Zion National Park lies in the northwestern section of Utah and provides some of the most dramatic and variable scenery to be seen anywhere in the national parks system. From golden sandstone cliffs towering high over the land to creek-laded narrow canyons, Zion National Park is one of the world’s finest outdoor ‘sculpture gardens’.
The Virgin River flows through the center of the park and today continues its slow task of carving deeper and deeper chasms in the already 2,000 foot deep Markagunt Plateau. Running for a total of 16 miles through sandstone arches and well trodden gorges, it finally flows into Lake Mead 200 miles to the southeast.
Within the park you will find some of the best hiking in the world along sandstone cliff top trails at a height of 2,000 feet which lead down through narrow canyons topped with high arches. The Great Arch of Zion, which is carved into a high, vertical cliff face is one of the more spectacular sites and the Kolob Arch Trail leads to the Kolob Arch, which with a span of 310 feet is one of the largest arches in the world.
Hikers can also follow Timber Creek and gaze up at the massive red canyons above as the trail gradually descends 1,000 feet to La Verkin Creek. This route also provides an excellent opportunity to explore both Beartrap Canyon and Hop Valley.
If you enjoy cycling then you can get in on the adventure. Pa’rus Trail provides a paved car free route that is littered with outstanding scenery. For example, you can get a wonderful view of the Kayenta and Moenave rock formations and can stop along the way to check out some of the fascinating plants which struggle for existence in this rocky landscape.
Another transportation option in Zion National Park is horseback riding and overnight excursions lead from the canyons to the peaks, where you can witness views of the bright moon across the shadow strewn cliffs. If you are a novice rider then there is also an easy trot which travels to one of the park’s most interesting sights at Checkboard Mesa.
However you choose to travel you will have no difficulty spotting some of the distinctive wildlife which lives in the park. The ringtail, the Chuckwalla lizard and beavers are all easy to find and, less common, you can also occasionally see ravens hovering overhead, as well as peregrine falcons and the odd golden eagle. If you are really keen eyed you might even spot the odd roadrunner dashing across the trail near Weeping Rock.
There are also several national monuments on view in Zion and each has truly earned the designation. These include the Grand Staircase Escalante, Cedar Breaks and, most notably, the Temple of Sinawava and the Great White Throne which are natural features whose appearances have given rise to their names.
One word of warning though. Flash flooding is a common risk because the river and its tributaries act as a run off for melting snows and spring rains. For this reason, anyone who wishes to explore the park should check for flood warnings before doing so.