Top 10 things to do in Zion National Park
Covering just shy of 230sq miles of pastel shaded sandstone towers and monolithic mountain backdrops, Zion National Park presents a unique glimpse at life in Utah and shouldn't be missed if you're into your outdoor adventure activities.
There's always something enticing about a boulder strewn ascent leading to a 'one at a time' peak and if you're hoping to scale new heights and go all Tom Cruise as you regain your grip and consider your next foot hold then mountain climbing in Zion is an absolute delight.
Of course, there are plenty of other not so extreme pursuits to try whilst you're in the park and if you've got the bird watching bug then keep your binoculars trained on those rocky crags because you never know when something feathered and magnificent will decide to take flight.
Below are just a few of the other awesome activities to get to grips with in Zion National Park and if you've got plans to visit in the near future then get ready for a rocky ride to really relish.
10. Cycling in Zion
Aside from all the rocky paths and unforgiving prickly pears, cycling in Zion National Park is much more accessible than you may first have thought. The 2 mile Pa'rus Trail, in particular, is always a favourite of cyclists and as you follow the course of the Virgin River you'll be treated to numerous colourful rock formations as well as a good chance of spotting wildlife too. Although off-road mountain biking is not permitted you will find plenty of roads and designated trails to help you see the park on two wheels and the racks on-board the ranger shuttle bus are always an added bonus.
9. Bird watching
The valleys and canyon shelves of Zion National Park are blessed with almost 300 different species of birds and chances of seeing eagles, falcons and even condors within their natural habitat are well-worth the visit alone. In the main, spotting birds in Zion can be a quite leisurely and relaxing activity however, if you're not in possession of a pair of super-duper professional binoculars then there's only one thing left to do and that's climb. Fortune favours the brave and if you want to see peregrine falcons near to their nests then follow ranger instructions and hold on tight.
8. Canyon tours
Depending on your level of experience, canyoning in Zion can be a totally absorbing experience and from beginner to Class 4 pro, there's bound to be the right level of hole in the rock to suit you.
Heads up: canyoning requires participants to negotiate a path through a canyon using just their wits and physical strength as well as a few ropes and harnesses if undertaking anything upwards of a Class 2. Following a guide is always best practice and if you fancy clambering, swimming, wading, climbing and hiking then canyoning is definitely a sport to try.
7. Mountain climbing
If you prefer your rock scaling feats to be on a more vertical level as opposed to the fairly horizontal prospect of canyoning, then mountain climbing in Zion National Park has to be a prospect that you'll no doubt be relishing. Angels Landing, Cable Mountain, the Sentinel and the Mountain of the Sun should all be on every experienced climbers' list of 'must conquer' and if you're uninitiated then the best bet is head for the park's designated climbing zones and top rope areas where you'll get to learn in some stunning surroundings.
6. Hiking the Narrows
There are myriad hiking routes of varying degrees of length and gradient throughout Zion National Park however, if you're hoping to encounter the quintessential images that have long served as the symbols of the park then surely the Narrows have to be a challenge to truly savour. This is by no means an easy hike and when you bear in mind that over half of the 16 miles of trail involves wading and even swimming through the Virgin River then you may want to think about turning back now.
Note: if you're hiking from bottom up then you won't need a permit if you're heading top down then you will – please check with rangers and fully prepare prior to tackling the Narrows.
5. Horseback riding
If you don't fancy hiking over boulders or wading through muddy rivers then horse-riding has to be the answer to all of your outdoor adventure needs as from a comfortable ride to pausing for photos, this is pure bliss and a must for those wishing to take things easy. Of course, as with everything in Zion NP, you can crank things up a notch and if you're a more experienced horseback rider then lengthening your journey will ensure you get to put your horse and your equestrian skills to the test within some formidable landscapes – yeeha!
4. Trekking the Subway
Warning: permits are required if you intend to take on Zion National Park's Subway and if you think this is a sit down underground train trip then you may want to do a little more research. Best advice is to only travel with a guide who's experienced with all of the Subway's nooks and crannies because this a testing and challenging trek that requires a certain amount of route negotiation as well as a fair degree of physical strength. Both hikes (bottom up and top down) are just under 10 miles in length and will have you scrambling, rope working and sometimes swimming all in the name of adrenaline-fuelled outdoor adventure.
3. Youth programmes
For every expert that's able to negotiate the Narrows and take on the Subway there's a keen eyed youthful version that's eager to learn and hungry for adventure. If you have a member of your party who you think would love to find out more about the rock formations, wildlife and quintessential natural beauty of Zion then get them on a ranger-led youth programme and watch their eyes light up with excitement. As kids have to be accompanied by adults this is also a great opportunity to learn a few things yourself as from walks and talks to camping and shuttle tours, being in the company of an experienced ranger means fun for all the family.
2. Kolob Arch
There are so many natural granite and sandstone formations in Zion National Park that often you may find yourself dizzy with choice. The Three Patriarchs, the Beehives and Crawford Arch are all amongst some of the iconic symbols that you absolutely must see however, if you're looking for the one that they all want a picture of then it has to be Kolob Arch. Considered to be just smaller than the largest natural arch on the planet (to be found in Arches NP), Kolob is an absolute jaw-dropper and undertaking the hike to the fairly isolated location will leave you in no doubt as to the wondrous beauty that aeons of erosion brings to the natural world.
1. Messing about on the river
Although you will need a wilderness pass to enjoy a day spent on the water it's free to obtain one from the Zion Canyon info centre and best advice is to put in your request the night before so you can hit the rapids from the moment you wake up. Aside from your permit you'll also need to be in possession of approved buoyancy aids and if you're thinking of taking on the Narrows then you'll need to be a certified Grade 5 and be comfortable surviving on your own for at least 3 or 4 days. River trips are great fun but, as with all adventure activities, ensuring you have the correct craft, skill level and safety equipment is essential for achieving a successful outcome.
Heads up: Although tubing isn't permitted within Zion NP, there are some organised trips on the Virgin River that take place in neighbouring Springdale.
Further reading: The rock formations of Bryce Canyon National Park have long been attracting visitors both for their beauty and potential for awesome outdoor activities. We check out the top 10 things to do in Bryce Canyon including camping, stagazing, horse riding and alpine skiing.
Article written by Chris Owen.