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The Traveler’s Guide to Zion National Park Wildlife

The Traveler’s Guide to Zion National Park Wildlife

Zion National Park wildlife sightings are one of the most exciting things that can happen in Utah’s most popular national park. This park is home to many endangered and threatened species, including reptiles, mammals, birds, and more. 

So what kind of wildlife can you see in Zion? Are any of them dangerous? And where can you spot them? We’ve got the traveler’s guide to Zion’s wildlife here. So let’s get into it!

About Zion National Park 

Zion National Park is in southern Utah and is known for slot canyons and vermillion cliffs. Zion was Utah’s first National Park and remains the most visited national park in the state today. From water rushing through canyons and bucket-list hikes to an abundance of wildlife, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in Zion. 

This national park covers 229 square miles and has a 54-mile scenic drive, whether you’re looking for animals or enjoying the stunning views! Spring and fall are the best times to visit, especially if you want to see some famous Zion National Park wildlife!

What Kinds of Wildlife Are in Zion National Park?

Many different animals live in Zion, like apex predators, birds of prey, reptiles, and more. Here are some of the most popular Zion National Park wildlife species. 

Mountain Lion

Mountain lions are the apex predators, or alpha predators, in Zion. You can find these sleek, big cats from the canyons to the plateaus throughout the park. They’re primarily nocturnal and solitary animals. 

Although these predators live throughout the park, visitors rarely spot them. Mountain lions are stealthy and sneaky like house cats, despite their large size! No mountain lion attacks on humans have ever occurred in the park. Instead, these sizable felines prey on animals like mule deer and bighorn sheep. 

mountain lion in zion national park

California Condor

California condors are the largest land birds in North America! They’re a type of vulture that used to live in much of the United States, but by 1982 only 22 individual birds remained. They mate for life and only produce one egg every other year, two facts that likely account for their near-extinction. 

Preservationists captured the remaining condors and began a captive breeding program to remove these birds from the brink of extinction. After some time, preservationists released condors in several states. The massive birds are now successfully breeding in the wild. 

The world condor population hovers around 400, and roughly 70 of them live between Arizona and Utah. Some of these majestic birds live right in Zion National Park. 

california condor in zion

A California condor sighting in Zion is always a breathtaking experience! Condors are curious and attracted to human activity, so keep your eyes on the sky when visiting this park. You might see one hovering above you, and you’ll recognize it as a gigantic black vulture with large white patches on its wings’ underside. 

Mexican Spotted Owl

Mexican Spotted Owls are federally threatened animals thanks to deforestation and habitat degradation. Park biologists monitor the Mexican spotted owl population and wild breeding efforts within the park. 

This bird’s range stretches across the four corners region, and they prefer cool, moist, old-growth forests. In Zion, the deep and narrow slot canyons are the best places to look for them. The tall walls of the canyons receive little sunlight and stay cool and moist, creating an ideal habitat for them. 

Mule Deer

When visiting the park, mule deer will appear to be the most prominent animal. It’s easy to spot these mammals and photograph them as they tend to hang out in places tourists frequent. You’ll likely see them grazing in the early morning and evening, both in the park and campgrounds. They’re often hanging out along the Virgin River at Zion Canyon’s bottom. 

mule deer in zion national park

Collared Lizard

The Great Basin Collared Lizard is a common reptile in Zion. It can be up to 14 inches long and runs surprisingly fast. It’s a unique lizard that frequently runs on its hind legs and has a banded-colored collar around its neck. 

Desert Tortoise

Desert tortoises are some of the rarest Zion National Park wildlife, but a special sighting for sure! Look for them in the low desert. These elusive and terrestrial reptiles can live for up to 50 years or more in the wild! 

These creatures have elephant-like rear legs and high-domed shells and spend 95% of their time in underground burrows. Tortoises only come out of their holes in the spring and fall to seek out food and water. 

Desert tortoises can hold water in their bladder to help them survive the harsh desert drought conditions, but when threatened, they’ll release their bladder, losing precious water supply. The loss can lead to illness or death. Disease and habitat loss made them a federally threatened species in 1990. 

zion national park desert tortoise

Zion National Park wildlife biologists have observed at least 33 different tortoises in the park and found evidence of a breeding population. But the mortality rate for juvenile desert tortoises is 99%, making it a harrowing journey to species recovery. 

