3 Things To Do at Zion National Park

As Utah’s oldest and most visited national park, Zion’s topography is an exquisite spectacle of canyon–mesa country. Encompassing one of the most scenic cliff-and-canyon landscapes in the USA, Zion’s 229 square miles (593 km) are internationally known for their dramatic canyons, towering rock faces, overhanging cliffs, sparkling waterfalls, hanging valleys, high plateaus, rock formations, dripping springs, shaded pools, and particularly for the Virgin River Narrows. The word Zion is from ancient Hebrew meaning a place of refuge or sanctuary, and Zion National Park is just that – an exquisite respite from the surrounding world.

1. Hike The Virgin River Narrows

Hiking Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah, USA
Hiking Virgin River Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah, USA

The Virgin River winds its way through Zion Canyon’s scenic 15-mile stretch, cutting through reddish and tan Navajo Sandstone, nourishing the landscape, and serving as a natural corridor for exploration. The Canyon is up to a half mile deep, serving as a haven for rock climbers with massive cliff faces radiant in the sunshine. Some of Zion’s most noted geographical features include the Virgin River Narrows, a gorge as narrow as 20 feet (6 m) wide and up to 2,000 feet (610 m) deep. Exploring the Virgin River Narrows is a fun and unique activity for the entire family.

Bighorn Sheep soaking up the sun in Zion National Park
Bighorn Sheep soaking up the sun in Zion National Park

2. Discover Zion’s Flora and Fauna

Zion National Park encompasses 5,000 feet of elevation change. Such unique geography and resultant variety of microclimates allows for remarkable plant and animal diversity: Zion is home to over 78 species of mammals (including 19 species of bat), 291 species of birds, 44 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 8 species of fish. If you’re lucky, you can spot badgers, bank beavers, bats, bighorn sheep, cougars, coyotes, desert cottontails, foxes, jackrabbits, Merriam’s kangaroo rats, mule deer, porcupines, raccoons, rattlesnakes, ringtail cats, rock squirrels, skunks, and whiptail and collared lizards.

Soaring over canyons or chasing one another through the trees can be found bald eagles, California condors, canyon wrens, dippers, gnatcatchers, golden eagles, peregrine falcons, pinyon jays, red-tailed hawks, and white-throated swifts. Needless to say Zion National Park is an oasis for birdwatchers.

Plant species common to Zion include cottonwood, cactus, datura, juniper, pinyon pine, ponderosa pine, box elder, sagebrush, manzanita shrubs, cliff-rose, serviceberry, scrub oak, yucca, gamble oak, aspen, and various willows.

Don’t forget your binoculars!

3. Visit Checkerboard Mesa Viewpoint

CheckerboarMesa at Zion National Park
A Must-Stop: Checkerboard Mesa at Zion National Park

Checkerboard Mesa is a must stop for all photography aficionados. The cone-shaped formation’s cross-hatched pattern resembles a checkerboard and reflects ancient wind patterns. It is considered one of the most recognized landmarks at Zion National Park. Located close to the East Entrance Ranger Station, Checkerboard Mesa viewpoint allows you to stop, rest, and be amazed by nature’s beauty. With sturdy shoes, you can embark on a 2 – 4 hour moderately strenuous hike to the Saddle. We recommend to pack a picnic, unplug, and enjoy lunch with unparalleled views of Zion National Park.

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