Zion National Park and I have a love-hate relationship.
On one hand, Zion National Park has some of the best maintained trail systems in the National Park Service. On the other hand, it’s beauty and natural canyon systems have drawn massive attention in the outdoor community.
The sheer amount of annual visitors has created a need for a shuttle system to gain access to the park. Zion National Park’s proximity to Las Vegas has made it incredibly easy for international tourists to drive up for a “vacation from their vacation”.
Being so close to a major international hub has sky-rocketed the amount of visitors to become the 5th most visited National Park in the country. Compared to it’s sister parks all within four hours of Zion, the closest park in Utah in annual visitors is Bryce Canyon at 13th most visited park in America.
How the Zion canyon system was formed is an ecological wonder.
The canyon system was formed almost completely by erosion from the Virgin River. There are separate forks that split the distinctive Zion National Park canyons. For thousands of years, the Virgin River has carried away millions of tons of dirt away. This is incredible to think about since the Virgin River is minuscule compared to a majority of rivers in the country.
The Zion canyons were formed by water pooling inside the valley and creating a lake. The bottom of the lake was the valley floor that we see today. When the walls of the lake split open, the entire lake surged through the surrounding area. It created a surprisingly fertile landscape in an otherwise dry climate.
Every year, the canyons fill with water from sudden flash floods. When heavy rain persists in the area during the rainy season, it will create a surge of water that will fill some of the slot canyons within minutes. This makes for unknown dangers that can only be contained by closing certain parts of the park down during rainy days. These flash floods also speed the process of erosion in the canyon floors.
To get a campground spot inside the parks takes foresight.
You usually have to reserve a spot 6 months in advance for the most popular weeks. This can be hard for someone that doesn’t even know where he will be in 6 months.
The shuttle system that gives you access to the most popular hikes has at least an hour wait during the busiest times of the day (10 AM-2 PM). The only time to assure that you will not have a long wait for a shuttle is early in the morning. They start ferrying people into the park by 7 AM but when I went, we got on without waiting at 7:30 AM.
With all that said, there is a reason it has become so popular. The scenery inside the park is some of the best desert scenery that America has to offer. Zion National Park is landscape that joins the fertile mountains in the north, the steep canyon system of the west, and the high desert scenery of the south and east of Zion. It’s a major example of what happens when different climates combine into one.
The hikes in and around the park are also unparalleled.
As most national parks have, there is a good variety for all different ages. It doesn’t matter if you are 6 years old or 60, there is a hike you can easily do. This makes for a well-rounded experience. What I generally do is plan for some big hikes the first few days. Then I take it easy the rest of the time I am there. Doing a lot of the smaller hikes during the last few days helps you recover. It also still gets you outside when you would be too tired otherwise.
Zion National Park’s campgrounds are well maintained inside the park. This is a major bonus for any park but especially for one as busy as Zion. It can be a stressful situation if you are in a developed campground that doesn’t have toilet paper in their bathrooms at an inopportune time!
Also, another big bonus of having a well maintained campground inside the park is that there are no lines in the morning! If you stay outside the park, you will not only have to wake up and drive to Zion National Park but you will probably be fighting a long line of cars to get into the park. This can add a lot of time onto your day. Planning ahead and getting a campsite before hand takes many steps out of your day.
Being able to stay inside the park also gives you a leg up on getting a shuttle in the morning.
Not having to wait in lines for Angels Landing, on of the great hikes in the world, is a huge benefit. If you get started early enough, you can even hit the trail up to Angels Landing for sunrise.
If you want to know what it is like to hike Angels Landing, here is a link to a video I made of the last time I was there:
There is a massive amount of wildlife to spot while hiking.
On a single hike, I saw at least 8 different mammals and an innumerable amount of birds. They seem to be relatively used to people. They do not shy away when you try to get a photo of them.
I will not even mention the variety of people you will see! There is such a diverse group of people that pass through this park. It amazes me every time.
Also, the gift shops have a massive variety of items for purchase. I usually opt for a simple patch for a blanket I am planning on making of the National Park Service. There is so much more than that in Zion National Park’s gift shop and it’s lodge souvenir shop. They have sculptures, many different types of outdoor gear, and an entire art gallery dedicated to Zion.
Do not let the massive amounts of tourist that this parks has steer you away.
A weekend in this vibrant wilderness should not be missed. No matter how frustrated you may get waiting in line for the shuttle, it is always worth it. Especially when you are overlooking the canyons of Zion National Park.
If you liked this page, check out what I think about Arches National Park:
Also, check out my latest adventure that I am writing. My recent trip to Vietnam to motorbike the entire length of the country!