Learn interesting and fun facts about Zion National Park. Find answers to all your questions about Zion National Park in this list of Zion facts for kids and curious adults.
Zion National Park is one of the most famous parks in the USA.
It regularly features as one of the best vacation destinations for outdoorsy families and one of the most beautiful places to visit in the USA so we know we wanted to visited – and Zion didn’t disappoint!
Before we went however we didn’t know much about it and we had questions: what is Zion like? What makes Zion special? What animals live in Zion? And why is Zion called Zion?
On top of these questions, we had travel ones: how many days should you spend in Zion? Is there a best time to go? Can you hike in Zion with kids?
Today, we share answers to all these questions about Zion, based on our research, our visit and the wonderful ranger talks we listened to when we visited Zion National Park, Utah, with our kids.
General facts about Zion National Park
Where is Zion National Park? Zion National Park Map
Zion National Park is in Utah, in the South West of the USA.
The closest city to Zion is Springdale (just outside the park), followed by Hurricane (35 mins) and St George (1h) and Cedar City (a little over 1h), the closest towns to Zion.
The closest major airports to Zion are in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.
You can find a good itinerary between Salt Lake City And Zion here
What is special about Zion National Park?
Zion is a place of outstanding natural beauty and it is home to some of the best mountain landscapes in the USA and the world.
The park develops as a long Valley carved by the Virgin River and it is known for a stunning scenic drive, some of the best canyoneering in the world, great hiking opportunities (including the most dangerous hike in the US, see below!) and some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.
Zion’s outstanding beauty, its fame as a hiker’s paradise, its scenic drive and many tourist facilities serving the park are only some of the main things that make Zion so popular.
This article I hope will show many others.
When was Zion National Park Established?
Zion became a National Park on the 19th of November 1919, under president Wilson.
However, the area had already been recognised as National Monument in 1909, with the name Mukuntuweap National Monument.
This was the first step to preserve and make more accessible this incredible valley and its canyons, now among the most visited in the US!
How big is Zion NP?
Zion is 146,597 acres or 593.3 km² big. While this means it is not the biggest park in Utah (that would be Canyonland), Zion is by far the most visited Utah park: east year, it welcomes over 4 million tourists!
People come here to hike, climb, go canyoneering or just to experience the parks’ beautiful scenery from the valley floor.
How big is Zion Canyon?
Zion Canyon is 5 miles long and up to 3,000 feet deep. The narrowest part of the canyon is only 20-30 feet large and 2000 feet deep and it is appropriately called ‘The Narrows’!
What animals live in Zion?
Zion is home to a large number of animals species that live in its rivers, mountains and skyes.
Zion is home to 69 species of mammals, 208 species of birds, 29 species of reptiles, 6 amphibians and 9 types of fish.
Among the many, in Zion you can expect to see (or see traces of) mountain lions, desert big horn sheep, mule deer and many birds however, there are also some endangered species in Zion that are rare and hard to spot.
Among rarer species in Zion there are the Mexican spotted owl, California condor and desert tortoise.
The animals live in 4 life zones existing in the park: riparian, woodland, Coniferous forest, and desert.
Fun Zion fact: the Zion snail lives in the park and it is a type of snail only found here!
Why is Zion National Park called this way? What does Zion mean?
The word ‘Zion’ is a biblical word coming to mean spiritual citadel, refuge or even promised land.
The word was choses as a name for this beautiful stretch of land by Mormons Settlers in this area who felt the beauty of the place was so outstanding, it had a spiritual nature.
In line with this feeling, several peaks in Zion also have religious names such as Weste Temple, East Temple, Angel’s Landing and Court of the Patriarchs
The first person who settled in Zion Canyon was Isaac Behunin
Isaac Behunin is the name of the first person who settles on the Canyon Floor. He came here in 1863 and it is said to be the one who chose the name ‘Zion’
Fun fact: Zion is not the only park named by Mormons. Mormons also gave the name Joshua Tree to the National Park that now goes by this name in California. You can read fun facts about Joshua Tree National Park here.
