Zion National Park’s colorful autumn foliage delights visitors through a long, beautiful season. Early color among the stands of aspens in the park’s high back country peaks in mid-October and rapidly disappears. Just now beginning to show, the color in the park’s canyons lingers well into November along the Virgin River and other watercourses and in the Kolob portion of the park. Cottonwoods, box elder, maple and others do their best for visitors during coming weeks.
Head to Zion soon for memorable days spent under canopies of color. The park lies 167 miles from Las Vegas, little more than a three-hour drive. Follow Interstate 15 north into Utah. A few miles north of St. George, exit onto Highway 9, the main approach to the park through Hurricane. For a change of pace, travelers may opt to continue on I-15 a few more miles to the Toquerville turnoff, Highway 17. This route joins Highway 9 to follow the Virgin River through pretty pioneer-era towns to the park’s main entrance just outside of Springdale.
Although the summer crowds thin out after Labor Day, Zion National Park remains busy through color season. Artists and photographers trying to capture the vivid splendor figure prominently among visitors this season. Most park facilities and services remain operable at least until the end of October, including the park’s free shuttle buses and the horseback riding concession. Hiking trails stay open to use as long as they remain ice-free.
At the park entrance, visitors pay a $25 fee good for seven days unless they hold one of the national park passes that reduce or waive the entrance fee. Expect to pay a $15 escort fee if you drive a motor home, dual-wheeled truck, trailer or other recreational vehicle through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, good for two trips during the seven days after entry.
Zion National Park turns 100 years old this year. Set aside and protected as Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909 under President William Howard Taft, this unique spot gained national park status in 1919 under President Woodrow Wilson. Early visitors found few facilities in the remote desert park.
The first permanent structure built in the park in 1924 received attention in observance of Zion’s first century. Officials recently dedicated the small stone building in Zion Canyon’s Grotto area as a residence for affiliate personnel, such as researchers or artists-in-residence. The sturdy red sandstone structure once functioned as the park’s visitor’s center and museum. Public protests saved it from demolition in 1973. It was added to the roster of important national historic places in 1987.
Zion’s shuttle system meets the needs of today’s park. From spring through fall, the buses reduce traffic on the park’s narrow scenic canyon road. Comfortable buses transport park visitors from parking areas in Springdale and key points within the park to trail heads and points of interest. Running from early morning until late evening, the free buses provide scenic views and transport without the worry of traffic on the narrow, twisting route. The shuttle system operates at full capacity through October and on weekends through November.
Zion visitors have many options for overnight stays in the area. Check in Springdale and nearby towns for motels, RV parks, ranch resorts and bed and breakfast inns. Within the park, the historic Zion Lodge offers modern, motel-style guest rooms and suites, as well as rustic cabins. Reserve at (435) 772-7700.
One of the park’s two campgrounds stays open all year. Watchman Campground has 162 sites available without reservations from Oct. 26 until March 29. Ninety-five sites with electrical hookups for RVs cost $20 per night. Campers stay in Watchman’s 64 tent sites for $16 per night. South Campground’s 127 sites remain open through October for a nightly fee of $16. Pass holders pay about half the nightly fee for campsites in either campground.
Horseback adventures in Zion stay operational through October. See the fall color from horseback for $40 per hour or $75 for half a day in the saddle. Reserve your place on one of the fall color rides by calling (435) 679-8665.
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.