the walls.
  • Riverside Walk (2.0 mile / 3.3 kilometer round-trip). Trailhead is at the Temple of Sinawava at the end of Zion Canyon. An easy paved trail follows the North Fork of the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow, high-walled canyon. The canyon is lush, with hanging gardens, trees, and wildflowers in spring and summer. A great walk if it's hot: the trail is shady and you can wade in the river. This is also the main access to the Zion Narrows.
The Court of the Patriarchs
The Court of the Patriarchs
  • Canyon Overlook (1.0 mile / 1.6 kilometer round-trip). Trailhead is at the east end of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. If you only have enough time to drive through the park without getting on the shuttle, make this your hike. This moderately difficult trail leads over rocky, uneven terrain to a spectacular viewpoint of lower Zion Canyon and Pine Creek Canyon.
  • Lower Emerald Pool (1.2 mile / 1.9 kilometer round-trip). Trailhead is across the highway from the Zion Lodge. This is an easy paved trail that leads to the lower pool, just below the middle pools.
  • Middle Emerald Pools (2.0 mile / 3.3 kilometer round-trip). Trailhead is across the highway from the Zion Lodge. A moderately difficult trail to the middle pools. Swimming, wading, or bathing is prohibited in all four Emerald Pools due to dangerous bacteria in the water and in order to protect the aquatic wildlife and preserve this fragile area. Careful: Steep cliffs, there has been at least one death from falling at one of the middle pools.
  • Watchman (2.0 mile / 3.3 kilometer round-trip). The trailhead is near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, just across the Virgin River. This moderate trail ends at a view point of lower Zion Canyon, Oak Creek Canyon, and the town of Springdale. It is recommended that the trail be taken at the beginning or end of the day due to the heat.
  • Hidden Canyon (2.0 mile / 3.2 kilometer round-trip). This trailhead is at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop. A strenuous climb, with cliff side hiking, that is not for anyone who isn't in good physical condition or is fearful of heights. The trail climbs a steep cliff that offers incredible views of Weeping Rock, Big Bend, Angels Landing and the valley below. Chains have been put into the cliff near the end of the trail to provide handholds. The trail ends at the mouth of a narrow side canyon, which you can explore if you wish. Keep your eyes open for the arch located inside the canyon.
Angels Landing
Angels Landing
  • Angels Landing (5.0 mile / 8.6 kilometer round-trip). The trailhead is at the Grotto. A steep, strenuous hike up the West Rim Trail to the Angels Landing Trail, which is a 0.5 mile / 0.8 kilometer spur. The trail follows a steep, narrow ridge with chains added to provide handholds. This spectacular trail ends at a magnificent overlook of Zion Canyon and the Virgin River. For those in good physical condition and not afraid of heights, this hike is a must.

Those afraid of heights can stop and turn around at 'Scouts' Overlook' where the final vertiginous ascent to Angel's landing starts. The hike to Scouts' Overlook only is strenuous but less exposed.

  • Observation Point (8.0 mile / 12.0 kilometer round-trip). The trailhead is at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop. This is a strenuous climb through Echo Canyon to Observation Point, offering excellent views of Zion Canyon. The trail gives access to other East Rim plateau trails: East Rim, Cable Mountain and Deertrap Mountain.
  • West Rim to Cabin Spring (10.0 mile / 17.2 kilometer round-trip). The trailhead is at the Grotto. This hike travels north through Refrigerator Canyon, up Walters Wiggles, through the basin refered to as Little Siberia and then finally ascends switchbacks blasted out of the solid rock face to the southern tip of the "West Rim". At one time a cabin existed near a small spring and was used as a remote station for Rangers. The views from the southern end of the West Rim are beautiful indeed, and in the spring months there may be water available, but should be filtered or purified.
  • West Rim Trail from Lava Point (16.0 mile / 25.75 kilometer one-way). The full West Rim Trail is one of the best backcountry hikes that Zion (or any park, really) has to offer, and is the most popular section of the Trans-Zion backpacking route. It is best hiked top-down (north to south) both to avoid the extreme incline gain you would face going the other way around, and because the scenery starts out beautiful and with each steps becomes more and more spectacular until you hit the climax at the entrance to Zion Canyon at Angel's Landing. (This is also a great way to introduce yourself to Zion, if you haven't yet seen the main canyon.) It's possible to hike the whole trail in one day, although that would be incredibly strenuous hiking from south to north, but a two-day hike is far better to linger along the magnificent views, and to have plenty of time to enjoy the Angel's Landing hike at the end. There is a short spur at the top of the trail leading to Lava Point Overlook, which at 7890 feet is the highest point in the park, and as you might expect offers some magnificent views. This spur can easily be hiked in a couple hours round trip from the trailhead, for those not doing the full trail. At the south end of the trail, a hike up Angel's Landing is a must. At the north (west) end, the trail connects with the Wildcat Canyon Trail, which in turn connects to the Kolob Canyons section of the park.

