Hiking Trails in Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Zion National Park - Geology

Immutable yet ever changing, the cliffs of Zion stand resolute, a glowing presence in late day, a wild calm. Melodies of waters soothe desert-parched ears, streams twinkle over stone, wren song cascades from red rock cliffs, cottonwood leaves jitter on the breeze. But when lightning flashes water falls erupt from dry cliffs, and floods flash down waterless canyons exploding log jams, hurling boulders, croaking wild joyousness, and dancing stone and water and time. Zion is alive with movement, a river of life always here and always changing.

Everything in Zion takes life from the Virgin River's scarce desert waters. Water flows, and solid rock melts into cliffs and towers. Landscape changes as canyons deepen to create forested highlands and lowland deserts. A ribbon of green marks the river's course as diverse plants and animals take shelter and thrive in this canyon oasis. From the beginning people sought this place, this sanctuary in the desert's dry reaches. The very name Zion, a Hebrew word for refuge, evokes its significance.

Zion National Park is located along the edge of a region known as the Colorado Plateau. The rock layers have been uplifted, tilted, and eroded, forming a feature called the Grand Staircase, a series of colorful cliffs stretching between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. The bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon is the top layer at Zion, and the bottom layer at Zion is the top layer at the Grand Canyon.

Zion was a relatively flat basin near sea level 240 million years ago. As sands, gravels, and muds eroded from surrounding mountains, streams carried these materials into the basin and deposited them in layers. The sheer weight of these accumulated layers caused the basin to sink, so that the top surface always remained near sea level. As the land rose and fell and as the climate changed, the depositional environment fluctuated from shallow seas to coastal plains to a desert of massive windblown sand. This process of sedimentation continued until over 10,000 feet of material accumulated.

Mineral-laden waters slowly filtered through the compacted sediments. Iron oxide, calcium carbonate, and silica acted as cementing agents, and with pressure from overlying layers over long periods of time, transformed the deposits into stone. Ancient seabeds became limestone; mud and clay became mudstones and shale; and desert sand became sandstone. Each layer originated from a distinct source and so differs in thickness, mineral content, color, and eroded appearance.

In an area from Zion to the Rocky Mountains, forces deep within the earth started to push the surface up. This was not chaotic uplift, but very slow vertical hoisting of huge blocks of the crust. Zion’s elevation rose from near sea level to as high as 10,000 feet above sea level. Uplift is still occurring. In 1992 a magnitude 5.8 earthquake caused a landslide visible just outside the south entrance of the park in Springdale.

This uplift gave the streams greater cutting force in their descent to the sea. Zion’s location on the western edge of this uplift caused the streams to tumble off the plateau, flowing rapidly down a steep gradient. A fast-moving stream carries more sediment and larger boulders than a slow-moving river. These streams began eroding and cutting into the rock layers, forming deep and narrow canyons. Since the uplift began, the North Fork of the Virgin River has carried away several thousand feet of rock that once lay above the highest layers visible today.

The Virgin River is still excavating. Upstream from the Temple of Sinawava the river cuts through Navajo Sandstone, creating a slot canyon. At the Temple, the river has reached the softer Kayenta Formation below. Water erodes the shale, undermining the overlaying sandstone and causing it to collapse, widening the canyon.

A landslide once dammed the Virgin River forming a lake. Sediments settled out of the quiet waters, covering the lake bottom. When the river breached the dam and the lake drained, it left behind a flat-bottomed valley. This change in the character of the canyon can be seen from the scenic drive south of the Zion Lodge near the Sentinel Slide. This slide was active again in 1995, damaging the road.

Flash floods occur when sudden thunderstorms dump water on exposed rock. With little soil to absorb the rain, water runs downhill, gathering volume as it goes. These floods often occur without warning and can increase water flow by over 100 times. In 1998 a flash flood increased the volume of the Virgin River from 200 cubic feet per second to 4,500 cubic feet per second, again damaging the scenic drive at the Sentinel Slide.


The incredible geology of Zion has created environments as widespread and diverse as the topography of the park itself. Included in this geologic grandeur are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of freestanding arches of all shapes and sizes. Finding arches in Zion is part of an ever changing exploration of the natural world. Indeed, while finding an arch in Zion is a wonderful experience, one may be even more surprised with the many other natural wonders encountered along the way.

