It's a rare visitor to Zion who doesn't spot a critter of some sort, from mule deer -- often observed along roadways and in campgrounds year-round -- to the numerous varieties of lizards seen from spring through fall, including the park's largest lizard, the chuckwalla, which can grow to 20 inches long. There has been an increasing number of sightings of desert Bighorn sheep and even an occasional mountain lion along Utah 9 (the Zion-Mt. Carmel Hwy.), on the east side of the park. Along the Virgin River, you'll see bank beaver, so named because they live in burrows dug into riverbanks instead of dams.
If you're interested in spotting birds, you're in luck at Zion. The peregrine falcon, among the world's fastest birds, is sometimes seen along the Angels Landing and Cable Mountain trails and in the area of the Great White Throne. It sometimes nests in the Weeping Rock area, where you're also likely to see the American dipper, canyon wren, and white-throated swift. Bald eagles sometimes winter in the park, and you might also see golden eagles. Red-tailed hawks are fairly common, as are great blue herons, American kestrels, Gambel's quail, mourning doves, great horned owls, western kingbirds, common ravens, piñon jays, Steller's Jays, yellow-rumped warblers, wild turkeys, and American robins.
Snakes include the poisonous Great Basin rattlesnake, found below 8,000 feet elevation; there are also nonpoisonous king snakes and gopher snakes. Amphibians found in the park include the Arizona tiger salamander, Great Basin spadefoot, red-spotted toad, and northern leopard frog. Tarantulas, those large, usually slow-moving hairy spiders, are often seen in late summer and fall. Although the tarantula's bite is not significantly poisonous to most people, it may be somewhat painful.
Remember, it's illegal to feed the wildlife. It's not healthy for the wildlife to eat human food or to get used to being fed this way.
The earlier in the day you can get out on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, the better chance you'll have of seeing wildlife.
The ride through Zion Canyon is impressive by any standards, with massive stone reaching straight up to the heavens, and the North Fork of the Virgin River threading its way through the maze of rocks. In every direction, the views are awe-inspiring. Pullouts along the road provide access to viewpoints and hiking trails.
The first pullout is across from the Court of the Patriarchs, where a short paved trail leads to an impressive viewpoint. The next stop is Zion Lodge, and across the road from the lodge is the trail head for the Emerald Pools trail system. The Grotto Picnic Area is about a half mile beyond the lodge, and a trail, paralleling Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, leads from the lodge to the picnic area. Across from the Grotto Picnic Area parking lot is a footbridge that leads to the Emerald Pools, Angels Landing, and West Rim trails.
Continuing north into Zion Canyon, the road passes the Great White Throne on the right and then Angels Landing on the left, before the turnoff to the Weeping Rock Trail Head parking area. From here the road closely traces the curves of the river, with a couple of stops to allow different views of the Organ, which to some resembles a huge pipe organ. Finally, the road ends at the Temple of Sinawava, where the paved Riverside Walk follows the Virgin River toward the Narrows, one of the most incredible sights in Zion.
To escape the crowds of Zion Canyon, head to the northwest corner of the park. The Kolob Canyons Road (about 45 min. from Zion Canyon Visitor Center, at exit 40 of I-15) runs 5 miles among spectacular red and orange rocks, ending at a high vista. Allow about 45 minutes round-trip, including stops at numbered viewpoints. Here's what you'll pass along the way:
Leaving Kolob Canyons Visitor Center, drive along the Hurricane Fault to Hurricane Cliffs, a series of tall, gray cliffs composed of limestone, and onward to Taylor Creek, where a piñon-juniper forest clings to life on the rocky hillside, providing a home to the bright blue scrub jay. Your next stop is Horse Ranch Mountain, which, at 8,726 feet, is the park's highest point. Passing a series of colorful rock layers, where you might be lucky enough to spot a golden eagle, your next stop is Box Canyon, along the South Fork of Taylor Creek, with sheer rock walls soaring over 1,500 feet high. Along this stretch are multicolored layers of rock, pushed upward by tremendous forces within the earth, followed by a side canyon, with large arched alcoves with delicate curved ceilings. Head on to a view of Timber Top Mountain, which has a sagebrush-blanketed desert at its base, but is covered with stately fir and ponderosa pine at its peak. Watch for mule deer on the brushy hillsides, especially between October and March, around sunrise or sunset. Continue to Rockfall Overlook, where a large scar on the mountainside marks the spot where a 1,000-foot chunk of stone crashed to the earth in July 1983 from erosion. Finally, stop to see the canyon walls themselves, colored orange-red by iron oxide and striped black by mineral-laden water running down the cliff faces.
Probably the least visited area is between Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyons, accessible via the Kolob Terrace Road (also called the Kolob Rd.). Heading north off Utah 9 from the village of Virgin, about 15 miles west of the park's southern entrance, the Kolob Terrace Road climbs through piñon-juniper woodlands, past grassy meadows, and up into a forest of ponderosa pines and aspen. There's a viewpoint offering panoramic vistas, a picnic area, vault toilets, and the small Lava Point Campground. Views from the road are most dramatic coming down. This road is closed in the winter.
How to Snap Great Wildlife Photos -- The key to getting good wildlife photos is to know the animals' habits, such as where they go and when. Then, get there first and quietly wait.
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.