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A landscape so striking it’s almost difficult to believe it exists by chance, Zion National Park is a natural playground for lovers of the outdoors, with its Navajo sandstone cliffs, pine-clad peaks and yawning canyons.

As you hike or explore by vehicle, you’ll take in sandstone monoliths that jut skywards, striped pink, cream and red. You can watch waterfalls plunge from giddy heights into river-cut valleys. And, at sunrise or sunset, you can stand at the Canyon Overlook viewpoint and watch shadows dance over the landscape, the rock formations glowing orange, maroon and purple in the changing light.

Basing yourself in the town of Springdale, on the outskirts of the park, makes it easy to spend a few days taking in Zion’s highlights, both independently and on guided tours. The town itself is small but has a number of good restaurants as well as a theater.

Court Of The Patriarchs, Zion National ParkYou can take in many of Zion National Park’s highlights by catching a shuttle from the visitor center. The shuttle follows a scenic route through Zion Canyon, passing beneath huge rocks along the east side of the Virgin River. (If you’re visiting between November and March, you’ll need to drive the route yourself).

Along the way, the shuttle makes stops at several attractions where you can get off and explore. The first is the Zion Human History Museum, which gives you a background to indigenous culture in the region as well as pioneer history and Zion’s growth into a national park.

You then come across some of the park’s natural features, including Canyon Junction, where you can stand on a bridge to take in views over a steep-sided river canyon. There’s also the Court of the Patriarchs — a trio of sandstone cliffs named after the biblical figures Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by the area’s early Mormon settlers.

Farther along the route, you could follow a short walking trail to Weeping Rock. This is an eroded, bowl-shaped cliff face where water seeps out from the junction between two different sandstone strata (the Navajo and Kayenta layers). This creates a year-round spring that nourishes hanging gardens of moss, ferns, grass and wildflowers.

Then, after passing Big Bend, where the river curves around a huge chunk of rock, you could stop at Temple of Sinawava to hike the 3 km (1.9 mile) Riverside Walk, following the Virgin River past more hanging gardens.

Guided hikes in Zion National Park

Virgin River Narrows, Zion, UTThe Narrows is, unsurprisingly, the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, situated along the North Fork of the river. As you walk, sheer-sided walls of rock rise either side of you, glowing red and orange in the dappled sunlight. You’ll wade through the river’s clear, shallow water and tread rocks smoothed and polished by centuries of erosion.

Throughout the four-to-six-hour Narrows walk, your guide will tell you about the park’s flora, fauna, geology and history.

Alternatively, you could join a private guide for a full day of walking, exploring trails that suit your interests and fitness levels. Being in the company of a local means you’ll be able to learn about the park as you go, and they’ll have the know-how to take you along routes fewer visitors tread. You’ll also have the time and flexibility to stop whenever and wherever you like.

Best time to visit Zion National Park

To avoid the heat and crowds of the summer months (June to August), visit between April and May or September and early October. In April, it’s worth being aware that some hikes can be restricted as snowmelt raises the river levels.

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