Although freestanding rock can be found in many different geologic formations, the Navajo Sandstone formation found in Zion is home to many arches. Dune-bearing formations like Navajo Sandstone and Entrada Sandstone (found in Arches National Park) offer up many rock spans as they give way to the unceasing forces of erosion.

Kolob Arch, The largest arch in the Western Hemisphere is located in the Kolob Canyons of Zion. Accessible only by a minimum of 14 miles hiking, Kolob Arch is a crown jewel in the Zion Backcountry. For years, geologists and scholars have debated whether Kolob Arch in Zion or Landscape Arch (in Arches National Park) is the world's largest freestanding arch. At an estimated 310 feet long, Kolob Arch is certainly one of the freestanding largest arches in the world.

For a detailed description of the trail to Kolob Arch, please visit the Trails section above.

Zion National Park - Anthropology

Almost 12,000 years ago Zion's first peoples, who are now almost invisible, tracked mammoth, giant sloth, and camel across southern Utah. Due to climate change and overhunting these animals died out about 8,000 years ago.

Humans adapted by focusing on mid-sized animals and gathered foods. As resources dwindled 2,600 years ago, people tuned lifeways to the specifics of place. Such a culture, centered on Zion, differentiated over the next 1,500 years into a farming tradition archeologists call Virgin Anasazi.

Zion's geology provided these and later pioneer farmers a combination rare in the desert: a wide, level place to grow food, a river to water it, and an adequate growing season. On the Colorado Plateau crops grow best between 5,000 and 7,000 feet, making Zion's elevations -- 3,666 to 8,726 feet -- almost ideal. Differences in elevation also encourage diverse plants and animals; mule deer and turkey wander forested plateaus; bighorn sheep and juniper prosper in canyons.

The Anasazi moved southeast 800 years ago, due probably to drought and overuse. Soon after, Paiute peoples brought a lifeway fine-tuned to desert seasons and thrived. In the 1860s, just after settlement by Mormon pioneers, John Wesley Powell visited Zion on the first scientific exploration of southern Utah. By hard work and faith pioneers endured in a landscape that hardly warranted such persistence. Flash floods destroyed towns and drought burned the crops. Only the will to survive saw Paiute, Anasazi, and European descendants through great difficulties. Perhaps today Zion is again a sanctuary, a place of life and hope.

A Detailed Human History

During the Archaic period (approximately 6000 B.C.- A.D. 500), small groups hunted game and collected wild plants, seeds, and nuts across the broad expanse of the Great Basin and western Colorado Plateau. This mobile lifeway left few traces in the archeological record, with the exception of materials recovered from dry caves and a few deeply buried sites. In these protected settings, perishable artifacts, such as baskets, cordage nets, and yucca fiber sandals, survived. The Archaic toolkits also included flaked stone knives, drills, and stemmed dart points. The dart points were hafted to wooden shafts and propelled by throwing devices, called atlatls.

By about 300 B.C., some archaic groups had begun to supplement wild foods in their diets by cultivating small patches of corn and squash along rivers and near springs. Archeologists have labeled these groups the “Basketmakers”, because of the abundance of coiled and twined baskets found in many late Archaic sites. These early experiments with horticulture reduced group mobility and increased the need for food storage. Basketmaker sites often have grass or stone-lined storage cists and shallow, partially underground dwellings, called pithouses.

Within a few centuries, small-scale gardening had intensified into the full time horticulture that typifies the Formative period (A.D.500-1300). Two distinctive horticultural groups, the Virgin Anasazi and Parowan Fremont, appear in the archeological record of Zion National Park during this period. They established year round habitation sites (often called “pueblos, the Spanish word for “village” or “community”) with pithouses, storage cists, and later, above-ground masonry room blocks. Grinding stones (“manos and metates”) signal the importance of corn in the diets of both groups.

Sedentary lifestyles encouraged the production of plain and painted ceramic vessels. These were used for storage, food preparation, and as trade goods across broad geographic areas. The new technology of the bow and arrow also gained widespread acceptance during the Formative period. The extent to which the Virgin Anasazi exploited wild plants and game is still unclear. Some researchers suggest that they were almost totally dependent on cultivated foods. By contrast, the Parowan Fremont may have continued to hunt and collect a broad spectrum of wild resources to supplement cultivated foods.

Virgin Anasazi sites typically occur on river terraces along the Virgin River and its major tributaries, overlooking the fertile river bottoms where corn, squash, and other crops could be grown. There is evidence that hunting and collecting parties made forays to nearby upland areas, like the Kolob Plateau. Parowan Fremont sites are found along stream courses and near springs. They cultivated a drought and cold tolerant variety of corn (called Fremont Dent) that could be successfully grown at higher elevations. The Virgin Anasazi and Parowan Fremont appear to have interacted along cultural contact zones, such as the Kolob Plateau, during the last years of the Formative period.

Both the Virgin Anasazi and the Parowan Fremont disappear from the archeological record of southwestern Utah by about A.D. 1300. Extended droughts in the 11th and 12th centuries, interspersed with catastrophic flooding, may have made horticulture impossible in this arid region. Some researchers have suggested that the sedentary horticultural groups could not successfully compete for wild resources with the more mobile Numic language speakers (such as the Southern Paiute and Ute) who were in the region by at least A.D. 1100.

The time span between A.D. 1300 and the late 1700s has been described as the “Neo-Archaic” by some researchers, since the lifeways were reminiscent of the earlier adaptation. The Numic language speakers were the only occupants of the Zion landscape. They depended on a wide array of wild plants and animals, moving seasonally to hunt game or collect ripe seeds and nuts. This mobile lifestyle was reflected in their material possessions, which consisted of baskets, nets, and snares, as well as bows and arrows. Some, particularly the Southern Paiute, also planted fields of corn, sunflowers, and squash to supplement their collected wild foods. These more sedentary groups made brownware vessels that were for storage and cooking.

The Historic period begins in the late 1700s, with the exploration and settlement of southern Utah by Euro-Americans. Initial explorations by traders from New Mexico blazed the Old Spanish Trail, which followed the Virgin River for a portion of its length. During the next century, American fur trappers and government surveyors added new overland travel routes across the region. In 1872, John Wesley Powell explored the areas around Zion Canyon, as part of western surveys conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey. The early pack trails soon became well-used wagon roads, connecting Santa Fe to the California markets.

In 1847, Brigham Young led members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) to Utah Territory, establishing settlements in the Great Salt Lake Valley. Within a decade, Mormon pioneers were sent to settle the southern part of the territory and grow cotton in Utah’s “Dixie”. Towns like Shunesberg, Springdale, Grafton, Adventure, and Paradise sprang up along the upper Virgin River during the 1860s. In 1863, Issac Behunin built the first log cabin in Zion Canyon, near the location of the Zion Lodge. Soon the canyon was dotted with other homesteads, including that of William Crawford, near Oak Creek.

During the remainder of the century, the small communities and homesteads struggled to survive. Catastrophic flooding by the river, little arable land, and poor soils made agriculture in the upper Virgin River a risky venture. Some of these settlements, including Shunesberg and Grafton, were ultimately abandoned for more favorable locations.

By the first decade of the 20th century, the scenic qualities of southern Utah, and Zion Canyon in particular, had been recognized as a potential destination for tourism. In 1909, a presidential Executive Order designated Mukuntuweap (Zion) National Monument, in Zion Canyon. The new monument was, however, virtually inaccessible to visitors, since the existing roads were in poor condition and the closest railhead a hundred miles away.

The Utah State Road Commission, established in that year, began construction on a state highway system that would eventually improve access to the southern region. State officials also negotiated with the Union Pacific Railroad to develop rail and automobile links and tourism facilities in southern Utah. By the summer of 1917, touring cars could finally reach Wylie Camp, a tent camping resort that comprised the first visitor lodging in Zion Canyon.

In 1919, a Congressional bill designating Zion National Park was signed into law. Visitation to the new national park increased steadily during the 1920s, particularly after the Union Pacific extended a spur rail line to Cedar City. The Utah Parks Company, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific, acquired the Wylie Camp in Zion, and offered ten day rail/bus tours to Zion, Bryce, Kaibab, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Construction on the Zion Lodge complex, designed in “Rustic Style” by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, began in the mid-1920s. In 1930, the newly completed Zion-Mt Carmel highway allowed motorists to travel through Zion to Bryce and points east. This highway was one of the greatest engineering feats of modern times, requiring the construction of a 5,613-foot tunnel to negotiate the vertical sandstone cliffs of Zion.

Visitor numbers at Zion National Park have continued to increase over time, necessitating the construction of trails, campgrounds, and other facilities. The economic benefits of tourism now support the small communities surrounding the park, ensuring their survival into a new millennium of human history.

Zion National Park - Ecology

Zion National park rests at the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Best known for eponymous Zion Canyon, the park itself spans multiple biotic communities ranging in elevation from around 3,500' - 8,750'. This great range in elevation affords terrific biodiversity and visitors can expect entirely unique experiences in different sections of the park.

Within these various biotic communities, enough biodiversity exists to support over 800 species of plants, around 290 species of birds and at least 75 mammals including Desert Bighorn Sheep and Cougars.


In 1994, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and National Park Service (NPS) formed a partnership to map National Parks in the United States, including Zion, using the National Vegetation Classification System (NVCS). The goals of the USGS-NPS Vegetation Mapping Program are to provide baseline ecological data for park resource managers, create data in a regional and national context, and provide opportunities for future inventory, monitoring, and research activities (FGDC 1997, Grossman et al. 1998, http://biology.usgs.gov/npsveg/index.html).

The information below comes directly from their vegetation study of Zion National Park:

Zion’s extreme range in elevation coupled with its topographic complexity creates a myriad of niches supporting a wide range of plants and plant ecosystems. During the course of this study it was found that species could be grossly separated by life zones based on geography. The resulting pattern contains a range from low elevation desert shrubland communities with Mojave Desert elements, to mid-elevation shrublands and pinyon-juniper woodlands typical of the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin, to montane forests/oak-brush shrublands at higher elevations. Tucked in the many canyons are also important riparian, wetland, and unique environments such as hanging gardens.

At the lower elevations cryptobiotic soil covers much of Zion forming large crusts on very sandy soils. Vegetation here is generally sparse and low in stature due to lack of moisture. Semi-arid desert species such as blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima), Four-wing saltbush (Atriplex canescens), and pockets of Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) are common.

As you travel north in the park, frequency of riparian species becomes more pronounced along streams and rivers. Typical tree species include Fremont’s cottonwood (Populus fremontii), boxelder (Acer negundo), and velvet ash (Fraxinus velutina). Coyote willow (Salix exigua) and seepwillow (Baccharis emoryi) are common shrubs. Narrow floodplains and sandy slopes next to waterways support a variety of shrubs and trees. These include predominately pinyon pines (Pinus edulis, P. monophylla) and one-seed juniper (Juniperus osteosperma), sand and big sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia, A. tridentata), and rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa). Interspersed with these are pockets of grasses, mainly sand dropseed (Sporobolus cryptandrus) and Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis).

Steep, rocky talus slopes form transitions between floodplains and Navajo sandstone formations throughout much of the Park. On these sites silver buffaloberry (Shepherdia rotundifolia) is prevalent along with live oak (Quercus turbinella) shrubs and pinyon and juniper trees. In the center of the Park and extending east are large areas of slickrock (Navajo sandstone) and its derived soils. Here, ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) becomes more common along with opportunistic shrubs such as greenleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylus patula) and dwarf or littleleaf mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus intricatus). In mesic canyons, ravines, and north-facing benches, Douglas fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii) form lush stands.

As the Park rises in elevation to the north, semi-arid shrub dominance shifts to more mesic montane types. Ponderosa pine, aspen (Populus tremuloides) and white fir (Abies concolor) are common dominants. Tall shrubs consisting of Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii), common serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), and bigtooth maple (Acer grandidentatum) are also usually present in great quantities.

Several problematic non-native and invasive plant species are found within the Park and are being actively controlled. These include salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima), and Russian-olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia).

