There aren't many places in the world where the forces of nature have come together with such dramatic results as in Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. From arid desert to pine-covered peaks and awe-inspiring rock formations, these parks offer some of the American West's most spectacular scenery, plus almost unlimited opportunities for hiking, camping, and other outdoor experiences.
Zion and Bryce Canyon sit on the vast Colorado Plateau, which they share with Utah's three other national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef) and Grand Canyon National Park, in Arizona.
The plateau began millions of years ago when forces deep within the earth forced the crust to rise, exposing many strata of rocks, and erosion and weathering sculpted rock formations, colored with an iron-rich palette of reds, oranges, pinks, and browns.
Both national parks are known for their stunning geology -- Zion for massive sandstone monoliths and Bryce for delicate limestone sculptures called hoodoos. But there are also shimmering pools of deep green water, a roaring river, forests of pine and fir, and a vast array of plants and animals.
The main activities in both parks are enjoying the delightful and awe-inspiring scenery -- from the convenience of designated viewpoints and the scenic drives -- and hiking. There is plenty to see from the roads and short walks, and the more adventurous will savor challenging hiking trails and backcountry routes. You can also experience a bit of the Old West while seeing the parks' scenery by horseback -- guided rides are offered at both parks.
Flora & Fauna
While best known for its massive rock formations, Zion National Park also has an abundance of wildlife. Watch for mule deer and desert Bighorn sheep, and also for the chuckwalla, a lizard that can grow to 20 inches long. Zion has over 900 species of plants. Watch for spring lines and their lush hanging gardens, clinging to the sides of cliffs. Summer visitors are bound to see the sacred datura, with large, funnel-shaped white flowers.
In addition to the tours by horse offered at both parks by Canyon Trail Rides, there are excellent free ranger programs.
At Zion National Park, ranger programs include a 2-hour Ride with a Ranger shuttle-bus trip, which offers an opportunity to see Zion Canyon from a park ranger's unique perspective (reservations required). The Zion Canyon Field Institute offers outdoor workshops and classes, including photo workshops led by institute director Michael Plyler, a skilled professional photographer.