From the moment you approach the area of Zion National Park you will find yourself saying “WOW” numerous times! Once you step out of your vehicle, you feel like you are in a dream. You are surrounded by a magnificent maze of stunning beauty everywhere you turn. Zion makes it another check off our bucket list of a goal to visit all the national parks.
Since our first visit to Arches and Canyonlands last year, we knew we had to extend our exploration further into Utah and see more of these spectacular landscapes and canyons.
I was a little hesitant after reading and hearing about the nightmare crowds that have been swarming these parks in recent years. 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 brand new, smoke free, Choice Hotel; Comfort Suites Hotel located in beautiful St. George. Our overnight lodging is about 45 minutes away from Zion. The prices for lodging in Springdale where Zion is located, are higher and had limited availability at the time we made our reservations. (End of April).
After arriving in St. George and settled into our room, we walked next door to Denny’s and enjoyed tasty eggs and potatoes. I have food sensitivities so I do extra preparing for meals and food during travel and road trips. We finish dinner then return to the room, shower, and crawl into bed early around 9 p.m.
The Early Bird Gets The Worm Plan:
Alarms are 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 doors closing down the hall-making noise- and getting into their vehicle outside. My thoughts while lightly sleeping are that these people are getting a leg up on us, so we ended up waking at 3:15 a.m. At this point; we are tired, excited, and jacked up about our hike to Angels Landing. We gather our light layers of clothing, ate breakfast, grab our water jugs, pack our turkey sandwiches and snacks with all cameras in hand and out the door we went.
We finally end up on the road to Zion by around 4:10 a.m. and arrive at the Zion Visitor Center parking lot around 4:45 a.m. It is dark everywhere! As you walk around the grounds, you definitely need a flashlight. We find our way to the restrooms and I am thankful they are not locked! Whew! This time in the morning, I am surprised to see there are about 7-8 cars parked in the lot. 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.
As a result of arriving so early in the park, the visitor entrance station and visitor center are 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.
We wait patiently for the park to open, with flashlights in hand and jackets on as we mill around the grounds of the visitor center for a short while. Watching more people arrive in the parking lot, we go ahead and put our sunscreen on for the day and lock up the car. It is now about 5:30 a.m. and we head towards the area where the first shuttle bus stop is located. We find our spot in line for a departure time of 6 a.m. where we are taken to the bus stop to begin our first hike.
View from shuttle stop 1.
As we stand in line waiting, (we are approximately 14th and 15th in line); we meet Paul from Australia. Paul is a very pleasant man, very well traveled, and we enjoyed conversations with him immensely. Paul 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 what our plans are. We told him we were starting with ‘Angels Landing’ and so he says he will hike that one as well.
Itinerary and Goals:
I am listing below the primary points of interest that you may wish to include in your itinerary. I have also included a brief hiking guide to a few great hiking trails that you may wish to explore.
- Zion Human History Museum: (Shuttle stop 2)
Weeping Rock: Access to Weeping Rock Trail Hidden Canyon Trail, Observation Point Trail, East Rim Trail.
- Canyon Junction: Junction of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
- The Grotto: Shaded area for picnics and enjoy cottonwood trees. Restrooms.
- Court of the Patriarchs: Short and steep trail to viewpoints.
- Zion Lodge: Historic lodge right in the heart of Zion.
- Temple of Sinawava: The gateway to the Narrows hiking trail.
- Big Bend: Views of the Virgin River, Angels Landing, and the Great White Throne.
- Zion Canyon Visitor Center: The starting point for Zion. Restrooms, picnic, water and information.
Pa’rus Trail: 3.5 mi. Shuttle Stop 1
Lower Emerald Pools Trail: 1.2 mi. Shuttle Stop 5
The Grotto Trail: 1.0 mi. Shuttle Stop 6
Weeping Rock Trail: 0.4 mi. Shuttle Stop 7
Watchman Trail: 3.3 mi. Shuttle Stop 1
Upper Emerald Pools Trail: 1.0 mi. Shuttle Stop 5
Sand Bench Trail: 1.0 mi. Shuttle Stop 5
Kayenta Trail: 2.0 mi. Shuttle Stop 6
Angels Landing: 5.4 mi. Shuttle Stop 6
Hidden Canyon Trail: 2.4 mi. Shuttle Stop 7
Observation Point: 8.0 mi. Shuttle Stop 7
The Narrows: 9.4 mi. Shuttle Stop 9
What a beautiful way to start your morning! This is a heart pumping, diverse trail with stunning views and landscapes! Angels Landing in Zion National Park is challenging, interesting, and rewards you with an incredible experience!
Take a look at the breathtaking photos.
Hidden Canyon Trail
Another trail we really enjoyed is the Hidden Canyon Trail. This one is an interesting trail and is not quite as difficult as Angels Landing, but does have its own unique challenges. This trail is about 2.5 miles round trip and also has areas where you need to hang onto the chain cable.
Once we arrive at the summit of this trail, the views are magnificent! At the same time, we see the impressive rock climbers across the canyon valley and snap a photo.
Temple of Sinawava
This trail is one of the gateways to reach the Narrows hiking trail. We hiked it for about 1-1.5 miles where the water starts 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 park staff are repeatedly mentioning that Memorial Day weekend is the busiest time of the year at Zion. They did have extra volunteers working to help with the crowds. We hiked Angels Landing, Hidden Canyon Trail and Weeping Rock on a Saturday. Surprisingly, throughout the entire day, we didn’t notice the massive crazy crowds within the park. Of course, several folks are standing in line to catch the shuttles. As a result of shuttles running on such a timely manner (probably every 3-5 minutes), people are not waiting very long at all.
The busiest hiking trails are, as you might guess, Angels Landing and The Narrows hikes. Angels Landing was not that busy before 8 a.m. that morning on Saturday. We made it to the summit around 7:30 a.m. and scrambled across the boulders and took some photos, ate a snack, and played with the chipmunks.
Prior to starting our journey back down, we notice more people are joining us at the summit already. We conclude the trail is now starting to get very busy and begin making our way down. This trail can get dangerous as a result of too many people, and can cause long delays waiting to take turns using the chains to guide you. Here is an up close glance at the chains bolted into the rocks along side the narrow trail areas.
We end up in front of a group of about 10 people; and press forward. As we proceed on with our decent, we encounter a few people making their way up and of course taking turns using the chain cable on the trail. There is an area that you can bypass the chains going down, so we sat on our behinds and hands then slowly slid down the rock cliff near where the chains begin for 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 into the park, and find parking spots. This can help avoid some of the crowds using the shuttles.
A. 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 that require 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 is 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 adventure to Zion was incredible and amazing. I can’t tell you how many times I heard folks say these words again and again, “Oh Wow!” Visiting Zion National Park has been on my bucket list for years. If you have the national parks on your bucket list, Zion is a must see place to add to your itinerary! And be prepared to be overwhelmed with wow and wonder. Although our visit took place during a holiday weekend, we planned for the worst. But we also hoped for the best and we feel we got the best. It was perfect weather, manageable crowds, comfortable lodging, met an interesting friend, and made unforgettable memories.