Grand Canyon and Zion are two of America’s most stunning national parks. Both have a vast array of varied scenery such as glowing sunsets which fill the sky and mountainous terrains that offer spectacular vantage points. They each make for an ideal holiday for nature and outdoor lovers. And as Arizona borders Utah, there isn’t much geographical difference either. But that’s not to say they’re the same. Far from it.
So, which should you visit?
We know and love both these destinations, so to help you decide, we pit Grand Canyon vs Zion right here. We compare both national parks and discuss the highlights of each destination, so that you can better understand which one to visit!
Grand Canyon vs Zion: A Quick Overview
The Grand Canyon offers a holiday truly filled with it all. Nature and beauty, deeply relaxing spas, and a throwback to the Wild West. What more could you want? Being in Arizona, you can expect year round sunshine, iconic views of the desert sands changing colour with the sky, and of course, the endless expanse of the Grand Canyon itself.
You’ll have opportunities to tour the landscape from the skies via helicopter, or from the ground on foot or jeep. Keen hikers can also enjoy a range of trails which deliver breathtaking views you simply can’t find anywhere else.
Simply put, the Grand Canyon is iconic. If you want world famous views and an experience to last a lifetime, you really can only get it here.
However, it’s larger than Zion, which means more of your time may be spent driving around compared to a visit to Zion. The latter, being a bit smaller, allows for more time to be spent actually hiking, camping and exploring.
Zion is just as impressive in its own right. Here too you’ll find towering cliff faces overlooking miles of burnt orange desert sands. Another popular destination for nature lovers, you can explore Zion freestyle by yourself as part of a road trip, or through one of the many guided tours offered to help you navigate the wilderness around you.
Known for its unique gorgeous views, Zion is in fact Utah’s oldest national park. Beyond the land itself, animal lovers, and especially bird lovers, can enjoy the huge variety of wildlife here. All of which creates the peaceful solitude at Zion.
This park also tends to be less busy and therefore more tranquil than the Grand Canyon. And there’s far fewer tourists crowding the hiking trails. It’s also just an hour away from Bruce Canyon, which also makes for a great stop off.
Grand Canyon vs Zion: Outdoor Activities
From hiking trails, and birds-eye views, to white water rafting expeditions. These two holiday destinations have it all. And that’s before we even get into the historical and cultural elements both have to offer as well.
Labeled by many as a “must-see”, we can confirm that the Grand Canyon should definitely be on your bucket list. This place is known across the world for a reason, and it’s even a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Perhaps a showstopper and the best place to start is the Skywalk on the West Rim (one of three Rims) of the Grand Canyon. It’s a spectacular experience – although not for the fainthearted – as you can walk all the way across the glass walkway spanning the Rim.
For those who wish to explore on foot, there are a number of well-marked hiking trails to enjoy. Alternative options for viewing the incredibly huge canyon include guided white water rafting and cycling. For all modes of transport, you can opt to go solo or with a guide, making this a great holiday for families as well.
Lastly, if you’re keen to immerse yourself in some North American culture, we recommend visiting Canyon de Chelly National Monument. It’s the USA’s 3rd largest canyon and is one of the most sacred sites of the Navajo Nation, with ancient pueblo roots dating back to the 11th Century.
With mountainous towers and sands stretching for miles, Zion Park covers an impressive 230 square miles. While it may not have the fame of the Grand Canyon, there are plenty of things to do here. Some of our favorites include mountain climbing up the boulders of Zion, which often lead to one-at-a-time peaks. A hugely satisfying accomplishment should you manage to reach any.
In terms of hiking, you won’t be lacking for options here. There are a plethora of hiking trails and treks to explore, some even world renowned by hardcore hikers. Some of the most notable include The Narrows, Subway and Angels Landing which will keep you busy and quite literally on your toes. With far fewer visitors than the Grand Canyon’s hiking routes, expect a far more nature immersive experience.
Also within Zion, you have the Kolob Canyons, which makes for an unforgettable experience. You can explore the peaks, cascades and hiking trails here on foot, horseback, or bike, and with the stunning scenery we recommend bringing your camera! Across this region too, you can try your hand at canyoning, or explore the inner depths of the canyons on a kayak along the Virgin River.
Grand Canyon vs Zion: Nature and Wildlife
If you’re considering either of these destinations for a holiday, we imagine you feel at peace in the outdoors. Both the Grand Canyon and Zion house many types of wildlife which you can enjoy while visiting. The perfect complement to the obvious physical beauties of their canyons.
You name it, this place has it. From birds and snakes, to mule deer and mountain lions. And this only scratches the surface of the wildlife you can find in the Grand Canyon. Those especially lucky can catch glimpses of desert bighorn sheep, coyotes, grey foxes, and a large variety of reptiles.
You’ll find more mammals in Grand Canyon than Zion, and more species of bird too. So if wildlife is a priority then visiting the Grand Canyon may be a better choice for you. However the Grand Canyon does get busy with visitors, and when humans are around animals tend to scatter. In that respect Zion, as the less busy park, has an advantage.
Bird watchers should look out for Peregrine Falcons, which usually soar above the highest cliffs in the Grand Canyon. They typically stay above 2000 feet to scour the land for prey, before diving downwards at speeds of over 200mph! They really are quite something. We also recommend looking out for the Canyon’s Bald Eagles – another one of its 450 species of bird. While Bald Eagles aren’t native to the Grand Canyon, in wintertime they migrate here and can be found hunting at the Colorado River.
If birds aren’t quite your thing, here’s a few less common creatures to keep an eye out for. First, the Rocky Mountain Elk: these tend to graze for waters near Mather Campground and Grand Canyon Village, and should never be approached. Secondly the Ringtail. However sightings of these mammals are rare as they are nocturnal, solitary and timid towards humans.
Once again, Zion offers arguably just as much. Walking through the hiking trails and canyons, you’re sure to stumble upon some form of wildlife, whether you’d set out looking for it or not.
Potentially an even better choice for bird lovers, Zion has 291 species of bird. While this is less than the Grand Canyon, the diverse habitat in the park makes spotting them easier for novices and experts alike.
As for some of the mammals you can expect to encounter, the Desert Cottontail Rabbit tops the list. Known to feed on Zion’s vegetation, they stay typically below 5000 feet. That means you’re likely to spot one hopping across your path at some point. Similarly, Mule Deer are a common site throughout the park. While they tend to graze on vegetation, be sure not to get too close to avoid them thinking you’re a threat.
While much more rare, Zion has been known for sightings of the American Black Bear. These are in fact so rare, that any sighting should be reported to park officials! Requiring the same protocol is the Kit Fox – a small fox with adorable huge ears that is not commonly seen. If you see either of these mammals, consider yourself very lucky!
Grand Canyon vs Zion: Which is the Better Choice?
Both are jaw-dropping, and will leave you in awe of their natural beauty. While ultimately they are both canyons and national parks with sheer cliff faces and an abundance of wildlife, they do have their subtle differences.
Therefore it really depends what kind of experience you’re after. For something iconic and a completely unique experience – pick the Grand Canyon. However if you want to be immersed in nature, with fewer distractions and more time for exploring, Zion is probably the better choice.