|Award-winning Trek run lively, low-cost, small group adventure tours of USA. West Coast (camping); Deals; Canyons BLT (budget best canyons); Canyon Adventure (activities); Best of the West; Western BLT|
Looking down into a part of Zion Canyon from Canyon Overlook trail.
Zion Canyon, about three hours from Las Vegas, is a stunning National Park and an interesting contrast to its more famous and more distant cousin, the Grand Canyon.
In the Grand Canyon, for example, the majority of travellers will spend their time looking down, and serious hikers will stride straight towards hell, whereas in Zion Canyon everyone starts at the bottom looking up and serious hikers are headed for heaven.
Furthermore, while Zion is not quite as grand as its neighbour, it offers many more trails than El Grande and accommodation inside the canyon- whether lodging, camping or mobile homers.
Not quite as awesome as the Grand One, Zion manages to be spectacular but also user friendly, with scenic, well planned trails, efficient services - including regular shuttle buses driven by wonderfully talkative and informed drivers - and magical rocks.
Zion's Angel's Landing, with a famously vertiginous trail.
Zion Canyon has more inspiring vistas than California's Yosemite and more variety of superb trails than the Grand Canyon. In short, it's a terrific place to stay in comfort, get some exercise and see tall, elegant, colourful rocks, though it can get a bit claustrophobic.
The early part of the Canyon Overlook Trail.
Even Zion's more gentle walks are full of interest, new views appear around every bend, and the trees are not too tall to block the grand vistas, unlike cousin Yosemite.
Settled 150 years ago by a Mormon who named the place Little Zion, the park features fortress walls in multicoloured Navajo sandstone, hanging gardens, a Virgin River (and don't bother with the tubing unless you want to spend hours wrestling your tube over slippery rocks in freezing water), waterfalls, narrow canyons and a good selection of flora and fauna. Most trailheads can only be reached by (frequent) shuttle buses from April to October.
The park is open all year but the best months are April, May, September, October - in other words out of the busy, hot season or the chilly months, though Zion winters are fairly mild.
Shuttle buses are free, fun and frequent, with good humoured narrative and in-depth historical and geological information about the park from the bus drivers.
Zion Lodge in the centre of the park offers good, reasonably priced food, shade and lodging.
Fording the Virgin River on Zion's Narrows Trail.
Easy under-waterfall trails like Emerald Pools may suit Zion's older, lazier or time-short visitors, but serious, fit hikers enjoy the challenge of death-defying, vertigo-inducing upward trails like Angel's Landing, or the long, narrow, cold water wading of the Narrows Trail.
Further along The Narrows things get extreme on one of Zion's more strenuous hiking routes.
One of the views on the Canyon Overlook Trail.
Sadly the wonderful Canyon Overlook Trail - short but very, very sweet - is the only walk not easily accessible by Zion's shuttle bus, though those with wheels can get to the limited parking area just outside the east entrance to Zion's road tunnel.
Another view on the Canyon Overlook Trail.
Zion Canyon is open all winter!
Photo by Douglas Dietiker
Zion Canyon is on State Route 9 in Springdale, Utah. Distances from Zion Visitor Center:
From Las Vegas, Nevada (163 miles); Mesquite, Nevada (80 miles); and Saint George, Utah (40 miles); Salt Lake City, Utah (307 miles); Cedar City, Utah (57 miles).
From Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah (86 miles); Grand Canyon National Park North Rim, Arizona (126 miles); Grand Canyon National Park South Rim, Arizona (253 miles).
Zion National Park is open 24 hours a day, all year and encompasses 3 good value or free campgrounds.