We went on a 5 day vacation to Utah and Arizona the past memorial day weekend. We flew into Las Vegas and drove to Zion which is about a 2.5 hours drive.
Zion National Park has towering sandstone cliffs, narrow slot canyons, beautiful emerald pools and wooded valleys. There are a number of options for hikers and you can choose between easy/ moderate hikes or more strenuous ones like Angel's Landing. Depending on the amount of time you have, you can do the easy 1 mile Emerald Pool hike or a day long moderate Narrows hike. Zion is a photographer's paradise, you can capture great sunset shots at the Virgin river bridge.
Stay at Springdale, a little town, within walking distance from the the visitor center. There are some nice hotels, bed and breakfasts and restaurants to choose from. Shuttles run into the park at short intervals. The Zion Lodge is the only accommodation available inside the park and offers modern hotel rooms and historic cabins. Nearby cities such as Cedar city, Kanab and St George are within an hour drive from Zion.
We will give you a day by day account of all our experiences. It will surely save you some time planning your itinerary.
Day 1: Exploring the Canyon
We stayed at the Cliffrose Lodge and Gardens in Springdale. It is a beautiful boutique riverside resort with majestic canyon views. Sit by the river or soak in the jacuzzi and enjoy the sun set into the canyon. We were outside till late that night enjoying the full moon shining over the canyon. The place was gorgeous with perfectly landscaped gardens and modern, comfortable rooms.
Cafe Soleil is a great place to pack some sandwiches and smoothies for a picnic. We tried sandwiches, wraps and the pizza. The ingredients are fresh and organic and we went back the next day. Loved the Pina Colada and Mango smoothies.
The main Zion Valley area can be accessed only though the shuttle buses. Cars are allowed on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, and we drove till the East entrance. This is also the route to Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Page, AZ. We stopped at various places and explored the area. It was fun hiking into hidden canyons and climbing the red sandstone cliffs. Enjoy the scenic view from the Virgin River Bridge, drive through the mile long tunnel, and stop at various vista points such as Checkerboard Mesa.
Drive back to the museum or visitor center and take the shuttle along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Shuttles operate till as late as 10pm during the summer months. Hop on and off at various stops such as Emerald pools, Angel's landing, Weeping rock, and Temple of Sinawava. An easy hike on the Emerald Pools trail will lead you to the 3 pools through beautiful canyons and small waterfalls. Angel's landing is a strenuous 4-5 hour hike. The path is incredibly beautiful but this hike is not for someone with Vertigo. You will be walking on narrow trails with steep drops in places. There are chains to hold on to in some areas. If you are not feeling adventurous enough to tackle Angel's landing, walk the weeping rock trail for a view of Angel's landing peak. This is a short, easy and pleasant hike from the shuttle stop along Zion Canyon road.
At night we enjoyed the resort pool and jacuzzi. We picked up pasta and pizza from Zion Pizza and Noodle and ate on the beautiful patio at our resort.
Day 2: The Narrows hike
The Narrows hike is the top attraction in Zion and it is one of our favorite hikes. It is ironic that in this desert, water creates most of what we see. The river carves the soft sandstone to create the incredible landscape of dramatic cliffs and slopes. The steep canyons have been sculpted over thousands of years.
Get off the shuttle at " Temple of Sinawava". The hike starts with a one mile walk on a paved path along the river. After that you are walking on the river bed. This time, in May, the water was knee deep and at times waist deep. The experience of walking through the river between towering canyons is unparalleled. The water is crystal clear and you can see the river stones. Make sure to rent special boots and hiking sticks as it makes it very easy to walk over the slippery stones. We rented both at Zion Adventure Company.
The last time we did this hike was in September, 2007. The water level that time was lower and ankle deep in most places. In fact, we could walk along the shore most of the time and cross the river when the water level increased. This time, in May, there was so much water due to the snow melt, there was hardly any shore. The water level rises by the evening and we were walking in the water the entire way back. The water temperature was ~50F. The canyon is about 10-15F cooler than outside. In the summer months it feels very comfortable. We hiked a little into the Orderville Canyon and then turned back to continue the Narrows hike. There was less light in that area, and it was very peaceful. We went in till the water was about waist deep and returned after a 5 hour round trip. In spring and fall, you could rent waterproof pants or wet suits. Make sure you heed to flash flood warnings as they are pretty common during the rainy season. This is called the bottom-up hike and is the most popular.
The other option is the less popular and more strenuous Zion Narrows "Top- Down" hike. It is a wonderful 16-mile backpacking adventure starting from Chamberlain's Ranch outside the NE corner of the park. It is usually done in 2 days and it requires a backcountry permit.
This is the mile long riverside walk trail to the shuttle stops.
View from the shuttle stop:
That night we ate at a Thai place called Thai Sapa. The food was decent and they had a lot of options. Our best place for dinner in Springdale is Spotted Dog at the Flanigan's inn. It is a fancy restaurant offering great ambiance and quality food. However, in line with the National Park feel, the dress code is not formal.
After dinner we left for Page, AZ. We spent the next 3 days exploring Antelope Canyon, Horse shoe bend and Lake Powell. Stay tuned for more posts on those.