Travelogue #2: Zion National Park, Utah

Last year, it was finally time for me to take a trip to Utah and gaze up in awe at the massive Zion Canyon, a 229-square-mile park formed by the Virgin River cutting through the red and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone over millions of years. This is a travelogue of my Zion adventure spanning 3 days in the third week of September.

View from top of Angel’s Landing

Some Zion trivia..

  • The Zion Canyon was carved by the Virgin River and is 15 miles long and 800m deep.
  • The Canyon is continually changing — The Virgin River and its tributaries run through Zion, carving and shaping the canyon. On average, the river removes 1 million tons of sediment, which mostly occurs during flash floods. The result: The canyon continues to widen and the river channel continues to deepen
  • Zion’s Angels Landing provides spectacular views of the Canyon, but is one of the most dangerous hikes in the world, with narrow trails and steep elevation drops.

Getting to Zion: Seattle to Las Vegas; Drive to Mesquite

  • Seattle to Las Vegas: ~2 hour flight
  • Las Vegas to Mesquite, NV: ~1.5 hour drive
  • Where I stayed: Virgin River Casino Hotel, Mesquite

I chose Las Vegas as my airport to fly to because it was just a 3 hour drive away from Zion, and the flight tickets (Alaska Airlines) worked out cheap, around 200$, at the time of my travel, even though I booked just one month prior. After landing there late night, grabbed dinner in Vegas (nothing ever closes down in LV), and drove to Mesquite.


Day 1: Hiking The Narrows

At one of the shallow points during the hike
  • Mesquite to Park Entrance: ~1.5 hour drive
  • Getting to Narrows: 30 min shuttle from park entrance (shuttle every 15 mins) to Temple of Sinawava
  • Best time to hike: June — September, warmer waters and longer days.
  • Length of hike: 6mi/5 hours or 16mi/12 hours (details below)
  • Where I stayed for the night: The Inn, St.George

If I had to spend only a day in Zion, I would easily choose the Narrows Hike to be the only thing I did here. This is not a hike where you have to wait for a splendid view of a canyon, or a wonderful lake until the end. Every moment of the hike is the experience.

After getting off the shuttle at the Temple of Sinawava at around 2 in the noon, I spent the day walking through the The Narrows gorge, which is a section of the Zion canyon carved by the Virgin River. I was in knee deep water almost all of the 4 miles I walked through. There were many spots along the way one of where I rested and ate my lunch. I must admit, it was quite a view to have lunch with, felt so fancy!

Taking a break to pose!

Before leaving for the hike, I rented shoes for the day ($40) at a store near the park entrance. I would highly recommend doing this as opposed to wearing your own shoes, as they can get really soggy by end of day.

For food, we packed ourselves a burrito, and carried a few smoothie boxes and energy bars. There is also a grocery store at the entrance of Zion where you could buy some food for the day.

Experience the narrows in many ways:

  • 6 miles round trip through the narrows (with no wilderness permit required), taking ~5 hours.
  • 16 miles one way trip to the end of canyon (wilderness permit required), taking ~12 hours. You can take an early morning special shuttle back.
  • 2-day hike with 16 miles the first day, camping overnight, and back the next day. These campsites allow only one-night stays on completion of a wilderness permit, and they are on a first-come-first-serve basis.

I stayed in a nearby town, St.George. I would highly recommend trying Benjas Thai for lunch/dinner and Orange Peel for bubble tea.


Day 2: Angel’s Landing

  • Getting to Angel’s Landing: 20 min shuttle to Grotto trailhead
  • Best time to hike: June-September, early mornings to catch the sunrise.
  • Length of hike: 5.4 mi/4 hours. Strenuous hike!
  • Where I stayed for the night: Mountain View Lodge, Parowan
The steepest portion of the hike. Source

We started the hike around 9 in the morning, and it was a bit chilly at the trailhead.

My backpack contained: water, a sandwich for lunch from the grocery store at park entrance, and my camera.

The trail is very winding and steep, giving spectacular views of the canyon and the Virgin River below at every turnout. The first 2 miles of the hike is well-paved and except for the constant elevation gain, easy to walk through. There are resting points all through the hike. The final mile is along a very narrow ridge, with only chains for anchored support.

At the top!

The viewpoint at the summit will be worth all the strain, providing a 360 degree view (picture at the beginning of this post) of the entire canyon. Perfect place to relax, and have your packed lunch admiring the view before eyes!

Although I didnt, I would highly recommend doing the hike very early in the morning, in time to catch the sunrise from the summit (perfect lighting for photography). Also, it is really calm to enjoy the hike and the views in solitude, as a lot more people start hiking towards noon.

After the hike, we drove to our hotel for the night in Parowan. I recommend taking the scenic route through Mt. Carmel.

Scenic route to Parowan

Day 3: Bryce Canyon

Canyon at sunrise. Source: NPS

Oh Bryce, you wonderful thing!

As a 1-day trip, do not miss Bryce canyon! Although not much of a “canyon”, this is a collection of naturally formed amphitheaters formed by erosion of sedimentary rocks, with unique geological structures, hoodoos. You could drive through the park, stopping at various viewpoints (sunrise, sunset, inspiration and bryce). There are also numerous hikes around the amphitheatre if you have longer time to spend. I did not get to explore this park in detail that day, but next time I want it make it during sunrise and get perfect lighting for photography.

Later, we drove back to Las Vegas, had lunch at El Dorado Cantina (amazing food, must try!) and headed to the airport.


What I could have done differently for my trip..

I could have taken the round trip flight to Salt Lake City, which is about the same distance to Zion as Las Vegas.

Or..

Experience Angel’s Landing very early in the morning, instead of during the day.

And..

also have started The Narrows trail early in the morning to hike with lesser crowds and go a longer way.

And..

Extended my vacation another day and explored Bryce Canyon.


Other attractions to explore nearby..

  • Grand Canyon National Park, is 4 hours drive from Zion. If you have a week’s worth of travel time to spare, you should definitely consider including this in your plan.
  • There are a gazillion trails just inside Zion that you can explore, if you have a lot of time in your hands. They are accessible by taking the shuttle, where every stop on the way will lead to one or more of those.
  • Explore more of Bryce Canyon National Park spending more than a day here.
  • Drive to Cedar Breaks, a national monument sitting at over 10,000 feet and looking down into a half-mile deep geologic amphitheater.

Tips to help with planning and visiting..

  • Carry lots of sunscreen and water! It was scorching when I went to Zion, and most of the hikes are completely exposed with little or no shade.
  • Even if you travel in summer, take light jacket with you as it can get pretty cold early morning and late evenings.
  • I would recommend staying quite close to the national park (~30 mins) and getting to the entrance early to take the shuttle, it is very hard to find parking as the day progresses.
  • Drive to the park fairly early in the day, to get parking spots and to experience the hikes in solitude. Towards mid-day also gets really scorching making you want to end your hike as soon as possible.
  • Carry pain killers, paracetamol, and cough drops with you. Hiking in the Narrows gave me fever because of the long time spent in water, and it is quite a drive to get to a drug store from the park.

Thank you Zion, for this experience!

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