Biology | Geology 

Zion National Park Biology and Geology


Zion National Park, located in southwestern Utah and is renowned for its stunning red rock formations, towering cliffs, and deep canyons. The geology of Zion is a result of millions of years of geological processes, including sedimentation, uplift, and erosion. Here are some key aspects of the geology of Zion National Park:

Navajo Sandstone:
The predominant feature in Zion is the Navajo Sandstone, which is formed of thick layers of cross-bedded, red to white sandstone composed of well-cemented, fine quartz sand. The presence of iron oxide (hematite) gives that famous red rock coloration. Over millions of years, the erosion of the Navajo Sandstone by natural forces like Virgin River, has created the stunning canyon landscapes and towering cliffs we see today.

Uplift and Tectonic Activity:
The uplift of the Colorado Plateau, played a crucial role in the formation of the landscape. The region experienced uplift due to tectonic forces, causing the Colorado Plateau to rise above its surroundings.

Zion National Park's geology is a testament to the dynamic forces of nature, showcasing the interplay of sedimentation, tectonics, and erosion over millions of years. 


Zion National Park is home to nearly 70 different species of animals. The Top 10 most likely viewed larger animals in Utah's Zion National Park are as follows:

Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus): Commonly seen throughout the lower and upper sections of Zion National Park, mule deer are well adapted to a variety of habitats with the park.  The deer are frequently viewed in the main canyon of the park, and are prolific in the upper sections of Zion.

Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis): Bighorn sheep are native to the region, and their presence in Zion National Park predates any formal reintroduction efforts. They have adapted to the rugged, rocky terrain of the park and can be found in various elevations. Bighorn sheep are often observed in the higher elevations of the park, particularly in the rocky areas and cliffs. The challenging terrain provides them with suitable habitats and escape routes from predators. The east side of Zion National Park, along Scenic Highway 9 and above the mile-long tunnel, is known to be a good area for spotting bighorn sheep, as they navigate the steep cliffs and rock formations.

Zion Ponderosa

Mountain Lions (Puma concolor): Elusive and rarely seen, mountain lions are among the top predators in the park.

California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus): An endangered species, the California condor is part of a conservation program that has been implemented to help recover the California Condor population.   Condors are sometimes seen soaring over the cliffs of Angels Landing, and in other areas of Zion National Park. One of the key reintroduction efforts for California condors is the release of captive-bred birds into the wild to reestablish populations in their historic range.

Zion National Park has been part of the California Condor Recovery Program, a collaborative effort involving federal and state agencies, non-profit organizations, and private partners. These programs aim to release captive-bred condors into suitable habitats and monitor their progress in the wild.

Reintroduction efforts for California condors in the southwestern United States, including areas near Zion National Park, have been ongoing for several decades. The release sites are selected based on factors such as habitat suitability, food availability, and the potential for minimizing threats like lead poisoning. Success in these programs is typically measured by factors such as population growth, reproductive success, and the overall health and survival of released individuals.

Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos): These large birds of prey can be spotted soaring above the park's canyons. During winter months it is not uncommon to see Bald Eagles that have migrated south from Canada or Alaska.

Rock Squirrels (Otospermophilus variegatus): Common in rocky areas, these squirrels are adapted to the canyon environment. It's important to remember to not feed these and other animals, as this can be detrimental to their health.

Collared Lizard (Crotaphytus collaris): This distinctive lizard is well-adapted to the desert conditions in Zion, and may best be seen in the lower sections of Zion National Park.

Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis): A venomous snake found in the park, but encounters are rare due to their elusive nature. In fact it is very rare to have a reported sighting of a rattlesnake within the main canyon of Zion National Park. More likely locations for rattlesnake sightings would be along the trails on the upper plateaus of the park.

Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus): A nocturnal mammal, the ringtail is related to raccoons and can sometimes be seen at night. Since most Zion National Park visitors are not experiencing the park at night, this is a rarely seeen animal within the park.

Coyote (Canis latrans): Adaptable and widespread, coyotes are often encountered in various habitats within the park. Coyotes are rarely seen in the main canyon where there are so many human visitors, but coyotes are more visible in the lesser visited sections of Utah's Zion National Park.


Hanging Gardens:
The Hanging Gardens in Zion National Park are a unique feature where lush vegetation grows on the vertical sandstone cliffs, sustained by seeping water. Ferns, mosses, and other moisture-loving plants create a stunning contrast against the red rock backdrop. The various layers of sediment with Zion National Park have different levels of density, and water is continuously seeping through these layers. When seeping water meets a more dense layer of rock, the water is forced out of the rock and this moisture becomes a great resource to sustain hanging garden plant life.

Zion Ponderosa

Colorful Cottonwood Trees along the Virgin River: The Virgin River, flowing through Zion Canyon, is lined with cottonwood trees. In the spring these trees leaf-out with verdant green, and in the fall, these cottonwood trees turn vibrant shades of yellow and gold, creating a striking visual display against the red rock walls of the canyon.

Wildflowers are a visitors favorite and add spectacular variety of color. Wildflowers bloom in the park April-June.

Common Plants in Zion National Park:  

Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa): These large evergreen trees are a common sight in the higher elevations of Zion National Park.

Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma): Resilient juniper trees can be found in various parts of the park, adapting to different elevations.

Fremont Cottonwood (Populus fremontii): These cottonwood trees are notable for their colorful autumn foliage and are often found along the Virgin River.

Pinyon Pine (Pinus edulis): Another species of pine tree, the pinyon pine, is well-adapted to the arid conditions of the region.

Big Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata): A characteristic shrub of the western United States, big sagebrush is adapted to the semi-arid environment of Zion.

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja): These vibrant wildflowers add splashes of red, orange, and pink to the landscape.

Claret Cup Cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus): Found in the desert areas of the park, this cactus produces brilliant red flowers.

Mormon Tea (Ephedra viridis): A desert shrub, Mormon tea, is adapted to arid conditions and has traditional uses by Native American communities.

Cryptobiotic Soil: While not a plant, this living soil crust is crucial for preventing erosion in the arid environment of the park.

Yucca (Yucca spp.): These hardy plants with long, sword-like leaves are well-adapted to the dry conditions of Zion.

These are lists of just some of the most prominent animals and plants that are found in Utah's Zion National Park.

Zion National Park Trails