Jeri Murphy is a traveler, photographer, writer and non-denominational minister. Her blog, Anything is Possible Travel is inspired by Carrieanna, her stepdaughter and frequent travel companion who, in spite of receiving a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis in her early 20's, not only believes that anything IS possible, but also that “if you haven’t tried, you don’t know if you can do it.”
Zion National Park- Visitor Center (Images by RJM)
It rhymes with Lion. There’s no “yawn” sound in the name.
And when you see how majestic Zion National Park is, you should have no trouble thinking of a proud and majestic lion – and saying “Zion” correctly.
The Geology That Makes Zion So Beautiful!
Per the AAA Tour Book, 2017 edition: “Just north of the southern entrance is the beginning of Zion Canyon, a spectacular gorge carved by the Virgin River as it travels through the sandstone and shale, creating massive cliffs in shades of red and pink and cream.
“About half a mile deep and half a mile wide at its mouth, the canyon narrows to about 300 feet at the Temple of Sinawava, the narrowest portion accessible by car and about 8 miles from the park entrance.” (pg. 313)
Zion National Park- Temple of Sinawava (Images by RJM)
“Zion’s geology provided the [First Nations] people, and later pioneer farmers, a combination rare in the desert: a wide, level place to grow food, a river to water it, and an adequate growing season. On the Colorado Plateau crops grow best between 5,000 and 7,000 feet, making Zion’s elevations — 3,666 to 8,726 feet — almost ideal. Differences in elevation also encourage diverse plants and animals; mule deer and turkey wander forested plateaus; bighorn sheep and juniper prosper in canyons.” (National Park Service website)
Driving Restrictions within Zion
Zion’s many hiking trails, ranging from easy to strenuous, attract adventurers and nature-lovers. The landscape is stunning, enticing photographers to strive to capture its beauty.
Zion National Park- Scenic (Images by RJM)
The rock formations, the native history, even the names of the monuments – Watchman, Court of the Patriarchs, Temple of Sinawava – evoke a sense of reverence and spirituality.
All these things make Zion a popular and often-crowded destination, especially during the late spring through early autumn months. In order to lessen the impact on the ecology of the park, from early March through mid-November personal vehicles are not allowed along the 8-mile stretch of road between the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and the Temple of Sinawava.
Zion National Park- Shuttle (Images by RJM)
Instead, visitors are encouraged to ride one of the free hop-on hop-off Zion Canyon Shuttle buses. Those who arrive in the park early may park at the Visitor Center (just inside the entrance). From there they can visit the gift shop, get questions answered at the wilderness desk, and use the restroom before boarding the shuttle.
For those who arrive later or prefer to leave their vehicle outside of the park, there is plenty of free parking in the nearby town of Springdale. Visitors can then catch the free Springdale Shuttle, get dropped off just outside the entrance to the park, pay the entrance fee (see below) and make the short walk [0.2 miles] to the Visitor Center.
Take the Shuttle and Learn about Zion
The shuttle is an approximately 40-minute ride from the Visitor Center (Stop 1) to Temple of Sinawava (Stop 9). An audio presentation at each stop describes the history, geology or significance of that location.
Guests can exit the shuttle at any of the stops, knowing that another bus will come along later to pick them up.
Buses run throughout the day, and the wait at any one of the stops may be anywhere from 7 minutes to 15 minutes. During the fall the first shuttle leaves Zion Canyon Visitor Center at 7:00 a.m. The schedule for the last departure depends upon the time of year. (During my trip in October the last bus left the Temple of Sinawava at 7:15 p.m.)
Accessibility at Zion National Park
The park visitor centers, museum, restrooms, shuttle buses, picnic areas, and the Zion Lodge are accessible. Service dogs are permitted on a leash throughout the park.
The orientation film offers captioning and the front-country trails video has an audio description. Accessible programs are indicated in the Ranger-led Program Schedule. Assistive listening devices are available by reservation for all ranger-led programs.
For further details, check out this Accessibility link: https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/accessibility.htm
Each of the Zion Canyon Shuttle buses is equipped with a hydraulic lift, making it easy for wheelchair-users to board and/or disembark at any of the nine shuttle stops and explore to their heart’s content.
Use of personal vehicles is restricted to those individuals requiring additional vehicle supported medical devices or when the shuttle bus cannot accommodate the individual due to weight or size restrictions. A special permit for personal vehicle use can be obtained from the visitor center or museum information desks by providing documentation of the medical condition.
Per the website, four hotel rooms at Zion Lodge are accessible, as is the snack bar, gift shop, restrooms, auditorium and dining rooms.
[Note: It is ALWAYS wise to contact the hotel directly to confirm if the “accessibility” features meet your own accessibility needs – i.e., roll-in shower, two beds, etc. Do your travel homework to mitigate unpleasant surprises.]
Watchman Campground, located 0.3 miles from South Entrance, has two campsites reserved for disabled use, and South Campground, 0.25 mile north of South Entrance, has three campsites reserved for disabled use.
Both of these campgrounds have gravel pathways which may make wheelchair use challenging.
Visitor Center Picnic Area, on the outer edge of the visitor center parking lot, has level but unpaved picnic sites. Most tables are extended. Accessible unisex restroom is available near the visitor center.
Zion National Park- Accessible Restroom (Photo: Jeri Murphy)
Grotto Picnic Area, located 3.5 miles up the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and accessible only by shuttle bus from early March through mid-November, also has level but unpaved picnic grounds and a unisex restroom.
The Riverside Walk, a paved trail that follows the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow canyon, is 1 mile long, 5 feet wide on average, and is accessible for the first 0.4 miles. (Frequent visitors will know that this is where “The Narrows” begins – a non-accessible hike that includes traveling through the river itself.)
Zion National Park- Riverside Walk (Images by RJM)
The Pa’rus Trail is a 1.5 mile, paved, 8 foot wide multi-use trail between the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and Canyon Junction. Most of the trail is concrete, smooth and level – and also exposed to direct sunlight throughout the day so sunscreen, a hat, and a bottle of water are all recommended.
Zion National Park- Pa’rus Trail (Images by RJM)
A Few Other Considerations
People with breathing issues may find the elevation at Zion challenging. For instance, Zion Canyon Visitor Center is 4,000 feet and Zion Lodge is 4,300 feet.
In spite of the higher elevation and beautiful trees, Zion is a desert terrain and during the summer temperatures can reach 100° F. Carrying water and staying hydrated is essential. (There are many accessible water stations throughout the park.)
Monsoons are common from mid-July into September, and may bring flash floods, so it’s important to check the weather forecast daily and stay aware of potential storms.
All park visitors are required to purchase a recreational use pass upon entering Zion National Park.
Fee information can be located on the National Park Service website (https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/fees.htm)
Interagency Access Pass – U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities can obtain a free lifetime Interagency Access Pass, which admits the pass holder and passengers in a non-commercial vehicle at per-vehicle areas, and the pass holder plus 3 adults at per-person fee areas.
(Images by RJM)
Jeri loves combining her love of travel with her passion for photography. She especially enjoys sharing information about wheelchair accessibility on her blog, www.AnythingIsPossibleTravel.com. Whether the destination is near or far, she and Carrieanna seek to inspire others to travel. You can follow on Facebook @Anything Is Possible Travel Blog and be inspired by Jeri’s beautiful photography on Instagram @ImagesByRJM.
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