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Zion National Park, Utah
With its soaring cliffs and cascading waterfalls, Zion National Park is the most beautiful of Utah's national parks. Its centerpiece, Zion Canyon, is a huge oasis that resembles California's Yosemite Canyon. It's a spectacular gorge, squeezed between mighty walls of rock and echoing to the sound of running water. However, the approach roads to the park get clogged with traffic in the summer and its limited facilities get crammed.
Most visitors see Zion Canyon as a quick half-day detour off the interstate, but Zion deserves much more of your time than that. Even the shortest trails within the canyon can help you escape the crowds. Less ambitious walkers can wander up to the Weeping Rock, a half hour trip from the road to a gorgeous spring-fed garden. A more exciting route cuts through Hidden Canyon, whose mouth turns into a waterfall after the rains. Another fairly flat trail leads up to Emerald Pools, a series of three clear water pools.
The best half-day hike climbs up to Angel's Landing, a narrow ledge of sandstone protruding 1750 ft above the canyon floor. Starting on the same route as Emerald Pools, the Angel's Landing Trail turns sharply up through the coolness of Refrigerator Canyon before emerging out; near the end you have to cross a five foot neck of rock with sheer drops on either side.
The high plateau above and to the east of Zion Canyon, reached by continuing on the Scenic Drive turnoff, is a complete contrast to the Virgin River gorge. Its most dramatic sight is the blind Great Arch, best seen from the turn before the mile-long tunnel. Beyond this spot, the Canyon Overlook nature trail begins, where hikers can take a look at the flora and fauna of the park. Summer is by far the busiest season in the park, even though temperatures soar in excess of 100 F.