Zion National Park – The Crown Jewel of Utah’s Mighty 5

Zion National Park is SO magnificent I walked in it for 2 days with tears in my eyes. It was formed by earthquakes tens of millions of years ago and the Zion Canyon has been continuously shaped since by the Virgin River, which has cut through 6 layers of sedimentary rock. Zion was incorporated as a national park in the early 1900s (only about 100 years ago) and now receives over 5 million visitors per year making it the 5th most visited park in the US, right after Rocky Mountain National Park. #utah #lifeelevated #mighty5

The Paiute Indians inhabited the Zion Canyon for thousands of years and utilized the water and resources the Virgin River provided. The first white settlers (Mormons) were attracted by the remote location and hospitable climate, where they could practice their religion and way of life, and further developed advanced agriculture and irrigation.

Considering how large the park is and how much there is to see, I would recommend to allow yourself 3 days to enjoy and explore Zion. I am a fast hiker, started early in the mornings, stayed on schedule and still 2 days felt rushed. However, if you ONLY had 1 FULL DAY to hike the park, below would be the schedule I would suggest. You’ll see a lot, your body will get exhausted, and you may die in the process, but the major attractions of the park are doable in 14 hrs (route is ranger approved :-)).

First things first – where to park? Canyon Junction is the last spot you can drive to before you need to hop on the park shuttle. You can leave your car in the few parking spots available by the side of the road if you get there early enough (read: wayyy before 8am) and I recommend taking the first shuttle into the park at 6am.

Onto “5 am wake up call” and “what is early enough” for Zion – I know 5 am sounds brutal but if you are in Zion between May and Oct you better wake up early to avoid the crowds. (Thank me later…I’m not a morning person either but it needed to be done.)

  • Pack all your gear, water, and snacks the previous night, park at Canyon Junction at 6am and get on first shuttle into the park.
  • The shuttle will give you a narrated tour of the route and will take you all the way to the Temple of Sinavawa where you start the Narrows hike in the river.
  • Go all the way in to Wall Street and then sidetrack to explore Orderville Canyon to where water levels allow.
  • Be back at Temple of Sinavawa around 12pm and take the shuttle to Zion Lodge. Enjoy picnic lunch on the lawn (that you have prepped previous night and brought in with you) as the lodge gets VERY busy.
  • After a snack check out the Emerald Pools hike. It is a beautiful, easy hike right out of the Zion Lodge (read: popular so you want to be there when people are having lunch)!
  • Book in advance a 1-hr horseback ride at 2pm and see the Court of the Patriarchs trail during that activity. Emerald Pools hike conveniently ends at the Horse Rides trailhead 🙂
  • After the ride, head to Angels’ Landing and hike it at sunset.

Time-wise and schedule-wise it is doable, but you will get VERY tired. Your body can handle it, can you convince your mind though?!

 

The park maps give estimated hike times for VERY slow hikers. I usually plan on doing the round trip in the time allotted for one direction only. When it says 3 hrs one way, you could probably make it in less than 3 hrs round trip. Mind the elevation, the higher sections of the park reach 8,000ft and that is a huge change if you come from sea level.

View into the Riverwalk trail from the Temple of Sinavawa

Starting to walk on water – Narrows River Hike early morning and afternoon.

The best time to hike the Narrows is very early morning in order to avoid crowds and heat as after 10am the start of the hike into the river becomes an ant migration (read: unprepared humans spreading and splashing in all directions).

I didn’t rappel this waterfall but I would have liked to!

When quick dry pants get short and 5mm neoprene socks get long, you know you are in for adventure! If there is something I like more than water, it is mud, so hiking the Narrows River Trail and getting lost between tall rock walls, under hanging gardens, and down deep canyons for 10 miles was heaven on earth and my all time favorite hike!

Do rent gear for this hike – you’ll be safe and warm! It is doable with regular hiking shoes but you’ll be cold, miserable, and slipping all over the place 😦 I still thank Balabanova All Over for the canyoneering shoes and neoprene socks reco 🙂

Wall Street part of the hike – sky high canyons and wall to wall water! Waist deep for other people…knee deep for this giraffe 🙂

When shit gets real and water gets deep – put backpack on head and keep your balance!

Going solo deep into Orderville Canyon (to where water levels allowed it).

The Narrows hike will take you approximately 5 hrs if you follow the suggested route above. If my morning was dedicated to the river and walking on water, then the afternoon was spent in the sky and hanging in thin air – aka hiking Angel’s Landing!

Angel’s Landing – named so by the first superintendent of the park who thought only angels could land on that solitary rock outcropping. The trail is voted the most strenuous in the park and the best time to hike it is NOT in the morning as you may think but at 4pm in the afternoon to catch the sun setting over Zion. According to the maps, the suggested time is 3 hrs one direction, however I did it in 2.5 hrs round trip including a picture break on top and waiting for people on the chain sections while going down.

An hour of switchbacks to the scenic overview point to get your blood moving!

Just when you think you made it to the top, you realize you still need to climb THAT!

Narrowest part of the hike with just a couple of feet across…

On top of the world…or just on top of Zion 🙂

Emerald Pools trail with its hanging gardens.

My horseback ride down the river led me to the Court of the Patriarchs trail.

Most definitely allow time to drive up/down Mt Carmel Scenic Parkway and stop at Checkerboard Mesa. (PC: Google Images)

checkerboard-mesa

If you decide to stay within the park boundaries, I recommend Zion Mountain Ranch where you can also arrange daily horseback rides. It is spectacular! (PC: ZMR)

zmr-1

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