About an hour north (40 miles) of St. George is Zion National Park, one of the most beautiful tourist attractions in the Western United States. It annually attracts nearly three million visitors from all over the world – and for good reason.
Zion National Park History
An early Mormon pioneer named the main canyon of the park “Zion,” an ancient Hebrew word that means a place of sanctuary. With dramatic cliffs of reddish and salmon-pink hues showcasing green trees, desert wildflowers, waterfalls, and a wide variety of desert wildlife, Zion has conjured peace and reverence for ancient Indians, Mormon pioneers, and the modern-day tourist. Many of the park’s major landmarks are named following this religious theme; for instance, some highlights are Angels Landing and the Three Patriarchs.
There are many ways to see the park in which the entire family can participate. Many trails are easily accessible in Zion and Kolob Canyons that vary in length and level of difficulty. One of the best known trails is the one to Lower Emerald Pools which is paved and just over one mile long. The Lower Emerald Pools are created by small waterfalls surrounded by hanging gardens of desert wildflowers. Hiking to Angels Landing is a longer (five miles) and more strenuous trek that will excite hikers with steep drops off on both sides of the trail during the last half mile stretch. Many people enjoy hiking the “Narrows,” slender canyons that usually have water flowing on the canyon floor. Hiking in these canyons requires good, sturdy shoes that can get wet. Stores in Springdale at the mouth of Zion Canyon rent such equipment. Please be cautious when hiking in these canyons because flash flooding is common when it rains in the area. Beyond these trails there are also many trails that take more than a day to traverse. Beyond hiking, visitors can explore the canyon by bike and horseback among other ways.
Creation of Zion National Park
The canyons in the park were carved out by the Virgin River that flowed from the Colorado Plateau. Water and wind have carved out natural bridges and arches and formed many different rock formations. Mysteriously shaped hoodoos are found in Kolob Canyon while a checkerboard pattern is etched into the sandstone Checkerboard Mesa along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. The highway alone is worth seeing since it was considered almost impossible to build during its construction in the 1920s because the route required two tunnels for completion. One of these tunnels is about 1.1 miles long. This area is truly a masterpiece of nature.
During the day you will enjoy the many services and diverse restaurants in Springdale. Of note, you will also enjoy Zion Canyon: Treasure of the Gods, a large screen format movie at the Zion Canyon Giant Screen Theater right next to the park entrance in Springdale. The shuttle service from Springdale into Zion Canyon must be used during the summer. Guided tours are also available.