The first name of Zion National Park was Mukuntuweap
Zion adoped the name Zion in 1919, when it became national park however, its name as National Monument as Mukuntuweap.
This name is believed to be a Paiute name meaning ‘straight canyon’, the main natural feature of the park.
In Zion, you still have some trail names from local languages: the most famous is the Pa’rus trail, whose name means ‘bubbling, tumbling water’. Indeed, the trail leads you close to the water – you can read all about hiking the Pa’rus trail here.
What river flows through Zion National Park?
The river in Zion National Park is the Virgin River, the water body responsible for the formation of the Zion Canyon.
The name of the rivers is said to have been chosen by a group of Spanish explorers and sits well with the other religious inspired names of the main Zion landmarks.
However, some believe the Virgin River got its name from Jedediah Smith, who is said to have names it after a member of its team: Thomas Virgin.
Zion has one of the largest free-standing natural arches in the world
Utah has several areas with wonderful freestanding natural arches, especially in the aptly named Arches National Park, however there is one in Zion too and it one of the largest in the world.
It is called Kolob Arch and it is 287.4 feet long. Sources vary and some report that this means it is the sixth longest natural arch in the world or possibly even the second!
Either way, we can agree it is very big!
The Mount Carmel Highway into Zion is one of the most impressive engineering feats in the world
If you drive into Zion National Park from Bryce Canyon, you find yourself on a very scenic drive called the Mount Carmel Scenic Byway and tunnel.
The tunnel is 1.1 mile long and cuts through the red stones of the park to bring you from higher land all teh way down to the Canyon Floor.
The tunnel was completed on 1930 and has several openings so you can enjoy the wonderful scenery as you drive!
Fun fact: the American Southwest is home to incredible engineering works. Another one that will take your breath away is Hoover Dam on the Nevada/Arizona border.
Zion is home to one of the most dangerous hikes in the world
There are plenty of family-friendly hikes in Zion but the park also has one of the most dangerous hikes in the world: Angel’s Landing.
Angels’ Landing leds you all the way up to 1765 mt and has you hike along an exposed cliff edge with sheer drops.
It is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced hikers but the view from up there is said to be breathtaking!
Interesting facts about Zion for visitors & Zion National Park information for you
The best time of the year to visit Zion for hiking and enjoying the canyon is between May and November. The best time to hike in Zion without the crowds is late spring and early autumn.
For a hiking vacation experiencing Zion’s famous hikes you need about 5-7 days in the park however, you can see Zion Canyon even with just one day (two nights)
If you only have this amount of time however, planning is needed: you can find our guide to seeing Zion National Park in one day here.
Yes, Zion National Park is very kid friendly! Zion Canyon is easy to explore with kids, there are several kid friendly trails in Zion and children can participate in the Zion Junior Ranger Program, which is a fun way for kids to learn and engage with the park
Inside the park, there are camping opportunities and the excellent Zion Lodge. Many more lodging opportunities are in Springdale, just outside the park and in St George, further away. Find our guide to accommodation in and near Zion NP here
Parts of Zion National Park are open to private cars (entrance fees apply) but in high season and sometimes at other times the main Canyon Road is closed to private traffic and served by the excellent Zion shuttle instead.
Yes! You do not need to be an experienced hiker to enjoy Zion. The Canyon floor is very scenic and accessible and the Mount Carmel Scenic Highway is also wonderful and aloe worth the trip
The most iconic hikes in Zion National Park are Angel’s Landing and the narrows but the challenging hike to Observation Point is also a hikers’ favorite
In Zion National Park you want to have hiking gear and leisurewear but what to pack exactly depends on the season of your visit. Find our packing list for Zion National Park here
I hope you enjoyed these fun and interesting facts about Zion National Park!
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Feature image at the top of this post from Canva Pro