The history of Zion and the surrounding area includes stories of Native American legacies, of early European American exploration, of the Great Depression, and of Hollywood glamour. It is full of personal accounts of sacrifice, of hope against all odds, and of survival. While you can spend your entire time at Zion hiking and looking at the scenery, your experience will be enriched if you take the time to appreciate the history behind the views. Below are some interesting activities to do in and around Zion for both the history buff and the mildly curious visitor.
Activities Within the Park
Probably the most well-known resource for those wanting to learn more about the Park’s history is the Zion Human History Museum. Located a little over a mile northeast of the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, the Museum collection stores a number of Native American artifacts, including a knife dating back 5,000 years. The Museum also carries items detailing the backbreaking labor done in the Park by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and helped the unemployed during the Great Depression find work and training. During the 1930s, the CCC cleared and built many of the trails and attractions within the Park.
One of the most famous historical landmarks in Zion is one that everyone drives through—often without thinking twice about it. Almost three years before the creation of the CCC, the historic Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel opened to the public. Completing the project was an engineering feat, as the 1.1-mile tunnel was cut out of the side of the cliff and blended into the Park landscape.
If stopping by the Zion Human History Museum triggers interest in the archeology of the area, you may want to ask the front desk there if there are any archeological sites within the Park that are currently open to the public. There are strict rules around when and what can be visited, but this could be a perfect opportunity to see history unfolding itself while exploring the Park.
Activities in the Surrounding Area
On the east side of Zion National Park sits the Zion Ponderosa Ranch. The Ranch offers, among other options, a unique Zion National Park lodging experience where you can rent full-sized and furnished Conestoga covered wagons for the night. The covered wagon was one of the most popular forms of transportation used by the pioneers and explorers of the west throughout the late 19th century, and the Conestoga wagon was often considered to be the largest and heaviest option available.
The towns near the Park are also known for their offering of historical sites and activities. Next to Rockville (the town 5 miles southwest of Zion), sits the Gafton Ghost Town, a small collection of old western buildings. It is one of the most famous ghost towns in the country and was used in a number of Hollywood movies, including the Paul Newman and Robert Redford film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
If these ideas piqued your curiosity, you may want to look more at other nearby historical attractions. St. George and the surrounding area are full of interesting historical nuggets that will spark your imagination of the Old West and of those who made Zion National Park what it is today.