We have finally been to all 5 of the big Utah national parks, with Zion being our 5th. I can’t say that Zion is my favorite because it was actually the most crowded of the 5 and the crowd level took some of the fun out of it. However, we still had a great time visiting this very popular park.
Our first day visiting this park was on a Monday afternoon. We could not believe how crowded it was! There is very little parking inside the park so there are several parking lots outside the entrance scattered around the town of Springdale. There is a shuttle bus that will take you into the park from Springdale.
We had wanted to drive on the Zion-Mount Carmel scenic highway through the tunnel that sounds pretty cool, but the lady at the entrance station said we could not drive the dually truck through there unless we pay $15 for an escort. I had heard about that before but thought it only applied to RVs, not dually trucks so we aborted that plan.
We took a chance on driving into the park to see if we could park near the visitor center, and we were able to park in the oversized vehicles lot where we saw several other dually trucks parked. I guess if we can’t drive through the tunnel because our truck is too big, at least we were able to park in oversized parking.
We went in the visitor center to pick up maps and junior ranger books, and the line to the desk was the longest we’ve ever seen at any park so far. Once we got that taken care of we looked at the park maps to try to decide what to do. The line for the shuttle bus that takes you into the park was about 45 minutes long (seriously, this place is worse than Disney as far as crowds go). So we opted to hike the Watchman trail which starts at the Visitor Center so we did not need to take a shuttle bus anywhere.
This hike was approximately 3 miles round trip and gave us some spectacular views of the towering rock formations at Zion. It was very nice to get up on the trail and away from the crowds.
After this hike we went back to the campground to re-group and come up with some kind of strategy for visiting this very crowded park. I’m not sure if it’s always this crowded, we were there for the 2 weeks before and after Easter, so maybe it was more crowded than usual with spring break crowds.
That weekend we decided to go to the less-visited side of the park called Kolob Canyons. That turned out to be a good choice for Easter weekend. It was not crowded at all and we enjoyed some nice hiking there.
But we still had to figure out how we were going to explore the main part of Zion. Chris came up with the idea that we should spend the night at the Zion Lodge. The Zion Lodge is inside the park and if you are staying there you get a special red parking pass that allows you to drive into the park where only shuttle buses are allowed. By parking and staying overnight at the lodge we were able to avoid the crowds at the visitor center and get an early start on the trails in the morning before the rest of the world entered the park. We were lucky to get an opening for one night at the lodge. Typically you need to reserve a room there a year in advance, but they seem to always have last minute cancellations.
Staying at Zion Lodge was a real treat! We had a beautiful view from our balcony.
From the lodge we were able to hike to the Lower and Upper Emerald Pools. The hiking trail starts right across the street. The pools were not emerald colored at this time of year but were actually kind of muddy. I heard that at certain times of the year they are a prettier color. The hike was still very pretty regardless, although very crowded (have I mentioned how crowded this park is?) 😉
In the evening we explored the cute town of Springdale and found out from the locals that Oscars is the best place to eat so we had dinner there. It was very good so I can see why the locals like it.
The next day was our best hiking day in Zion. Since we were able to get an early start from the lodge we were able to avoid most of the crowds that show up later in the day. We started by hiking along the Riverside Walk which is a mile out and back. This paved trail goes alongside the Virgin River and it’s very pretty. It ends at the start of the Narrows. The Narrows is a hike through a slot canyon where you also are hiking in the river and will get wet. It sounds like an amazing hike and it was the hike I was most looking forward to at Zion, but unfortunately it was closed. The Virgin River was at a very high level when we were there and it’s not safe to hike through the Narrows when it is at this level. It sounds like late summer may be a better time for that hike so we’ll have to try again someday.
The start of the Narrows; no hiking beyond this point until the river level goes down.
Next we did the short hike up to Weeping Rock.
Lastly we hiked to Hidden Canyon. This hike goes up many switchbacks until you get to a section where you are literally on the side of a cliff and have to hold onto chains. It was quite scary and fun all at the same time. Jake really enjoyed it, but Chris was nervous the whole time. He doesn’t do well with heights and especially has a hard time watching his kids on the side of a cliff. I can’t say that I blame him. One of the most popular hikes at Zion is called Angel’s Landing and it has some areas where you are on very narrow ledges holding onto chains. We did not do that hike this time because we were not sure we were ready to take the kids on that, but Jake really wants to try it next time since he liked this one so much.
Chains to hold while hiking along the cliff
You can’t see it in these pictures, but it is a very long way down over the edge here. I think we were all a little nervous, except for Jake who seems to be fearless. There was a couple behind us and the man was petrified. I didn’t think he would make it, but once we got to the top I saw his wife hug him and congratulate him. He was so relieved and I think he conquered a fear that day.
After our fun day of hiking it was time to get the kid’s junior ranger badges and head back to the campground.
I found it interesting how many parts of Zion are named after places in the Bible. Zion itself is a biblical name. There is also Angel’s Landing, the Court of the Patriarchs (where the 3 large rock formations are named Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), the Great White Throne, and the Virgin River.
The Court of the Patriarchs
Chris had a great idea when he suggested we stay at the Zion Lodge. It really gave us a chance to more fully explore Zion without having to worry about driving the truck, where to park the truck, long shuttle bus lines, etc. I would like to go back someday and experience the Narrows and maybe even Angel’s Landing (still undecided about that one). I just don’t know when exactly is a good time to go there when it’s not so crowded. A lady in Springdale said it’s always crowded except in the winter, so maybe there really is no “best” time to go.
Now that we’ve been to the big 5 Utah parks, would you like to know which one is my favorite? All 5 parks are incredible, but my absolute favorite is Bryce Canyon. I love Bryce and cannot wait to go there again someday.
During the 2 weeks we were in the area we stayed at a fabulous state park called Sand Hollow State Park in Hurricane, UT. I will write a separate post about that later along with a write up about our day of hiking in Snow Canyon State Park nearby which was amazing!