Zion National Park
|Towers of Virgin and West Temple in Zion National Park, Utah (Bob Stefko/Photodisc/Getty) (John Clet Jones, Greater West Images)|
With the competition Zion faces from its neighboring national parks in the American SouthwestGrand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Canyonlandsjust standing out in this esteemed crowd would seem to require some noteworthy scenery. Zion delivers it in spades.
Like the Grand Canyon to its south, Zion has grandeur, and like Bryce Canyon to its northeast, Zion has delicately sculpted rock. Plus, within the park's 229 square miles lies a spectacular cliff-and-canyon playground. Sharp sandstone cliffs soar 2,000 feet above a labyrinth of narrow canyons cut through the soft sandstone by the Virgin River. In places, the deep canyons are barely 40 feet wide.
Zion's complexion changes with the seasons, from the cascades of snowmelt pouring over cliff walls in spring, to the lush green and colorful wildflowers of early summer, to the Technicolor wonder of autumna leaf-peeper's dreamand the deep silence and piercing beauty of multicolored sandstone spires piled high with snow and ice.
Take an adrenaline-pumping hike that ends with a sheer vertical drop. Or drive along the basement of the park, gradually making your way through tunnels or "windows" and up the face of the huge canyons. Or feed your imagination by staring at Mother Nature's sculpting handiwork at such landmarks as Angel's Landing, Checkerboard Mesa, and the Great White Throne.
Drive the Mount Carmel Highway
To get a feel for the full personality of Zion, take a tour along the Mount Carmel Highway. The road offers terrific views of Zion Canyon with its massive cliff walls, as well as the striking Great Arch of Zion, a blind arch carved high in a vertical cliff wall. Be sure to stop at the Canyon Overlook, reached via a moderately difficult one-mile trail that ends at a spectacular viewpoint of lower Zion Canyon.
Hike the Narrows
Where the Virgin River enters Zion National Park, its waters have carved a chasm 2,000 feet deep into the Markagunt Plateau. The river meanders 16 miles through a water-sculptured gorge of sandstone arches, grottoes, and soaring fluted walls. The route is the river; there is no maintained trail. River currents can be strong; once you have penetrated the canyon from its upper end, it is not easy to turn back. Good planning, proper equipment, and physical conditioning are essential for a safe and successful trip. People who hike the Zion Narrows assume a tremendous responsibility. Conditions can change rapidly; your safety depends on your own good judgment, constant attention, and adequate preparation. Moderate to excellent physical conditioning is recommended.
More on hiking in Zion National Park
Cycle the Pa'rus Trail
Not as much of a mecca as neighboring Moab or Bryce for bicyclists, Zion does offer some excellent biking trails for both the novice and expert pedaler. You can glimpse the future of Zion Canyon on the easy Pa'rus Trail, a paved, car-free alternative for bicyclists, pedestrians, and people with strollers or wheelchairs that opened in late 1994. The Pa'rus links bicyclists and hikers from the campgrounds and South Entrance with the auto-free scenic drive.
Along the Pa'rus Trail, you will cross Oak Creek, the Virgin River, and Pine Creek, the slow but steady stonecutters of Zion. You will also enjoy broad views of the cliffs of lower Zion Canyon. This trail is excellent for plant and wildlife viewing and offers splendid views of classic rock formations such as Moenave and Kayenta.
More on biking in Zion National Park
Spectate on Horseback
Nothing instills that Wild West feeling quite like touring the canyons on horseback. Novice riders can take a rather flat and short trot to the plateau, which overlooks the distinctive Checkerboard Mesa in the park. The more adventurous might choose an overnight excursion that will take them to the bottom of canyons and the tops of sculpted sandstone as the sun is setting. This is a great family adventure. Lodges within the park provide horseback riding as part of their accommodation packages, and information on guided rides can also be obtained at Zion Lodge.
Watch for Wildlife
Bring the binoculars and a pillow to perch your bottom onZion is rich in wildlife. You can spot them while on top of a canyon, hiking within the slots, on the roadway, or at your campsite. You might see the large chuckwalla lizard, the ringtail cat, beavers, mule deer, and gophers, as well as a diverse array of birds, including the rare peregrine falcon, golden eagles, ravens, and even roadrunners. And we couldn't leave out the poisonous Great Basin rattler and other non-poisonous snakes, as well as creepy crawlies like the tarantula! Anywhere along the Virgin River is a great place for spotting mammals, and the Weeping Rock area is particularly good for bird-watching.
Hike off the Beaten Path
A hike within the lesser-traveled Kolob canyons is perfect if you want to get off the tourist track a bit. Kolob Arch Trails is a popular backpacking trail because of the access to Kolob Arch, which, with a span measuring 310 feet, is one of the largest freestanding arches in the world. This trail follows Timber Creek past breathtaking views of the red cliffs and canyons above. Dropping almost 1,000 feet to La Verkin Creek, it will lead you to Kolob Arch. Many hikers stay overnight to allow time to explore Hop Valley, Willis Creek, and Beartrap Canyon.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication