From the moment you approach the area of Zion National Park you will SAY “WOW!” You are surrounded by a magnificent maze of wonder everywhere you turn. We are happy to say that we checked another top notch National Park off our bucket list recently. After our first visit to Arches and Canyonlands last year, there was no doubt we knew we had to extend our exploration further into Utah and these spectacular landscapes and canyons.
I was a little intimidated after reading and hearing about the nightmare crowds that have been swarming these parks in recent years, especially around the holidays. Just a handful of years ago, Zion was getting 2.5 million plus visitors per year, today it is up to 4.5 million visitors per year, according to the Zion Human History Museum information video. This museum is located at shuttle bus stop 2 in the park.
During the drive on our road trip to Zion, we were mentally preparing for dealing with massive crowds and parking. The first thing we did is plan to awaken very early. We stayed in a very nice, smoke free, brand new Comfort Suites Hotel located in beautiful St. George, which is about 45 minutes away from Zion Park. The prices for lodging in Springdale, which is where Zion is located, were extremely high and most places were sold out at the time we made our reservations. (Which was around end of April).
After arriving in St. George and settling into our room, we walked next door to Denny’s and enjoyed tasty eggs and potatoes. I have wheat, gluten, and dairy food sensitivities so I do extra preparing for meals and food during travel and road trips and have a restricted diet. We finished dinner then returned to the room, showered, and crawled into bed early around 9 p.m.
The Early Bird Gets The Worm Plan:
Alarms were set for 3:30 a.m. in order for us to hit the road by 4:30 a.m. But during the night, we heard at least 2 groups of people close their hotel door and getting into their vehicle outside. My thoughts while lightly sleeping were that these people were getting a leg up on us, so we ended up waking at 3:15a.m. We gathered our light layers of clothing, ate breakfast, grabbed our water jugs, packed our home made sandwiches and snacks with all cameras in hand and out the door we went.
We ended up on the road to Zion by around 4:10 a.m. and arrived at the Zion Visitor Center parking lot around 4:45 a.m. There were about 7-8 cars parked in the lot at this time. I also read and heard rumors about the traffic from St. George to Zion can be quite horrific, but we cruised right on into town passing only a few cars. The entire area was completely dark, the parking lot lights were not on, the visitor entrance station and visitor center were not open yet. The fees to enter the park vary depending on your plans. The cost for a vehicle for a 7 day pass is $30, but we did not pay because the park cashier was not in this early. (I was able to capture a few shots of Springdale during the daytime)
We grabbed our flashlight and water bottles and proceeded to mill around the parking lot and visitor center for a short while, used the restrooms and put on our sunscreen for the day. We then locked up the car and headed towards the area where the first shuttle bus stop was located for a departure time of 6 a.m. We were approximately 14th and 15th in line around 5:30 a.m. While standing in line we met a new friend, Paul from Australia. He would end up tagging along with us most of the morning, as he didn’t know which hike he was going to do until he asked us which hike we were doing. We told him we were starting with ‘Angels Landing’ and so he says he will hike that one as well.
Angels Landing Hiking Trail
What a beautiful way to start your morning! This was a heart pumping, stunning views and spectacular hike for our first time in Zion National Park, and enjoyed every step.
Take a look at the breathtaking photos.
Hidden Canyon Trail
This one is an interesting hiking trail and is not as difficult as Angels Landing, but does have its own unique challenges. This trail is about 2.5 miles roundtrip and also has areas where you need to hang onto the chain cable.
Once we arrived at the summit of this trail, the views were magnificent! At the same time, we were able to see the impressive rock climbers across the canyon valley and snap a photo.
Temple of Sinawava
This trail is one of the ways to reach the Narrows hiking trail. We hiked it for about 1-1.5 miles where the water was starting to become the trail. We weren’t prepared for a water hike, so we remained in that area, relaxed, and took it all in.
Even made a few friends along the way.
