Zion National Park: A Hiker’s Paradise

They call it, “God’s Country.” Gorgeous peaks, rising majestically out of the desert, ripped apart by an otherwise calm river. Its beauty inspired its name…Zion. For this National Park located in the U.S. state of Utah will leave you literally gasping, “Oh my God!” It sure did for me!

After saying my goodbyes to my childhood home in Las Vegas last week, I set out on a road trip to visit Zion National Park for the first time. Going in with absolutely no expectations, I really had no idea what to expect. But as I pulled into the charming town of Springdale, that butts up against the park’s South Entrance, a sea of steep peaks rose in front of me, including The Watchman, a mere hint of things to come.

Zion Entrance

The pedestrian entrance to Zion

Zion Canyon

Like the much more famous Grand Canyon National Park, Zion is a canyon, carved away by the Virgin River. Don’t worry, I’d never heard of the river either, and from seeing it run through the canyon, you’d never believe that this calm, small river ever had the power to rip this canyon apart!

Zion Canyon

The Virgin River runs through Zion Canyon

But unlike the Grand Canyon, you see Zion from the bottom looking up! A lovely scenic drive (which, during the high season is blissfully closed to private vehicles) runs through the canyon giving you great opportunities to look up at the ever-changing scenery. But that also means if you want any grand, sweeping views, you’re going to have to hit the trails to get them! And trust me, there are no shortage of trails to keep you busy!

Zion Canyon

Looking up at the various layers of Zion Canyon

The park is known for two of its viewpoints, both of which are rather strenuous hikes. Observation Point, said to be the best viewpoint in the entire park, and, the more famous (or perhaps infamous) Angels Landing, dramatically located in the middle of the canyon, with a sheer drop of 1,500 feet (457 meters). It was so named because its location is so dramatic that it was thought that only Angels could land there.

Angels Landing

Angels Landing

While Observation Point looks down on Angels Landing from across the canyon, it’s a hike that is considerably safer (and longer, it’s an 8-mile (13 km) round trip while Angels Landing is 5 miles, or 8km). Angels Landing, meanwhile, is both a mental and physical challenge, one I was keen to take up, just to prove to myself that I could do it! You can read more about that hike and check out my video here.

Observation Point Trail

See the “Z” in the peak across the way? Those are the switchbacks up to Observation Point

Easier Hikes

While these epic hikes are quite strenuous, Zion offers a myriad of easier hikes to keep everyone happy! I started off with a visit to Hidden Canyon. While there aren’t any epic views, I was rewarded with a nice arch!

Hidden Canyon

Hidden Canyon

Arch at Hidden Canyon

A freestanding arch in Hidden Canyon

I also experienced pretty sunset views from The Watchman Trail, saw pretty pools on the Emerald Pools trail and walked along the Virgin River along the easy River Walk, which leads to another of the park’s famous trails, The Narrows, which involves wading through the river itself.

The Watchman

The Watchman at “Magic Hour”

The Narrows

Hikers begin their trek into The Narrows

East Zion

When entering or exiting the park through the East Entrance, you pass through the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel, blasted in 1930 through the solid rock cliffs. I left this way en route to Bryce Canyon National Park (more on that next week), only to discover that the other side of the tunnel is a totally different world. It was almost whimsical in the sense that it looked like it came straight out of a Dr. Seuss book!

Arch

An arch along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

East Zion

The whimsical scenery in East Zion

Rock formation had smooth curves and waves. You could see all the different layers that made up the formations, as they were uneven. It was very cool, something I was able to experience up close on the easy Canyon Overlook Trail (the trailhead is next to the ranger station on the east end of the tunnel!

Checkerboard Mesa

Checkerboard Mesa, in East Zion

Canyon Overlook Trail

A tree at the end of the Canyon Overlook Trail

Kolob Canyons

On my way back to Las Vegas, I stopped by the northern, and often overlooked part of Zion, Kolob Canyons, a totally different system of finger canyons. It’s also home to a 5-mile (8km) scenic drive (which, again, made my jaw drop with the breathtaking, ever-changing scenery). Conveniently accessible immediately off Interstate 15, Kolob Canyon makes for a great detour. There are two easy-moderate hikes here, with multiple cross-park trails also available for those interested in multi-day hikes.

