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Zion National Park - Utah

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Zion Park Highlights

The Shuttle System

Most cars are banned from the busy Virgin River Canyon. Visitors now catch a shuttle from the new visitor center near Springdale for a bus tour of the canyon. The shuttle stops at all trailheads and scenic viewpoints. It runs during the busy season -- March through October.

One loop includes nine stops in Zion Canyon, and a second has six stops in the town of Springdale. Parking is available throughout Springdale and inside the south park entrance. It is possible to leave your vehicle in town and ride the shuttle to the new Zion Canyon Visitor Center, or park at the visitor center. The visitor center is the start of the Zion Canyon loop into the park. Visitors may get on and off the shuttle as many times as they wish. The cost of the shuttle system is included in the park entrance fee.

Zion provides a wonderful diversity of landscape and ecosystems. From the forests of the surrounding plateaus (up to 9,000 feet elevation) to the deep sandstone canyons and desert riverbottoms, Zion National Park is a fine testament to the geological forces of nature. In the case of this park, it is the Virgin River that has done most of the sculpting, as it cut its way through layer after layer of stone. It still flows through the park, relentlessly cutting through Zion Canyon.

This was once a desert of huge, blowing sand dunes. In dinosaur times, a shallow sea covered the dunes, and lime from sea animals and other sources seeped into the sand, cementing the sand and creating sandstone. There was an uplifting of land and the sea drained away, leaving the rivers to carve the sandstone into the dramatic canyons now found throughout southern Utah. Zion Canyon is certainly one of the most dramatic and beautiful of these sandstone gorges.

The Paiute name for the canyon was Mukuntuweap, and in 1909 President Taft gave the Paiute name to what was then a national monument. Local Mormon pioneers called the area Zion and lobbied for a change in name when the monument was enlarged in 1918. The next year, it became a national park, and it has since been enlarged by the addition of the Kolob Canyons area.

The park now covers about 147,000 acres. Zion, as a "heavenly place," had been home to the ancient Anasazi culture, and then the nomadic Paiute Indians roamed the region. The early Mormon pioneers found it no less attractive than its former inhabitants, and it is now preserved for us all to enjoy.

Getting There

Utah Highway 9 runs east and west through the southern reaches of the park, which contain the major attractions. The town of Kanab is 41 miles to the east and St. George 36, miles to the west. Cedar City is 55 miles northwest of the park headquarters, via Highways 9 and I-15. The Kolob Canyons area is accessed from Interstate 15, south of Cedar City. The park headquarters is 309 miles south of Salt Lake City. the new shuttle service through Zion Canyon leaves from the visitor center.

What to See & Do

Park Attractions

About 2.5 million people visit Zion each year, which makes for a lot of people in the busier months. Sightseeing, walking the park trails, bicycling, camping, staying in the lodge, and riding are the major activities. During the summer months, there is a Junior Ranger program in the park for children 6&endash;12 years of age. Zion is not just a few canyons to see, although the canyons are its most impressive feature. A huge backcountry area lies north and west of the Virgin River canyons, and many visitors take off with a backpack to camp in the wilderness. Some of the longer trails lead through the backcountry, and camping is permitted along these routes.

The main visitor center is located near the south entrance to the park, on Highway 9. There are a variety of services in this area. There is a smaller visitor center at the entrance to the Kolob Canyons area of the park, off Interstate 15. There is no internal road connection between the two sections of the park.

Four Scenic Drives

Four roads lead through various parts of the park, providing access to the major trails and camping sites. From the visitor center, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive leads north along the rim of the canyon, with the Virgin River far below. During the busy season, you'll have to catch the poark shuttle to view these signts. There are two footbridges along the first section of the drive, between the turnoff and Zion Lodge. Both bridges lead to the Sand Bench Trail (see below). The Emerald Pools Trail leads down the canyon from opposite Zion Lodge. This is an easy walk (1.2 miles, about an hour's walk), ending at the Lower Pool with three waterfalls and fine views of cliffs that drop more than 600 feet.