Kolob Canyon and Kolob Terrace Trails

  • Timber Creek Overlook (1.0 mile / 1.6 kilometer round-trip). Departing from the Kolob Canyons picnic area (at the end of Kolob Canyons Road), this easy trail follows the ridge top to small peak which offers views of Timber Creek, Kolob Terrace and Pine Valley Mountains.
  • Taylor Creek (5.0 mile / 8.6 kilometer round-trip). The trailhead is on the Kolob Canyons Road, 2 miles east of the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center. This trek follows the Middle Fork of Taylor Creek past two homestead cabins to a gorgeous double arch alcove. Watch your kids since rattlesnakes are common on this trail.
  • Kolob Arch (14.0 mile / 22 kilometer round-trip). The trailhead is at Lee Pass, 4 miles up the highway from the Visitor Center. A strenuous hike or backpack from Lee Pass (on Kolob Canyons Road) along Timber and LaVerkin Creeks to Kolob Arch, the world’s second longest freestanding arch.
  • Northgate Peaks (4.0 mile / 6.4 kilometer round-trip). This is the only easy, day-hike friendly trail in the Kolob Terrace section of the park. There are certainly more exciting trails to be found in Zion, but here you'll find solitude, and have a great excuse to drive up the beautiful and remote Kolob Terrace Rd to the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead.
  • Wildcat Canyon Trail (6.0 mile / 9.7 kilometer one-way) and the Connector Trail (4 mile / 6.4 kilometer one-way). These trails are used pretty much exclusively by backpackers, especially those aiming to hike the full Trans-Zion route, of which these two trails are the middle section, connecting the Kolob Canyons and Main sections of the park. Neither has the sort of spectacular rock formations and red slickrock for which the park is famous, and aren't really worth seeking out as day hikes, although Wildcat Canyon is certainly beautiful in its own quieter and thickly forested way. The Connector Trail is likely the park's most boring hike, as it exists mostly just so that backpackers can get from one section of the park to the other without hiking along the road. The Wildcat Canyon Trail runs from the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead in the west to the West Rim Trail near the Lava Point Trailhead; the Connector Trail runs from the west section of the former trail to the Hop Valley Trailhead in the west, where it connects with the Hop Valley Trail.
The Great White Throne
The Great White Throne

Zion offers the photographer a unique and incredible landscape with many opportunities to explore color, texture, and light. Animal life, while not as obvious as in some other parks, offers some opportunity for wildlife photography.

Horseback riding

On horseback permits are not required for day trips, but are required for overnight trips. The maximum group size for horseback trips is six animals. For overnight trips the maximum stay in any single location is one night. Stock must be hobbled or tethered to reduce damage to vegetation. To reduce the spread of noxious and exotic weeds all stock must be fed only certified weed-free hay one day prior to entering the backcountry, and when using park trails. When traveling by horseback on trail areas stock must remain on trails. Free-trailing or loose herding is not allowed. Animals must be kept at a slow walk when passing hikers. When standing, stock must be kept at least 100 feet from drainages.

Stock may be used in these areas:

  • Trails: La Verkin Creek, Hop Valley Wildcat Canyon, West Rim (above Cabin Springs), East Rim (above rim, includes Cable Mountain and Deertrap trails), Sand Bench (November through February only).
  • Off-trail areas: Coalpits Wash, Huber Wash, Scoggins Wash, Crater Hill.

Guided trail rides can be arranged with park concessionaires:

  • Canyon Trail Rides, Zion Lodge, +1 435 772-3810 (in season), +1 435 679-8665 (off season), [8]. Guided trail rides are offered from March through October. Reservations are advised and can be made by calling or in-person at the Zion Lodge.  edit
The Subway
The Subway

Rock Climbing and Canyoneering

Climbing in Zion or entering technical slot canyons requires appropriate hardware and skills. Individuals interested in climbing or canyoneering should check for information at the visitor center and be aware that some routes may be closed when peregrine falcons are breeding or conditions are unsafe.

