Zion National Park, Utah’s first and arguably most famous national park, was founded in 1919. The word Zion refers to heaven or a holy place across countless religions, and the park was befittingly named. Towering canyon walls of cream, pink, and red surround the main park road. The rocks are dotted by green vegetation in the warm months and sprinkled with snow in the colder months. Even the shortest hikes are breath-taking, and nearly beyond words. Hike to dizzying heights on Angel’s Landing or wade through waist deep waters in the Narrows, and once you’ve explored all you like of Zion, check these five other parks out.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (50 min)
Sand dunes aren’t just for the Sahara! Utah has it’s own dunes, tucked away near Kanab. Estimated to be from 10,000 to 15,000 years old, these sand mountains were formed from Navajo Sandstone rocks. The park is completely open to hikers to play and explore all over the park, as well as ATVs. The visitor center has a wall of different sand collected from around the world, information about the creatures that call the dunes home, and how to identify their prints in the sand.
Insider tip: just because there is snow on the ground doesn’t mean you have to skip the fun. Check out the park in winter, and bring your sleds for some of the best sledding hills around!
Red Cliffs Recreation Area (50 min)
Anyone who has driven south down the I-15 towards St. George has seen the stunning red cliffs rising out of the desert off the side of the freeway. This area is rich with history and recreation opportunities. The area includes a campground, day-use areas,14 trails for bikers,hikers, and equestrians, archeological sites, paleontological sites, and some old mining ruins. See the set of a movie from the 50s, ancient Anasazi ruins, and towering Cottonwood trees.
Insider tip: Take the Red Reef Trailhead from the main campground into the canyon during Spring for some opportunities to take a swim in sandstone pools.
Pipe Spring National Monument (1 hr)
Native Americans, Mormon Settlers, and many others depended on the water from Pipe Spring to survive. Learn how these pioneers survived on such little water by exploring all this monument has to offer. Historic forts and cabins, an orchard, museum, and garden give visitors a glimpse into the past. Take a guided tour through the fort or explore the 12 new exhibits and learn about the Kaibab Paiutes and their daily life. Walk through the orchard to see historic varieties of peach, crab apples, apricot, plum, and grape then go visit the horses and longhorn cattle.
Insider tip: May 8-11th Pipe Spring is taking a look at Life on the Arizona Strip (Past + Present). Take the whole family and participate in tons of activities to celebrate and learn more about the park.
Snow Canyon State Park (1 hr)
Snow Canyon, named for two prominent pioneer leaders, contains 7,400 acres of desert landscape with towering cliffs, red sandstone rocks, and lava tubes under the desert dirt. It has been the set of many movies, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. There are over 30 miles of trails as well as climbing opportunities. Come camp, hike, and explore the breath-taking beauty of the park as the ever-changing sunlight creates color dancing along the cliff walls.
Insider tip: Don’t miss out on the lava tubes! Located in the park down a short trail, the lava tubes require some scrambling to get in, but are well worth the effort.
Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument (1.5 hr)
After the crowds of Zion, adventures looking for a little more solitude should venture out to Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument. No paved roads in or to the monument, no source of water, and no welcome center to hide from the heat, makes Parashant a place for experienced desert backpackers to come and test their skills. The monument also draws adventurers who seek the feeling of solitude, even if it is just for a few hours.
Insider tip: Nampaweap is a historical site with thousands of petroglyphs from ancient Paiutes. It is a must-see when visiting the monument.