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Southern Utah Part 2: Zion National Park

Our trip to the southwest part of Utah was planned around two national parks – Zion and Bryce Canyon.  Both were planned as “extended” stays to make sure we saw all we could and a little more.  The first stop was at Zion.  Zion is one of the most accessible and thus crowed parks in the National Park System.  The potential for crowds made us a little nervous and we worked hard planning around that very real possibility by being at the trailheads at sunrise, staying away from the more “popular” locations and looking for “off-the-beaten-path” activities. We did manage to do and see a lot without “Cryin’ in Zion”

Zion is basically a long, large box canyon along the North Fork of the Virgin River.  Because of this and the large crowds they do not allow private vehicles into the canyon for most of the year.  The transportation is via shuttle buses. They do a good job of moving folks around and keeping the flow going.  We were apprehensive about the shuttle system at first, but after using it for a week, we really grew to appreciate it.  We cannot even imagine if the roads were full of cars with the only way out being the way you came in.

We stayed in the town of Hurricane.  It was about 20 minutes away but very convenient.  After stopping in for quick reconnaissance the afternoon we arrived in the area, our first big adventure was to hike “The Narrows”.  This hike starts at the end of the road and follows the river into and through a long slot canyon.  It is a nice 1 mile walk along the river to the main trailhead.  The trail is the river.  We caught one of the first shuttles at 7:00 and even then, there was already a big line.

The shuttle line was full but quick

Getting Started

We hiked just short of 3 miles in and then back out again, all in the river.  It is a popular activity.  Jennifer was kind of apprehensive about it.  The footing has the potential to be slippery and unstable.  Most of the time we were about calf deep in the water.  A few times up to our thighs.  The water was cold but not freezing and we quickly got used to it.  It was a unique experience, and we are sure glad we did it!

The deep water

Zion NP is actually bigger than just the canyon. The road to the east side of the park transits a 1 ½ mile tunnel built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  As a result, it is neither very wide nor high.  If a larger vehicle wants to transit through, they stop the opposing traffic and the tunnel becomes one way.  Immediately on the other side of the tunnel is the “Canyon Overlook Trail”.  A sketchy trail which runs along the side of cliffs for about a mile to a wonderful overlook of the lower portion of the canyon.

Entering the tunnel at dawn

 

The sketchy trail

Our drive back included what became a regular stop at Deep Creek Coffee for an iced coffee.

One of the more famous hikes in Zion is Angels Landing.  It is a VERY sketchy hike along a ridgeline with giant drop-offs and a chain to hold onto, a series of super steep switchbacks, very narrow trails, and way, way, way too many people.  The views are said to be spectacular, but we will never know.  We opted out and took the off-the-beaten-path trail.   The East Mesa trail (not to be confused with the East Rim trail) hikes about 3 miles through a juniper forest on the east side of the park to a wonderful overlook that looks DOWN on Angel’s Landing and provides a spectacular panoramic view of the entire canyon and with the added bonus of very few people.  In fact, we had the viewpoint all to ourselves for about 15 minutes!  Once again, we were up and driving in the dark to get to the trailhead before 8:00.  We were just the second car at the trailhead.  Maybe that is because the last ½ mile is full of deep ruts and only high-clearance cars make it.

The rutted road to the trailhead

The views from the observation point were amazing.  It is a rustic point with no developed viewing areas and some steep drop-offs.  It was unreal to realize we were actually looking down on Angel’s Landing!  From this point, you can see even more of the canyon than Angels Landing.  We were so glad to have taken this route.  By the time we got back to our Jeep, the trailhead parking was packed full.

People up on Angel’s Landing

After three great destination days in the park, we spent our last day just exploring.  We rode the shuttle to Stop 8, Big Bend, where we were lucky enough to see California Condors.  This year they had a young one learning to fly.  We managed to see two while we were looking.

We also took a couple short hikes.  The first was the West Rim trail, which is the first portion of the trail to Angels Landing.  We hiked in about as far as Walters Wiggles.  You could see the observation point where we had looked down on Angel’s landing the previous day and as we hiked along and got closer you could see the hikers going up the sheer wall of Walter’s Wiggles.  The moon was still out mid-day.

Our last stop was at lower Emerald Pools.  The pools are low this time of year; but it was still a nice hike.  Lower Emerald Pools is at the bottom of a wide waterfall of run-off from the Middle Pools.  There was water in the falls, more like a drip, and the sun lit up the water.

We finished up our day and our time at Zion having a picnic lunch on the grass under a large tree in front of Zion Lodge.  It was the perfect finale for our time at Zion.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Zion. It really is a unique and spectacular park.  Can’t wait for the rest of our stops in Utah.

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