After already enjoying 3 national parks in the US on this trip so far, I decided when I hired a car in Las Vegas to see more national parks rather than drive up the west coast. The first park I decided to see from Las Vegas was Zion National Park.
Zion became a national park on the 19th November 1919 when it became the 15th national park and the 1st national park in Utah.
I picked up in the car in the morning in Las Vegas and drove the 120 miles to the hotel to drop off my bags before continuing on to Zion which was a further 42 miles. I decided to upgrade and buy an Annual National Park Pass when I arrived as I had already in the past few days paid entrance to Yellowstone & Grand Teton which was $50 and the entrance to Zion was $30 which was the same price as upgrading and getting my annual pass. If you plan on doing a few parks on your trip then it might be worthwhile.
I normally stay in hostels while I am travelling but around the Zion area there were no hostels available and the cheapest place for me to stay was in Rodeway Inn Red Hills in St George. It was about an hours drive from Zion National Park but in the US an hours drive is not far and the roads are easy to drive.
After I had bought my pass, my first stop was to the visitors centre to find out exactly what I should be doing while I was in the area. Also from spring until autumn (fall) the canyon is not open to cars and only to the shuttle buses that will drop you at various points through the park. You catch the shuttle bus from the visitors centre. It’s not a huge park and this is a great way to get around as the buses are very frequent.
My first stop was the Zion Human History Museum where there are indoor exhibits and there is also a 22 minute film on the history of the park. Well worth watching if you have time. I also got my first picture in the canyon.
I then decided to get the shuttle bus out to some of the stops so I could get some pictures of the views and to do a little walk from the Grotto to the Zion Lodge. As it was getting to dusk I saw some deer too. Dusk is a great time to see animals and the time when I have seen the most in all the national parks.
Once I got back to the visitors centre it was back in the car for the drive back to the hotel.
The next morning i was up early so I could be back to the park and able to park in the carpark before it was full. It does get full early so it is worth getting there early otherwise you will have to park outside the park and walk in. I once again went to the visitors centre to check the weather forecast, I was wanting to hike part of The Narrows but the risk of flash flooding was high that day and they advised against hiking it.
The Narrows is a gorge carved through the canyon by the river and is 16 miles long and in places only 20 – 30 feet wide. The path is through the river, though at times you can walk along the side, but you need to be prepared for wading and sometimes swimming through the river. You always need to check with the rangers before attempting it as it might be a sunny day at Zion but 50 miles away there might have a storm and that water can travel down the river causing a flash flood.
As the risk of rain and flash flooding was at its highest I decided instead to just do the Riverside Walk, this takes you from the final bus stop up to the start of The Narrows and is a 2.2 mile roundtrip. It’s a nice easy walk and getting to the start of The Narrows did make me want to give it a go especially when I saw a few people setting off, but as the risk was at it’s highest I decided to be sensible and give it a miss for this trip. I will be back though as it does look like an amazing hike.
After this I decided to stop at the weeping rock trail which is a short 1/2 mile walk. From here there is the option of a couple of other longer hikes, the Hidden Canyon Trail which is 2.4 miles or to the observation point which is 8 miles. I decided against these as I wanted to do the Emerald Pools Trail.
I then caught the bus from the Weeping Rock to the Zion Lodge to start the Emerald Pools Trail to the Upper and Lower Pools. It is a 2.2 mile high, but is quite steep and tricky in places but well worth it to see the views.
After this hike I then got the shuttle bus to canyon junction where I got off and walked the final 1.75 miles to the visitors centre along the river, amazing views and great to be able to do a final walk.
Another hike I really wanted to do but was advised against due to the weather, though the sun had come out in the afternoon was Angel’s Landing. It is a tough 5.4 mile hike (generally takes 3-4 hours), up to the summit 450 metres high. The last half mile is hiking along the sandstone ridge and this trek can be very dangerous after rain as it gets very slippy. It can also be a problem for people with a fear of heights.
As the weather wasn’t good for the 2 hikes I wanted to do, I will be back in the future to complete these!! They both look amazing and I am excited about returning for them.
Once I was back to the visitors centre it was back in the car for the 75 mile drive to Panguitch, where I would stay overnight before exploring Bryce Canyon National Park the next day.
To get to Bryce the quickest way is on the Zion Mount Carmel Highway, this road goes up through the park and through a 1.1 mile tunnel cut through the mountain. Anything larger than a car needs to have the traffic stopped as they need to drive down the middle of the tunnel.
As you can see when I entered the tunnel it was a beautiful day with a few clouds in the sky, when I left the tunnel 1.1 miles later, probably not even a 5 minute drive later, the heavens had opened and the rain was unbelievable. I put my windscreen wipers on full and still couldn’t see anything. Thankfully there was a car park next to the entrance of the tunnel and I pulled in there to wait until it eased. While I was waiting I could see and hear the hail coming down and hitting the car, it was the size of a tennis ball!!! After about 10 minutes it eased off a bit so I got out to check the car. What I saw and heard when I got out of the car amazed me. Below me was the river, raging and carrying huge trees downstream as if they were twigs.
The ranger controlling the traffic came over and told me that 10 minutes ago where the water was coming down into the river below, it had been totally dry. Now there was a huge amount of water coming over the edge and into the river below. Now I saw how quickly things can change. Five minutes before it has been a sunny day, now there was a huge torrent of water where there had been a dry river bed and I had seen how quickly a flash flood can happen. I was certainly pleased I had made the decision not to hike in The Narrows. It just shows that if the rangers are advising against hiking in an area due to flash floods, to listen to their advice. Zion will always be there for you to return and have another attempt in the future.
After it had stopped raining so hard I continued my journey down Highway 89 until I reached my hotel and chilled out for the night. The scenery along the way was stunning and we even got a rainbow after the rain had stopped.
Zion National Park was certainly one of my favourite national parks to visit in the US and if you are in the area one you must certainly visit.
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