Zion National Park: Travel Tips   6 comments

The Kayenta Formation at the bottom of Zion Canyon is easily undercut by the Zion River.

Zion is a well-known National Park in southwest Utah.  It’s centered on a spectacular red-rock canyon on the western edge of the Colorado Plateau.  The canyon walls are near vertical (even overhanging in places).  The vertical relief from the highest point (over 8000 feet) to the lowest point in the canyon (3700 feet) is about 5000 feet (over 1500 meters).  So hiking here can involve some sweat.  Coming in from the west, via St George, Utah, you’ll approach through the beautiful valley of the Virgin River.

The Virgin River in Zion Canyon reflects early evening light.

Most people seem to fly into Vegas and rent a car, then race across the Interstate 15 to the park.  Undoubtedly this is a cheap and quick option, but flying into Salt Lake City and looping down through Capitol Reef N.P., Grand Staircase, Bryce N.P., and then into Zion would be my preference if I had the time (two weeks minimum).  You could also do the 5-hour drive from Salt Lake to Moab and do Arches and Canyonlands.  Then loop west toward the above destinations.  Figure three weeks for that trip, though many would be able to do it in two (or even one week for the quick-hitter tourists).

I entered this time from the east, part of a large looping roadtrip which started Sept 25th by driving from my home in Oregon to northern Idaho.  Then it was Montana, Wyoming, NE Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, across southern Utah, and here I am in Dixie.  I bet you thought Dixie was in the southern U.S.  Well that’s true, but they call this part of Utah Dixie as well.

Zion is a bit like Yosemite.  In both parks, you can hardly go without seeing the main canyon.  But while Yosemite Valley and Zion Canyon are both spectacular and well worth spending some time in, they are also very popular (i.e., crowded).  You should try to spend part of your time hiking the trails.  The shorter trails like Emerald Pools are beautiful but also a little crowded.

The longer trails are more fun I think.  Angel’s Landing, for example, while it’s popular, is nonetheless quite spectacular and not too difficult or long.  Observation Point on the other side of the canyon is a tougher climb (over 2000 feet vertical).  Echo Canyon along this route is simply amazing.  Also, consider a detour up Hidden Canyon.  I highly recommend Observation Point.

I strongly recommend driving over to the east side of the park, through the incredible Mt. Carmel Tunnel.  There are several likely off-trail areas to hike in this area.  If you don’t try to pretend you’re a world champion free climber, and only go far enough to easily retrace your steps, you’ll be fine.  Remember the general rule of thumb in federally managed areas: always obtain a backcountry permit if you plan to camp overnight away from the roads.

Another option if you want to lose some of the crowd is to visit the northern part of the park.  There are two roads.  One heads up Kolob Plateau from the town of Virgin, not too far from the west entrance.  There are several trails from this road.  One classic hike is to take the West Rim Trail one-way from Lava Point (the highest road-accessible point in the park) all the way down past Angel’s Landing into Zion Canyon.

I haven’t done this one yet, because you need a shuttle.  But I again see parallels with Yosemite; namely the John Muir Trail from Toulumne Meadows all the way down to Yosemite Valley.  The West Rim Trail is quite a bit shorter than this route though.  At 16 miles you can do it as an all-day hike or a leisurely overnighter.  You can also do an out and back hike on this trail from the canyon floor, past Angel’s Landing and onward up the West Rim until you need to turn back.

A rapidly warming day greets the sleepy campers in Zion National Park in Utah.

The other access point to the northern part of the park is off Interstate 15 (exit 40) and up Kolob Canyons Road.  A good all-day hike from this road is the LaVerkin Trail to Kolob Arch.  This arch is one of the largest free-standing arches in the world.  Both of these areas, along with the east side of the park, are at higher elevations than the main canyon.  So if it’s that time of year you might run into snow.  Kolob Plateau is highest.

A prickly pear cactus displays its version of fall colors in Zion National Park, Utah.

In addition to all of the above, there are a plethora of canyoneering routes in Zion (canyoning for all you Europeans).  If you’re experienced, plan by picking up a guidebook and 7.5 minute USGS topo maps.  Tom Jones’s book is excellent (not that Tom Jones!).  Take all the necessary canyoneering gear.  If you’re not a canyoneer, come close to it by hiking “the Subway”.  You’ll need a permit from the visitor center (or make reservations online) to hike this awesome (and popular) canyon off the Kolob Terrace Road.

The quieter east side of Zion National Park, Utah.

When you arrive, obtain local info. on which springs are flowing (to plan your water needs).  The N.P.S. wilderness desk at their visitor center is pretty decent in this regard, but local guides are good backups.  Also realize that  logjams can create extremely dangerous conditions on normally pedestrian canyon routes.  If you are not an experienced canyoneer (or are solo), there are plenty of guides in the area.  Google and get recommendations.

In Zion Canyon, Utah, the Virgin River flows out of the Narrows.

Zion is an incredible National Park, deserving of all its popularity.  But do yourself a favor and don’t just stay in a tourist hotel in Springdale and ride the shuttle to all the popular spots.  Try to get off the beaten track.  Take a hike!  You’ll be glad you did.

Near the Big Bend in Zion Canyon, the Zion River winds past Great White Thrown.

The night gathers inside Zion Canyon in Utah, the Great White Thrown far above.

6 responses to “Zion National Park: Travel Tips

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  1. WOW! Amazing pictures. That Prickly Pear Cactus is just phenomenal; that upper extension sits just like man and wife on a wedding.

  2. Thanks Lyle! Story I have a website; click on any of these images to go to it. It’s the driving that I’m a bit slow on. I’ve heard the same about hospitals and videos, so I’ve been doing a lot of those too. Thanks for your input!

  3. These are great photographs.
    Create a sell site, and drive medical clinics, hospitals and all health care venues to it … frames and all.
    They eat this stuff up…
    Made in the USA!

  4. These are great photographs.
    Create a sell site, and drive medical clinics, hospitals and all health care venues to it … frames and all.

    They eat this stuff up…
    Made in the USA!

  5. That last shot is spectacular

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