If you’re lucky enough to see a desert tortoise in Zion, observe it from a distance and don’t pick it up (unless it’s in danger of traffic). 

Ringtail Cat

The ringtail cat is a common animal in Zion, but it’s uncommon for most visitors. This raccoon relative looks like a cross between a lemur and a fox, but you likely won’t see one in the park due to its secretive, nocturnal nature.

Compared to a typical cat or lemur, ringtail cats are tiny, weighing around 2 pounds!

Bighorn Sheep

Desert bighorn sheep are among the most common mammals in Zion National Park. They’ve adapted to survive the dry, hot desert climate. They’re exceptionally skilled climbers who use steep and rocky terrain as home and to escape from predators like Zion’s mountain lions. 

zion national park wildlife includes big horn sheep

The mating season for bighorn sheep is July through October, and you can see newborn lambs from mid-January through April. 

Travel Tip: If you’re heading north to Montana, you’ll also find bighorn sheep in Glacier National Park. Take a look: The Traveler’s Guide to Glacier National Park Wildlife.

Bighorn sheep used to be locally extinct until reintroduction efforts in the 1970s. Now, there are over 500 bighorn sheep in Zion! You can spot bighorn sheep all over the park. You might even see them creating traffic jams while crossing the road. 

How Dangerous Are the Animals in Zion National Park?

The top predator in Zion National Park is the mountain lion, but there are no instances of mountain lions attacking humans in the park. Other potentially dangerous animals in Zion include the park’s only venomous snake: the western rattlesnake. Mule deer also present certain risks, if you can believe it. 

dangerous zion wildlife western rattlesnake

Any wild animal can be dangerous if it feels threatened. Mule deer might buck or kick humans or animals in their paths. Car accidents involving a mule deer running across the road are all too common as well. 

When viewing wildlife in Zion National Park, keep your distance. The park website recommends staying 50 feet away from birds, reptiles, and rodents and 100 feet from deer and other large mammals. 

What Are the Best Places to See Wildlife in Zion National Park?

Some places in Zion are more popular with wildlife than others. Here are some of the most popular areas and the kind of wildlife you can see there! 

Angel’s Landing Trail

Angel’s Landing Trail is a challenging hiking trail that’s just over 4 miles long. Although this trail is difficult, it’s an excellent spot for wildlife viewing! 

Zion National Park Angels Landing Hike — Chains to the Summit! Not For The Faint of Heart!

You can see mule deer, Peregrine falcons, California condors, lizards, eagles, and more from this vantage point. The best time to see reptiles and deer is in the early morning or evening hours, and the best time to see falcons and condors is late morning to afternoon. 

Riverside Walk

Riverside walk is an easy hike in Zion with breathtaking views and scenery. It’s an excellent hike for the whole family and a great place to spot some of the park’s wildlife! 

You can see mule deer, squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys, and blue herons along the Riverside Walk. 

The best time of day for wildlife spotting on the Riverside Walk trail is the morning and evening hours when it’s not too bright or hot out. 

Riverside Walk Trail, Zion National Park Video (HD)

What Is the Rarest Animal to See in Zion National Park?

California condors are one of the rarest animals on the planet, so you might miss their presence while visiting. They’re genuinely not difficult to spot in the park, but with so few of them, you just never know! The desert tortoise, ringtail cat, and mountain lion are other animals you might never see. 

The desert tortoise is a threatened species, and biologists have noted 33 different tortoises there. But it’s not just their small numbers that make them hard to spot: these animals are elusive and spend 95% of their lives in burrows underground. 

Mammals like the mountain lion and ringtail cat are secretive and stealthy by nature. So, while they aren’t endangered, they’re still rare to spot! 

ringtail cat

Travel Tip: If Zion National Park is just one of the many stops on your road trip across the states, be sure to read our helpful guide, How to RV Across America: The Ultimate American Dream, for planning and money-saving advice!

Enjoy Zion National Park’s Wildlife from a Distance

Zion is home to many exciting wildlife species, from common animals to one of the world’s most endangered bird species. 

Small animals like squirrels and chipmunks are habituated to humans in the park and will beg for food–but keep your distance! It’s best to view all Zion National Park wildlife from a distance for their safety and yours. 

Enjoy your trip!

chipmunk on rock

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Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
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