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Introducing Zion National Park

Get ready for an overdose of awesome. The soaring red-and-white cliffs of Zion Canyon, one of southern Utah's most dramatic natural wonders, rise high over the Virgin River. Hiking downriver through the Narrows or peering beyond Angels Landing after a 1400ft ascent is indeed amazing. But, for all its awe-inspiring majesty, the park also holds more delicate beauties: weeping rocks, tiny grottoes, hanging gardens and meadows of mesa-top wildflowers. Lush vegetation and low elevation give the magnificent rock formations here a whole different feel from the barren parks in the east.

Most of the 2.7 million annual visitors enter the park along Zion Canyon floor; even the most challenging hikes become congested May through September (shuttle required). But you have other options. Up-country, on the mesa tops (7000ft), it's easy to escape the crowds – and the heat. And the Kolob Canyons section, 40 miles northwest by car, sees one-tenth of the visitors year-round.

Summers are hot (100°F, or 38°C, is common), though summer nighttime temperatures drop into the 70s (low 20s in Celsius). Beware of sudden cloudbursts from July to September. Winter brings some snow, but daytime temperatures can reach up to 50°F (10°C). Wildflowers bloom in May, as do the bugs: bring repellant.