Zion National Park
Towering cliffs and canyons welcome visitors to Zion National Park. It’s in South Eastern Utah, about half way between Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, near St George. A National Park since 1919, Zion attracts millions of visitors a year, and it’s easy to see why. It is an adrenalin-junkie’s heaven, with plenty for others too.
Zion means peace or refuge in Hebrew. That’s the name early Mormon settlers gave it, for good reason. Sandstone bluffs and deep canyons shelter a wide range of plant and wild life. There are eight different strata of rock in Zion Canyon, laid over 200 million years, then eroded to inland seas, lakes and rivers. Zion Canyon is the heart of the park with its jaw-dropping scenery, but it’s not the only drawcard. There are many other smaller canyons in the park. Some are easy to access by road or short trails. Others require a bit of a trek or are only for experienced climbers or canyoneers.
There’s a huge array of ecosystems within this one park, from wetlands to dry dune desert in just 229sqm (593 km square). The park stretches from 3600ft to 8700 fet (1125-2720 meters) above sea level. Due to the wide differences in elevation, temperature and climate, there are over 900 different plant species. The vegetation along the river is relatively lush due to the available water and shelter of the surrounding bluffs and includes some wetland areas. In other places, water seeps out of the sandstone, creating small waterfalls, little oases and “hanging gardens” in the cliffs. There are also arid grasslands and desert, pinyan and juniper forests, ponderosa pines perched in the cliffs and mixed conifer and aspen forests on the high plateaus.
Getting there and getting around
If possible, it’s best to enter the park from the East, although most travel from Springfield in the South, and that where the shuttle buses leave. Cars are not allowed in the Zion Canyon in summer, but the shuttle buses run frequently and cycling the route is also popular. There is a $12 entrance fee per person, which lasts for 7 days.
There are two camp grounds near the south entrance with 300 sites but they fill up quickly. Half can be reserved. The other sites fill up quickly each day, so get in early. Zion lodge sits in the heart of the park, and there are campsites for longer trails.
As in most parks, get a backcountry permit and choose your campsite number to head away from the crowds for more than a day. It’s worth booking early for this popular park. Walkers going on a one way longer walk can use a car shuttle service.
There are many trails in the park. Here are a just a few.
· Pa’rus Trail links the 1.75 miles between the visitor’s centre and Canyon Junction and is an easy walk or bike ride.
· Angel’s Landing is a challenging steep climb that’s guaranteed to get the heart pumping, if not from the views and the sheer drops at the top, then the strenuous climb.
· Zion Narrows starts with the easy Riverside walk but continues along the river. It involves getting wet and some scrambling, so is a great introduction to canyoning.
· Northgate Peaks is a four mile mostly level walk in one of the more isolated areas of the park. It has great views that most park visitors miss.
· Kolab Arch is an impressive 310 feet (94m) high free standing stone arch in one of the more isolated corners of the park. It’s a bit of a hike to get there, but the journey traverses a variety of beautiful landscape.
· The 50 mile Trans-Zion trial takes in a few of the park’s trials from one corner of the park to another if you have a bit of time
There are trails through the southern desert part, but they are baking hot in summer. There are also many better options. Visitors are only likely to go there if they’ve exhausted other possibilities or have a particular penchant for deserts and carrying water.
Canyoning and rockclimbing
Zion is a mecca for rock climbing, with all those vertical and splendid rock. The adventure sport of canyoning was virtually invented here. Canyoning involves travelling up, down or along canyons, walking, climbing, abseiling, wading, swimming, scrambling. There are guided trips for novices or a good trip to start with is Zion Narrows.
Links and further information