Exploring Zion National Park in Autumn

January 31, 2024

Zion National Park is one of the premier National Parks in the USA. You would think that only living 4 hours north of the park I would visit more often but I just do not seem to get there except for every few years. My favorite time to visit Zion is within the first few weeks of November when the crowds have thinned and the autumn colors really begin to glow.

Zion National Park seen from the summit of Angels Landing
Angel's View

Zion National Park was designated a National Park in 1919 after having been named Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909. Zion receives over 5 million visitors a year and during peak season in the summer is very crowded and hot. The area was sacred to the indigenous Paiute people because of its beauty and grandeur. They named it Mukuntuweap, which means "straight canyon". I always feel pensive when visiting the Canyon when it is crowded. It feels as if we are trampling in a temple and should be quiet and respectful.

View of the trail on Angels Landing, Zion National Park, Utah
Angels Trail

One of the more popular hikes in Zion National Park is Angels Landing. You must have a permit to hike the last half mile to the summit. Beware because this part of the hike is very dangerous especially if you are uncomfortable with heights. This one half mile section follows the top of the cliff face and is straight down in places on both sides. The Angels Landing Trail was constructed in 1926 following the completion of the Western Rim Trail. There are chains and posts to cling to as you climb up and down the rock face and single file lines form to access these chains. Even with limited permits this trail is very crowded and you will have to wait your turn to use the chain sections.

My daughter and I hiked to the summit of Angels Landing on November 7, 2023. I had applied for the permit in July 2023, knowing by November we should have a good chance to obtain one. I found the hike glorious though tiring and plan on hiking it again in 2024 to concentrate more on the photography opportunities along the trail.

Here is a video of our adventure!

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Angels Landing in Zion National Park from the trail.
Angels Landing

We stayed three nights at the Watchman Campground. There is also the nearby South Campground, as well as Lava Point Campground, far above the main canyon. If you plan on camping in Zion make sure to book your site months in advance to ensure availability. There are also plenty of other accommodations in the area. The towns of Springdale, Hurricane, and even Saint George are relatively close to the park making access fairly easy if you do not mind a short drive. I personally think it is better to stay in the park so you can be on the many trails early to avoid the crowds and photograph in the best light.

autumn scene on the Virgin River in Zion National Park. autumn
Zion Light

The Virgin River carves its way through the canyon meandering along the bottom and watering the many deciduous trees that grow there. Maple, ash, and cottonwood trees along the riverbank create beautiful autumn colors in the months of September, October, and early November. Watch for the light reflecting off the canyon walls lighting scenes on the canyon floor for amazing photographs .

Autumn on the Virgin River in Zion National Park.
Firm Foundation

There are many amazing trails to hike and explore in Zion National Park. Easy walks along the river such as the Pa'rus Trail, which is paved and accessible to wheelchairs, bicycles, and pets. The Grotto Trail, accessible from the Lodge or shuttle stop #6, is an easy 1 mile roundtrip walk that takes you to the Grotto. I also really like the Riverside Walk Trail, which meanders up the canyon and ends at the river where access to the Zion Narrows begins. There are also many strenuous hikes such as the aforementioned Angels Landing Trail, Western Rim Trail, and the Zion Narrows Trail. If you want to hike the Narrows it is best to rent the proper gear of waders, boots, and hiking poles because the water is very cold. Here is more information on the trail systems in the Park.

river walk trail Zion National Park in the autumn
River Walk

The sound of water is like music in the canyon and when mixed with the harmony of the breeze makes for a perfect autumn moment. As you explore Zion watch for intimate scenes along the river and be prepared to relax and spend time just sitting and observing the grandeur of nature all around you.

autumn leaves over a waterfall in Zion National Park
Autumn Song

Late autumn snow on the upper reaches of the park gives an amazing contrast against the red sandstone rock walls and towering cliffs. The Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park is only accessible from Interstate 15 near Kanarraville, Utah. It is one of my favorite sections of the park. From the Kolob View Point at the end of the road you see amazing views like the one in the image Kolob Delights. There are also many hiking trails in Kolob Canyons such as the Taylor Creek, Lee Pass, and Timber Creek Trails. Making the short drive from the main canyon up to Kolob is well worth the time just to see the fantastic view.

kolob canyons Utah in the snow
Kolob Delights

One of the most popular scenes in Zion National Park is looking down the canyon along the Virgin River to the Watchman Peak, which towers above the town of Springdale. You can access the Pa'rus Trail from the Canyon Junction and walk down the trail to see views of the Watchman from the river. A popular place to see the Watchman and the river is from the Junction Bridge. Stopping and standing on the bridge is against the law, as noted by signs posted on both sides of the bridge.

sunset over the Watchman, desert red rock and river, Zion National Park, Utah
Watchful Autumn

I captured the foreground of the image below before the signs were posted about not standing on the Junction Bridge. I was hoping for a sunset image but the sky was washed out, so I replaced it with one I had taken in another location. I edited the image to look like it had been taken at night. This image is an impossible one to photograph as the Milky Way core is not visible from this location in November, but I love how it turned out anyway.

composite of the Watchman and Virgin River at night in Zion National Park
Night Watchman

Zion National Park is a place of wonder and grandeur where your imagination can run wild and your creativity can explode with artistic fervor. If you visit Zion let it speak to you, let the towering cliffs and running river bend your mind to see the world differently. Let the sound of the river and wind call to you like the voices of the long forgotten natives who first explored this sacred place. Listen to what they have to tell you about the way of the earth and the forces of nature that carved this canyon. Be mindful of the sanctity of this national park and leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but photographs.

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