Photo: Rene Schwietzke under a Creative Commons license.
The name Zion is interpreted by the Mormons as a place of safety or refuge. If this is true, then Zion National Park is aptly named. The park's 229 square miles are a dramatic landscape of sculptured canyons and soaring cliffs, located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert provinces. Only 150 miles from a very different kind of place - Las Vegas - Zion offers plenty of things to do for nature enthusiasts, including hiking trails that range from short jaunts to strenuous adventures.
Entrance fees: $20/vehicle for 7 days or $10/individual for 7 days Visitor centers: Kolob Canyons and Zion Canyon visitor centers are open daily, except December 25.
Other services: Museum, lodge, and three campgrounds
Watchman Campground. Open year-round. Reservations are available. 800-365-CAMP.
South Campground. Open from April through October. Operates on a first-come, first-served basis.
Lava Point Campground. Open from early June to mid-October. Operate on a first-come, first-served basis.
Zion Lodge. Open year-round. 303-297-2757.
Photo: Stuart Seeger under a Creative Commons license.
Visiting the Park
Elongated shadows cross the floor of Zion Canyon in the early morning, while sunlight bathes the tops of massive sandstone towers. Mormon settlers gave these natural wonders biblical names, such as the Altar of Sacrifice, the Court of the Patriarchs, and Angels Landing. But even without these appropriately reverential names, the great figures, hulking 2,000 feet above the canyon floor, command our respect and awe. This narrow, curving gorge seems to cut through time itself.
Zion is a canyon of spectacular and enormous scale. Its perpendicular cliffs are nearly 3,000 feet high. Its great rock figures are imposing and monolithic, as are the monumental buttresses, deep hanging canyons, rock landings, and alcoves that have been gouged out of the cliff faces.
In contrast to this grandeur, the upper end of Zion Canyon, just a few miles away, is so narrow that two people standing side by side can touch both of the canyon's rock walls. The canyon is so deep that the sun penetrates to its floor for only minutes each day.
Unlike other canyon parks - including Canyonlands, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon, where many visitors view the canyons from their rims - Zion draws visitors to its floor. From that vantage point, they look up at the stupendous perpendicular topography. Walking along the Virgin River, which created this scenic spectacle, park visitors gain a unique perspective on nature.
As they contemplate the great rock figures towering above them from the serenity of groves of Fremont cottonwood, willow, and box elder trees, which line the canyon floor, visitors feel the unusual serenity of this unique place. Here, only muted sounds interrupt the special reverence the canyon inspires: the song of a quail, water trickling down a side valley, or the wind blowing through the leaves.
The Top 6, Can't Miss Sites at Zion National Park