The rugged wilderness that comprises Zion National Park is situated in the southwest corner of Utah. An easy 2.5-hour drive from Las Vegas, or 4 hours from Salt Lake City, it is an accessible park for all seasons
Turning off the Interstate 15 from St George, the drive is spectacular all the way to the small town of Springdale, gateway to the park. Huge rock formations and massive flat-topped mountains known as ‘mesas’ loom in the distance, and for a lot of the journey you follow the meandering Virgin River.
I visited in mid-winter when despite the temperatures staying below freezing, the sun shone and the air was crystal clear and still. Of all the National Parks in Southern Utah, Zion is one of the most accessible during the winter months.
In the summer it is so popular that the park service run a shuttle bus service along the canyon with many drop off points for hikers and sightseers. This restricts private vehicles and prevents the hideous traffic jams of the past.
But in the winter it is much quieter, the shuttle is put away until the spring and visitors can self-drive along the scenic routes.
As always with US National parks a stop at the Visitor Centre just inside the gate is a must. Here you can study maps, pick up leaflets, talk to rangers and generally get your bearings.
There is a selection of ‘must do’ hikes for different abilities and most include a steep climb, resulting in breathtaking views and the beauty of frozen waterfalls along the way. When I was there, paths were very icy, and some were closed, so I enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Virgin river, watching the mule deer graze and revelling in the peace and tranquillity. As the sun moves through the sky, so the mountains take on a rainbow of different colours and shadows.
For a short visit I can recommend a jeep safari into the mountains behind Springdale.
Not strictly in the National Park, but still within the Zion ecosystem, this was a great way to learn about the area from a knowledgeable guide and to get to see places we would never have found on our own. We stopped by the deserted Mormon settlement of Grafton, which has been the location for many films, including Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid. A few of the remaining buildings are slowly being renovated to become a lasting memorial to the early Mormon settlers. We stopped to admire the view from Gooseberry Mesa and wondered at the tenacity of the early pioneers who had made their way on foot and horseback across such an unforgiving landscape.
Back in the present day we had the comfort of the Desert Pearl Inn in Springdale. Ideally situated alongside the Virgin River, a riverside room with a sheltered deck was the perfect place to enjoy the view.
Springdale is an artist’s community with a selection of galleries showcasing painting, sculptures and photographs inspired by the canyon. There are a variety of good restaurants and snack bars, as well as a small supermarket if you are looking to make a picnic. My favourites were Wildcat Willy’s for a delicious burger, and The Spotted Dog for American fine dining at its best.
Having enjoyed Zion is such harsh weather I am keen to return when it is warmer and experience some of the recommended hikes.
For more information about Zion National Park visit:
American Sky has a selection of tours and fly-drive packages including:
- ‘National Parks of America’ where you can tour the American West, visiting six national parks including Zion National Park, a breakfast cruise on Lake Powell and a scenic drive through the Bighorn Mountains before seeing Mount Rushmore.
- Canyon Country
- Scenic Parks Explorer
Silver Travel Advisor recommends American Sky