On the Bottom Looking Up
The 19th-century Mormon settlers saw the vertical monoliths, precipitous 2,000- to 3,000-foot canyon walls, and sculptured rocks, and decided this was the promised land, the “natural temples of God.” And so, they named it Zion. If that sounds like hyperbole, wait until you see it.
The 229-square-mile park’s vertical topography – particularly the dramatic chasm of Zion Canyon, whose Technicolor sandstone cliffs have graced millions of postcards – means most park visitors see it all from the cottonwood-lined bottom of the canyon, carved out by the Virgin River over millions of years. Any vista will explain Zion’s nickname, “the land of rainbow canyons,” referring to the iron oxide and other minerals in the sandstone that leave a wash of red, pink, purple, yellow, and orange, remarkable at any time of the day.
Fifty miles of paved roads make Zion easy to explore by car or via the park’s shuttle buses, but get out and hike to see why early visitors named awe-inspiring sites such as the Great White Throne and the West Temple. More than 100 miles of paths range from the strenuous (the trek to Angels Landing is unmatched for its views) to the strollable.
The popular Riverside Walk leads to the Narrows, where the multicolored canyon walls tower above an only 20-foot-wide canyon floor, forcing trekkers to wade through the river’s cool shallow waters.
The surprisingly easy Canyon Overlook Trail is known for spectacular views, and the popular Emerald Pools Trail leads through forests to three basins fed by small waterfalls and kept a deep, rich green by the presence of algae. Zion Lodge, the park’s historic accommodation, is the best place to stay if you can nab one of the cabins designed in the 1920s, which were stripped of their 1970s decor courtesy of a thorough redo in 1998.