Jonathan Zambella | A Zion Trailblazer


It only took one glance at the Zion National Park skyline for Jonathan Zambella to decide that’s where he wanted to live.

“I fell in love immediately with the park,” Jonathan said.” I looked out of the tent window and my jaw hit the deck.”

That was in 1996 during a backpacking trip across the United States. After returning home to the East Coast, he packed up everything and moved to Springdale. Soon after, he founded the Zion Adventure Company, hoping to make a living guiding tourists through the red rock canyons. His was the first company of its kind.

“Everything I was doing I was doing for the first time,” Jonathan recalled.

He said those beginning years were challenging. A high river meant Narrows hiking was limited, and restrictions imposed by the National Park Service prohibit commercial guides in the park. He said the success eventually came through the establishment of the Zion Shuttle in 2000. Jonathan said the shuttle changed the way people visited the park.

“It slowed everyone down,” said Jonathan. “It took the park visitor who had an average stay of .7 days at Zion National Park, to 1.3 days.”

That slowing is a trend that would mold the way Jonathan approached business. He applied a more experience-based attitude toward outfitting hikers, one that visitors appreciated.

“It wasn’t about the what, it was about the how,” Jonathan said.

Jonathan’s goal was to give hikers an experience like his first time, experiencing the awe and wonder of the natural beauty. That was accomplished through canyoneering and hiking excursions that pushed people outside their comfort zone allowing them to get close and personal with nature.

That thinking has led Jonathan to expand his business to include Nama-Stay, an intimate retreat that allows visitors a quiet escape to Southern Utah.

“I would say less is more in many ways,” said Jonathan. “So the less we use the park, I think the more we get to see.”

Jonathan’s philosophy is one of conservation, least impact and preserving the beauty that we see around us for generations.

“We slow people down,” said Jonathan. “Get them out of this ‘I’ve got to go’ to ‘ok, I can stop and I can breathe.’”

The natural feel of Nama-Stay is apparent just in the courtyard, the wood-toned buildings and the open land give an inviting view of Zion canyon and the towering red rock cliffs. As the sun rises over the crest, a visitor gets that same overwhelming impression Jonathan felt on his first day, and the excitement is contagious.

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