Hidden Gems of Zion
Accommodations and Seasons
Zion National Park is located in southwest Utah, 40 miles east of the city of St. George. At the park's south entrance is an excellent visitor center and several campgrounds; just to the south is the village of Springdale, where you'll find a wide variety of restaurants and motels. Inside the park, motel units and cabins are found at Zion Lodge (call Xanterra at 303-297-2757 for reservations well in advance).
Zion Canyon is open all year, thanks to its relatively low elevation of 4,300 feet, but the hikes mentioned above are sometimes impossible during the dead of winter because of snow. May and October are the best months for a hiking trip, but even in the torrid summertime plenty of shade will be found.
For general information about Zion write the park at Springdale, UT 84767 or call them at (435) 772-3256. A map is mandatory for serious hikes, and by far the best is the Zion map published by Trails Illustrated (800-962-1643). This map and many guidebooks can be purchased at the visitor center.
Two inexpensive books are especially valuable. Exploring the Backcountry of Zion National Park, by Thomas Brereton (Zion Natural History Assn., 1997) describes 16 off-trail adventures. For those who prefer trail hikes, there's Hiking in Zion National Park, by Bob Lineback (Zion Natural History Assn., 1988).
High Points and Highlights
Highest spot in Zion: Horse Ranch Mountain, an undistinguished brushy hump in the far northwest part of the park; it's 8,726 feet high and not worth the effort.
Early humans in paradise: Anasazi people knew Zion Canyon two millennia ago; Piutes followed much later, and Mormons settled during the 1860s.
Park established: In 1909 the area was set aside as Mukuntuweap National Monument; perhaps because this name was unpronounceable, Zion National Park came into being ten years later.
Most unique trail sight: "Walter's Wiggles," on the Angel's Landing Trail, allow you to rise 140 feet in a series of 21 switchbacks, none more than 25 feet long.
Most impressive man-made feature: The mile-long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, constructed in less than a year in the late 1920s; for several decades it was regarded as the finest example of road building in North America.
Hardest-to-locate feature: Delicate Bridge Mountain Arch lies in plain sight if you look high up and due east from the visitor center, but you must know exactly where to look; ask a ranger if you can't find it.
Most delicate terrain: Cryptogamic soil, a spongy vegetative matting, is often seen in the backcountry; it takes decades to recover from footprints, but it's often easy to avoid.
Most fascinating geology: Colorful cross-bedded sandstone cliffs, recognized by crazily tilted striations, were layered sand dunes long before Zion Canyon existed.
Rarest critter: The Zion snail, a species endemic to the park.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication