There are many wonderful places to hike in the world. But how many of them are painted in shades of vivid vermillion – from path to cliff to sky? Zion National Park in Utah, USA, proffers just such a vision. You have to see it to believe it.
Zion National Park offers visitors some of the most scenic canyon country in the United States. With high plateaus – high enough to warrant one being called ‘Angels Landing’; a maze of sandstone canyons; waterfalls featuring colourful hanging gardens; one of the largest freestanding arches in the world; and a natural ‘Subway’ that makes modern, man-made versions look like child’s play, this natural playground is one for any self-respecting outdoors enthusiast’s bucket list.
Before Zion was a national park, it was Mukuntuweap National Monument, which translates as “straight canyon” or “straight arrow” (from the language of the Southern Paiute Indians, the original owners of this unique parcel of land). The straight canyon it refers to? Today that’s the main attraction of what would be designated Zion National Park on November 19, 1919.
Preserving 593 square kilometers (229 square miles) of a red rock landscape so stunning it looks like something off a Star Wars set, there are many reasons to be awestruck in Zion. Starting with the aforementioned Zion Canyon. Twenty-four kilometres (15 miles) long and up to 910 meters (3,000 feet) deep, hikers come from all over the world to follow in the footsteps of their forebears, who are said to have been traversing this land as far back as 6000 B.C. Those who are brave enough, will include Zion’s Angels Landing in their route – a 3.5 km (2.2 mile) hike declared by many as one of the most dangerous in the world. The payoff of the steep slog over shifting sand and slickrock, long drop offs and exposed edges? A view that is quite as breathtaking as the trail to get there. Towering over and into the Canyon, Angels Landing stands 454 metres (1,488 feet) above the Virgin River at its base, with views that take you down the Canyon and into tomorrow. (Note: the Park has improved safety in some of the exposed areas by constructing proper steps, paving some of the trail, and installing guard rails, but large sections of this hike are still dangerous and not to be undertaken lightly or carelessly.)
For those not into risking life and limb for a view, there are plenty of other wonders to take your breath away within Zion. Easier hikes as well as motor routes within the Park offer spectacular 360-degree scenery. Indeed, the road that runs through Zion itself is both an engineering feat and a sight worth seeing in and of itself. When Zion first came on the radar of tourists, it was virtually inaccessible to visitors. To make exploration an option, construction began on a 40-kilometre (25-mile) stretch of road to connect Zion to the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. Completed in 1930, the red-road Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel blends in with the surrounding landscape, and at one point even cuts through the vertical sandstone cliffs via a tunnel complete with windows to allow uninterrupted viewing.
However you choose to take in the sights of Zion Canyon, you are guaranteed of one thing: a vermillion vista that is ever-changing, courtesy of the river that runs through it. The Virgin River and its tributaries which run through Zion are continuously carving and shaping the canyon, creating an ever-widening, ever-deepening canyon which will continue to surprise and enthrall, no matter how often you return.