Zion National Park
Here in the southwersten portion of Utah lies some of the most beautiful country on God’s green earth. Some of it is seen by only very few people, accessible only by foot or by horseback and mules; and some of it is accessible even to small children with their families right in Zion National Park! Zion is a mystical place full of magnificently high ciffs, red slickrock canyons, natural arches, and flowing streams and river crossings. There is a great benefit to simply being in Zion, where, like other National Parks, you can soak in all the beauty of nature that has remained unchanged by mankind for thousands of years.
History of Zion National Park
The Zion National Park area was first inhabited by the Anasazi and the Paiute Indians. On October 13, 1776, Catholic Padres Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Francisco Atanasio Dominguez became the first known whites to visit the area, passing by the place where the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center is today. The famous trapper Jedediah Smith also passed through the area in about 1825.
It was in the 1860's that the Mormons came in and really began to settle in the area. The very canyon floor of Zion was used for farming and grazing until, as an effort to protect the area, US President William Howard Taft designated the area a national monument. At this time it was called Mukuntuweap National Monument. It was not long before people realized that Mukuntuweap was rather difficult to pronounce and spell, and were worried that if folks could not pronounce a place, they might be less inclined to visit. Thus, effort was made to change the name to Zion, a biblical reference to Jersusalem and to the New Jerusalem, Heaven itself as well as a Mormon reference to the place closest to God. In 1919, Mukuntuweap National Monument was offically designated "Zion National Park" by President Woodrow Wilson.
Today, Zion National Park welcomes over four and a half million visitors every year!
The Wildlife of Zion National Park
While visiting Zion National Park, you are very likely to see mule deer, bighorn sheep, squirrels, rabbits and many types of birds and lizards. However, you may very well get lucky and see, especially in more remote locations of the Zion National Park Area, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, black bears, badgers, racoons, ring-tailed cats, and if you go to the Kolob Canyon area of Zion National Park, you may see some giant California Condors which have been introduced to the area in an effort to save the species!
Weather in Zion National Park
Due to Southern Utah’s drastic elevation changes, from about 3,000 feet above sea level at St. George to over 10,000 feet above sea level at nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument, there is great diversity in weather conditions and activities. Anytime of the year can be a good time to visit Southern Utah, and anytime of the year can be a great time for hiking or horseback riding. However, the most common time for visitors to arrive in Zion National Park is March- October.
Winter in Zion:
Zion National Park remains open all winter long. In winter, you can expect Zion to be much less crowded than usual and you can expect hiking trails that require wading, such as “The Narrows” to be closed. You should also expect some of the local shops and restaurants to be closed for the winter, though more and more they are deciding to remain open all year long, as we do here at Rising K Ranch. Be sure to use common sense if you intend to do any hiking in the winter. Remember that the days are shorter and that the temperatures will drop suddenly as soon as the sun begins to go down. Be sure to take note of how icy a trail may be and do not hike cliffs if they are covered in ice (each year at least a few people die from falling in Zion.) Be sure to drive your vehicle safely on icy roads, taking the time it takes to avoid a wreck. All in all, however, Zion National Park remains a worthwhile destination all winter long and is much warmer than the higher National Parks and Monuments like Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks (though these are still beautiful to see in the winter even though you can’t hike them.)
Spring in Zion:
Spring in Southern Utah is totally unpredictable. On any given Spring day in Zion you may see snow, rain, and freezing temperatures, or you may see clear blue skies with warmth, colorful wildflowers, and lots of sunshine, or you may see all the above in a single day (really.) In Spring, most of the narrow slot canyon trails are closed due to the run-off from melting snow in the higher mountains to the east and north. This melting snow run-off brings not only higher than usual water levels, but also may bring many tons of debris such as logs and boulders, making some water crossings impassable. Spring is a time of year when the Zion Canyon area, which is usually quite arid, is full of greenery and pools of water. The waterfalls flow fast and forcefully and the wild animals begin to fatten up after a long winter of sparse vegetation. In Spring, the ground in Southern Utah becomes incredibly muddy. Our soil, which is often a clay, becomes sticky and slippery so that you often gather several inches of mud underneath your boots in only a few steps, making each footstep extremely heavy, and even 4-wheel drive vehicles often get stuck in the Utah mud! Most of Zion National Park’s established hiking trails, however are steep enough and rocky enough that you will not encounter this wet Utah clay.
Summer in Zion:
In summer, Zion will typically be well over 90 °F. It is the summer months in which Zion National Park receives most of her visitors and is the most crowded. From late July through August, the monsoon season occurs, frequently bringing large thunderstorms that seem to appear out of nowhere on a hot afternoon. These thunderstorms cause flash flooding and incredible lightning strikes with almost deafening clashes of thunder. During these thunderstorms, you will still likely be able to enjoy the outdoors as long as you have rain gear and are in a safe place from any flooding or lightning. Do make sure to avoid any high water crossings during a thunderstorm, either on foot or in a vehicle, as people are killed by flash flooding each year in the Zion Canyon area. Also keep in mind that many of Zion’s flash floods are caused, not by the rain that is occuring within the Park, but from storm many miles above the Park. While it may be sunny where you are, far away rain may still cause heavy flooding in a slot canyon where you may intend to hike, so be sure to check on all the conditions specific to your particular hiking trail before you go out. If you are intending to hike and enjoy Zion’s trails in the summer, you would be very wise to begin your day’s adventures before sunup so as to avoid the crowds, the heat and the common thunderstorms.
Autumn in Zion:
Fall is many peopl's favorite time of year in Zion National Park. The nights are cold enough that you enjoy and can truly appreciate the warmth of a campfire and the days are warm enough that you can usually spend you entire day outside without even wanting a jacket, especially if you are moving around a lot. Rain and snow are both quite uncommon from September through mid- October, making it the perfect time to go camping and even the fishing is great in the Fall in Utah! At higher elevations such as you find at Bryce Canyon or Cedar Breaks, the fall colors begin at late September, so if you are visiting Zion from late September through October, I recommend you take a few hours to head north and visit the Cedar Breaks area to see the red leaves of the maple, the golden leaves of the aspen and oak, and the green pine all blend together against the backdrop of Utah’s blue sky. In Zion, the fall colors begin much later, around mid-November, and are beautiful; but there simply are not as many trees in Zion as there are in the mountains such as those right here at Rising K Ranch or further to the east at Bryce Canyon. Fall is when the water levels are the lowest; but since the water is beginning to cool down you might want to check on renting some wet pants if you intend to hike “The Narrows” or any other river wading trails.