10 Facts About Zion National Park That Will Surprise You

zion national park scenic beauty

Zion National Park is situated at the intersection of the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert in southwestern Utah. The park mesmerizes visitors with its diverse terrain and stunning scenery. Within its nearly 229 square miles, you can find sandstone canyons, mesas, natural arches, high plateaus, and a large wilderness. Do you want to know some interesting facts about Zion National Park? Continue reading this article to discover 10 such facts about the park.

Basics of The Park

Established: November 19, 1919, as Zion National Park
Main Entrances: South Entrance, East Entrance, and Kolob Canyon Entrance
Annual Visits: 4.6 Million Visitors in 2022
Lowest Point: Coal Pits Wash (3,666 feet)
Highest Point: Horse Ranch Mountain Summit (8,726 feet)

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Cool Facts About Zion National Park

1. Zion Was Originally Called Mukuntuweap National Monument

The area was first protected as Mukuntuweap National Monument.

President William Howard Taft designated Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909 to preserve the area’s geological and archaeological wealth.

zion canyon

It was renamed Zion National Monument in 1918 by the National Park Service.

On November 19, 1919, the US Congress redesignated Zion National Monument as a national park making Zion the first national park of Utah.

2. Kolob Canyons Weren’t A Part of Zion When The Park Was Established

Kolob Canyons are located in the secluded northwest corner of the park.

It is approximately a 42-mile drive from Zion Canyon Visitor Center to Kolob Canyons.

kolob canyons

To preserve the area’s vast wilderness, the second Zion National Monument was established in 1937.

It wasn’t until 1956 that the Kolob Canyons area was incorporated into Zion National Park.

3. Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, Truly An Engineering Marvel, is Found in The Park

The 1.1-mile Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel is nestled along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway that connects the park’s East and South Entrances. The tunnel was opened to the public on July 3, 1930.

zion-mount carmel tunnel - incredible facts about zion national park
Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel (Image: Fabio Achilli)

Despite the challenges faced during the construction, it was built in just 3 years’ time. This was the longest tunnel of its type in the country back then.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has designated the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and Tunnel as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

If you enter the park from the park’s east entrance, you are bound to pass through this tunnel.

4. Zion Was Named By Mormon Pioneers

The park got its name from the Mormons, a cultural and religious group that follows Mormonism.

They were the first European-Americans to settle in this area in the late 1800s.

The word Zion in ancient Hebrew means ‘sanctuary’ or ‘refuge’. The canyon floor was used for farming and raising livestock until it became a national monument in 1909.

5. Zion National Park Features One of America’s Most Dangerous Hikes

Angels Landing is a 5-mile round-trip hike along a steep trail with several switchbacks and long drop-offs. It is approximately 1,500 feet above the canyon floor.

The last half mile of the trail from Scout Lookout is the most challenging yet incredibly rewarding. From the summit, you can see magnificent views of the Virgin River and the canyons.

angels landing in zion national park
Angels Landing | Incredible Facts About Zion National Park

Angels Landing is considered one of the most dangerous hikes in the USA. However, this hasn’t deterred seasoned hikers from attempting this hike.

The hike is so popular that the National Park Service had to introduce a permit system for hikers. You can learn more about the Angel’s Landing permit on the NPS website.

6. The Park is Home To One of The Largest Freestanding Arches in The World

Besides the massive sandstone cliffs and the spectacular canyons, the park also has one of the world’s largest freestanding arches.

kolob arch - amazing facts about zion national park
Kolob Arch (Image: National Park Service) | Fascinating Facts About Zion National Park

The Kolob Arch is located in the remote northwestern section of the park, in the Kolob Canyons district.

It is one of the largest natural arches in the world with a span of 287 feet and a thickness of 75 feet.

A 14-mile out-and-back trail via La Verkin Creek leads to the Kolob Arch. The hike begins at Lee Pass trailhead located on Kolob Canyons Road.

7. The Virgin River Continues To Carve Zion Canyon

The awe-inspiring landscape of Zion that we see today has been shaped by various natural processes over millions of years.

In fact, the Virgin River is still carving and shaping Zion Canyon.

meandering stream of virgin river

The river’s incredible ability to cut sandstone rocks comes from its steepness. It drops an average of 71 feet every mile that it traverses inside the park.

