Grab your backpack, water bottle and protein bar and prepare yourself for the most humbling and awe-inspiring sights you'll likely ever see. The Zion National Park in southern Utah is a favorite for hikers, backpackers and climbers around the world. With the red and white cliffs of Zion Canyon rising high over the Virgin River, meadows of wildflowers, hanging gardens and high plateaus, you'll be hard pressed to find more breathtaking views in the US.
First settled when Mormon pioneer Isaac Behuni built his log cabin in 1863, today the park welcomes 2.7 million visitors a year. The weather in this area can vary greatly based on your elevation. Bare in mind, summers are very hot, reaching nearly 100 Fahrenheit during the day, and in the winter you mat expect a bit of snow. Also, pack your bug spray in the spring and summer months. The mosquitoes are in full bloom.
The valley of Zion National Park
The entire park is a sight to see in itself. Really you could just get lost driving around this park and taking in the most gorgeous, natural sights in the country.
Start your trip at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. It's the main access to the shuttle and is home to very interesting exhibits and plenty of rangers to help you plan your time in the park.
The most obvious way to spend your time is by enjoying the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The canyons on this path have been created by 13 million years of erosion from the Virgin River. Running 6-miles through the Zion Canyon, this path passes some of the most marvelous rock formations including colorful sandstone cliffs rising 3,000 feet into the air.
If you have a bit more time, travel the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway. The 14 miles road connects east and south entrances of the park. One of the most stunning highlights of the drive is a 1.1-mile long tunnel constructed in 1930. It's packed with stunning rock formations including the colorful Checkerboard Mesa.
For a less crowded area of the park, travel over to the Kolob Canyons. These red rock canyons are breathtaking and there are incredible overlooks for the best photo opportunities.
The Zion National Park is a hiker's dream come true. With trails of varying lengths and difficulties, there is a walk meant for every visitor. The park information desk can provide you with maps and advice for where to go.
One of the most beautiful hikes you can take is almost definitely Angels Landing. This 2.5-mile rigorous climb leads to a stunning view of the canyons. If you're not up for the challenging climb, though, there are easier treks including Weeping Rock and Emerald Pools.
For the more experienced hikers The Narrows path begins on the east side of Zion and ends at the Zion Canyon. This popular off-trail hike follows the Virgin River along its incredibly high walls of colorful sandstone. The full hike is a one-way 16-mile journey. Bear in mind, wading is probably involved in certain areas so this hike is not for beginners.
Many activities are available at the Zion National Park including horseback riding, rock climbing or canyoneering. Be warned, the appropriate hardware and skills are necessary. Be sure to check at the visitor center as some areas may be closed at certain times of the year.
For more information on the area, you can participate in one of the ranger programs. They offer talks, shuttle tours, evening programs and junior ranger programs for kids to earn badges as they explore the park.
Food and Dining
There are a variety of restaurants around the park entrances, but the only food sold in the park is at the Zion Lodge. The restaurant offers spectacular views of the park, but expect all the dishes to be very typically American. You can enjoy burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches and salads.
The majority of the park is accessible by car, but larger vehicles such as RVs may have a bit more trouble navigating through the more narrow tunnels.
Shuttles run from late March to the end of October. This shuttle system is meant to eliminate congestion within the park, and they are equipped with plenty of room for bikes, backpacks and climbing gear.
The area is extremely bike friendly, but bikes are not allowed on walking trails. Bikers must follow all traffic laws, and be sure to ride defensively - many times vehicle drivers are distracted by the scenery and may not see you on the road.
Obviously, exploring by foot is highly recommended.