Established in 1909 as Mukuntuweap National Monument, the area expanded to be known Zion National Park in 1919. The name Zion is a Hebrew word referring to a place of safety or refuge, given to this canyon by Mormon pioneers settling southern Utah in the 1860s.
Zion features stunning scenery found nowhere else on earth. A geologic showpiece with sandstone cliffs among the highest in the world, Zion features one of the last mostly free-flowing river systems on the Colorado Plateau as well as a large, diverse plant and animal community.
This southern Utah park measures 229 square miles (147,551 acres). The elevation is its lowest at 3,666 ft (1,128 m) in Coal pits Wash in the southwest corner and at its highest at 8,726 ft (2,660 m) in Horse Ranch Mountain in the Kolob Canyons section.
Zion National Park contains the richest diversity of plants in Utah with almost 800 native species. Differences in elevation, sunlight, water, and temperature create ”microenvironments,” like hanging gardens, forested side canyons, and isolated mesas that lend to this diversity.
75 species of mammals, 271 birds, 32 reptiles and amphibians and 8 fish make their home in Zion National Park. Commonly seen animals include mule deer, rock squirrels, lizards, and many species of birds. Rare or endangered species include the Peregrine Falcon, Mexican Spotted Owl, Southwest Willow Flycatcher, desert tortoise, and the Zion snail, found nowhere else on earth.
Evidence of Ancestral Puebloans, formerly known as the Anasazi, date from about 2,000 years ago; Paiutes from about 800 years ago to present. Mormon settlers arrived in southern Utah in the 1860s. Park visitation in 1920 was 3,692; in 1996 it reached 2.5 million.
Zion National Park is a showcase of geology. Geologic processes have played an important role in shaping Zion. The arid climate and sparse vegetation allow the exposure of large expanses of bare rock and reveal the park’s geologic history. Zion is located along the edge of a region called the Colorado Plateau. The rock layers have been uplifted, tilted, and eroded, forming a feature called the Grand Staircase, a series of colorful cliffs stretching between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. The bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon is the top layer at Zion, and the bottom layer at Zion is the top layer at the Grand Canyon.
Must See & Do
Most visitors to Zion are here to hike and there are plenty of opportunities for that. The best hike is the Emerald Pools with its lower, middle and upper pools sectioned so you can customize your trip from a fairly easy walk to something more adventuresome. Angel’s Landing is a five mile hike that’s strenuous but extremely rewarding for those with no fear of heights. Get with a local guide for the ultimate Zion thrill-canyoneering! A true adventure where you often wade through water, repel off cliffs and squeeze yourself through narrow slot canyons.
April through October, the six mile upper Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible by National Park Service Shuttle. Private vehicles are not permitted in the canyon during this time. All other park roads including the Zion/Mt Carmel Route U-9 connecting Springdale to US Hwy 89 are open to private vehicles all year. The park shuttle is free with the entrance fee and operates from early morning until late evening. Shuttles are wheelchair accessible. Pets are not allowed on the shuttle.
Talks, Walks, Ride with a Ranger (Shuttle Tours), Evening Programs, Drop-In Programs, and Junior Ranger Program. A full schedule of ranger activities is available at the Zion Visitor Center.
Season is generally second week in March to early November. Join wrangler led 1-hour and half day trip horse rides following the Virgin River to the Court of the Patriarchs. Or for a longer ride to the Sandbench Trail, gradually ascending 500 feet giving spectacular views of the Southern end of Zion National Park. For more information and same-day reservations, contact Canyon Trail Rides (435) 679-8665.
Zion is Utah’s most popular park and the crowds can be overwhelming. Most locals prefer to visit during the off-season (November-April); while some of the trails may be closed the stunning scenery is always available.