With the designation of the Zion Wilderness in 2009 as part of the Omnibus Land Management Act, protections to Zion National Park’s extensive backcountry increased dramatically, leaving an intense natural landscape for trekkers to explore. The vistas change with the season, from wildflowers in the spring to fall colors in the high country in early September.
Permits are required for all camping in the backcountry, and visitors should take extra precautions based on the season. If you’re planning on hiking canyons, particularly in the Zion Narrows, plan on getting wet. Since the Zion Narrows trail is the river itself, expect to spend about 60 percent of the trip walking through water, wading and even swimming.
Please be aware that access to the backcountry is tightly regulated. High-demand areas like The Subway and Mystery Canyon hold reservation lotteries in addition to setting aside a few passes for walk-ins. If you’re shooting for a reservation, it makes the most sense to avoid weekends and holidays.
While visitors might have to go fairly deep into the wilderness to check out the Kolob Arch, many of Zion’s natural wonders are easily reached. Self-guided hikes to the Emerald Pools and Weeping Rock, covering loops between one and three miles, are great for groups with kids. Hikers looking for a longer trip might want to check out hikes to Taylor Creek in the Kolob Canyon district or up Angel’s Landing.
The latter, while one of the most popular hiking trails in the park, gets rather hazardous during the final mile of the ascent. Since it’s exposed and demanding, travelers with young kids should probably skip the Angels Landing trail. But, if you make it to the top, the view from 1,500 feet above Zion Canyon’s floor is legendary.
Zion offers a variety of ranger-led programs that provide professional insight into the park’s natural and cultural history. Programs are typically offered from April to November in Zion and Kolob Canyons, and include nature hikes, guided bus tours and “patio talks” with the canyon floor as a resplendent backdrop.
If you’re looking to spot a peregrine falcon, a bald eagle or a California condor, Zion is the right place. The park is home to 288 recorded bird species, and factored heavily in recovery efforts for endangered birds. Its high craggy cliffs continue to be a preferred nesting site for falcons in the park. Protection of nesting sites sometimes prompts closure of hiking trails.
Zion National Park is a well-known place for rock climbing and bouldering. There are many walls that appeal to experienced climbers because of their challenging conditions — high, unshaded climbs on sandstone aren’t recommended for novices. Touchstone, Spaceshot, Prodigal Son and Moonlight Buttress are all popular climbing destinations within Zion National Park. The best seasons for climbing in the park are May through May and September through November. The combination of monsoon rains and extreme heat during the height of summer make conditions particularly hazardous.