Zion National Park
Having driven over 40,000 miles through 35-40 states and 3 Canadian provinces, it’s hard to pick out “the prettiest place we’ve seen”. There are two places that we find ourselves talking about consistently though: Alaska and Utah. We’ve told you about Alaska plenty of times before, so we’ll get to Utah now.
After our trip to the Grand Canyon to hike Bright Angel, we headed north to Zion National Park for our first real experience of Utah. We had no idea of how phenomenal the entire Utah landscape is, not just in Zion, but throughout the state’s National Parks.
A Brief History Of Zion
The main feature of Zion National Park is Zion Canyon, a 15-mile long gorge cut up to a half-mile deep through the sandstone by the Virgin River. For those of us from the east, the river is more like a wide creek, but out west, this is a bona fide river.
The park is home to numerous climate zones, flora, and fauna.
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. Zion National Park includes mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, and natural arches.
People have inhabited the region for around 8,000 years, first as hunter-gatherers, then eventually as Anasazi, Paiute, and Ute settlements. European descendants began arriving in the late 1700s, eventually leading to Mormon settlement of the area for farming.
The name was originally Mukuntuweap, the supposed name given to the area by the Paiute, but eventually was changed to Zion because
“The name change played to a prevalent bias of the time. Many believed that Spanish and Indian names would deter visitors who, if they could not pronounce the name of a place, might not bother to visit it. The new name, Zion, had greater appeal to an ethnocentric audience.”
There’s no shortage of outdoor activities in Zion National Park. There’s backpacking, bird watching, camping, canyoneering, climbing, and rafting (when the Virgin River has enough water).
Hiking was our activity of choice. There are 18 different options for seeing parts of Zion on foot. We managed to fit in several miles of hiking from The Grotto up to the three Emerald Pools, then we rode the park shuttle out to the end and walked a bit of the path towards The Narrows.
There are trails that are flat and paved and trails that are quite strenuous, so there’s something for everyone here. The Emerald Pools trails are low to moderate difficulty and will get you up above the canyon floor where you can get some outrageous views looking out through the canyon.
The park shuttle is free and will take you from the park entrance all the way back to the Riverside path to the Narrows.
For those of you traveling with your dogs, Zion doesn’t have a kennel service, but there is the Doggy Dude Ranch about 15 minutes from the main entrance near Springdale. Knox had a great time there running around with other dogs and gives Doggy Dude Ranch four paws up.
We spent two days, but only one night in Zion due to the overwhelming crowd. The campgrounds were completely full, but we were lucky enough to secure one night in the Watchman Campground in an overflow spot they had. We had a non-electric tent site (which was just as well since our electric cooler had gone belly up by this point) that was $16 per night.
The easiest access to see Zion Canyon is through Springdale, UT. Be sure to take an hour to drive out through the east, though, because the landscape once you get through the tunnel is different, yet still beautiful.
Utah as a whole is a place that we really, really want to go back to. In particular, we’d love to spend more time off the beaten path in Zion hiking up to and beyond Angels Landing and into the wilderness. Here are 141 pictures to get you ready for your own trip to Zion.