One of America's most popular national parks lies in the southwestern corner of Utah. Zion National Park attracts more than four million visitors a year who come to hike, view the beauty of colorful canyons, wade through the park's Virgin River and camp out beneath a luminous night sky, full of stars. There are many natural wonders to experience within the park's 229 square miles of wonder you won't want to miss.
For a full dose of dramatic nature, drive along this road that runs along the canyon floor. You'll be cutting through tall cliff walls on both sides of the road and have fantastic views of some of the park's most famous sites. If you prefer, you can opt to take a shuttle bus run by park employees. Hop off the bus at any scenic site or trailhead and explore on your own. You can also bring a bike along, as there are racks on the bus for storage.
For experienced hikers, there's an outstanding reward after a climb to Angel's Landing. You'll follow a trail up the side of a mountain and along a narrow ridge. The 5.4-mile round trip encompasses high elevations and narrow steppes with long drops. This journey is not for the faint of heart. At trail's end, you will be 1,500 feet above the valley below.
The Narrows cuts through the canyons and follows the Virgin River. It's best to hike this slot canyon trail in the summer when the river has receded, and you can safely pass through. You will still get a little wet, though, as you go through areas where the walls are so close, there is little shore to navigate along this most popular Zion National Park trail. Turn around and at any point to make this hike as long as you desire, though the complete journey, when taken, is a somewhat difficult 16 miles long.
There are much easier hikes that will also take you to gorgeous natural features.
If you approach Zion National Park at the east gate, you'll quickly come across Checkerboard Mesa. Stop, if possible, in one of the pull-out spots to admire and photograph this unique, gray-and-pink rock formation that has cracks going in two different directions to resemble the squares of a checkerboard. Thousands of years of wind patterns helped form this amazing natural wonder.
Before exploring Zion, learn about the culture and history of the people who lived on the grounds hundreds of year ago. You can view an informative 22-minute film about the park, which gives you a nice overview of Zion. Interesting exhibits that feature Native American culture, pioneer settlements and the ecological environments that affect the national park are also illustrated.
Ride the canyon trails on horseback along the river from March until October. A one-hour tour led by an authorized concessioner takes you along the Virgin River. There are also three-hour trips along Sand Beach Trail that afford a wonderful view of the park's Southern end. Truly this is an superb adventure to explore the canyon with knowledgeable guides.
The sandstone cliff walls of Zion National Park are famous for rock climbing and canyoneering enthusiasts. You'll find most climbers take advantage of the temperate weather conditions in spring and fall and avoid the blistering heat of the unshaded walls in the summer. There are two bouldering areas in the park's main canyon. Drilled Pocket Boulder faces south and is on the west side of the south entrance to the park. You need a permit if you plan on camping overnight during your climb but will not need one for day climbs. Appropriate gear, courses, and information can be gathered in the nearby town of Springdale.
There are three different campgrounds within Zion National Park:
Both Watchman and South Campgrounds provide you with beautiful desert scenery and sites that are well spaced out. There is very little shade, so the area gets quite hot in sunny weather. These two campgrounds are near the West Gate entrance, close to Springdale. The more primitive Lava Point Campground is very small, with just six sites, and higher up, at a nearly 8,000-foot elevation. It's on Kolob Terrace Road, about a 50-minute drive from the south entrance of Zion Canyon.
For a majestic drive with hairpin turns, a rapid climb and two tunnels cut into rock, drive the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway for an unforgettable experience. The entire ride takes 30 minutes, with lots of photo opportunities along the way. One of the tunnels is 1.1 miles long and has windows that let you look over a cliff face as you drive through.