Photo by Kirk Marshall

Utah boasts five spectacular national parks, but only Zion National Park ranks in the top 10 most visited. A five-hour dive from Salt Lake City, on the doorstep of Springdale, Zion is a veritable feast for the senses in all seasons. Originally established in 1909 as Mukuntuweap National Monument, it was renamed Zion in 1919 when it joined the park system. Spreading over Washington, Iron and Kane counties, Zion has much to offer the visitor.

Most of the year a shuttle service takes the hordes of multilingual visitors into the canyon, but from November to March private cars are allowed on the scenic road that winds gently past the Virgin River. Entering the canyon, a sense of wonder pervades as your gaze is drawn upwards to majestic Navajo Sandstone cliffs soaring 2,000 feet into the clouds. Names like Angel’s Landing, Great White Throne, and Temple of the Sinawava enhance the awe inspiring vertical vistas. Take your time and a camera, and explore one of the many trails. Mule deer and wild turkeys rustle through brush while foraging riverside. Catch the first rays of sunrise playing artist, illuminating hues of crimson, cinnamon, russet, vermillion, umber, bronze, sepia and terracotta, and watch a sunset bring a curtain down on the day.

Highway 9 travels 12 miles through the heart of the park, connecting the South and East entrances. Climbing 1,000 feet on a series of steep switchbacks, the road passes into the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, cuts through one mile of solid rock, and then emerges into a land of sandstone hills and mesa. With viewpoints, hiking trails and technical slot canyons, this scenic drive rewards with wow.

Photo by Kirk Marshall

Springdale’s proximity to the park ensures that after a day spent feeding your soul and spirit with nature you are provided with all creature comforts. Its size makes it strollable and worth a walk. Adventure companies, art galleries, restaurants, gear shops, ice cream parlors, and all manner of lodgings line Springdale’s main drag. Whirly–gigs, walking sticks, wind-chimes, jewelry, essential oils, soaps, sculpture, ceramics, crystals, t-shirts, postcards and other paraphernalia stock the shelves of boutiques and gift shops. Accommodations range from budget to break-the-bank, and if your taste tends to tents, two campgrounds in and one just outside the park will allow you to rough if.Perfect as a splurge for a special occasion, Zion Lodge, listed on the National Register of Historic places, has cabins and hotel rooms and suites available.

In addition to Zion Canyon, a park visit should include Kolob Canyons and Kolob Terrace. The Canyons unit, just south of Cedar City on I-15, is home to the massive Kolob arch. Spanning 310 feet, it is one of the largest in the world. The hike to see this site is a 13-mile round-trip and not for the novice explorer. For those that want to get into the back county the trail along La Verkin Creek is spectacular, the visual pay off well worth the effort. The Kolob Terrace Road leads to a seldom-explored sector of the park. Expansive vistas of the Kolob Plateau make an excellent counterpoint to the sheer walls of the canyon far below.

Photo by Kirk Marshall

Whether for a weekend or a week, Zion and Springdale are waiting for you to relax and unwind, or exert and explore. With natural beauty and first class amenities, this corner of Utah should be on your bucket list.

Photos provided by Kirk Marshall,