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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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?