Zion National Park is located in Southwest Utah about 160 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Interstate Highway 15 runs close by and Utah State Road 9 going to Zion is easy to navigate. There are plenty of lodges, restaurants and fun tourist traps in Hurricane, Springdale or Mt Carmel Junction on either side of Zion National Park. There are even a few traditional western ranch resorts in Zion Country too. Campgrounds can be found inside the park and there are privately own campsites in this area, but just like with the lodging, reservations should be made well in advance. Zion National Park can be a very busy place, especially on three day holiday weekends and even a parking place can be impossible to find, so it is easy to get the overall picture of the accommodation situation.
Utah SR 9 is the scenic byway that runs through Zion and this is a smooth paved road. There are an endless amount of scenic view overlooks, trailhead parking lots and wayside parking spaces along the way. The National Park Service placed the parking zones in areas that offer majestic views of the landscape, so a scenic drive through Zion is a photographer’s dream come true!
Zion National Park covers a vast expanse of land and most of this park can only be accessed by hikers. Zion trail maps are provided at the gatehouse entrances and the trailheads are easy to find. Some of the back country trails and dangerous trails do require registration as a safety measure. On busy holiday weekends the parking might be an issue at the trailhead parking areas, but patience is a virtue, because most folks that venture through Zion are only temporarily parking to take a few photos.
The prime attraction at Zion is the huge slot canyon with a stream and green vegetation in the basin. The slot canyon is surrounded by colorful towering rock formations. Some of the slot canyon walls are sheer vertical cliffs that reach up to the clouds. One can also see the start of several natural limestone arches on the canyon walls. The effect of light and shadow in the slot canyon creates dramatic effects and viewers will notice something new as the shadows move throughout the day.
The landscape at Zion dramatically changes from one section to the next. In a stretch of one mile a visitor can see ancient ocean sedimentary deposits, towering cliffs, extreme erosive forces, streams, ponds, volcanic cinder cones and some of the most colorful limestone outcrops in the Southwest. Zion truly is a geologists dream come true, because this desert landscape is so diverse.
One look at the photos is all it takes to see just how indescribably beautiful that Zion National Park really is. I shot the photos after driving 3,000 miles from the east coast on my way to Las Vegas a few years ago. I traveled east to west during the drive through Zion on Utah SR 9. I was dead tired, yet the photos from the scenic overlooks turned out pretty good. On the flip-side, the day I drove through Zion was during Labor Day weekend and the severe overcrowding was a problem to reckon with. Basically, every single parking area was full, so only a few photos were actually captured at the official scenic overlooks. Most of the photos in this album were taken while stuck in traffic jams within the park, so the views are not what a tourist will usually see when cruising along. The experience was frustrating, but at least the views were as picturesque as it gets.
Packing the car with camping and hiking gear for an extended stay in this National Park is the best way to experience the full spectrum of what Zion has to offer. One simply cannot go wrong by just planning to do a leisurely scenic drive through Zion, but a holiday weekend is not a good time to do this kind of trek. Either way, Zion National Park certainly belongs on the bucket list of travel destinations to visit at least once in a lifetime. Zion National Park is one of the most captivatingly beautiful places on earth and the experience will be much better if a visit is planned after the peak spring or summer tourism seasons are over!
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