The road continues past the lodge to the Grotto (with another footbridge) and a picnic area. Here are the trailheads for the West Rim Trail and the Angels Landing Trail. Passing beside the Great White Throne (a peak to the east) and Angels Landing (west of the highway) the road curves around another peak (the Organ), with a turnaround at the Temple of Sinewava, which is the trailhead for the Gateway to the Narrows Trail. This is an easy trail following the Virgin River past hanging gardens of wildflowers in the spring and early summer period. There are several trailside exhibits. All along this drive -- across the river and canyon -- are spectacular rock formations including the Court of the Patriarchs, Cathedral Mountain and the Pulpit.

Highway 9 (now called the Zion&endash;Mt. Carmel Highway), leads east from the visitor center area passing through tunnels before reaching the east entrance to the park. There is a 1-mile trail to the Great Arch, with the Canyon Overlook at the halfway point.

Kolob Canyons Road is a short drive from the Kolob entrance to the park. At Lee Pass is the Kolob Arch Trail, a strenuous, 14-mile hike with a side-trail leading to the arch.

Kolob Terrace Road (open summer only) is accessed from Highway 9 at the village of Virgin, west of the south entrance. It leads through BLM lands before entering the park, running across the Lower Kolob Plateau and providing access to the Wildcat Canyon Trail and the remote Lava Point Campground. The northern trailhead for the West Rim Trail is at the campground.  

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Park Accommodations

Zion Park Lodge, Zion National Park, Springdale UT 84767, (435) 772-3213

The lodge has cabins and motel rooms, as well as a restaurant, snack bar and gift shop. It is set in the valley surrounded by wonderfully high cliffs. There are suites and cabins, all with private baths. There is a dining room and coffee shop, gift shop, and guided walks as well as tram and trail rides. You'll find it in the middle of Zion Canyon, across the road from the Virgin River ($$ to $$$). Advance reservations are recommended, particularly during the busy summer season. For rates and reservations, phone (435) 586-7686.

Park Camping

Watchman and South Campgrounds, located near the south entrance, are available on a first come, first served basis, and a fee is charged. One of these campgrounds is open year-round. Both campgrounds have water, picnic tables, fire grates, and dump stations. There are no hookups or showers. The Lava Point Campground is open from May to October. Here there are tables, fire grates, and toilets. There is no water provided here but no fee is charged. Both can be reached by calling (435) 772-3256.

Springdale Accommodations

There are several private campgrounds within 25 miles of the park. The small town of Springdale has a full-service RV park. There are RV parks and motels in Kanab, St. George, Mt. Carmel, Hurricane, and Cedar City.

Cliffrose Lodge and Gardens
281 Zion Park Blvd., Springdale UT 84767
(435) 772-3234
This lodge sits on river frontage with 5 acres of lawns, trees, and flowers. There are 36 units with wonderful views of the surrounding cliffs of Zion National Park. There is a swimming pool The lodge is a 2-minute drive from the park ($$).

Under the Eaves Guest House
P.O. Box 29, Springdale UT 84767
(435) 772-3457
Not only does this B&B offer views of the canyon, it's actually constructed from stone blocks cut from there to form a cozy Tudor-style cottage. There are five rooms, three with private bath. A generous breakfast is served and picnic lunches are available ($ to $$).

Zion Area Camping

Zion Canyon Campground in Springdale (435-772-3237) has 75 full-service RV sites and 75 sites for tents. Rental cabins are also available, and there's a recreation room and restaurant on the property. Zion RV Park has 75 full hookups plus tent sites, laundry, swimming pool, gas station, and dump station (435-635-4272).

Mukuntuweep RV Park and Campground
(435) 648-2154
Located at the East entrance to Zion National Park, the RV park offers full hookups, as well as tenting sites. This extensive operation, owned by the Baca family, includes log cabin, Navaho hogan, and teepee rentals, with showers and laundry. Acrosss the street is a restaurant serving Mexican cuisine, a gas station, and gift shop featuring Zican Indian arts and crafts.

Nearby Places

St. George

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Bryce Canyon National Park

Salt Lake City

Cedar City

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