Your Guide to Zion National Park Wildlife

Zion National Park, covering a vast 229 square miles of southern Utah, is a symphony of contrasting landscapes home to hundreds of species of animals and birds. The park weaves a breathtaking backdrop for wildlife viewing, from towering sandstone cliffs to lush forests and vast open desert skies. A stunning 54-mile scenic drive is just one of the many ways to immerse yourself in their world. Whether you’re scouting for animals or simply soaking up the views, the park’s residents are sure to impress. Here’s our guide to spotting Zion National Park wildlife!

Best Time for Wildlife Viewing in Zion

While the park is a year-round sanctuary, spring and fall are prime seasons for wildlife viewing, when the animals are most active, and the weather is comfortably mild. During these times, you’ll have the best chance of spotting an array of creatures, from the bighorn sheep to the skittish rock squirrels.

As for the time of day, early morning and late evening are the most rewarding. Many animals are most active around dawn and dusk when the park is quiet, and the temperatures are cooler. So set that alarm, or linger a bit longer as the sun sets to experience the wonder of Zion’s wildlife at its most vibrant.

Meet Zion’s Wildlife: Day vs. Night

Daytime Wildlife

As day breaks in Zion, a host of Zion National Park wildlife awakens to the warm rays of the early morning sun. Watch the graceful mule deer as they meander through towering ponderosa pines, or enjoy the cheeky antics of the infamous rock squirrels scampering on the canyon floor. As you tread the paths leading to Emerald Pools or Angels Landing, watch for the subtle signs of nocturnal creatures that share these trails.

Nighttime Wildlife

As daylight fades and the canyon’s shadows grow longer, nighttime magic envelops Zion. The howl of a coyote echoes through the night, the gleam in a gray fox’s eyes might catch your attention, or you might watch in awe at the ringtail cat’s nimble dance on the cliff face. The night belongs to many other creatures, including mountain lions, bobcats, porcupines, skunks, and raccoons. It’s an enchanting spectacle and a testament to Zion’s unique day-and-night wildlife cycle. Consider an overnight stay near Zion to witness both ends of this spectrum.

Popular Animals to Watch for in Zion

Zion National Park is a haven for a diverse range of animals. Here are some of the popular creatures you might encounter during your visit:

Mountain Lion

This elusive predator reigns at the top of Zion’s food chain. Though rarely seen, these big cats are present, leaving behind tell-tale signs of their presence.

California Condor

With a wingspan that can reach up to 9.5 feet, the California Condor is one of the world’s largest flying birds. Keep an eye out for these magnificent creatures soaring high above the cliffs.

Mexican Spotted Owl

Zion serves as a critical habitat for this threatened species. If you’re lucky, you might spot one of these secretive owls nestled in the canyon walls.

Mule Deer

A common sight in Zion, these graceful creatures can often be seen grazing in the meadows or taking a sip from the Virgin River.

Collared Lizard

These vibrant lizards are a treat to spot, especially when they’re performing their unusual bipedal run!

Desert Tortoise

A symbol of the desert’s resilience, these slow-moving creatures are a rare sight but always a delight to encounter.

Ringtail Cat

Known for their nimble climbing abilities, these critters are most active at night.

Bighorn Sheep

Once locally extinct, these majestic creatures now number over 500 in Zion, thanks to reintroduction efforts in the 1970s. Watch for them on the cliffs, near the roads, and throughout the park, but remember to observe from a distance.

Rock Squirrel

Don’t be fooled by their size and bushy tails – rock squirrels, the most dangerous creatures in Zion, are fearless beggars known for their bold daytime antics. Always admire these feisty critters from a safe distance.

Best Places for Wildlife Watching in Zion

The Zion National Park is a sanctuary for wildlife enthusiasts. Some of the best spots to catch sight of the Zion wildlife include:

The Riverside Walk

This gentle, paved trail following the Virgin River is a wildlife hotspot. Look out for mule deer, rock squirrels, and various bird species here.

Weeping Rock

This trail leads to a large rock alcove with dripping springs, attracting various wildlife. Butterflies, bighorn sheep, and many bird species are often seen here.

Zion National Park Scenic Drive

This 54-mile journey offers stunning vistas and abundant wildlife viewing opportunities. From the comfort of your vehicle, look out for mule deer grazing near the roadside or bighorn sheep standing majestically atop the cliffs. You might even spot a flash of a California condor soaring above.

Best Wildlife Trails in Zion National Park

Looking for trails to explore? Consider these routes for wildlife viewing:

Angel’s Landing Trail

Just over 4 miles long, this challenging path offers breathtaking vistas and wildlife sightings for the brave-hearted hiker. Watch for mule deer, Peregrine falcons, California condors, and more. Permits are required to ensure this trail’s sustainability and safety for visitors.

The Watchman Trail

Located near the Zion Visitor Center, this trail is a great place to spot desert cottontails, lizards, and even the elusive gray fox.

Emerald Pools Trail

This trail is a haven for various species, including mule deer, rock squirrels, and bird species. The tranquil pools provide a vital water source, making this trail a hotspot for wildlife.

Forging a Respectful Bond: Wildlife Protection and Safety

Remember, while exploring Zion’s wildlife, it’s crucial to maintain a respectful bond with nature. Practice safe wildlife viewing, tread lightly, and follow park rules to ensure these animals are here for years to come. Here’s what you can do to recreate responsibly:

Practice Safe Wildlife Viewing

Make a thumbs up, extend your arm, close one eye, and see if you can hide the animal with your thumb. If you can’t hide the entire animal with your thumb, take a few steps back and try again. When you can hide the whole animal, this means you are a safe distance from wildlife.

Follow Park Rules and Obey Closures

Parks may close an area to reduce stress on a species or habitat to allow for the regrowth of native plants or protection of nesting animals.

Stop the Spread

Help stop the spread of invasive species by cleaning and drying your gear or using boot brushing stations.

Store and Dispose of Food Properly

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, feeding wildlife can be dangerous to both wildlife and people. Remember to pack out what you pack in and leave no trace. 

Stay on the Trails

Going off the designated trail can damage fragile ecosystems like the cryptobiotic soil found in the high desert ecosystem of Zion.

Where to Stay Near Zion National Park

Tucked amidst the diverse landscape of Zion just 20 minutes from the park entrance, Under Canvas Zion is the perfect retreat for wildlife enthusiasts. With the sandstone cliffs and endless desert skies as your backdrop, you can immerse yourself in the spectacle of Zion’s wildlife just steps from your safari-inspired accommodations.


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