Zion National Park is a well-oiled machine. It is the Disneyland of hiking. The streets of Springdale, the town at the foot of the canyon, resemble those of a bustling metropolis, except every person has on some sort of pack and is either on their way to, or just completed, a hike. Never have I seen anywhere like this, but, this is my first big-time national park aside from the Grand Canyon. Little known fact: When angels touch down on earth’s surface, they must choose an animal to inhabit while on the ground. In Zion, they tend gravitate towards the chipmunk.
The ride from Kanab to Zion is not a long one. We, however, had to make a side trip down to the St. George area southwest of Zion first, adding a bit to the drive. The purpose of this detour was to offload Miles for a few days, because, as with most national parks, dogs aren’t allowed on the good hikes and we didn’t want to leave him in the bus all day every day. He would have hated it and we would have been kicked out because of the (supposed) strict no barking policy. (I heard plenty of barking and saw no evictions.) While we hiked our butts off (and enjoyed eating inside of restaurants for a change), Miles got to enjoy air conditioning, lounging on a couch and making friends with a cat at the rover.com sitter’s house.
If you feel like jumping in the driver’s seat for the run up to Zion from Hurricane, Utah, here is the Quick Run video.
While in Zion we parked ye olde Vicaribus at the Zion RV Park and Campground, just half a mile from the park entrance. It was expensive, but an ideal location with decent amenities, and even a decent view.
The only downside was that our spot was next to a playground and for some reason the French and German families like to (quite vocally) play with their toddlers on the playground from 5 AM until 11 PM.
Now let’s get onto the whole reason we (and everyone else) were here, the hiking. For the majority of people, Zion National Park consists of one large, stunning canyon with shuttles running up an down it with many stops along the way with access to the super popular hikes. The park itself actually encompasses a much larger land area, but few people get beyond the main canyon. We only had a few days there, so we too stuck to the main canyon, which was super busy but also super-duper. We did three very different types of hikes while there, so lets break them down.
After settling in the first afternoon, we hopped on the shuttle to get acquainted with the canyon and to do one of the smaller hikes. Most of the year, most of the canyon inaccessible by vehicle and the only way to get up and down it is to either walk (16 miles end-to-end) or to ride the shuttles. The shuttles are large and run in a continuous stream, rarely requiring more than a few minutes wait to catch the next one. Of the couple smaller hikes, we opted for the Emerald Pools Trail. The 1.5 mile trail weaves it way toward the canyon wall from the bus stop, passing the Lower Emerald Pools, Middle Emerald Pools and Upper Emerald Pools. “Pools” may be a stretch for some of the small puddles of water, but the hike was pleasant none-the-less. The best views were really on the way back, looking down the canyon.
To see all photos from the Emerald Pools Trail, click here.
As a side note, so far Utah has proven to be quite the destination for international visitors. On this hike we heard no less than 5 different languages. I would posit a guess that less than half the visitors at the park were Americans.
This hike is iconic, terrifying and breathtaking. When you come to Zion you do this hike. It is a VERY popular hike. We actually got up at 5:10 AM to get on the first shuttle at 6:00 AM so that we could do the hike with as few other people as possible. By the time we got on the bus, there were over 100 people in line with the same idea. How much of the hike you ultimately do is determined be your fitness level, dexterity and feelings towards 1000-ft drops. The full trail is about 5.4 miles long and covers 1600 vertical feet, so you will have a lot of climbing to do. I don’t mean climbing as in rock climbing, just as in vertical ascent, as the majority of the trail is actually paved and the steeper parts are made more accessible with lots (and lots) of switchbacks.
The last half mile of the trail is where things get interesting. To make it to the actual Angel’s Landing, which is the end of the trail, this last half mile is spent clinging to chains anchored to the ground as you try not look down the 1000-ft drop on either side of you. At least this is how I did it. I think Heather used the chains a couple times and quite enjoyed the view down into the abyss below.
At the end of the hike you end up on a somewhat spacious point with incredible views up and down the canyon.
Immediately upon making it to the end, you congratulate, and get congratulated by, the many, many other people who did not die on the way. People do die here every couple years. The next thing you sit there and stare in wonder, taking the occasional useless-at-capturing-the-scene photo. And then you catch a little movement out of the corner of your eye where you sat your bag down. And then all of a sudden you see dozens of fearless chipmunks scampering all over the place in search of delicious, delicious human food. You take pictures of them for a bit and then head back down the knife-ridge to the holding pen where all of the “less adventuress” folks wait for their braver counterpart and then back down the paved path.
To see all photos from the Angel’s Landing Trail, click here.
A video recap of the Angel’s Landing Trail happens to be the subject of our 3rd vlog.
This is the other iconic hike that everyone does in Zion. It is certainly also quite amazing, but a complete counterpoint to Angel’s Landing. Instead of large elevation gains and deadly falls on all sides, the this trail literally follows the river up through the north end of the canyon, and I do mean literally literally. You hike IN the river through the ever-narrowing canyon. You look up the gorgeous canyon walls instead of down them.
At this time of the year, the water is about 50 degrees, so your best bet is to rent some neoprene socks, some hefty shoes and a hiking pole from one of the outfitters in town to make the hike a much more pleasant experience. Not everybody follows this advice to varying levels of success. In my younger days I certainly would have forgone such niceties and stubbornly insisted the whole way that “it’s fine.” We did about 3 miles up the river before turning around. One similarity to Angel’s Landing is that you do share this experience with hundreds of your closest friends at the same time. I never thought I would see a scene like this 3 miles up a river.
To see all photos from the Narrows Trail, click here.
Our 4th vlog covers the trail in video form.
Zion was our first of the Big 5 Utah parks that we will be visiting in the coming weeks, stay tuned!
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