Travel Guide: My Trip to Zion National Park, Utah!
Zion National Park, located in southern Utah, two hours from Las Vegas, is one of the most beautiful national parks America has to offer. Over labor day weekend, I visited the park with my family and can say with certainty that it was one of the most unique and majestic locations I have ever seen. A vast canyon, perfect for hiking, camping, climbing and all around adventuring, Zion is certainly a sight to see, and different than any other national park. I have a lot of experience when it comes to outdoor vacations: my family and I have traveled round trip across the country more times than I can count. I’ve certainly seen my fair share of American natural beauty but Zion, however, is unlike any place I’ve visited before. Keep reading for some helpful travel tips and ideas!
Millions of years ago, Zion Canyon began forming due to the steady and constant stream of the Virgin River. Over time and with the help of gravitational force, the river cut through thousands of layers of sandstone rock, creating the breathtaking canyon that Zion is today. Originally inhabited by Southern Paiutes, Zion canyon was home to a wide array of plants and animals, and served as farming grounds for corn, squash, sunflowers, and several other important crops.
Where to Stay
During peak seasons, it can be quite difficult to schedule a visit to Zion. Especially during the summer and over holiday weekends (I was there on Labor Day), the prices of nearby hotels skyrocket, and it is difficult to get a reservation. That being said, if you are willing to shell out the dollars and can get a hold of a room during these times, the newly constructed Hampton Inn in Springdale is a great option with gorgeous views of the canyon cliffs.
Desert Pearl Inn
If you want a little fancier spot, but still located in the bordering town of Springdale, the Desert Pearl Inn is your pick. Complete with stunning amenities and situated on the river’s edge, Desert Pearl is an authentic oasis where you will surely feel at peace.
Zion Lodge & Campground
At the heart of the valley lies Zion Lodge, a beautiful historic landmark built in 1924 that offers visitors an authentic taste of the National Park Service. Quaint cabins fit with private porches and a gas log fireplace surely emit cozy feels. Just outside your door are the plethora of hiking trails and epic views of Zion Canyon. Pro tip: If you want to stay at the Lodge, make sure to book your trip far in advance. Because of it’s popularity, the rooms at Zion Lodge are often filled a year in advance. So start your search early! If the outdoors are calling your name, there is also a campground with basic amenities within the National Park. Bring your tent, sleeping bag and a good pair of eyes, as the night sky of Zion is known for being the best star gazing in North America!
What to Do: Hiking
There’s no denying that hiking is Zion National Park’s main attraction. Fit with some of the most famous hikes in the United States, visiting Zion without exploring the hiking trails is a mistake you do not want to make. No matter if you’re a first time hiker or experienced outdoorsman, there are hikes and trails at Zion National Park fit for every skill level. The trails at Zion are truly one of a kind, so regardless of what you choose to explore, you will not be disappointed.
My favorite hike at Zion, the infamous Narrows trail is a must do. However, you have to be willing to get your feet (and legs) wet, as the entire trail leads you through the Virgin River bed and across the banks multiple times. A truly breathtaking experience, the Narrows will leave you wanting more as you turn every corner. However, there are a few things to know before you go. Make sure you have waterproof shoes and pants, as well as a reliable set of trekking poles that will help solidify your footing and locate rocks and other obstructions as you embark on your hike.
The most advanced hike at Zion, Angel’s Landing is for experienced hikers only. Named by four wanderers of Zion Valley in 1916, this trail got its name because “the summit was so high, that only angels could land on it.” A true testament of natural beauty, Angel’s Landing hike is 5 miles round trip, complete with 21 switchbacks carved into the side of the mountain. The first two miles are well paved and easily accessible. But, once you reach higher elevations, the trail leads you to a narrow sandstone ridge where you must hold on to anchored support chains to keep your footing. When you reach the top at 5,785 feet, you’ll be met with impressive views of Zion Landmarks, including the Great White Throne and Cathedral Mountain.
Upper and Lower Emerald Pools
Just 3 miles up the main canyon road are the Upper and Lower Emerald Pools, a family friendly trail that features three beautifully natural reflecting pools that are easily accessible year round. The scenic lower emerald pool is only about 1/2 a mile into the hike, where you can see stunning natural waterfalls glistening over the tops of the cliffs. Head another 1/2 mile up the trail and you’ll be greeted with the Upper Emerald Pool.
Here is a more comprehensive hiking map that details all of the trails in the canyon, including difficulty level, length and elevation. You can also always visit NPS.gov for any information.
What to Do: Horse-Back Riding
Across the street from Zion Lodge, right near the Emerald Pools hike are the Zion Canyon Horseback Ride grounds. If you’re an animal lover, you have to check out the trail rides offered four times daily. The corral houses a combination of both horses and mules, some of the most gentle creatures I have encountered. Easy to ride, comfortable and trustworthy, the horses at Zion Canyon are some of the most easy-going animals I have ridden (picture proof below)!
There are two trail options: an hour long rail ride for $45 dollars leads you along the banks of the Virgin River where you are guided through cactus gardens and end up with views of the Court of the Patriarchs natural wonder. If you are up for a longer ride, the three hour Sand Beach Trail leads you further along the canyon, as you gradually ascend 500 feet offering stunning views of the South end. A bit pricier, the three hour ride is $90 dollars per person, but well worth the money! Check out the canyon rides website for more info: www.canyonrides.com
Sights to See
Court of the Patriarch’s
Along the shuttle route are multiple stops and trails where visitors can hop off and explore the surrounding sights. Stop number four is the Court of the Patriarch’s, pictured here. The sandstone cliffs were named after the three biblical figures, Abraham, Issac and Jacob, and a short three minute hike up the hill leads you to the lookout point. Try to catch the monuments in the morning, as the sunshine hits directly to make perfect light!
As you drive through the canyon, up Highway 9, you’ll stumble upon the Checkerboard Mesa. A nice photo op, a large sandstone hill with unusual cracked patterns that resemble a grid, or checkerboard, hence the name. It’s an easy hop out of the car and is pretty neat landmark – if you have time or are heading up the canyon, check it out!
Other Nearby Places to Visit
Antelope Canyon – Page, Arizona
One of the Southwest’s most noted marvels are the upper and lower Antelope Canyons. A slot canyon located on the Navajo reservation in Page, Arizona, these canyons were formed due to the erosion of natural sandstone and rapid flash flooding, which is what has given the canyon it’s stunning, wave-like shape. Tours are offered of both the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon, and they book up quite fast!
I opted for the Lower Antelope Canyon tour, which takes you 1,335 feet below the surface. Though I had to wait in about an hour long line, the 400 meter trek through the canyon was quite worth it. Vowed one of the most photogenic places in nature, I highly recommend visiting Antelope Canyon. It is truly a once in a lifetime visit. For more information on how to visit: www.antelopeslotcanyon.com
Horseshoe Bend – Page, Arizona
About two miles from Zion National Park is Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona. Located on an indian reservation, this is a truly magnificent sight to visit. The cliff’s edge is only about 15 minutes from the main road, and relatively easy to access. Over millions of years, the Colorado River cut through layers and layers of sediment and sandstone to create a circular channel around the rock. A complete 270 degree view offers up one of the most beautiful views in North America. Make sure to pack your cameras and a wide angle lens, as you won’t want to miss out on capturing this once in a lifetime sight.
And there you have it. An overview of my amazing trip to Zion National Park, my new favorite destination. I highly encourage anybody interest in nature or the beauty of the United States to visit. You will not be disappointed! For more information about Zion National Park, visit NPS.gov. I hope you enjoyed learning more about my trip to this beautiful national park. If you have any more questions or comments, please leave them below!