GETTING THERE: Las Vegas is the closest major airport to Zion National Park, leaving you with a 150-mile drive to southwestern Utah (about 21/2 hours at western highway speeds). Vegas is usually good for cheap fares; I found nonstop midweek July flights from Dulles on Independence Air for $202 round trip, about $300 in August.

WHERE TO STAY: The only hotel within the park itself is the Zion Lodge, a lean but comfortable compound spread along a wide spot in the valley that's open year-round (888-297-2757, www.zionlodge.com). Some of the rooms are in two-story hotel buildings, starting at $133, some in quadplex cabins, starting at $148.All boast killer views of the canyon. The lodge itself consists of a theater for ranger talks, a dining room and lunch bar, and a gift shop filled with the Native American flute music that is the Muzak of western souvenir stores. There are plenty of good hotels and motels in the gateway community of Springdale, a mile from the park entrance. The Best Western Zion Park Inn (1215 Zion Park Blvd., 800-934-7275, www.zionparkinn.com) is a clean and attractive option with a pool and Zion shuttle stop just outside the entrance. Rooms in summer begin at $105.

WHERE TO EAT: The outdoor patio of Zion Lodge's Red Rock Grill surprised me with its excellent dinner menu and festive cocktail offerings (you don't always get either in national parks, or in Utah). The breaded Navajo eggplant with tomatillo and jack cheese ($12.95) came on a bed of spinach with a sweet corn and bean salsa. I had another memorable outdoor meal among the cliffs at the Bit and Spur (1212 Zion Park Blvd., 435-772-3498, www.bitandspur.com) in Springdale. The sweet potato and masa tamales came recommended, but I was glad to have my head turned by the unlikely special: spearfish tacos with a mango chutney ($18.50). A crazy thing to order in desert Utah, I know, but they were magnificent.

INFORMATION: Zion National Park, 435-772-3256, www.nps.gov/zion.

-- Steve Hendrix