Historical agricultural or semi-natural lands are common on old homestead sites in and around Zion. Typically the disturbed sites occur on relatively flat land. Common species in these areas include a variety of non-native and native species especially suited to thrive on disturbed soils. These include cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), wheatgrasses (Agropyrum spp.) and rabbitbrush. Also, ripgut brome (Bromus rigidus) is common on riparian benches and terraces, while smooth brome (Bromus inermis) and Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) are common in mesic areas.


The Virgin River is one of the last relatively free flowing systems in the West and is the primary drainage for ZION. The North, Middle, and East Forks of the Virgin River all occur in Zion with the prominent North Fork forming Zion Canyon and the East Fork creating Parunuweap Canyon. Other important tributaries include Shunes, LaVerkin, Deep, Goose, and North Creeks.

Surface water in Zion comes primarily from runoff occurring within the watershed. Heavy rainfalls are common during the summer and can form flash floods in Zion’s narrow canyons. Other sources of water in the Park include isolated seeps and springs. Within the porous Navajo sandstone formation, seeps produce waterfalls and support hanging garden vegetation.

Zion National Park - Camping


Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. The Lava Point Campground is about a 1-hour drive from Zion Canyon on Kolob Terrace. There are no campgrounds in Kolob Canyons. Camping is permitted in designated campsites, but not in pullouts or parking lots. Camping is popular; all campgrounds are often full by early afternoon on weekends and holidays.

During June, July, and August, the campgrounds are full every night. Reservations at Watchman Campground (see below) are recommended if you would like to guarantee a camping spot. If you are unable to make a reservation, the earlier in the day you arrive, the better your chance of getting a campsite. Several private campgrounds are a short drive from the park. If necessary. go to www.zionpark.org for more information on the private campgrounds.

Zion Canyon Campgrounds

South and Watchman Campgrounds are near the south entrance at Springdale. This part of the park is desert. There are few trees to provide relief from the heat. Some campsites get shade for part of the day, but many get no shade at all. Summer temperatures exceed 95°F (35°C) and lows rarely dip below 65°F (18°C); staying cool is a challenge. Remember these temperatures and the possibility of a sunny campsite when planning. The Virgin River runs along the edge of each campground; there are a few riverside campsites.

All campsites are drive-up and allow a maximum of two vehicles. One RV or trailer is allowed. Any RV, including motorhomes, cabover campers, and camper vans, or any trailer, including 5th wheels, pop-up campers, and cargo or boat trailers, are vehicles and count toward the limit. Each campground has overflow parking for excess vehicles. Each campsite allows a maximum of six people and two tents; plan accordingly. Campsite check out time is 11:00 a.m.

Comfort stations provide flush toilets, cold running drinkable water, and trash containers, but no showers or electrical outlets. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire pit with attached grill. Quiet hours are 10:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. Pets are allowed on a leash no longer than six feet. Hiking in the park with pets is allowed only on the roads and Pa’rus Trail.

The town of Springdale is adjacent to Zion Canyon; pay showers, a small market, firewood, laundromats, a limited medical clinic, and restaurants are available. Springdale can be reached from the campgrounds by car, foot, bicycle, or free shuttle (April through October).

From April through October, the park-wide camping limit is 14 nights. An additional 30 nights is permitted the rest of the year. These limits include at all park campgrounds.

SOUTH CAMPGROUND - Desert zone - south entrance

South Campground is .5 miles mile from the South Entrance. It is open March through October. There are 127 campsites (including three handicapped accessible) available first come, first served. There are no hook-ups; a dump station is available for campers. Generators are allowed from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Campsites are $16.00 per night. Owners of an Interagency Senior or Access or a Golden Age or Access Pass pay $8.00 per night.

WATCHMAN CAMPGROUND - Desert zone - south entrance

Watchman Campground is .25 miles from the South Entrance. Campsites (except group sites) are available year round. There are 164 campsites (including two handicapped accessible) and 7 group sites.

Non-site specific campground reservations may be reserved through October 25, 2008. Reservations may be made online at www.recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777.

Watchman Campground will be first come first serve October 26, 2008 - March 31, 2009.

Watchman Campground site specific reservations will be accepted for camping April 1 - October 24, 2009. Reservations for tent and electric campsites can be made for the 2009 season beginning January 7, 2009. Reservations for the group campsites can be made beginning October 1, 2008. Reservations may be made online at www.recreation.gov (recommended) or by calling 877-444-6777 six months prior to arrival date.