During flash floods, the river can run thousands of cubic feet per second removing about one million tons of sediment in a year.

8. There Are Over 500 Archaeological Sites Within Zion

One of the cool facts about Zion National Park is the abundance of archaeological sites within its precincts.

More than 500 archaeological sites are protected within Zion, according to the National Park Service records.

Humans have inhabited the area for over 10,000 years. The evidence of their existence has been found in the form of historic objects, artifacts, and rock carvings.

This includes artifacts like ceramic containers, baskets, and projectile points (arrowheads, spearpoints).

You can also visit Zion’s Human History Museum to learn more about the archaeological remains preserved in the park.

The museum is located near the South Entrance and is easily accessible by the Zion Canyon shuttle.

9. The Park Boasts An Astonishing Variety of Wildlife

mexican spotted owl
Mexican Spotted Owl

Zion National Park provides safe habitats for a vast array of wildlife.

  • 78 species of mammals
  • 291 species of birds
  • 16 species of lizards
  • 13 species of snakes
  • 7 species of amphibians
  • 8 species of fish
  • 1 species of tortoise (Desert Tortoise)

Some of the commonly seen animals in the park include bighorn sheep, mule deer, rock squirrels, desert cottontail rabbits, and collared lizards.

Fun Facts About Zion National Park Wildlife

  • The park is a critical habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, listed as a threatened species in the United States. The deep and narrow slot canyons of Zion serve as a perfect nesting site for them.
  • Zion is also home to the elusive Mojave Desert tortoises. These creatures spend 95% of their time in underground burrows to avoid the scorching summer heat. With their exceptional ability to store water in the bladder, they can survive a prolonged drought. They come out in search of food and water mostly during spring and fall seasons.
  • North America’s largest bird, the California condor is also found in the park. Once extinct in the wild, it was reintroduced to northern Arizona and southern Utah including Zion National Park. The bird has a wingspan of 3 meters (9.8 feet) and weighs up to 26 pounds (12 kilograms).

10. More Than 1,000 Plant Species Are Found in The Park

The diversity of vegetation in Zion National Park is supported by its distinct elevation that ranges from 1,117 meters (3,666 feet) to 2,660 meters (8,726 feet).

With the change in elevation, the climatic conditions and water availability also vary. Because of this, you will find different types of plant communities in different sections of the park.

  • Mixed conifer and aspen forests on the high plateaus
  • Ponderosa Pine on the towering Navajo Sandstone cliffs
  • Pinyon-juniper forests at moderate-elevation
  • Desert shrubs and cacti at lower-elevation
  • Fremont Cottonwoods in riparian areas near streams or water sources

Fun Facts About Zion National Park Trees

  • Utah Juniper trees are short usually less than 30 feet in height, but they can live up to 650 years.
  • Fremont Cottonwoods are one of the fastest-growing deciduous trees. They can grow at a rate of 10 – 20 feet per year if the roots have access to reliable water.
  • Ponderosa Pine forests require low-intensity fire to flourish. Fire clears leaves and dead trees from the forest floor and allows seedlings to grow.

Where To Stay Near Zion National Park

Located right outside the park’s South Entrance, Springdale is the best place to stay near Zion National Park. There is a good range of hotels to suit all budgets.

Springdale also has a shuttle service that brings visitors to the park’s entrance.

Here are some great accommodation options in the town of Springdale.

Luxury: SpringHill Suites by Marriott Springdale Zion National Park

Mid-range: Best Western Plus Zion Canyon Inn and Suites

Budget: Bumbleberry Inn; Zion Canyon Lodge

Further Reading

To help you plan your trip there, we have created this in-depth guide with the best things to see in Zion National Park.

For more national parks travel inspiration, please check some of these posts.

Top 10 National Parks in The United States.

Southern California’s 3 Best National Parks.

11 Excellent Things To See in Death Valley.

10 Unmissable Attractions in Joshua Tree National Park.

14 Interesting Facts About Death Valley National Park.

12 Attractions in Yellowstone National Park You Must See.

10 of The Best Attractions in The Grand Canyon.

12 Interesting Facts About Grand Teton National Park.

Over To You Now…

We hope you enjoyed reading this article.

How many of these fascinating facts about Zion National Park were you aware of and how many caught your attention? Tell us in the comments below.

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