Here’s a fun fact about Zion National Park. It wasn’t always called Zion National Park. In fact, the fourth most popular national park in the country didn’t officially adopt the name Zion until 1919. Prior to that, it had a ten year run as Mukuntuweap National Monument in honor of the South Paiute Indian word for “straight river.”
But whether or not you can pronounce its original moniker, there’s no doubt that the Zion of today hasn’t changed all that much from the Zion of a hundred years ago. In fact, it probably hasn’t changed all that much from the Zion of a thousand years ago. And that’s largely because it retains some of the most mysterious and unique features you won’t find anywhere else. In fact, some of us who have spent decades exploring the looming red cliff walls and narrow canyons are still finding something new to discover in its 229 square foot span. Zion may be many things. Ancient. Majestic. Awe-inspiring. And sometimes, even a little intimidating. But it’s never dull.
Still, first-time visitors don’t always know what’s in store for them when visiting Zion. So, for the uninitiated, here’s some good advice to keep in mind if you’re one of the 4.5 million people who plan on making a trip to Zion.
1. Be Prepared for Extremes in Climate
When is the best time to visit Zion National Park? The answer is… well, any time. But it all depends on your temperament. For those of you who don’t mind scorching temperatures, July and August rarely see days below 90°F—and often much higher. Normally, more moderate climates are found in early spring and late fall. But keep in mind that temperatures can differ wildly according to elevation and the difference between night and day can sometimes be as much as 30°F. Our advice? Layer your clothes and bring plenty of sunscreen. There’s rarely a month in which Zion sees more than an inch of rain.
2. Zion Isn’t All Desert
It’s a popular misconception among first times that Southern Utah (and Zion in particular) is vast expanses of arid desert landscapes. If that was the case, Zion wouldn’t have the Virgin River, located in the narrowest part of Zion Canyon where millions of hikers seek relief in its 25-foot-wide cooling stream. Or the Emerald Pools Trail, where three pristine oases await hikers along its 2.5 mile path. If Zion’s climate is an exercise in extremes, then its landscape is as well. But if it’s a desert you’re looking for, don’t worry. Las Vegas is only 160 miles away.
3. Challenge Yourself at Angel’s Landing
There’s hiking and then there’s hiking. And there’s perhaps nothing more synonymous with Zion than Angel’s Landing, a five-mile trek up some 1,400 feet where you’ll be greeted with what is perhaps the finest view in all of Zion Canyon. Reaching the summit of the ridge itself is a once in a lifetime experience, you’ll remember for decades to come. Will you return exhausted? Yes. It’s a four-hour trek, so make certain you’re in appropriate attire. But will it be worth it? Words don’t even begin to describe it.
4. Don’t Miss the Kolob Canyons
Zion isn’t just for adventure seekers. Those of you looking for a more serene but no less scenic Zion experience can find it in the Kolob Canyons, a five-mile picturesque drive through the northwestern corridor of the park. Well known as home to the Kolob Arch (one of the world’s largest natural arches), and ancient sandstone summits rising 2,000 feet in the air, the Kolob Canyon drive may be one Zion experience you wish you didn’t have to drive through to see. The good news? You don’t have to. There are over 20 miles of hiking trails accessible from the Canyons, making it one of the more popular park-and-go options in Zion.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Hiking? Check. Bicycling? Also, check. Rock climbing? Triple check—if you think you’re brave enough. But it’s easy to get lost in 229 square miles. Especially with terrain as diverse as Zion’s. And especially if you’re planning a family excursion or a getaway with your own grandparents. That’s why Zion Park Rangers are there for you. They lead a host of activities throughout the year for both children and adults and can lead you safely through tours that are as breath-taking and fascinating as they are safe. Parts of the park can be closed at various times of the year, and you don’t want to stumble into accidental danger. Be smart. Be safe. Talk to a Ranger. You’ll be glad you did.