The Story of Zion
Carved by water and time, Zion National Park is a canyon that invites you to participate in the very forces that created it. In the warm climate of southwestern Utah, step into the Virgin River and see the colorful strata that mark the ages rising for thousands of feet up to a narrow strip of sky, then hike to seemingly impossible places and heights.
Zion National Park’s canyons and mesas boast an especially exquisite beauty, even in a state known for dramatic landscapes. Breathtaking Zion Canyon is the centerpiece of this 147,000-acre parkland that protects a spectacular landscape of high plateaus, sheer canyons, and monolithic cliffs.
Opportunities to see and explore Zion National Park abound for people of all ages and abilities, from the scenic byways that slice through the park to the trails that wind through the backcountry. Wildlife watchers can stop at numerous lookouts and search the sky for Zion’s more than 200 bird species, while hikers can strap on their boots and venture out on trails ranging from easy interpretive nature walks to lengthy, challenging hikes through narrow slot canyons. Hiking in Zion National Park is major reason why many people visit.
Rock climbers know Zion National Park for its immense rock walls of red and white Navajo sandstone that rise more than 2,000 feet into the sky. If you look closely, you might even spot some climbers carefully making their way upward, mere specs on a vertical landscape. You may be curious but think that rock climbing or a canyoneering experience is out of your reach. Not necessarily – several local guiding outfits offer beginner classes and guided climbs in areas near Zion National Park.
And when you’re done taking in the park’s beauty, you can kick back in one of Zion’s campgrounds and enjoy some family fun while you wind down and plan your activities for the next day. It’s not always easy deciding what to do in such a remarkable environment, but hey, that’s a good problem to have!
(Natural) History in the Rocks
Zion National Park astonishes visitors with its colorful monoliths of sedimentary rocks: mudstone, limestone, siltstone and, perhaps most famously, sandstone. Sedimentary rocks are made of bits and pieces of older rocks that have been weathered, eroded and deposited in layers. In other words, sediments of old rock that were cemented back into place, then further eroded by water and weather over the millennia. Reading about 2,000-foot-high cliffs of sandstone is one thing. Seeing them in person is so much better.
Zion's elevation ranges from 3,500 feet to more than 8,700 feet, a varied topography that leads to a diversity of habitats and species across desert, riparian, and forest communities that includes more than 1,000 species of plants and, according to the park's official site, "8 species of mammals, 291 species of birds, 44 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 8 species of fish." Zion's biodiversity is thanks to the park's location at the junction of three distinct regions known as physiographic provinces: Colorado Plateau, Great Basin (Basin and Range) and Mojave Desert.
With such incredible diversity and scenic splendor, it's no wonder Zion National Park has a long, important human history. Archaeologists have uncovered traces of Archaic cultures dating back more than 9,000 years. In the common era, the so-called Fremont Culture, Ancestral Puebloans, modern Southern Paiute, and European explorers and Western pioneers have all passed through the hallowed canyons of Zion National Park.