Make a trip to the less populated (especially in summer) Kolob Canyons area, in the northwest corner of the park, about a 42-mile drive from Zion's southern entrance. Kolob altitudes reach up to 8,000 feet and offer cooler summer temperatures amid juniper and ponderosa-pine forests.
For one of the best ways to experience the canyon, take a cowboy-guided horseback or mule trail ride into the canyon. Available March to October. For information, contact Canyon Trail Rides (www.canyonrides.com; +1 435 679 8665).
Rock climbing is a popular activity in Zion for expert climbers. Short walls to climb include Moonlight Buttress, Prodigal Son, and Touchstone.
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive offers the best overview of the park and can be completed during a one-day visit. The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (Utah 9) descends nearly 2,000 feet from the high mesa country at the East Entrance to the lower South Entrance. Begin the drive in the east; you'll go through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel, which was bored through canyon rock in the late 1920s—and became the longest tunnel in the U.S. Stop at Checkerboard Mesa for a view of the weathered sandstone beds. Get out of the car at the Canyon Overlook and walk the one-mile round-trip trail to view the West Temple and the Towers of the Virgin.
Zion has more than 120 miles of hiking trails that range from easy to expert and will keep visitors occupied for days.
Weeping Rock is a steep 4.2-mile round-trip hike on a mostly paved trail. The hike ends at a rock alcove with springs and hanging wildflowers.
Riverside Walk is an easy two-mile round-trip hike with minor drop-offs. The paved trail follows the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow canyon.
Middle Emerald Pools is a moderate two-mile round-trip hike with some steep drop-offs. The trail loops to the lower and middle pools, filled with clear emerald-green water. Swimming and wading are prohibited.
Canyon Overlook is a moderate one-mile round-trip hike that offers a great view of lower Zion Canyon and Pine Creek Canyon.
Angels Landing is a strenuous five-mile round-trip hike that provides one of Zion's best overall views. The trail climbs 2.5 miles, at times cutting into a knife-edge ridge that joins the landing to the western wall. Sheer 1,500-foot drops surround the promontory on three sides and offer excellent cross-canyon views of the Great White Throne and down the deep cut of the Zion Canyon.
Kolob Arch is a strenuous 14-mile round-trip hike with no drop-offs. It follows Timber Creek and La Verkin Creek and ends at the freestanding Kolob Arch.
The park offers the richest diversity of plants and wildflowers in Utah, with roughly 900 species, including 100 exotics. There are more than 78 species of mammals residing in the park, including coyotes, elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, porcupines, bats (17 species), and the less common mountain lion and rare black bear. A birder's paradise, Zion boasts 291 species of birds, including rare Peregrine falcons, bald eagles, California condors, and Mexican spotted owls.
At dawn, photograph the rust-stained West Temple from the back side of the Human History Museum, and in the evening, bring your camera to the Great White Throne, with its backdrop of red-rock canyons.
Smart Traveler Strategies
Several years ago, the Park Service banned most cars from driving in the canyon during peak season (April-October). During the summer, rent bicycles in Springdale to tour the canyon or use the Zion shuttle to get around, available from Springdale and inside the park.
The Zion Canyon Field Institute runs educational hiking trips that focus on the park's geology, biology, and archaeology. They also provide a photography-hiking trip.
Canyoneering involves off-trail exploration of the park's slender ravines. It can be extreme and requires ropes and rappels, swimming, and finding routes. Within the park, permits are required for such off-trail ventures, and access to the most popular canyons is awarded by lottery in advance. Zion Adventure Company organizes a variety of canyon trips (beginner to advanced) on Bureau of Land Management land just outside the park.
Excursions Outside the Park
Cedar Breaks National Monument, located about 75 miles north of Zion National Park on the Colorado Plateau, features sculpted hoodoos, spires, and colorful wildflowers in season.
Zion Canyon IMAX
In the town of Springdale, Utah, just south of Zion, there is an IMAX theater that presents documentaries on the Southwest and on the natural history of the park. Springdale also offers food and lodging.