Zion National Park

This breathtaking 229-square-mile park, tucked in Utah's southwest corner, is celebrated for its massive sandstone cliffs, narrow canyons, and rich diversity of wildlife.


7/22/20233 min read

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Steeped in centuries of geological history and cultural significance, Zion National Park is undoubtedly one of the most iconic natural wonders in the United States. This breathtaking 229-square-mile park, tucked in Utah's southwest corner, is celebrated for its massive sandstone cliffs, narrow canyons, and rich diversity of wildlife. Let's delve into the captivating history of this phenomenal place.

Prehistoric Times: Forming the Land of Zion

Zion National Park's history dates back millions of years. Over time, powerful forces of nature like wind, water, and tectonic activity have shaped and molded the land into what we see today. In fact, the oldest rocks in the park, found in Zion Canyon's deepest layers, are believed to be about 270 million years old.

Early Inhabitants: The Ancestral Puebloans

Approximately 8,000 years ago, the first humans arrived in the Zion area. These were the Archaic people, who were mainly hunter-gatherers. They hunted mammoths, camels, and giant sloths, leaving behind spear points, baskets, and other artifacts that archaeologists later discovered.

The Archaic era was followed by the Ancestral Puebloan period around 300 CE. The Ancestral Puebloans, often referred to as the Anasazi, were skilled farmers who grew corn, beans, and squash in the high desert environment. They left behind a rich array of petroglyphs and pictographs that can still be seen today.

The Paiute and the European Explorers

In the 1200s, a new group moved into the region: the Paiute. The Paiute people lived in the Zion area for hundreds of years before the arrival of the first Europeans. They named the area "Mukuntuweap," which means "straight-up land" in the Southern Paiute language.

European exploration of the Zion area began in the late 18th century. Spanish Catholic missionaries, known as Franciscans, were likely the first Europeans to visit, followed by fur trappers, surveyors, and U.S. government-sponsored expeditions.

The Arrival of the Mormons

The most significant transformation in Zion's human history came in the 1860s with the arrival of Mormon pioneers. Sent by Brigham Young, they established small settlements in the Zion region for farming and grazing. They named the area "Zion," which signifies a place of peace and refuge in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Establishment of Zion National Park

The early 20th century renewed interest in the American West and its unique landscapes. The first proposal to protect Zion came from Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909, proclaimed by President William Howard Taft.

However, it wasn't until 1919 that President Woodrow Wilson expanded and redesigned the monument as Zion National Park. The designation of Zion as a national park protected the land and its resources from further development and ensured its preservation for future generations.

Construction of Infrastructure

Completing the Zion Mt. Carmel Highway in 1930 was a turning point in the park's history. This 25-mile-long highway, including the remarkable 1.1-mile Zion Mt. Carmel Tunnel, provided direct access to the park from the East.

During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) established camps in the park. They built trails, campgrounds, and picnic areas that are still in use today.

The Modern Era

In the modern era, Zion National Park has continued to be a place of refuge and discovery. The park's infrastructure has been continually updated to accommodate the millions of visitors that arrive each year.

Today, Zion National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, with over 4.5 million visitors annually. Despite the high visitation, the park has remained a sanctuary for an incredible variety of plant and animal life, a testament to the ongoing conservation efforts.

In conclusion, the history of Zion National Park is a captivating story of nature's power and human tenacity. The park's awe-inspiring landscapes remind us of our planet's ancient past, while its rich human history teaches us about the cultures that have thrived here. Today, Zion stands not only as a national park but also as a symbol of natural beauty and human perseverance.


  1. Zion National Park - Geological History. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2023, from https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/geology.htm

  2. Zion National Park - Cultural History. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2023, from https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/historyculture/cultural-history.htm

  3. Ancestral Puebloans of the Southwest. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2023, from https://www.nps.gov/articles/ancestral-puebloans-of-the-southwest.htm

  4. The Paiute Tribe of Utah. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2023, from https://www.paiutetribe.com/

  5. The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2023, from https://www.nps.gov/mopi/index.htm

  6. Zion National Park - Park History. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2023, from https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/historyculture/park-history.htm

  7. The Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Park Service, 1933-1942: An Administrative History. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2023, from https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/ccc/ccc.htm

  8. Zion National Park - Park Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved July 21, 2023, from https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/management/statistics.htm