Scenic Byway 143 runs from Parowan to Panguitch, so you can easily reach Zion National Park from either town. From Panguitch, it’s about 75 miles to the park’s east entrance, via Scenic Highway 89 to Zion-Mt. Carmel Junction/Highway 9. The southern entrance is about the same distance from Parowan, via I-15 to Highway 17 to Highway 9. Coming from Parowan there is also the option to enter the remote Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park from I-15 exit 40.
Whichever route you choose, the short trip to Zion National Park from Scenic Byway 143 is well worth it. Zion is the most visited of Utah’s five national parks, with millions of annual visitors drawn to its deep Navajo sandstone canyons carved by the Virgin River, and the massive rock formations which rise thousands of feet from the canyon floor.
About the Park
Zion National Park is comprised of two main areas, the remote Kolob Canyon section and the more frequently visited Zion Canyon. The 15-mile long Zion Canyon is almost a half-mile deep in some places. Popular activities in Zion National Park include hiking, biking, canyoneering, rock climbing, nature watching, photography and more. There are more than 70 miles of trails, including the renowned Narrows. Zion National Park also features one of the largest freestanding natural stone arches in the world, Kolob Arch.
The most common way to explore Zion National Park is via Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The 6.5-mile scenic road winds through the park, stopping at major landmarks such as the Court of the Patriarchs, the Emerald Pools, the Grotto, Weeping Rock, and the Temple of Sinawava. Zion National Park provides mandatory shuttle service along this route during peak season. Many of the stops lead to popular hiking trails, such as Angel’s Landing and Riverside Walk. The Riverside Walk trail leads to The Narrows, one of the most popular, challenging, and breathtaking hikes in Zion National Park. With a permit hikers can explore the entire 16-mile distance through the slot canyons, or just a section. Always be aware of the possibility of flash flooding, and be prepared to wade or swim in the Virgin River at some points.
The forces of nature are evident in the intricately carved canyons and immense monoliths found in Zion National Park. The area was once the floor of an ancient shallow sea which filled with layers of sediment from evolving landscapes and climates over time. From sea to lake, stream to sandy desert, the sand dunes eventually calcified into massive sandstone formations. The Colorado Plateau shifted and uplifted, forcing the powerful Virgin River to rush downward, carving through the sandstone and creating the amazing canyons seen today.
Zion National Park is situated where the Colorado Plateau, the Great Basin, and the Mojave Desert meet, with an elevation range of 3,666 feet to 8,726 feet. Accordingly, the park is home to a diverse plant and animal population. Several hundred species of mammals, birds, and reptiles reside in Zion National Park, including the endangered Peregrine Falcon, along with 800 native plant species ranging from desert cacti to cottonwood trees.
The Anasazi Indians were some of the earliest documented inhabitants of the Zion region, dating back to about 500 A.D., although there’s some indication of nomadic humans as early as 7,000 B.C. Mormon settlers relied on local Paiute Indian guides when they began exploring Zion Canyon in the mid-1800s. Major John Wesley Powell led an expedition through Zion Canyon in 1872 but it wasn’t until the early 1900s that the Zion Canyon area received national recognition. President Taft dedicated the first 15,000 acres in 1909 as Mukuntuweap National Monument. A decade later Zion finally became a national park.