Photo Courtesy of Jamie Hagan
Zion National Park is a land of red, orange, and yellow sandstone carved over millions of years by water and wind into the 2,000-foot-deep Zion Canyon and the park beyond. Established in 1919, Utah’s oldest national park covers nearly 150,000 acres, is teeming with wildlife and plants, and preserves… some 12,000 years of human history. Zion National Park is a feast for the senses and offers plenty of opportunities to hike, rock climb, ride horses, camp, or picnic.
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Get to know Zion’s most famous feature via a ride on the free shuttle bus to the canyon. Once oriented, exit the bus and explore natural features like the Emerald Pools and the Temple of Sinawava, a highly photogenic orange sandstone buttress at the head of Zion Canyon. Visit the park’s Visitor Center, Human History Museum, or Nature Center to learn about the park’s natural and cultural resources. Once you’ve got a good overview of the park, interact more deeply through hiking, horseback riding, or other activities. The play of light over Zion's sandstone at sunrise and sunset is astounding, so make sure to rise early or stay late at least once on your visit.
Zion National Park’s seasonal variations make visiting at any time of year a special experience. Zion Canyon's large cottonwood trees turn spectacular shades of yellow, gold, and orange in fall. Snowstorms blanket the park a couple of times each winter; snow and ice can linger at the higher elevations. Spring yields wildflowers and blooming cacti. Summer is monsoon season, with (sometimes violent) afternoon thunderstorms common. Walking around Zion Canyon in the rain, you'll see some of the park’s most magical sights: waterfalls everywhere! Make sure to avoid high areas and other places exposed to lightning, as well as narrow canyons, which can become instantly flooded with water.
The Zion Lodge is located within Zion Canyon, and is the only place in the park to obtain lodging, food, and drink. In and adjacent to the lodge you’ll find the Red Rock Grill, a restaurant open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as the Castle Dome Café, a grab-and-go-style café with indoor and patio seating. The lodge was originally designed in 1924 by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, famous for many (now-historic) building structures in national parks around the country. The lodge is worth a walk-through tour even if you don't stay the night. Springdale, a small town located just outside the park boundary, offers full lodging, dining, and logistics services.
Zion National Park is always open; park facilities' hours vary by season. The entry fee is $30 per vehicle and is valid for seven days. High season is April through September. From April to October, Zion Canyon can only be accessed by a free shuttle bus; the rest of the year you may drive a private vehicle. The closest major airport is McCarran International Airport (LAS). Springdale, Utah is the service-oriented town next to the park. Zion's animals are wild; it's illegal and dangerous to approach, touch, or feed them. The bottom of Zion Canyon is located at 4,000 feet altitude, and the park’s mountains rise another 3,000-plus feet. Reservations are necessary for the Zion Lodge and camping.