About Zion National Park
"The oasis in the desert." Preconceptions of a place will often shape your actual experience; that inevitable place you visit where your experience does not live up to the hype. We had heard so many good things about Zion and had googled many amazing photos before we left - our expectations were high! Zion didn't live up to the hype; it blew the hype out the water. A narrow canyon surrounded by red sandstone cliffs and greenery, Zion gives hikers, families and adventurers reward for their efforts.
Zion is a hikers paradise, including one of our all-time favourites; the Angel's Landing Trail. In addition to its many adventure trails, Zion has a rich history and is the United States' first national park.
Getting around Zion
Driving was a huge problem in the narrow Zion Canyon in the 90's and as such parking was essentially eliminated from the Park (unless you were staying at the Zion Lodge). Nowadays there is a free shuttle bus which runs from Springdale (from the main parking area) to the centre of the Park (including through to all the major hiking trail heads throughout the park). There are closer parking bays on the boarder of the park, however these will usually fill up quickly during peak times. For more information on shuttle times (they basically run all the time - usually stopping at each stop every 15 minutes) can be found at the following website: http://www.nps.gov/zion.
What to see and do
1. Hike - Angel's Landing (4 hours / strenuous)
This was the highlight of our trip, but it is not for the faint hearted or those who are scared of heights. Angel's Landing offers absolutely stunning views of the main canyon that runs through the centre of the Park. Make sure you set aside between 3-5 hours for this hike depending on your fitness level. It took us about 4 hours round trip but we spent plenty of time taking photos throughout the hike.
The walk begins at the Grotto Trail Head (6th stop on the free Zion Canyon Shuttle) and you immediately start hiking upwards before reaching a side canyon and getting a slight respite. The final part of the climb is strenuous but exhilarating as you walk along a thin ridge which has 500 metre drops either side (checkout the photos below). It looks scarier than it actually was and we never felt in danger; at the toughest and steepest points there are chains to help you up. At the top you are rewarded with incredible views of the whole valley as well as a good dose of adrenaline running through your body.
2. Hike - Zion Narrows (moderate/strenuous)
To do this hike you will need waterproof shoes, as majority of the walk takes you through the shallow Virginia River at the bottom of a Canyon. Don't let this put you off though as this hike, along with Angel's Landing, is a classic of Zion and takes you through some of the most amazing canyon scenery in the world. You will need to put aside most of the day to do the Zion Narrows as it is a 6 hour round trip. Start the hike from the Temple of Sinawava which is the final stop of the Zion Canyon Shuttle bus.
3. Day trip to Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park is a 1-1.5 hour drive from Zion National Park and is such a unique experience. It has tens of thousand orange spires rising out the ground with this gorgeous red soil backdrop. The best way to see the Canyon, which isn't actually a canyon but a plateau, is actively. There are obviously hundreds of hikes around but for a different way of seeing Bryce - and our recommendation - is on horseback. You can book this via Canyon Trail Rides. A truly memorable experience!
- Navajo Loop Trail (easy): the hike starts from the Sunset Point car park, is clearly signed and is about a 3km round trip. The walk takes you down into the main areas of Bryce Canyon and between the most famous narrow corridors.
- Queens Garden Loop (easy - moderate): this hikes also starts from Sunset Point car park and is 3km long. The walk actually intersects the Navajo Loop and is perfect to further explore the canyons below.
Tip: try to get to Bryce before 9am to see the sun lifting the intricate shadow from the sharp rock faces.
4. Scenic Drive & Canyon Overlook Trail
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive offers the best panoramic view of the Zion National Park. The drive goes from the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and heads up route 9 to a parking lot. Hop out the car and do the easy 45 minute walk for incredible views of the whole Zion Canyon. This is a perfect hike if it is your first time at Zion as it gives you full views of the park.
The sheer rock faces in Zion make it the ideal place for Canyoneering; for all levels. Canyoneering on the Narrows Trail is particularly popular but there are literally hundreds of options. There are several tour operators for beginners and adventure seekers such as Zion Adventures.
6. Horse riding through Kolob
Horse riding is a great way to see different areas of Zion National Park. There are many different operators who take you through different areas and cater for both the experienced and inexperienced. Horse riding through the undulating Kolob area is a great way to see a different part of the Park.
7. Hike - Emerald Pools (easy)
An easy and beautiful hike, which will take you through various creeks that flow into little pools over-looking the main Zion Canyon. The hike will take about 2 hours and you will cover a bit over 3km depending if you go all the way to the upper emerald pool. This hike is perfect for an afternoon or if you only have a few hours as it is located directly across from the Zion Lodge (the central hub of the Park).
Where to stay?
We recommend booking accommodation at the Zion National Park Lodge purely for the convenience factor. The Lodge is located in the heart of the National Park and gives you access to all the best walking trails. Unfortunately, we didn't stay here as it was booked out while we were in Zion but it looks amazing and isn't too badly priced at around $US205 per night. You can book through the following website: http://www.zionlodge.com/.
The closest town to Zion National Park is Springdale which has several affordable places to stay.
We stayed at a well priced resort called Zion Ponderosa. It isn't one of the best hotels but it is good value, being less than $US60 p/night and slightly closer to the National Park than Springdale. The Narrows trail also ends near the Resort.