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Zion National Park

National Parks and Recreation

Zion National Park is made up of deep and intricate canyons carved out of red sandstone by the Virgin River. The park is divided into two main areas, Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyon. This haven for outdoor enthusiasts covers 229 square miles of southwestern Utah. Although the park is located in an arid area, it has a diverse plant and animal population. Zion National Park is 320 miles from Salt Lake City, Utah and 153 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada. It is also home to Kolob Arch, one of the world’s largest freestanding arches. 


Zion National Park was discovered in 1908 during a Federal Land Survey. It was previously only known to Native Americans and some early Mormon pioneer settlers. After the survey, President William Howard Taft was made aware of the magnificent area and in 1909 he turned about 15,000 acres of the main canyon into a National Monument. It was called Mukuntuweap. In 1919 the park’s status was changed to a National Park and the name was changed to Zion. Visitors were few in numbers for many years because getting to Zion National Park was extremely difficult. Eventually roads were paved and railroads were built near the park. The number of visitors to the park started growing and now Zion National Park hosts over 1 million visitors on an annual basis.

The rock formations in the park are sedimentary. These formations are part of a large sequence of rock layers or levels that comprise what is called the Grand Staircase. The Grand Staircase extends from The Grand Canyon through Zion National Park and into Bryce Canyon National Park. The sediment was deposited over a span of 150 million years and can be seen in 9 different layers. The lowest, and oldest, layers were caused by a warm shallow sea; some were caused by lakes, streams, and ponds, while other layers were formed during a time when the area was an arid desert. Still others were formed in a shore-line atmosphere.

Over time, these formations were steadily raised more than 10,000 feet from where they were originally deposited. The Virgin River became much more powerful and cutting due to the added gravity and this resulted in deep gorges being sliced through the plateau. Flash flooding during rainy seasons in Zion National Park causes high water volume to cut even deeper into the main canyons.


Zion National Park Biology and Wildlife:

Plants in Zion National Park consist of cacti, grasses, ferns, wildflowers, trees, and shrubs. Because water leaks from some of the cliffs in the park there are beautiful hanging gardens in a few areas. There are over 800 species of plants that are native to the area. Trees grow along the Virgin River and its forks and tributaries. Some trees can also grow from cracks in the canyon walls in Zion National Park. During the hot summer months many types of flowers bloom in the evening or in the middle of the night. From the wildflowers blooming in the spring and summer, to the trees changing colors in fall, the plant life in the park is beautiful against its rocky backdrop.

There are over 400 species of animals in Zion National Park including, mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. There are over 250 species of birds ranging from small hummingbirds to large eagles. Lizards are a common sight in the summer. The only species of poisonous snake found in the park is the Western Rattlesnake.

The Narrows is probably the most popular hike in Zion National Park. The hikes length depends on your abilities but can be as long as 16 miles. It is very busy during the summer months but also most enjoyable then. The canyon is so narrow at points of the hike that the Virgin River covers the entire bottom and you must wade or swim to continue. Permits are required to hike here. There are a few designated camping areas along the trail but you must have a permit to stay there and you may only spend one night in the canyon. You must get you your permit the day before you start your overnight hike in Zion National Park. Flash floods are common in this area and have been deadly. Permits are given out at 3pm if the forecast is clear but get in line a few hours before that to make sure you get one.

The Subway is a slot-canyon hike within Zion National Park. It is strenuous and semi-technical and you must have a permit to enter the canyon. Most people hike it top to bottom and it is best to hike it with an experienced canyoneering guide. The hike is 9.5 miles long and takes 7 to 9 hours to complete. There is no serious rappelling involved but a 50 foot rope is helpful to lower packs and aid in getting down some cliff faces. The hike involves scrambling over boulders and climbing down waterfalls.

Another popular hike in Zion National Park is Weeping Rock. This is a very easy hike that is less than half a mile long. The trail is too narrow and steep for wheelchair access and strollers are not recommended. The hike takes you to weeping rock, an overhang that drips water and is covered in moss and ferns. Viewable from the hike are the Great White Throne, a rock formation, and Cable Mountain.

In 2010 - fees to enter Zion National Park are as follows: Private vehicles and RV’s are $30 per vehicle and are good for seven consecutive days. Bicycles, motorcycles, and pedestrians are $12 dollars per person, but will not exceed $25 for a family, for a seven day pass. Travel through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel requires a fee of $15 dollars which includes two trips through the tunnel in seven days. RV’s, dual wheeled trucks, trailers, and vehicles over 7’ 10” wide and/or 11’ 4” high require an escort through the tunnel as well. Permits are required in Zion National Park for some of the hikes and for overnight camping in the park. Permits are $10 for 1-2 people, $15 for 3-7 people and $20 for 8-12 people. If you plan to visit other national parks in the same year, you should consider purchasing an America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass for $80. It is good for one year from the date of purchase.

Activities available in Zion National Park include hiking, camping, rock climbing, horseback riding, bird watching, bicycling, photography, ranger-led programs, and the Zion Human History Museum.

The park is open most days of the year but may have differing hours depending on the season. Zion National Park has a shuttle system that will drop visitors off and pick them up from trail heads. There are two visitor centers in the park, one in Zion Canyon and one in Kolob Canyon, which will help you plan your visit.

Zion National Park
Springdale, UT 84767-1099
Visitor Information
Official Website

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