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Utah: Zion National Park

Terry from PA (Teaberry)

My husband and I visited this beautiful US treasure at the end of July, 2009. Here are a few notes about some of our research, our visit, three of our walks, and additional thoughts.

Zion National Park

A little traveling background: I flew in from Philadelphia, and met up with my husband in Las Vegas, as he was there already visiting friends. After an overnight on “the Strip,” the two of us headed out early the next morning in our rental car, traversing some of the Nevada desert, a little bit of Arizona, and then into Utah. All super-highways and the roads are all well-marked. It took us about 2 ½ hours to travel the 160 miles distance to reach the town of Springdale, Utah, which is at the southern entrance to Zion Park. The directions were very easily “Google-able.” While Springdale is admittedly a bit touristy, the town is not too overdone. Wherever you stand, though, the tall, stony faces of the mountain ranges are within view, making this town sit in a beautiful setting. We had made our hotel reservations about four months earlier, and I would highly recommend advance planning of a summer trip, as Zion, and Springdale, receive many visitors.

There is one main road, route 9, that is Springdale, and you can find all of the commercial establishments, accommodations, and restaurants along this road. A free shuttle service operates along the route, traveling from one end of town to the Park and back. This cuts down on traffic in town considerably, and reliably runs every 10 minutes during peak season. Inside Zion, free (and frequent) shuttles operate from the Visitors Center; during peak season, no cars are allowed to drive within the Park.

Route 9

Narrows Hike

One of the hikes we were highly interested in taking was the Narrows Hike, personal friends and members of SlowTalk highly recommended it. This hike not only follows the Virgin River through its enveloping canyons; it literally traverses THROUGH the river. The River is the trail. And what fun.

We were well-prepared for this adventure, and geared up ahead of time with special neoprene boots and socks, and walking sticks – all rented from the nearby ace adventure outfitters known as Zion Adventure Company. We watched a mandatory 15 minute safety film before we put on our gear, and then we were on our way.

Neoprene Boots

Neoprene Boots

The shuttle bus took us to our trailhead, and after a one mile paved path to the Narrows hike, we were on our way. While you can take this hike during all four seasons, I personally cannot imagine a better time than on a hot summer day like the one we enjoyed. A very popular hike, we saw families with children of all ages, youngsters and oldsters and everything in between. The River occasionally came as high as our hips, but mostly was about mid-calf to knee-high. Rocks cover the river bottom, making for a quite challenging hike; additionally, the hike into the Narrows is all upstream. The trip back, on the other hand, is all downstream. Words cannot describe the beauty of the steep canyon walls and the play of shadow and light around us as we waded through the cooling waters.

Narrows Hike

Canyon Overlook Trail

Another much shorter and less challenging but equally impressive hike that we enjoyed was the Canyon Overlook trail. To access the trailhead, we had to drive past the Park entrance and around some incredible switchbacks that lead to the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. Immediately upon exiting the tunnel there is a parking lot on the right, and the Canyon Overlook trailhead is on the left. After an initial rise in elevation, the rest of the trail is relatively flat, with some beautiful cliff overhangs and vistas to enjoy, en route to the jeweled perch at the end, the Overlook. We did this hike around 10am, and enjoyed the whole area to ourselves; though by the time we left, we had more company. The view is majestic, expansive, and dramatic, and a very worthwhile one-mile roundtrip excursion.

Canyon Overlook Trail - Zion National Park

Emerald Pools

We also hiked to two of the Emerald Pools, passing by Weeping Rock along the way to the first Emerald Pool. The hike to the Lower Pool is shaded and casual, and the Weeping Rock drippy and lush. Unfortunately, I think that both the Lower and Middle Pools were fairly dried up (think swampy) due the mid-summer heat and lower precipitation. We were somewhat disappointed about that, although the hiking was fun. I would recommend visiting these Pools sometime around springtime or after rains.

Observations

  • We were quite surprised to hear patrons of the Park, hotels and restaurants speaking different foreign languages - maybe not too surprising, since the exchange rate for foreign currencies was quite good at the time of our vacation. It made us proud of our national heritage, and extra glad that we too were enjoying it.
  • To make the most of your time in the area, do your homework ahead of your visit. The accommodations can fill up fast, so early reservations will assure you the home base you desire.
  • Zion is THE place for an active vacation. There are several adventure companies in the area that you can contact via the web or by phone to make arrangements for equipment and/or reservations. These people are experienced and very helpful in your planning.
  • Utilize the town shuttle if you are staying outside the Park. It’s easy, it’s free, and it conserves gasoline, curtails pollution, and reserves your parking spot!
  • Evening activities are slim – there is a town theater, a move house, and a few galleries. Maybe your accommodations have cable TV or you can rent a movie. Or enjoy the sunset and the clean sky on a clear night.
  • You change time zones between Las Vegas and Springdale. May be important to check that out for important arrival and/or departure times. Nevada is on Pacific Time; Utah is on Mountain Time; Arizona is on Mountain Time, but Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings Time. Try keeping that straight!
  • If you love the outdoors and connecting with nature and the majesty that is uniquely American, this Park is the place for you.

Resources

Zion Adventure Company: http://www.zionadventures.com/

Zion National Park – The Narrows: http://www.zionnational-park.com/zion-narrows.htm

Zion National Park: http://www.eastziontourismcouncil.org/zion-national-park-vacation.htm

Joe’s Guide to Zion National Park: http://www.citrusmilo.com/zionguide/

American Southwest – Utah: http://www.americansouthwest.net/utah/zion/national_park.html

National Weather Service Forecaster http://www.nwrfc.noaa.gov/ (good to check before taking any hikes, but particularly the Narrows)

Zion Park Inn: http://www.zionparkinn.com/. We stayed at this hotel and loved it – beautiful setting, service, and amenities. The price was right, too. Outside the Park, but only 5 minutes away by shuttle.

Utah hotel reviews

Utah restaurant reviews

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I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and find this whole area to be one more beautiful part of the world. See Terry's Slow Travel Member page.

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