Only have time to hit one national park in Utah? Make it Zion. The most-visited of all the parks, Zion is your one-stop shop for adventure, nature, and heart-racing activities.
This massive nature preserve features landscapes straight out of Jurassic Park and offers visitors a cool respite from the heat with the Virgin River flowing freely through the center and scenic forest trails with plenty of shade.
Whether you want to test your strength endurance on the hiking trails or simply take in the scenery, Zion offers a little something for everyone. For us, it was all about hitting the trails. It seems we saved the best for last by concluding the trip with these two must-do hikes.
We went straight to The Narrows after a quick lunch at Cafe Soleil just outside Zion National Park. The town it’s located in – Springdale – is just like Moab with a bunch of adorable shops and restaurants. It takes about 40 minutes to get from the Visitor Center to Stop 9 (Temple of Sinawava), which provides the entrance point to The Narrows.
This trail gets its name from its location in the narrowest section of Zion Canyon. Basically, you hike upstream in the Virgin River with towering rock walls on either side of you. It was so nice to splash around in the cool river water, although water hiking presents its own set of challenges. You really have to fight your way through the current, and slippery rocks don’t make it an easy feat. Most people rent heavy-duty boots and walking sticks, but it’s definitely doable in sneakers or hiking sandals.
We got to do a little cliff jumping and watched people rappel down a trickling waterfall. It really inspired me to keep doing adventurous shit. I love pushing my body to the limit to see what it’s capable of.
The following morning, we woke up at 5am to do the most strenuous hike of the trip: Angels Landing. Seven people have died doing this hike since 2004, which wasn’t the most reassuring factoid to hear as we made our way up.
Speaking of the way up, it’s on an extremely steep incline ~ a StairMaster on steroids with added twists and turns. The path is extremely unforgiving and rarely flattens out. Just when you really need a break, you hit Walter’s Wiggles ~ a zigzag of abrupt paths that continually get steeper and steeper.
We powered through to be greeted at the top by the rank scent of over-used porta-potties. No complaints about the views from Scout’s Lookout though.
This is the point where you start the ascent to the top of the peak, with metal chains built into the edge of the rocks to help you climb. I don’t recommend looking over the sides. The trail has been taken so many times, the rocks are smooth and steps have naturally formed. It was key that we got there early to avoid throngs of people and having to wait in long lines to follow the chain rope.
In some spots, you can go rogue and do a bit of scrambling, but in other areas, I was definitely glad to have the rope. You are climbing 1,400 ft. in the air after all. It was a new challenge compared to the other hikes we’d been on, and I found it to be absolutely exhilarating. It’s such a sense of accomplishment when you reach the top.
Getting back down was slightly more difficult due to the sheer number of people, but afforded more opportunities for photos and appreciating the view. By the time we hit the Wiggles, we mostly ran the rest of the way down, the straight drops providing the momentum to propel us forward.
Know Before You Go
As I mentioned above, Zion is located in the sweet little town of Springdale. Hotels and guesthouses abound, but I encourage you to camp in one of the park’s three campgrounds or on BLM land outside the park. Kolob Terrace Road offers some great options for those that like to get off the beaten path.
The park entrance fee is $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, or $15 per pedestrian/bicycle.
While you can drive into the park, it can be a bit of a shit show. I highly recommend taking advantage of the free shuttles within the park and around Springdale. Just park along the main road in Springdale and find the nearest shuttle stop to take you to the Visitor Center. Once inside the park, you’ll find another shuttle that stops off at all the major trails.
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