There is such a wide variety of things to do and see, but probably the single most important activity for visitors is traveling the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive(by shuttle bus from April through October, your car the rest of the year), stopping at viewpoints to see many of the park's best-known rock formations.
Among the spectacular rock formations that you won't want to miss is the Great White Throne, which can be seen from Zion Canyon Scenic Drive as well as from several hiking trails, including Observation Point Trail, Deertrap Mountain Trail, Angels Landing Trail, and Emerald Pools Trail. Considered the symbol of Zion National Park for many visitors, this massive and imposing block of Navajo sandstone towers 2,000 feet above the North Fork of the Virgin River. It can be especially impressive when colored by the setting sun. A postage stamp depicting the Great White Throne was issued in the 1930s.
Another eye-catcher is the huge Checkerboard Mesa, which you pass when entering the park from the east. This huge dome of sandstone has a fishnet pattern created by a unique form of erosion and weathering. Although horizontal lines in Navajo sandstone are fairly common, experts believe that the rare vertical lines were formed by freezing and thawing processes, and then enlarged by running water.
Those who think of southern Utah as nothing but burning desert will learn differently at Weeping Rock, a short but steep walk along Weeping Rock Trail. Its name comes from the spring water that continually runs down the vertical face of the rock, nurturing hanging gardens.
The Emerald Pools provide another look at the wet side of Zion -- lush green plants, pretty pools of water, and two delightful cascading waterfalls. In a short canyon near Zion Lodge, the lower pool is an easy walk along a paved path, while the two upper pools require a bit of real hiking. The pools' rich green color is the result of algae in the water.
At the end of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is the Temple of Sinawava, a picturesque canyon surrounded by rock walls reaching 2,000 feet into the sky. Here, you'll discover the aptly named Pulpit and Altar rock formations, as well as maple and cottonwood trees and a spectacular waterfall that cascades almost 1,000 feet down the temple's west wall during the spring and summer. This is the beginning of the Riverside Walk.
The Riverside Walk, one of the park's easiest trails, should not be ignored just because it's not a challenge. It begins at the Temple of Sinawava and parallels the Virgin River, providing a good sense of the steepness of the canyon walls as you approach the Narrows. Along the walk are interpretative signs discussing this particular ecosystem. This is a good place to hear, and possibly see, the canyon tree frog, plus the American dipper and other park wildlife.
For a unique hiking experience as well as a close-up look at the power of water, venture into the Narrows, a section of the Virgin River, where the canyon walls are less than 30 feet apart in spots but stand over 1,000 feet tall. To travel between these delicately sculpted rock walls, you'll hike and wade. The Narrows can be experienced as a short day hike, a long 1-day through-hike, or an overnight hike -- although caution is needed because the Narrows is prone to flash flooding.
An often-overlooked area of Zion National Park is the Kolob Canyons section, in the park's northwest corner. With its narrow canyons and brightly colored cliffs, this is a somewhat different world than Zion Canyon. There's a scenic drive with spectacular overlooks, and several hiking trails.
Historic & Man-Made Attractions
There are no major historic sites at Zion National Park, but there is some archaeological evidence of the early peoples who inhabited the area, plus a few 20th-century structures of historic interest. Archaeologists have found evidence of several historic and prehistoric cultures throughout the park. It is believed that people from the Archaic Period occupied the area from about 7,000 to 2,500 years ago; it is thought that people of the Virgin Anasazi Pueblo culture lived at Zion until about A.D. 1150; and the Southern Paiutes, who arrived in the area at about A.D. 1100, stayed in the area until European settlers arrived in about 1860. Although there are few designated and marked archaeological sites, hikers with sharp eyes may see pot shards, pieces of ancient stone tools, rock art, and other artifacts. There's a site with rock art near the park's south entrance; ask rangers for specific directions. Refrain from touching these artifacts -- especially rock art and painted pottery, because skin oils can damage them.
Just outside the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, the short but steep Archeology Trail (.4 mile round-trip with an 80-foot elevation gain), leads to the outlines of small prehistoric storage buildings. There are also some trailside exhibits and interpretive signs.
From the Weeping Rock parking area, you can see remains of a cable operation that was used to lower millions of board feet of timber from Cable Mountain to the floor of Zion Canyon between 1901 and 1926. The timber was used to build pioneer settlements along the Virgin River.
Along Taylor Creek in the Kolob Canyons section of the park are the remains of two cabins. The Gustav Larson homestead cabin, built in 1930 of white fir logs brought from Cedar City, is near the confluence of the North and Middle forks. Arthur Fife, a teacher at Branch Agricultural College (now Southern Utah University), also built a homestead cabin of white fir logs in 1930. This cabin is perched above the north bank of the creek
Also from that period is the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which you'll drive through if you're entering or leaving the park on the east side. Dedicated on July 4, 1930, the 1-mile tunnel cost over $500,000 and took longer than 3 years to build. At the time it opened, it was the longest tunnel in the United States. Another historic structure, the handsome Zion Lodge, was built in 1925 by the Union Pacific Railroad, but was destroyed by fire in 1966. It was rebuilt the following year and restored to its historic appearance in 1991. Several 1920s-era restored tourist cabins are located near the lodge.
The park's Zion Human History Museum, 1 mile inside the south entrance, has exhibits on human interaction with the geology, water, plants, and animals of the park. An informative orientation film is shown in the museum auditorium. The museum is open daily in summer from 9am to 7pm, with shorter hours at other times.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.