Western Trips

Western Trips

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Zion National Park Utah / A Western Road Trip

zion national park
If you're looking for an adventurous national park in Utah then Zion might be just the thing.

Zion National Park located in southwestern Utah presents some of the most scenic canyon country found anywhere in the U.S. I had the pleasure of taking a road trip to Zion and it makes a great addition to any summer vacation planner.

Zion National Park occupies a unique geographical area  located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin and Mojave Desert provinces. Because of this, both the wildlife and vegetation is quite diverse.

Zion National is Park Near Several Interesting Sites

Zion National Park is located near to several other parks and historic sites. Zion sits to the north of the Grand Canyon, to the south of Bryce National Park and to the west of Page Arizona, the Glen Canyon Dam and the Lake Powell recreation area. Most people who visit Zion also add these vacation stops to their itinerary. Amazingly, even though they all are in basically the same part of the American southwest, each of these National Parks mentioned are very different from the other. Because of this, a visit to all three during a southwest vacation makes for a great time.

The estimate is that Zion National Park receives about 3 million visitors per year and a good portion of these are from outside the United States. If you haven't traveled to Zion before, you may want to allow yourself three to five days for your visit.

Simply staying inside your vehicle and driving through Zion is a great tour in itself. I've drove this more than once. In Zion Canyon, the rock walls tower 2,000 to 3,000 feet above your car. As with all National Parks, there are excellent hiking trails at various skill levels and always a favorite, ranger guided tours, really give you plenty of options to explore the park. Zion National Park hiking trails are some of the most scenic in the southwest.

The History of Zion National Park

zion national park scenery
Some interesting history about Zion National Park includes how it got it's name. Pioneers who tried to homestead there in the latter part of the 1800's gave it the name "Zion" which is a Hebrew word for safety or a place of refuge.

 Ironically, the area offered very little in terms of agricultural opportunities due to the poor soil and occasional flooding. The first cabin was built in Zion in 1863 by Mormon pioneer Issac Behunin. The canyon where he built his cabin now bears his name.

The southern Utah and northern Arizona area of the American southwest was long ago seen as a tourist destination. The Grand Canyon received a big boost with the arrival of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad and it's hospitality genius Fred Harvey. You may enjoy our story of Fred Harvey and the El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon.

At about the same time, the first decade of the 1900's, tourism potential for Zion was recognized. In 1909, a presidential executive order designated the area as Mukuntuweap National Monument. The problem was that visitors couldn't get there because of bad roads and the nearest rail head being some one hundred miles away. The monument's name was also changed to Zion National Monument in 1918, and in 1919 the monument was expanded and designated a National Park.

Visiting Zion National Park

zion national park utah
During the course of a year, weather in Zion National Park is pretty diverse. The average temperature at Zion National Park is 75 degrees Fahrenheit, ranging from 52 degrees in January to a high of 100 degrees in July.

The air is arid and dry making Zion a great winter park, though you should take the precaution of being prepared for winter driving conditions from November through March. Zion National Park weather also changes dramatically dependent upon the elevation. The major tourist months at Zion are May through September.

Tourists to Zion have a very convenient way to get into the park from Springdale Utah. Springdale is located directly at the southern entrance of the park where visitors can use a park bus to get to the lodges and trail heads within Zion. Springdale has a vast array of lodging and dining at various price ranges and I found it an excellent place to stay and enter Zion from. It was originally settled as a Mormon farming community in 1862. Today, Springdale is entirely oriented to the tourism industry.

Hiking and Trail Heads

One of the things we've enjoyed at Zion are the hiking trails along the Virgin River which flows through the park. The river is a natural gateway to explore many of the great sights at Zion. The sandstone cliffs you see while hiking along the river provides absolutely incredible scenery. These are self guided trails and the bus route can transport you to most of these trail heads. The state of Utah offers a variety of landscapes, geology, and recreational opportunities and I think you'll find Zion National Park to be one of your favorites to explore. Another convenient exploration of Zion is the Riverside Walk which is suitable for smaller children and even strollers. Zion has a hiking trail for everyone.

Camping is Popular at Zion National Park

Zion National Park campgrounds are popular. In regards to camping there, Zion National Park has three campgrounds. Campers love Zion and the campgrounds are usually full by early afternoon on weekends and holidays. During the summer months of June, July, and August, the campgrounds are virtually full every night. Planning your camping trip to Zion ahead of time is advisable. Also note that there are several campgrounds outside but very near to the park.

zion lodge
Zion Lodge
As a side note, regarding Zion National Park lodging, there is only one lodge located within the park.The Zion Lodge features historic cabins with two double beds, full bath, gas log fireplace and private porch. The lodge also offers motel rooms in addition to the cabins and the Red Rock grill for dining. The lodge is a beautiful structure.

Getting There

People drive to Zion National Park from either the east or west. Interstate 15 is to the west of Zion and the area of Page Arizona and the Glen Canyon Dam would be to the east.

Below are driving directions to the park's entrance from either direction. Zion lodging and dining is available in the park or in Springdale Utah directly at the park's southern entrance. Springdale has a wide variety of lodging and camping facilities nearby and makes it very easy to access the park.

From the west: Interstate 15 passes west of Zion and connects with SR-9 just north of St. George. From there SR-9 travels through the towns of Hurricane, Virgin, and Springdale before entering Zion Canyon.
From the east: US-89 passes east of Zion and connects with SR-9 (The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway) at Mount Carmel Junction. From there SR-9 travels through the park's east Entrance and into the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel before descending into Zion Canyon.

(Article and photos copyright Western Trips)

Hotels, motels, Inns, bed and breakfasts and campgrounds accommodate a variety of tastes and budgets.

View Larger Map


  1. Traveling to Zion National park? Looking for the best bed and breakfast in town? I know the place, it will charm the dickens out of you!

    Zions Utah

  2. Vistas, Hiking, Swimming are one of the things to do in zion. Thanks for sharing!

    things to do in zion

  3. The campground sites are awesome- very spacious. Unfortunately, there is a fire ban so no campfires.

    Zion National Park RV Campground


Please share your comments...