What Is So Special About Zion National Park

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Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most visited park in the United States, with 13-14 million people driving through the park annually. No other park comes close. However, among the top five are Grand Canyon, Zion, Yellowstone, and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Each of these popular parks welcomed over four million visitors.

Today, we want to share what’s so special about Zion National Park. It ranked third for a reason. So, let’s dive in and learn more about the beauty of this magnificent canyon!

Where Is Zion National Park?

Zion National Park is in southwestern Utah near Springdale. It’s about an hour northeast of St. George and an hour northwest of Kanab. Bryce Canyon, another Utah national park, is less than two hours northeast of Zion.

Many people fly into Las Vegas and make the two-and-a-half-hour drive to the national park from there. Guests can stay at the lodge in the park, bring their RVs, or book a campsite at Watchman Campground. Visitors can also tent camp in Zion National Park.

Pro Tip: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Camping at Zion National Park.

A view of the towering mountains and river below in Zion National Park.

When Was Zion National Park Established?

Nomadic people lived in the Zion Canyon for thousands of years. They moved out, and the  Southern Paiute tribes moved in. In the late 1800s, the first white settlers arrived.

These Mormon pioneers named the area Zion, which means “sanctuary” or “refuge.” When you visit the canyon and see the rushing Virgin River, you’ll understand why these people aptly named this area Zion.

Conservationists didn’t begin pushing for federal protection until the early 1900s. On July 31, 1909, President Taft set aside 16,000 acres as Mukuntuweap National Monument because of its spectacular natural features.

In 1918, the name changed from Munkutuweap National Monument to Zion National Monument. Finally, in 1919, President Wilson established Zion National Park.

More than 36,000 acres of the Kolob Canyons were added to Zion in 1937 under President Roosevelt. But this land was called the second Zion National Monument. It wasn’t until 1956 that it was incorporated into the larger national park. Today, Zion National Park encompasses over 148,000 acres.

Petroglyphs found in Zion National Park.

How Many People Visit Zion National Park Annually?

In 2021, Zion National Park saw a record number of visitors, with over five million people exploring the stunning canyon. The park welcomed over 4.6 million people in 2022 and 2023. These visitation numbers make Zion National Park one of the most visited parks in the United States.

Because of this, you must use the free shuttle system unless you’re traveling via bike between March and December. You don’t need a permit or reservation for the shuttle, but we highly recommend arriving early as the visitor center parking lot fills up by mid-morning.

The shuttle buses reduce traffic through the canyon, thus eliminating congestion and restoring tranquility to an overcrowded national park.

What Makes Zion National Park So Special?

There are reasons why Zion National Park is one of the most popular parks in the U.S. The scenery is spectacular, and the night skies are perfect for stargazers and photographers.

Zion is also well-known for two fantastic hiking trails: Angel’s Landing and the Narrows. Both of these trails are bucket list hikes for many outdoor enthusiasts.

1. Breathtaking Scenery

The massive sandstone cliffs of Zion are awe-inspiring. You understand why the Mormons called this place a “sanctuary.” The top of The Watchman, at just over 6,500 feet, is a perfect location for a sunset.

The Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway twists and turns through the canyon to offer magnificent views. You’ll likely see a bighorn sheep during your visit along this drive.

An afternoon hike to Weeping Rock provides a respite from the hot summer sun as the waterfall’s mist collects on your face. And at night, thousands of stars litter the sky like twinkling jewels.

As an International Dark Sky Park, Zion National Park is one of the best places in the country for stargazing.

Pro Tip: Love spotting wildlife? Zion National Park Wildlife: What to Expect.

2. Angel’s Landing Trail

The 5.4-mile Angel’s Landing Trail requires a permit because it’s so popular and one of the most strenuous hikes in the national park. You’ll climb almost 1,500 feet in less than three miles. The trail features long drop-offs and a narrow ridge to the summit. But the views of Zion National Park are breathtaking once you reach Angel’s Landing.

There’s a lottery system to snag a permit, so do your research to make sure you don’t miss out on this amazing hike.

3. The Narrows

The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. As you traverse through the Virgin River, 1,000-foot canyon walls tower above you. The 16-mile through-hike from Chamberlain’s Ranch to the Temple of Sinawava requires a permit, but shorter hiking trips do not.

Summer and early fall are the most popular times to hike the Narrows since the water is the warmest, and the levels drop after the spring snowmelt.

A hike in Zion National Park called The Narrows. IT has water through the canyon with steep walls to hike through.

When Is the Best Time To Visit Zion National Park?

Depending on what you want to do, Zion National Park offers year-round enjoyment. The shoulder seasons are less crowded, which means a better opportunity to snag a permit for Angel’s Landing and more available parking spaces at the visitor center.

However, the Narrows is often closed until summer due to the high flow rate caused by the winter snowmelt. If hiking the Narrows is on your bucket list, you’ll want to visit Zion in late summer or early fall.

Zion experiences extreme weather in the summer and winter. It’s very hot and cold, so come prepared for those temperatures if you visit during those seasons. Even though it’s hot during the summer, the park is full of visitors enjoying a summer vacation.

Arrive early in the morning and be prepared to wait in long lines for the shuttle buses. Thankfully, they run every 5-10 minutes, so you won’t have to wait long if the first bus is too crowded.

Pro Tip: If you’re not done exploring, check out The Mighty 5: Why You Need to See These National Parks in Utah!

One Of Utah’s Mighty Five: Zion National Park Is Worth Visiting

Zion National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country for a reason. The culture and history here is rich. The outdoor recreation, from hiking to biking to canyoneering, is superb. And the views are breathtaking.

Along with Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches, Zion makes up the Mighty Five in Utah. And each one of them is certainly worth a visit! Start planning your trip to see our national treasures this camping season!

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