“Zion” was named by a Mormon settler and means “sanctuary” in Hebrew. President Taft signed the order making Zion a national park.
Zion National Park has three distinct areas to explore by car, shuttle or on foot – the Scenic Drive, the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, and Kolob Canyons.
We drove out to Zion in the late afternoon after we arrived.
The scenic drive you have to do via shuttle during high season, but there is a drive by car you can make via the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway which connects the south and east entrances of the park, so we took that route when we arrived.
Zion-Mount Carmel Highway & Some After Dark Adventure
The drive was initially uphill and full of switchbacks, but pretty.
One noteworthy rock formation on the drive is the Checkerboard Mesa. According to a sign at the viewpoint, the Mesa is made of sandstone. The horizontal lines were created from the wind and the vertical lines from expansion and contraction.
The highway has 2 tunnels cut through the cliff– 1 over a mile long and pitch black.
We exited at the east entrance and that’s where our trouble began. There is no direct route back to our hotel in St. George. Our Garmin took us on a 2-hour odyssey down a back road through Sand Dunes State Park, part of which was a rutty dirt road and which no one else was driving on, into Arizona, then back north to our hotel. It got dark on our way home, we had no phone reception and saw virtually no one for 30 minutes. It was scary and an adventure of the bad sort. Tourist hint, go to the north when you leave the east entrance to the park and take a route back over the mountains if you need to get to St. George, and don’t trust your Garmin.
The following day, we spent the whole day on the scenic drive. We were up early, so we could park in the park rather than shuttle in from Springdale (the parking lot fills by about 10 a.m.). The Scenic Drive, during peak months, can only be done via the free park shuttle.
We boarded a shuttle at the Visitor’s Center where we also found parking and rode to the last stop and worked our way back to the Visitors Center, getting off at every stop.
Some of the highlights of the drive:
Temple of Sinawava
At the last (our first) stop, Temple of Sinawava, mom and I took an easy 2 mile paved walk along the Virgin River to The Narrows, a hiking path closed due to river flooding, although normally you would have to wade through the river to get to the hiking path anyway.
Several foreigners on the route were fascinated by all the squirrels, who were unafraid of us and posed near the walking path.
At the Weeping Rock (stop 3), I hiked about ¼ mile uphill to a rock that had water dripping off it and plants and moss growing on it. According to an informative sign near the site, the Weeping Rock is a constant spring nourishing the plant life around it. The water appears to seep from the rock (hence the name).
At Zion Lodge (stop 5), we had lunch and then took a 1.2 mile round-trip hike, some uphill, to see the Emerald Pools and Waterfalls. The waterfalls (there were 3) were not as spectacular as some we’ve visited (see my Waterfalls page!), and the Emerald Pools were small and more brownish-hued.
Still, you could walk behind the falls and when a gust of wind below, you got sprayed by water, which felt nice (although it was comfortably in the 60s). The kids loved it.
Human History Museum
At the Human History Museum, mom and I watched a video on Zion. We learned from the video that people used to live in the canyons, including a family named Crawford who farmed here (there are a few foundation remnants from their farm nearby).
The back patio had nice views of some cliff formations, which were named:
While crowds were light in the morning, it got pretty crowded by 3 p.m. when we left.
Kolob Canyons is a separate section in the northern part of Zion National Park with a separate entrance. The scenic drive is only a 5-mile drive. The weather said a chance of storms and storms threatened as we drove to Kolob (Very low hanging clouds or fog hung over the mountains), but the drive was very pleasant with beautiful canyon views which appeared a deeper red with the lack of sunlight.
Kolob Canyons Views
The picture below shows tilted layers of the Colorado Plateau. An informational sign at the viewpoint said this is due to movement along the Hurricane Fault, pushing it up and exposing it to erosion.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites outside of St. George, UT. The hotel is very nice (nice wood furniture). We have an executive room with Jacuzzi tub (high walls, difficult to get into) and only a king bed, but the sofa pulls out. The hotel was about 45 minutes from Zion and about 1.5 hours from Bryce.