Generators are not permitted, but 95 campsites have electrical hookups. Reserve an electric campsite if you need power. There are no full-hookup campsites; a dump station is available for campers. 69 campsites are tent only. No other types of camping equipment, including camper vans, pop-up campers, or cabover campers, are allowed in the tent only campsites. Electric campsites are $18.00 per night; Riverside electric campsites are $20.00 per night; and Tent Only campsites are $16.00 per night. Owners of an Interagency Senior or Access or a Golden Age or Access Pass receive a 50% discount on camping fees.

There are 7 group campsites. They can accommodate from 9 to 50 campers. The group campsites are tent only. No other types of camping equipment, including camper vans, pop-up campers, or cabover campers, are allowed in the group campsites. Cost is $3.00 per person, per night.

LAVA POINT CAMPGROUND - Montane zone 7,980'

Lava Point Campground is open June through October, as weather allows. It is off the Kolob Terrace Road, 25 miles (45 minutes) north of the town of Virgin. There are 6 primitive campsites available first-come, first-served, pit toilets, and trash cans, but no water. Vehicles longer than 19 feet are not permitted on the road to the campground. There is no charge for camping.

For further information it is always recommended to contact the park before you arrive at Zion: Call 435-772-3256 for additional information on camping.


Zion National Park preserves a spectacular network of colorful canyons, forested mesas, and fascinating deserts. Trips into the Zion backcountry, even short ones, require advance planning. Summer weather is hot and dry, winter can be cold and icy, narrow canyons are subject to flash flooding, and there are cliffs everywhere. Many hikes involve walking in water. River flows vary greatly depending on time of year and weather conditions. Plan your trip carefully. Rangers at the Kolob Canyons and Zion Canyon Visitor Centers can help. Check the National Weather Service forecast before any trip, but especially before entering any canyon. It is posted daily in both visitor centers.

Backcountry Permits

Backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips (including climbing bivouacs), all through hikes of the Virgin River Narrows and tributaries, any trip into the Left Fork of North Creek (the Subway), and all canyons requiring the use of descending gear or ropes.

The person who obtains the permit must be 18 years of age or older, and must participate in the trip. The person named on the permit is held responsible for the actions of the group and for compliance with all permit conditions and backcountry rules and regulations.

Visitors with reservations are required to pick up a backcountry permit. Permits are available at the Zion Canyon and Kolob Canyon Visitors Centers. Permits are available in person, the day before or the day of your trip. The person picking up the permit must be 18 years of age or older and must be participating in the trip. Please bring vehicle information with you, including descriptions and licence plate numbers of all vehicles involved in the trip.

Backcountry permits for areas not listed through the reservation system are available as walk-in permits only.

For further backcountry information, please call Zion's Backcountry Information Line at 435-772-0170 and leave a detailed message. A backcountry ranger will return your call.

The permit fees are based on group size:

1-2 people: $10
3-7 people: $15
8-12 people: $20


Backcountry Desk Hours

March 7 through April 26
Both backcountry desks, 8:00 am to 5:00 PM

April 26 through May 21
Zion Canyon, 7:00 am to 8:00 PM
Kolob Canyons, 8:00 am to 5:00 PM

May 22 through September 7
Zion Canyon, 7:00 am to 8:00 PM
Kolob Canyons, 8:00 am to 5:00 PM

September 8 through October 12
Zion Canyon, 7:00 am to 6:00 PM
Kolob Canyons, 8:00 am to 5:00 PM

October 13 through Spring 2010
Both backcountry desks, 8:00 am to 4:30 PM

Difference Between Permits, Reservations and Lottery
Permits can be obtained a number of different ways. A lottery is run for two of the busiest backcountry areas in the park (Subway and Mystery Canyons ). Many of the reservations for these two areas will be taken through the lottery. If you do not compete in the lottery, reservations will not be available for most weekend and many weekday dates for these areas.

Reservations are available for many backcountry trips in the park. A reservation does not guarantee that you will receive a permit. Reasons that a permit will be denied include high water, flash flood warnings, and wildland fires.