The Hype About Holiday Crowds and Lessons Learned:
We were told that Memorial Day weekend is the busiest time of the year at Zion. They did have extra volunteers working to help with the crowds. The day we climbed Angels Landing, Hidden Canyon Trail and Weeping Rock was on Saturday. I have to say, that throughout the entire day, we didn’t notice the massive crazy crowds within the park. Of course, there were some lines to get on the shuttles at some of the shuttle bus stops, but the shuttles were running on such a timely manner (probably every 3-5 minutes) that people were not waiting very long at all. Many people were probably still out on the hiking trails as well.
The busiest trails and trail heads that we noticed were Angels Landing and The Narrows hikes. Angels Landing was not busy at all before 8 a.m. that morning on Saturday. We made it to the summit around 7:30 a.m. and rolled around the boulders and took some photos, ate a snack, and played with the chipmunks. As we started our journey back down, there were more people at the topside already and we figured that the trail was starting to get very busy. This trail can get dangerous as a result of the crowds and can cause long delays as you wait or take turns using the chains to hang on to while climbing or descending very steep and slippery areas of the trail. Here is an up close glance at the chain ropes along side the narrow trail areas.
But we took charge and ended up in front of a group of people around 8 or so; and pressed forward. We approached a handful of groups of people along the way down but took turns using the chain cable on the trail. There is an area that you can bypass the chain cable going down as we sat on our behinds and hands then slowly slid down the rock cliff near where the chains begin for the steeper uphill part of the trail (longer lines of people can build in this area).
Lessons Learned: Things To Remember for The Next Visit.
- Early Bird: We did not need to awaken so early. We can sleep at least another hour if staying in St. George. It does make your experience better if you do arrive early especially if its your first time visiting.
- Parking: We learned that if you arrive early enough, you can drive further back into the park and there are parking spots at the shuttle stop areas. To avoid some of the crowds using the shuttles.
- As we departed the park in the later part of the afternoon around 4:30 p.m., we saw numerous parked cars along the main street (Zion Park Blvd) all the way until the end of town as we left. Knowing that we saw several various parking spots open within the park at designated parking areas at each shuttle bus top. If arriving at the park early in the morning, it’s a good idea to go ahead and drive in within the park and go further, even as far as Angels Landing trail to check for open spots. And if no luck, then find a spot on the street (free) outside of the park and catch the shuttle bus, which is no charge. That should be early enough to go in and come out if no parking spots are open before the busy hours begin.
- Entrance Fees: If you arrive very early as well, the visitor center is not open until 8 a.m., and the park entrance cashier may not be there until then as well.
- Fitness: Another idea on how to prepare for some of the hikes in Zion requiring climbing is to exercise and strengthen your arm and leg muscles. My arms and quads were sore because we used the chains attached to the rocks to pull ourselves up or to lift the legs and step up onto steeper areas of the hike. It was a very good workout and it gets your heart pumping.
- Cameras and Cell Phones: Be careful while holding your phone cameras near waterfalls or rushing water. We saw a young lady drop her cell phone in the pool of water / waterfalls near the Temple of Sinawava stop near the Narrows trail head. It appears she did not find it again.
Things To Bring For Zion Hiking:
- Light layers of clothing: Cool mornings can warm up in later parts of the day.
- Hat or visor-(it can get windy at the summits, so hang on to your hat)
- Snacks, food, water or vitamin drink with electrolytes
- Cameras; make sure they are secure.
- Hiking Shoes: A good pair of hiking shoes to provide a better grip while climbing.
Overall, our road trip and visit to Zion was incredible and amazing. I heard several folks say these words again and again, “Oh Wow!” So, if you plan to visit Zion National Park; the red cliff playground, be prepared to be overwhelmed with wow and wonder. We expected the worst and hoped for the best and we feel we got the best. It was perfect weather, manageable crowds, comfortable clean lodging, and we made magnificent memories.
Have you had a first time visit to a place that turned out to be way more than you expected? And have you traveled to a popular place during a holiday and how did your experience turn out? I’d love to hear from you, comment here and let me know your travel experiences!
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