Kolob Canyons

Rock “veins” set in along the dirt on the Kolob Canyons Scenic Drive

Kolob Canyons

The view of the Kolob Canyons from the Timber Creek Trail

Personally, I took the opportunity to stretch my legs on the Timber Creek Trail at the end of the scenic drive, which offered expansive views of the scenery. I did have the fun experience of seeing a Google employee with a Trekker pack, filming the trail for Street View. He looked as if he was about to fall over from all the weight!

Trailhead

A trailhead at Kolob Canyons

And what can I say? I am so glad I took a long weekend to visit Zion! It certainly won’t be my last visit!

What About You?

Have you visited Zion? What are some of your favorite hikes?

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12 Responses to Zion National Park: A Hiker’s Paradise

  1. Adam May 13, 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    I went here as a kid and still remember the trip. It’s one of the few national parks I always loved even though I visited it just the one time. Hope to return someday to see if it lives up to my own hype, but based on what you’ve shown here, I don’t think that’s something I have to worry about 🙂

    • Aaron May 13, 2013 at 11:08 pm #

      Hey I heard all the hype and it went far and beyond my own expectations! The best part is I could have easily spent a week there….if only my muscles hadn’t been so sore from the epic hikes I undertook!

  2. jill May 13, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Gorgeous!! We really need to come back to Zion for another visit, this time to climb those epic cliffs!

    • Aaron May 13, 2013 at 11:16 pm #

      Right? I was just there and I’m already longing for a return trip! So many hikes I didn’t do! Damn those sore muscles of mine!

  3. Patti May 14, 2013 at 1:52 am #

    We visited Zion & Bryce in November 2012, loved every minute. We spent a week at a hotel in Springdale and it was the perfect spot, loved the little town of Springdale. Your photos are great and really captured the beauty. And you’re right, you drive through the tunnel and you come out into what appears prehistoric! We took a day trip to Bryce, which was just amazing!

    • Aaron May 16, 2013 at 4:43 pm #

      I really loved Springdale too! It made “Bryce Canyon City” look pretty pathetic in comparison! Glad my photos were able to take you back!

  4. Ginger Carney May 24, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

    Thanks for the insights and pictures. I am planning a trip this fall in a motorhome from San Francisco to Yellowstone and down through Grand Teton, Bryce and Zion with a possible stop in Death Valley on the way back. Your pictures and description set the stage, beautiful! I’m thinking two days in Bryce and two days in Kings Canyon. I can only do limited hiking as I’m recovering from a broken leg/ankle. Also I’m travelling with my two golden retrievers, which are scarcely allowed in the parks, certainly not on most trails. So far I only see they are allowed on one trail in Zion, the Pa’rus Trail. Any thoughts/insights?

    • Aaron May 25, 2013 at 5:02 pm #

      Yes, that’s correct that dogs are only allowed on the Pa’rus Trail at Zion and I don’t believe anywhere at Bryce.

      An older gentleman with a walking stick accompanied me when I did the Queens Garden-Navajo Loop trail at Bryce in amongst the hoodoos so you could probably do that (more on that hike here: http://www.aaronswwadventures.com/2013/05/photo-essay-queens-garden-bryce-canyon/). And the rim trail is easy, though you’d need transporation back to your car (or walk back). Not sure if the shuttle will still be running when you vist. The Bristlecone Loop Trail is also quite easy.

      As for Zion, the Riverside Walk is really nice and easy. As are the Emerald Pools and Weeping Rock. And if you can handle the Queens Garden-Navajo Loop then you could also probably handle the Watchman Trail. It’s really nice in the late afternoon.

  5. Nick (theboywander) July 15, 2013 at 3:12 am #

    The photos are awesome and can’t wait to hear some more on the Angels Landing walk.
    It’s hard to imagine water ripping through those canyons.

  6. Samantha August 13, 2013 at 1:45 am #

    Oh man! Ivé always wanted to visit this national park, I’ve heard some amazing things about it from a few friends. I’ll have to get back into hiking shape to do these ones!

    • Aaron August 13, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

      Haha I’d hardly consider myself to be in peak hiking shape. And it always takes a good hike to remind me just how out of shape I am! Still though, I push myself and it’s always an exhilarating, though exhausting experience!

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