Canyoneering is popular in Zion, but most canyoneers stick to easier canyons such as Orderville Canyon, Subway and even Keyhole and Pine Creek while others venture out to Behunin Canyon, Mystery Canyon, Lodge Canyon, Echo Canyon, Das Boot, Englestead Hollow, Spry Canyon, Icebox Canyon, Kolob Canyon and just outside the park Birch Hollow and Fat Man's Misery. Few attempt Imlay and Heaps, considered perhaps the most difficult technical canyons in the park.

  • Ranger Programs - Daily activities held April-October include interpretive talks, hikes, shuttle tours, and evening programs at the Zion Human History Museum, Zion Canyon Visitor Center and the campgrounds. Topics cover geology, biology, and human history. Check the Zion Canyon Visitor Center or museum for times.
  • Junior Ranger Program - Zion offers the typical park, Junior Ranger program, where parents help children obtain an activity booklet from the visitor center. Kids complete the self-guided program to earn a badge.
  • Junior Explorer Program - This is a unique and impressive class room activity for kids ages 6-12. Sign up at the Zion Nature Center, located at the entrance to the South Campground. Most kids love this program!
Checkerboard Mesa is one of the landmarks found on the east side of Zion National Park.
Checkerboard Mesa is one of the landmarks found on the east side of Zion National Park.
  • Zion Lodge, Zion National Park, 888.29.PARKS (, fax: 303.297.3175). 8AM-10PM. Offers a comprehensive gift shop with a variety of Zion related items.  edit
  • Zion Natural History Association (ZNHA), Zion Canyon Visitor Center. Offers a comprehensive bookstore stocking a large variety of Zion related things including books of local interest, postcards, prints, film, posters, video, clothing, maps and other souvenir items. Camping supplies, groceries, and other necessities must be purchased outside of the park.  edit
  • Zion Human History Museum, Located 1/2 mile north of the park's south entrance on the main park road, [9]. 10AM-5PM Daily, longer hours in the summer. Closed November through February. The museum also carries a few books, postcards, maps and other items of interests to park visitors.  edit

Nearby Springdale (outside the south entrance to the park) offers a large variety of gift shops, two small grocery stores, candy and specialty shops, most within walking distance of each other. On the east side of the park, Mount Carmel Junction is more rustic, but there are some quality gift shops and a small gift and grocery store right outside the entrance to Zion.


The only food sold within the park is located at the beautiful Zion Lodge.

  • Red Rock Grill, in Zion Lodge, +1 435 772-7760. 6:30-10AM, 11:30AM-3PM, 5:30-9PM. Offers sit-down meals and gorgeous views while dining. The decor is charming and the wonderful rock waterfall is serene to listen to while eating. The food is American with a home-style flair. You will usually find fish, beef, burgers, sandwiches, salads and pasta on the menu. There is a salad bar at dinner and some nice desserts. The dining room is open for breakfast and lunch and reservations are required for dinner. $11-$20.  edit
  • Castle Dome Cafeteria, in Zion Lodge, +1 435 586-9476. Daily April-October 7AM-9PM (shorter hours in spring and fall). This seasonal cafe has grab-and-go food such as coffee, rolls, burgers, fries, hot dogs and ice cream cones. $3-$8.  edit

There are dining options at both entrances of the park. Both sides of the park refrain from building any fast food chains, but they do offer unique and tasty dining option. Springdale offers a nice selection of restaurants including pizza, oriental, American and Mexican food. There are also some good options on the east side of the park in and near Mount Carmel Junction. Buffalo seems to be a popular dish on the east side, and most of the food is American served with a western flair.

  • Zion Lodge, +1 435 772-7700. Offers full liquor service. Utah State law requires you to order food when drinking.  edit
  • Best Western, +1 435 772-3200. 8AM-10PM. This hotel in nearby Springdale maintains a Utah state liquor store.  edit

All water in Zion National Park should be treated by filtering or purifying before use. The Giardia parasite, which can cause a nasty and persistent gastrointestinal disturbance, is common in the water here. There is potable water available at the visitor center, museum, Grotto, and the campgrounds in the park.



