Zion National Park Wildlife: What to Expect

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Cartoon image of wildlife in zion national park

Zion National Park was Utah’s first national park, established in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson. Although most people visit for the spectacular scenery and fantastic hiking trails, many also love discovering Zion National Park wildlife.

 Let’s dive in and learn more about the creatures who call southwestern Utah home!

Where Is Zion National Park?

Zion National Park sits in southwestern Utah, about an hour northwest of Kanab and a little over an hour northeast of St. George. I-15 runs to the west of the park, while Highway 89 runs to the east. Bryce Canyon National Park, another popular Utah destination, is less than two hours northeast of Zion National Park.

Zion National Park sits on the Colorado Plateau, the same plateau that’s home to Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Mesa Verde National Parks. Numerous other national park sites also sit on this plateau.

What Is Zion National Park Known for?

Utah’s first national park protects massive sandstone cliffs that make up Zion Canyon. Called “Mukuntuweap” by the Southern Paiute people, these “straight canyon” walls tower 2,000 feet. The Virgin River has cut through these rock formations for millions of years. The river is a significant water source for plants and animals in the national park.

Not only does Zion National Park protect stunning landscapes, but it also preserves an ancient culture. Southern Paiute tribes lived here for centuries before the first white settlers arrived. When Mormon pioneers arrived in the late 1800s, they named the area Zion after the Holy City.

What Are Common Things to Do in Zion National Park?

One of the most famous hiking trails in the entire country is The Narrows in Zion National Park. This part of the park is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon; the gorge is only 20 to 30 feet wide in some places.

Hikers wishing to complete the entire 16-mile hike must get a permit. Plan to get wet, as much of the hike requires wading through the Virgin River.

view of the narrows hike in zion national park

Another famous hiking trail is Angel’s Landing. This hike now also requires a permit. People from all over the world come to Zion National Park to test their stamina and bravery with this hike.

It involves hanging onto chains bolted into the sandstone rock. The last half-mile climb is steep and narrow, with drops on both sides. Certainly not a hike for those with a fear of heights!

view of the chains section of the angels landing hike in zion national park

Besides the renowned hiking, Zion National Park offers visitors a chance to bike, rock climb, camp, canyoneer, and stargaze.

The scenic drive through the park isn’t to be missed since it showcases Zion’s stunning scenery from the west entrance to the east entrance and provides a chance to spot wildlife like bighorn sheep and mule deer.

What Zion National Park Wildlife Can You See?

Zion National Park wildlife is varied as the park encompasses 5,000 feet of elevation change. This results in numerous habitats and climates. The park has over 78 species of mammals and 291 species of birds, in addition to other animal species like reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

Mexican Spotted Owl

two Mexican Spotted Owl sitting on a branch in zion national park

Since 1993, the Mexican spotted owl has been listed as federally threatened. Zion National Park is a sanctuary for these birds that find secret hiding places in the deep, narrow slot canyons.

During the day, they nest and roost in the cavities of cliffs and tall trees. They perch on rock ledges at night, waiting to swoop down on their prey.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine falcon sitting on a log in zion national park

Zion National Park is an ideal habitat for the fastest animal in the world. The peregrine falcon soars among the giant cliffs and dives headfirst to catch its prey in the canyon.

These birds make their nests in rock crevices. Wildlife managers and other Zion National Park personnel will close trails and cliffs to prevent hiking and climbing near nests.

California Condor

California condor sitting on a rock ledge in zion national park

Another popular bird species in Zion National Park is the California condor. This massive bird has a nine-and-a-half foot wingspan and can easily be spotted swooping among the park’s wide open spaces.

Like peregrine falcons, California condors make their nests in rock crevices. Once an endangered species, the California condor is a success story of captive breeding programs.

Desert Bighorn Sheep

A ram and two ewe big horn sheep standing on red rock ledge of zion national park

The desert bighorn sheep of Zion National Park aren’t the same as the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. Instead, they have smaller bodies, longer legs, and shorter coats.

Although this Zion National Park wildlife species once freely roamed the southwest, they became locally extinct by the mid-1900s. Fourteen sheep were returned to their homeland for reintroduction in 1978, and now hundreds of bighorn sheep roam the cliffs of Zion.

Mule Deer

Mule deer walking through green bushes in zion national park

Mule deer are probably the largest Zion National Park wildlife species. They’re also probably the most viewed animal in the park. From the moment you drive into the west entrance, you’ll see mule deer grazing in the shade of the trees near Watchman Campground and along the Virgin River. You can often spot fawns in the spring.

Ringtail Cat

Ringtail cat climbing branch of tree in zion national park

The ringtail cat is rarely seen in Zion National Park. These nocturnal creatures avoid interacting with humans. But their size and agility allow them to get into buildings and tight spaces where they search for food. The cracks and crevices in the rock layers of Zion are ideal for the ringtail to hunt insects, lizards, and small mammals.

Mountain Lion

Mountain lion standing on cliff in zion national park

Another elusive Zion National Park wildlife species is the mountain lion. This stealthy predator avoids humans and lives a solitary life.

Mountain lions hunt bighorn sheep and mule deer at night and only kill every four to eight days. You’re unlikely to see a mountain lion at Zion National Park, but tell a park ranger if you do.

Bat Species

free-tail bat in cliff crevice in zion national park

Because of the dark nights in Zion National Park, 17 bat species call this park home. If you camp in the park, you’ll likely hear the clicking social calls or see bats snacking on beetles, gnats, and moths. One of the largest bat species is the big free-tailed bat, with a wingspan of 17 to 18 inches.

Where Are the Best Places to Spot Zion National Park Wildlife?

Because of the varied habitats of the Zion National Park wildlife, you’ll see these creatures in different locations throughout the park. Peregrine falcons and California condors nest near Angels Landing.

You can frequently find the condors near Lava Point along Kolob Terrace Road. Although mountain lion sightings are rare, they have been reported in the Kolob Canyons.

You can find bighorn sheep on Zion’s east side since those cliffs are steeper and smoother, thus allowing these skilled climbers to escape predators like mountain lions. As you drive between the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel and the East Entrance, look for this Zion National Park wildlife species. 

Is the Wildlife in Zion National Park Dangerous?

No matter which national park you visit, keep your distance from wildlife. The National Park Service recommends visitors stay at least 100 feet away from deer, bighorn sheep, California Condors, and mountain lions and at least 50 feet away from smaller wildlife like squirrels, birds, and reptiles.

If wildlife approaches you, back away to keep a safe distance. This is crucial to your and the animal’s safety. Wildlife must stay wild. They’ll lose their natural fear if they get too accustomed to humans. But there’s always a risk of Zion National Park wildlife biting, kicking, or attacking humans if you provoke them or get too close.

What Zion National Park Wildlife Will You Spot?

When you visit Zion National Park, you might have your eyes set on tackling the challenge of Angel’s Landing or watching the sunset as you stroll along the Pa’rus Trail.

But don’t forget about the Zion National Park wildlife. Creatures are everywhere, from the desert bighorn sheep atop the towering cliffs to peregrine falcons swooping through the canyon walls. 

What will you spot when you visit this Utah national park?

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