Rough Draft: Zion National Park, Utah
Due to the COVID quarantine, I am creating rough draft, “off the shelf” travel itineraries for when travel resumes normal operations so we do not waste any time getting out and exploring!
One of the biggest request from you guys was itineraries for visiting the National Parks which happened to be one of my 2020 goals. This may have to be a 2021 goal as I think everyone (EVERYONE) will be flocking to National Parks as a post-COVID escape plan. Many of the photographers we traveled with on our storm chasing trip frequent the country’s National Parks capturing unbelievable pictures and they could not speak more highly about visiting these areas. I have not hit many of the iconic National Parks so I will be taking the next couple itineraries to discovery them.
COVID Note: Many National Parks are requiring reservations in order to enter. This is separate from a park entrance fee. Be sure to check the requirements at the National Park official website and if needed, free reservations are made at recreation.gov often for a $1 or $2 service fee. These reservations are limited and are often gone within minutes of release so make sure you plan around this when it is in place.
Off to Zion National Park!
While I know there are many types of accommodations for National Park trips, one that I am so excited to try is Under Canvas. My cousin (thank you!) introduced me to this kind of glamping style camping that looks just amazing! You are staying among the sweeping landscapes and I can only imagine what it is like to have a sunrise morning or under the stars roasting smores kind of evening. If you do not want this type of experience, the town of Springdale is closest to Zion and there are plenty of accommodations there for easy access to the park entrance.
The National Park Service has this great fact sheet that covers all the trails, maps, and bus shuttle stops and schedule. There is a $30 fee per vehicle or a $20 fee per person without a vehicle, both are valid for 7 days. If you make National Park hopping a priority, make sure to check out the American the Beautiful Pass – $80 for the year and included entrance to over 2000 sites!
Let’s review the most popular trail options at Zion:
- This trail seems like low effort with a big payout – a panoramic view of Pine Creek Canyon and lower Zion Canyon. It is only 1 mile but moderate difficulty so I have to image you are climbing most of the 1 hour round trip journey.
- This trail clocks in at 2.7 miles with a predicted 2 hour round trip that offers not only sprawling views but a good look at various rock formations. Also ranked as moderate in difficulty, the reward offers a viewpoint of the Towers of the Virgin, lower Zion Canyon, and the town of Springdale as well as The Sentinel and West Temple.
- An easy trail on a paved path (whoop!) alongside the Virgin River for 3.5 miles. The 2 hour walk offers lovely landscapes with the river.
- This is apparently *the* trail to do when you visit Zion and I would agree until I saw what is entailed to complete the final half mile. The trail overall is 5.4 miles, about 4 hours to complete, and gains of 1,488 feet in elevation. The first portion leading up to Scout Lookout is a series of steep switchbacks but have generous width on the trail. After, the path narrows to less than 3 feet with over 1000 feet drop offs on either side with no guardrails and only a chain to guide you single file up the final leg. With very little safety protections, this “Step of Faith” has claimed several lives yet people continue to claim the view at the top is worth it. I have to say, the jury will be out on the completion of this one for awhile as the pictures alone terrify me.
Emerald Pools (Upper and Lower)
- There are two parts of the Emerald Pools Trail, each are 1 mile long and about 1 hour to complete. The lower trail is easier than the upper trail, as expected. And guess what you see on this trail? Emerald pools! I do not know how “emerald” colored they get and would think it varies during the year.
- Another one of Zion’s most popular hikes, this difficult rated trail is 7.1 miles and requires at least 5 hours if not 6 hours to complete. There is a gain of over 2,100 feet so I can image it is a thigh buster. This one does not look as scary as Angel’s Landing and you get another magnificent view so I think this one would definitely make our list… except it has been closed due to fallen rock.
- I think this the trail I am most excited for because it is so unique to Zion. There are 15.1 miles to be discovered and can take up to 8 hours if you complete the entire trail, which I read most people do not. Through hikers on this trail require a permit before embarking. This trail is hiking through the gorge carved by the Virgin River. To quote Splash Mountain – “You will get wet, you may get soaked!” This trail is the most variable for conditions and it is critical to check these before committing and ensuring it is open. From the NPS site: “The current is swift, the water is cold, and the rocks underfoot are slippery. Flash flooding and hypothermia are constant dangers.” It is recommended to bring or rent equipment to help your journey – the water is cold! The time of year and water height will help decide how much equipment you need such as walking stick, waterproof bag, waterproof shoes, and wet suit (found this company).
In addition to hiking, there are plenty of places to exploring canyoning, repelling, climbing, and more either on your own our with a guide.
Based on the duration of the hikes and the proximity to each other, here is how I would structure a 3 day itinerary. The closest airport is Las Vegas and from there is about a 3 hour drive. As with most 3 day weekends, I like to fly on Thursday after work to get the most out of the three days at the destination.
|Day 0||Arrive in Zion|
|Day 1||Observation Point / Angel’s Landing |
|Day 2||The Narrows|
|Day 3||Canyon Overlook |
I wouldn’t necessary commit to doing the trails in this order but the groupings are what is important. I would prioritize the best condition day do to the Narrows since the water level can impact the ability to complete it. For trails like Angel’s Landing or Observation Point that take several hours, having good weather for the duration of the trail is important. I also would not want to commit to the longer trails on the last day of the trip cause I would be stressed out about missing the flight in case it is a bad hiking day and it takes longer to complete. And do not forget to check the National Park website frequently as the trail status can change – many trails (even before COVID) were closed indefinitely due to rock fall or obstructed trail.
I did not include a food section in the itinerary because most of the food here is trail snacks and lots of water! There are several grocery stores in town to stock up for hiking. I did look in the area to see what the town of Springdale has to offer and here are some of the popular spots:
- Oscar’s Cafe – Mexican food
- King’s Landing Bistro – diner style
- Deep Creek Coffee Company – for Kevin’s coffee fix
- Bit & Spur – Mexican food
- The Spotted Dog – all you can eat breakfast, bistro at night
- Cafe Soleil – Sandwich, salad, pizza joint (and breakfast sandwiches)
- Springdale Candy Company – ice cream!
Also, if you stay at Under Canvas they have a tent for meals and to-go food.
If you have been to Zion, let me know what I missed and what your favorites are! And if you have done Angel’s Landing I need to know if it is worth the death defying stun to get to the end.