There is only one lodge within the park. The towns of Springdale and Mount Carmel Junction are located just outside of the park and have numerous places to stay, as do further afield towns such as Hurricane and Apple Valley.

  • Zion Lodge, (in the canyon, three miles north on the Zion Scenic Drive), +1 435 772-7700 (, fax: +1 435 772-7792), [10]. checkin: 4PM; checkout: 11AM. The lodge is open year-round and has 40 cabins and 80 motel rooms. Cabins include two double-size beds, full bath, and fireplace. Motel rooms include either queen-sized beds or a single king-sized bed, air conditioning, and full bath. The restaurant and cafe here are the only options within the park. $130-$150 (seasonal).  edit


There are two campgrounds within the main section of the park:

  • Watchman Campground, Located near the south entrance (just across the Virgin River from the Visitor Center). Open year-round. This campground offers sites on a first-come, first-serve basis from November through March, while reservations may be made up to five months in advance during the rest of the year $16 per site without electric hookups, $18 per site with electric hookups, and $20 per site for river sites.  edit
  • South Campground, Located near the south entrance (just north of the Visitor Center). Open March-October. All sites in the South Campground are first-come, first serve. If you're willing to not make any reservations, see if you can get a site here instead of at Watchman, since the campsites generally have more shade and are closer to the Virgin River. $16 per site, per night.  edit

Both of these campgrounds provide restrooms, picnic tables, RV dump, drinking water and utility sinks.

  • In the Kolob Terrace section of Zion, there are six primitive sites at Lava Point. The sites are usually open from June to November, but the road will close in the winter due to snow. There is no water at the campground.


All backcountry camping requires a permit, which is available for a fee at the visitor center. Maximum group size for backcountry usage is twelve people.

Walk-in permits are issued the day before a canyoneering trip. Backpacking permits are issued up to three days prior to the trip date. Permits given out are limited and issued only when the backcountry desk at the visitor center is open. Express Permits allow participants to obtain a permit on-line. Sign-up every three years is required and must be in person and at the backcountry desk. Due to the popularity of the "Subway" and Mystery Canyon, a lottery has been setup to dole out permits for these two technical slot canyons.

Reservations can be revoked in the event of adverse environmental conditions such as flash flood danger. Hikers are required to obtain a permit in person at the backcountry desk the day before or day of a hike.

Pristine Zones allow up to 12 people, and hiking/canyoneering in these zones usually requires technical gear and equipment: Mystery Canyon, Imlay Canyon, Kolob Canyon, Behunin Canyon, Heaps Canyon , Echo Canyon, Spry Canyon, Englstead Hollow, Bulloch Canyon, Ice Box, and the Upper Right Fork of North Creek.

Primitive Zones allow up to to fifty visitors: Orderville Canyon, Pine Creek Canyon, Keyhole Canyon, and the Subway.

Stay safe

Weather conditions are posted at the visitor center, but flash floods can occur in the park without warning. The danger is not limited to just hiking in slot canyons. People have been washed off trails to their deaths during flash floods. Although it's gorgeous when the rain pours, it's not a safe time to be on the trails. Flood waters originate upstream, so a flood may occur when the weather does not seem bad overhead. If hiking in a narrow canyon and the water begins to rise even slightly or get muddy, begin looking for higher ground.

Remember to be careful of steep cliffs; people have died falling when they venture too close to the edge. Loose sand and pebbles on stone are extremely slippery. Be extra careful near the edge when using cameras or binoculars. Never throw or roll rocks; there may be hikers below. Stay on the trail, stay away from the edge, observe posted warnings, and if you have children with you, watch them carefully!

Get out

Towns outside of the park offering amenities include:

Zion National Park lies near the Canyon Country region of Utah. Other nearby parks are:

  • Bryce Canyon National Park - Bryce Canyon National Park is located 72 miles from the east entrance and offers a colorful landscape of eroded orange and yellow pillars set amongst a natural amphitheater.

In addition, other nearby destinations include:

  • Las Vegas - 150 miles west of the south entrance of the park along Interstate 15. Sin City generally needs no introduction, but for those not interested in gambling it can make a great meal stop, especially after a week or more of backpacking in the wilderness.
  • Gooseberry Mountain Biking - Excellent slick rock trails located near Zion National Park to the southwest, east of Hurricane.
Routes through Zion National Park
Junction Springdale  W noframe E  Mount Carmel JunctionEND
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