Anyone who is 18 years old and participating in the trip can apply for a reservation either through the lottery or through the calendar reservation process.

Visitors with reservations still need to pick up a backcountry permit. Permits are available in person the day before, or the day of, your trip. They are also available on-line up to three days before your trip. On-line permits are only available to members of the Express Permit Program.

Zion Express Permits
This complimentary program offers the opportunity for Zion 's frequent visitors to obtain a limited number of backcountry permits on-line.

Express permits are available up to three days before your trip. For example; if your trip is on a Saturday, you can obtain an online permit on Wednesday.

To participate in the Zion Express Permit program, interested individuals must come into the Zion Canyon Backcountry permit desk once every three calendar years to complete a backcountry orientation program and program agreement. Participant agreements require original signatures.

Additional program requirements include:

• Individuals must have a personal e-mail account. Program access is password protected through individual e-mail addresses.

• A permit reservation is required.

• A major credit card for on-line payment of reservation fees and permit fees.

Lottery Reservations
Due to the increase in visitation and number of permit requests, a lottery system for permits for the Left Fork of North Creek (Subway) and Mystery Canyon is in effect.

All other backcountry areas area available by a calendar reservation or walk-in permit request.

Lottery applications for Subway and Mystery are limited to one request per individual per month. Lottery entrants will have the opportunity to request three prioritized trip dates.

Lottery results from 2006 showed that 70% of lottery applicants were awarded a reservation from one of the three date choices they requested and lottery success rates improved when holidays and weekend dates were avoided.

The lottery fee is $5.00 and is non-refundable.

Entry into the lottery does not guarantee a reservation.

The lottery does not run from November through March due to a low demand for permits.

Group Size

Large groups increase impacts on the backcountry.Group size is limited to a maximum of 12 people sharing the same affiliation (school, club, scout troop, family, friends) in the same drainage, route, or backcountry trail on the same day. The group size for all canyoneering trips other than the Narrows, Left Fork, Pine Creek, Orderville, and Keyhole Canyons is six people per day. This is strictly enforced; violators will be cited.

Camping Areas

Camp in designated areas or assigned campsites and out of sight and sound of trails to preserve the feeling of wilderness. Camp at least 1/4 mile from springs. In narrow canyons, camp above the high water mark and at least 100 feet from water wherever possible. Springs and watercourses are easily impacted and are used by wild creatures and other hikers.

Be Prepared!

All narrow canyons are potentially hazardous. Flash floods, cold water, and strong currents present real dangers that can be life threatening. Your safety depends on your own good judgment, adequate preparation, and constant attention. By entering a narrow canyon, you are assuming a risk. Your safety is your responsibility.

ATTENTION BACKPACKERS: Using the Zion Canyon Shuttle System

Travel in Zion Canyon from early April through late October is by shuttle bus only. The buses have room for backpacks, climbing gear, two bicycles, and other equipment. Buses will run often throughout the day. You may get on and off as often as you like. The buses are free. Shuttles begin at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and stop at Zion Museum (open in 2002 with new exhibits), Canyon Junction, Court of the Patriarchs, Zion Lodge, The Grotto, Weeping Rock, Big Bend, and Temple of Sinawava. Check the schedule at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. If your hike ends at a trailhead in Zion Canyon, plan your trip so you will not miss the last shuttle bus of the day. Only the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive will be closed to private vehicles, all other roads in the park remain open.

Zion National Park - Contact

Zion National Park
Springdale, UT 84767-1099

Visitor Information 1-435-772-3256
Employment Information 1-435-772-3256

Fax: 1-435-772-3426

Zion Canyon Visitor Center
Open: Daily
Closed: December 25
Spring: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Summer: 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Fall: 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Winter: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Zion Human History Museum
Open: Daily
Closed: December 25
Spring: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Summer: 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Fall: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Winter: call for operating hours

Kolob Canyon Visitor Center
Open: Daily
Closed: December 25
Spring: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Summer: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Fall: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Winter: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
For more information phone: (435) 772-3256

Zion Lodge
Three miles north on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Open year round. Restaurant, rooms, cabins, suites, and gift shop. Reservations recommended: 888-297-2757 or 435-772-7700.