With the recent discussion surrounding the importance of wilderness areas, I’ve been reminiscing about my time in Zion National Park. I knew even before embarking on this trip that I would be amazed by the scenery of Southern Utah, but nothing could have prepared me for the immensity of Zion Canyon. We were driving from the East and even at night as we slowly began to emerge upon the park, we could start to see a difference in the landscape. We wove back and forth like a snake through the canyons and cliffs, under the enormous rocks, and through the tunnels. We swore we had arrived to a different planet altogether.
As a National Park, Zion can be quite busy, but fortunately it was early in the season. Late March and into April is a great time to visit this corner of the country, but be prepared for a bit of snow at higher altitudes and higher than average water levels and flow rates through the Narrows. We unfortunately did not get to experience trekking through the Narrows due to the snowmelt at the time, but knowing how much I loved this park, I don’t have any doubts that I’ll return in the future.
WHERE TO STAY
When it comes to lodging, we only stayed one place while in the vicinity of the park, but I would highly suggest checking it out. Zion Park Motel was not only affordable, it was perfect for our needs and right in the middle of it all, only steps away from restaurants and shops. Getting around within the park is quite simple as well using the shuttle bus that stops right outside your door.
Note that with the park becoming increasingly popular each year, I would suggest making reservations in advance. Due to the overwhelming demand that the park has begun to experience, Zion is considering limiting visitors (read here). I initially had mixed feelings about this, but understanding the damage that can be reeked upon the park’s resources and the diminishing quality in the experience when surrounded by an incredibly large group of tourists, I can completely sympathize with their consideration.
TAKE A HIKE!
The best views in this park are seen from above, so don’t forget to pack comfortable shoes! For many of the popular hikes, the shuttle will drop you off right at the trailhead, but only you can put in the effort to get to that viewpoint. The park continues for miles outside of the main canyon, so there are plenty of trails to choose from even if the main attractions don’t appeal to you.
ANGELS LANDING (4.8 mi) 🔗
This out and back hike was by far the most exhilarating! Angels Landing is one of a kind, with sheer cliffs just inches away from the trail. The initial get go is tedious as the trail winds its way up the side of the mountain, but once atop you’re rewarded with a breathtaking view of what’s to come. If you squint just a bit, you can make out tiny spec-like humans making their way up the trail. Some people opt to rest here and are content with this view, while other brave souls carry on to make their way to the peak.
If you decide you want to hike this trail (and you should!) then I would suggest starting the ascent in the early hours of the morning to avoid the crowd. Yes, this trail can be dangerous if you’re not careful or make the attempt in poor weather, but the crowd is really where it can get dicey. Imagine… walking alongside of a ledge that’s mere inches longer than your foot. You’re holding onto the metal chain for security, and from around the corner appears a group of people on that same chain approaching your very spot. Knowing that both groups are too far to retrace their steps, your group decides to slither along the outside of each person coming toward you. What ensues is you inadvertently holding on to each of them for dear life as your sweaty hands clench the small pieces of the chain that is visible as you pass by. As thrilling as that can be, take my word for it and wind that alarm clock back a few hours. However, if and when you complete this trail, few experiences will ever compare!
CANYON OVERLOOK TRAIL (1 mi) 🔗
It only takes a half mile to get to the breathtaking canyon view that the Canyon Overlook Trail has to offer, and believe me when I say it’s worth your time! Yet another piece of the canyon that has something unique to offer, we hiked alongside and underneath eroded depressions in the rock face, over a small man-made bridge hovering above the rock ledge, and met a few friends known as the bighorn sheep along the way.
EAST RIM TRAIL (11 mi) 🔗
We wanted to experience a longer trek through the park, but due to the snow still covering the roads at higher altitudes, the trailhead for the West Rim Trail was out of reach. Instead, we opted to pay Zion Adventure Company to shuttle us to the East Rim Trail. In the early hours of the morning, we went from a nice cool breeze at the bottom of the canyon to a snowy winter wonderland at the top of the canyon where the trailhead is located. If you want a bit more solitude, give this trail or the West Rim Trail a go, as it was only us two and three others who were on the shuttle.
It was a little eerie suddenly being amidst the snowfall, but we were lucky enough to see a set of large fresh cat prints crossing the trail. We timidly assumed there was a mountain lion nearby, likely watching us from beyond the trees! After miles of beautiful landscape, the trail slowly begins to descend into Echo Canyon. The visibility was low at the time, so our views were obscured, but it was a sight to see nonetheless. Toward the end, there is the option of hiking up Mount Baldy on the Observation Point Trail (put this one on your list!), which is also accessible via the Weeping Rock Trailhead right next to the shuttle stop. We opted not to take this detour at the time since the fog would not allow for any type of view. However, toward the end of the trail, we were rewarded with an up close view of giant slab walls and running water through the smoothly carved slot canyons. And to top it off, we emerged into Zion Canyon still almost touching the clouds and had to pause to take in the astonishing view.
OTHER WORTHY TRAILS
Zion’s Weeping Rock, known for water cascading down its rock face, was quite a sight as well, and only a half mile hike round trip. Emerald Pools and Hidden Canyon would have also been on our list if granted more time.
If I were to return though, trekking through The Narrows would be #1 on my list. If you’re experienced, you can make the journey yourself, or go with any of the outfitters in the area on a guided hike. The Subway is another unique hike, but keep in mind that it takes planning and requires a permit. Lastly, one other worth mentioning is Kanarra Creek, a slot canyon located just north of the Kolob Canyons section of the park.
ROCK CLIMBING AND CANYONEERING
If you’re into rock climbing and canyoneering, or even intrigued by the idea, Zion is the place to embrace these types of sports! One of the reasons I fell in love with this park was the endless opportunity to explore the depth of its creeks and canyons. Knowing that the landscape and rock would be vastly different to what we have here in the Northeast, we booked ourselves a guided session with Zion Adventure Company. Our guide, Jess, was great and we spent the entire day climbing and canyoneering on the West side of the park. I decided not to take my phone along with me for fear of damaging it, but looking back I wish I had captured more photos of this memorable time. Ascending sandstone walls and rappelling deep into the slot canyons was such a great experience!
Like many beautiful places on this Earth, Zion National Park is unique with its massive canyons that make up the landscape. If you’re already thinking about it, you know it’s worth your time. Do yourself a favor and check it out!
- Check out detailed maps of Zion National Park here.
- For information on Zion’s shuttle schedule, latest news, weather, as well as river, trail, and road conditions, visit the National Park Service website.
- Read more about the Zion Park Motel.
- Rent equipment, book a shuttle, or hire a guide through Zion Adventure Company.