Everything in Zion takes life from the Virgin River's scarce desert waters. Water flows, and solid rock melts into cliffs and towers. Landscape changes as canyons deepen to create forested highlands and lowland deserts. A ribbon of green marks the river's course as diverse plants and animals take shelter and thrive in this canyon oasis. From the beginning people sought this place, this sanctuary in the desert's dry reaches. The very name Zion, a Hebrew word for refuge, evokes its significance. Originally called Mukuntuweap by the Southern Paiutes, Zion celebrates its 100th year in 2009. Even though our personal world may be unsettled, sitting and gazing deep into the soul of this canyon, we might find contentment. John Muir suggested: "Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." Go directly to the Zion Photo Gallery.
Protected within Zion National Park's 229 square miles is a spectacular cliff-and-canyon landscape and wilderness full of the unexpected including the world's largest arch — Kolob Arch — with a span that measures 310 feet. Wildlife such as mule deer, golden eagles, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions also inhabit the park. Mukuntuweap National Monument was originally proclaimed July 31, 1909; incorporated into Zion National Monument in 1918; then established as a national park in 1919. There is a wide variance of elevation within the park, ranging from 3,666 to 8,726 feet. Zion National Park is located just north of Springdale, Utah and just 12 miles west of Mount Carmel Junction on Hwy. 9.
Be prepared for a wide range of weather conditions. Temperatures vary with changes in elevation and seasons. Day/night temperatures may differ by over 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Spring weather is very unpredictable. Stormy, wet days are common, but warm, sunny weather may occur too. Precipitation peaks in March and September. Spring wildflowers bloom from April through June, peaking in May. Summer days are hot (95-100° F.), but overnight lows are usually comfortable (65-70° F.). Afternoon thunderstorms are common from mid-July through mid-September. Storms may produce waterfalls as well as dangerous flash floods.
Fall days are usually clear and mild; nights are often cool. Autumn color displays begin in September in the high country, and in Zion Canyon in early November. Winters in Zion Canyon are fairly mild. Winter storms bring rain or light snow to Zion Canyon, but heavier snow to the higher elevations. Clear days may become quite warm, reaching 60° F.; nights are often in the 20s and 30s. Winter storms can last several days and cause roads to be icy, especially on the east side. Zion roads are plowed, except the Kolob Terrace Road, which is closed in winter. Be prepared for winter driving conditions from November through March.
The Zion Canyon Visitor Center is open year round with longer hours of operation in the summer months. A 22-minute orientation film is shown regularly at the Zion Human History Museum. Spring through Fall, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is open to shuttle buses only. Check the park website or the park guide for dates and times.
The Internet Brothers have visited Zion National Park a few times, first in 1998, most recently in July 2009 during the centennial celebration. On our most recent visit we explored the rim, canyons, and river—the three geologic features that make Zion so diverse.
No summer trip to Zion is complete without a hike through The Narrows, beginning at the Temple of Sinawava (the endpoint of the paved road through Zion Canyon). The Virgin River has carved a spectacular gorge in the upper reaches of Zion Canyon, 16 miles long, up to 2000 feet deep, and at times only 20-30 feet wide. The Zion Narrows; walking in the shadow of its soaring walls, sandstone grottos, natural springs, and hanging gardens can be an unforgettable wilderness experience. It is not, however, a trip to be underestimated. Hiking the Zion Narrows means hiking in the Virgin River. At least 60% of the hike is spent wading, walking, and sometimes swimming in the stream. There is no maintained trail; the route is the river. The current is swift, the water is cold, and the rocks underfoot are slippery. Flash flooding and hypothermia are constant dangers. Good planning, proper equipment, and sound judgment are essential for a safe and successful trip. If you pay attention to these warnings, The Narrows is an absolutely unforgettable experience. Get an early start (just past dawn) and beat the crowds.
Unfortunate for those who never venture off the beaten path and stick just to Zion Canyon, they will miss a lot, for there are other parts of the national park that are stunning in their own right. The Kolob Terrace Road and Kolob Canyons are two such places. The terrace road slices right through the center of the park between Zion and Kolob Canyons. As a result, there are many hiking trails off the road that will take you to either of the featured canyons. The beginning of the Kolob Terrace Road is not actually in the park; it starts in the little town of Virgin, about 13 miles west of Springdale. Look for the sign pointing to the Kolob Reservoir. It is a paved road that winds back and forth, up and down, into the national park and back out, approximately 20 miles to its end at the reservoir. Along the way you will climb several thousand feet in elevation, pass by Hop Valley, Lava Point, and Kolob Reservoir, see the back side of many of the sandstone features you recognize from Zion Canyon, and enjoy mountain forests, meadows, streams and lakes.
Kolob Canyons, in the far northwest corner of the park, is higher in elevation than Zion Canyon, its view points are of steep spectacular canyons, and it is the closest access to Kolob Arch (7-miles), possibly the largest free-standing arch in the world. From the main park visitor center, it is approximately a one hour, 42 mile drive west on Hwy-9 to La Verkin, then north on Hwy-17, to I-15, exit 40. The Kolob Canyons Visitor Center is located just east of exit 40. There is a 5-mile scenic drive with numerous pull-outs and overlooks that you can access with your personal vehicle, as well as a myriad of hiking trails for those not satisfied with keeping to the pavement.
Don't forget the eastern part of Zion. It is perhaps our favorite part of the park to spend the evenings and wait for sunset. There are almost always bighorn sheep climbing on the sandstone cliffs in plain view. The slot canyons are numerous and just waiting for your exploration. The rock formations are astounding and simply fun to climb. We find quiet and solitude among the mesas and domes. You then get to Zion Canyon from the east side by way of the Zion Tunnel. Construction of the 1.1 mile Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel began in the late 1920's and was completed in 1930. At the time that the tunnel was dedicated, on July 4, 1930, it was the longest tunnel in the United States. The purpose of building the Zion Tunnel (and the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway) was to create direct access to Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon from Zion National Park.
Proceed to the Zion National Park Photo Gallery
National Parks Conservation Association — The gradual, accelerated warming of our planet will have disastrous consequences for America's national parks. But all is not lost. Although the situation seems dire, NPCA's report, Unnatural Disaster, says we can still halt the most severe effects of climate change if we take action now. The national parks offer a unique opportunity to draw attention to America’s priceless resources at risk, and to showcase opportunities to act to protect them.