Family Friendly and Awe Inspiring
The grandeur experienced in a national park during high season can be eclipsed by crowded roads, overflowing parking lots and disorganized logistics. Even though the scenery and hikes may be beautiful, the stress of navigating through the chaos leaves me feeling anxious and depressed--the opposite of what the park was created for!
At least one park, however, has successfully protected its serenity. Because of the incredible thought and organization that Zion National Park has implemented in its day to day operations, it ranks as one of my all-time favorite destinations.
We are spoiled with many beautiful national parks in the Western United States, but during high season, unless you’re willing to arrive at a park by 6:00 am or earlier, you won’t be able to find a place to park or be able to enjoy the beauty in relative peace. Something that makes Zion unique is its clockwork-like organization, which helps ease the ever increasing tourist traffic. At the popular South entrance of the park, the canyon is closed to car traffic (during high season) and an efficient bus service takes visitors on a guided tour of the main canyon with regular stops at all the famous landmarks. An informational soundtrack is played over the loudspeaker, so visitors can learn about hikes, landmarks, geology, flora and fauna as they travel the bus’s circuit. Bus tours begin at the Zion Canyon Visitors Center. From there, they arrive and depart from set stops every 15 minutes during daylight hours, and they are convenient and free.
Another great feature of Zion is the wide range of activities that provide fun and enrichment for all ages. For those who like to take it easy or families with small children, The Pa’rus Trail (3.5 mi/ 5.6 km) and Watchman Trail (3.3 mi/ 4.3 km) offer beautiful views, landscapes and opportunities for river play. Moderate hikes like the Emerald Pool Trails (1.0 mi/ 1.6 km) or the Riverside Walk (2.2 mi/ 3.5 km) past the Temple of Sinawava lead visitors up slightly harder inclines, but reward them with gorgeous geologic features. For the truly adventurous (or foolhardy), Angel’s Landing (5.4 mi/ 8.7 km) and the Hidden Canyon Trail (2.4 mi/ 3.9 km) offer steep and treacherous altitude gain with the payoff of breathtaking views. All these trails are accessible by the amazing park bus system.
Both on and off the Beaten Path
Lastly, Zion offers a near perfect mixture of on or off the beaten path adventures. On days when guests feel like taking it easy, the neighboring town of Springdale has a variety of restaurants with delicious offerings, ice cream shops, book stores, a movie theater and the adorable, well-stocked Sol Foods Supermarket. Somehow Springdale, unlike many tourist towns, has maintained the feeling of sweet remoteness, while still having all the comforts of home. The Zion Canyon Visitor Center, Zion History Museum and Zion Lodge all offer air-conditioned comfort along with snacks and interesting souvenirs. On days visitors want to get away from it all, there’s the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, a beautiful drive through a historic tunnel, or a hike through The Narrows at the mouth of the Zion Canyon. As you hike farther up The Narrows, the water depth increases (due to the narrowing canyon), the temperature drops and the crowds disappear. The Kolob Canyon Road entrance at the north end of the Park leads to the Kolob Canyon region. Here, wide expansive wilderness areas await and most visitors spend their days in awe-drenched solitude.
My camping trip in Zion National Park ranks near one of my all time favorite vacations. The park has worked hard to ensure that visitors enjoy a serene, peaceful experience. Instead of fighting traffic, visitors can spend their time soaking in the beauty of Zion, just as the original founders intended.
Zion National Park lies at the edge of the 11,000 foot high Colorado Plateau that dominates the landscape of most of the Southwest. Both Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon are part of the same “stepping down” area of the plateau and all are part of the Colorado River Watershed.
While human inhabitants have had to work hard to scratch out an existence in this breathtaking canyon where desert meets lush oasis, many have lived here, including the Anasazi (also known as the Ancestral Puebloans). After drought led to their mass migration from the Southwest, the area was uninhabited until Mormon pioneers came to the area in the 1860s.
Before Zion achieved National Park status, the area was explored by John Wesley Powell during his Geological Survey in 1872. He recorded his observations and awe at the beauty of the canyon under the name of Mukuntuweap, an Indian word meaning “straight canyon.”
In 1909, President William Howard Taft signed a proclamation creating Mukuntuweap National Monument to protect Zion Canyon and its surrounding area. The Woodrow Wilson administration significantly expanded it and renamed it Zion National Monument and it received national park status in 1919.