utah

Zion National Park Travel & Hiking Guide

Overview - The best way to describe Zion National Park is say that it is a mini-Grand Canyon, but with more vegetation, and in some ways more beautiful. The park is also extremely well organized and has one of the best shuttle systems we have seen in a National Park. Make this your final stop in Utah, as nothing else comes close, except for maybe Bryce.

Details - As per our usual way of doing things, we only had one full day of hiking in Zion National Park, so naturally we felt like we had to make the most of it. We got up at 5am to catch the first shuttle into the park at 5:45am along with 5 other brave souls. Our first hike of the day was The Narrows. The Narrows is the canyon that is known the world over by the National Geographic picture that illustrates the colors in the dry season. From the shuttle stop, Temple of Sinawava to the actual "hike" into The Narrows, it is about a mile of flat walking along the river. Before I detail the hike, you should be aware that everything you have on your person can possibly get wet. You need to bring a pair of socks and/or shoes depending on how quickly yours dry, as those will get wet for sure as you are hiking in a shallow river. You also need a walking stick, as the rocks can be quite slippery. BONUS TIP - Get a free hiking stick instead of renting one at the start of The Narrows if you get there early like us. One more thing to understand before you hike is the flood potential, as you are in a narrow canyon that can turn in to a river rather quickly. Be sure to check at the information center what the situation is before hiking.

The hike itself was one of the most unique we encountered on our entire trip, because you are hiking through a narrow canyon in a shallow river most of the time. However, the lack of color was kind of surprising, as we had expected it to look much more red and yellow. It was awe-inspiring in its own way though.

The Narrows Canyon Hike

The Narrows Canyon Hike

The Narrows Canyon Hike

After hiking about 4 miles in to The Narrows, and fording several chest high sections of river, we decided to turn back, as we had reached a point where we would have to literally swim across a section of the trail. First off, we didn't want our gear to get totally soaked even though we had double bagged everything. Second, we had other hikes we wanted to do, and in the interest of time, decided we had enjoyed enough of The Narrows. It took us another 2 hours to get back to the Temple of Sinawava/Shuttle Stop where we switched out our shoes and got ready for our next hike. An important thing to note is that you can refill on water at most, not all, but most shuttle bus stops, so we carried 5 liters on these hikes instead of our normal 7.

After taking the shuttle back through the park (The Narrows is the last stop.) and getting off at The Grotto, we started our hike up to Angels Landing. This trail (5 miles RT, 1,500ft elevation gain) is extremely strenuous and and is extremely steep for the majority of the trail. We were used to it as the trail is very similar to Camelback Mountain, a hike we have in Phoenix, AZ, our home town, but you need to be very careful as this trail can be very tricky without prior experience. The views of Zion Canyon are worth the climb though.

Zion Canyon from the top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park.

Zion Canyon from the top of Angels Landing in Zion National Park.

Zion Canyon from trail leading up to Angels Landing in Zion National Park.

After finishing up Angels Landing and hiking back down to the shuttle stop, we caught the shuttle again back to a stop called Weeping Rock. Here we started our third hike of the day, that being Observation Point (8 miles RT, strenuous with a 2,150 elevation gain). This hike was very similar to Angels Landing in that it was a lot of steep track backs to a great view point where you can see all of Zion Canyon. Be sure to stop about halfway and explore the mini-narrows canyon on the trail.

About 1 mile up the trail to Observation Point.

About halfway up the trail to Observation Point.

The view from the top, Observation Point.

After we took a long break at Observation Point, we turned around and hiked the 4 miles down back to the shuttle (which by the way has a fantastic schedule, every 7-8 mins all day). This put our total tally at 23 miles in Zion National Park for the day. If you want to do the same schedule as us in Zion, be sure to bring lots of food and water, as it was a long day.

Final Words on Zion National Park

Overall Verdict - Zion was one of the most well run parks we happened to explore on the entire trip. The shuttle system combined with the spectacular hikes make it a great park to visit.

Days/Nights to Camp/Spend Here – 3 nights to get 2 full days of hiking. We got lucky with the weather, which was perfect, in that it allowed us to hike The Narrows on the only day that we had. You can either try to get lucky or play it a little safer. Also, there are some smaller hikes that we just didn't have time for, but wanted to try. That extra day would let you do them.

Camping Evaluation - South Campground is a great campground. It is right next to the river and has plenty of large sites which afford a little bit of privacy. It is extremely quiet and really relaxing. If it wasn't so hot, you could spend a day there reading a book.

Best Time To See Zion National Park - Morning again, when we took the first bus in to The Narrows, we were 2 of 3 people hiking it at that time, so we had it all to ourselves. Later in the day, The Narrows is mobbed and it is just an unpleasant experience compared to seeing it by yourself. For Angels Landing and Observation Point, it really doesn't matter unless you do them first. Angels Landing will be crowded unless you go first thing, on the opposite side of things is Observation Point, which was empty when we went in the afternoon. Also, another reason to hike The Narrows first is that it usually storms up in the afternoon, and if it is going to rain/flood, it likely will in the afternoon over the morning.

Tips/Tricks - Talk to the rangers at the visitor's center, as they are ** extremely helpful**, more so than in any other park. Also, double bag all of your gear for The Narrows hike, as there is a good chance it will get wet.

Best Hikes - The Narrows, Angels Landing, and Observation Point in that order. The Narrows is a must do weather permitting.

More Photos - Below in the slideshow and more in the gallery here.

 

Feel free to email me if you have any questions!

Bryce National Park Travel & Hiking Guide

Overview - At Bryce Canyon, Utah delivers once again in the National Park department. Bryce may be one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Out of every single park that we visited, the colors that literally jump off the rocks in Bryce Canyon will leave you breathless.

Details - Bryce is extremely easy to get through in one day. We decided to camp at Bryce after driving through Arches earlier in the day. Bryce is similar to Arches in that it is largely a driving park. There is one main road that dead ends and will provide you with scene after scene of amazing geologic formations with very little effort. The key once again to this park is to get up early for the sunrise. If there is one thing that you need to do at Bryce, it is get up to see the sunrise.

Hiking - Our first "hike" wasn't really a hike, we mostly just stared off in to the sunrise from Sunrise Point as the sun came up. It is important to note though that Sunrise Point gets extremely crowded, even at 5am, so if you want to get a prime spot for photography, check the sunrise times and get there a little bit early. Be sure to click through to see a larger version of the pictures below. The pictures really don't do it justice. It was simply incredible.

Also, if you want to avoid the crowds, you can hike about a quarter mile south, just down the paved path, and watch from anywhere along there all the way down to Sunset Point. Despite its name, it is an equally amazing spot to see the sunrise from. Ironically, as far as seeing the sunset goes, you will have to see for yourself, as we were not there for a sunset.

From Sunset Point, we started off down the Navajo Loop Trail with nary a soul in sight. After sunrise, the place clears out of people for a couple of hours, so this is the prime time to stay out and take a look around. The Navajo Loop Trail (1.4 miles RT, slightly challenging) is well worth the 45 minutes it takes to hike the whole thing. You feel as though you are Indiana Jones, hiking right next to Hoodoos and rock crevices the size of small buildings. Be sure to wander around the detours off the trail, as you can get very close to some of the Hoodoos. However, with that in mind, please stay on the marked trail. The detours are marked, but very lightly. This trail has been subject to abuse, so if you are unsure, just stay on the trail. Some pictures from the Navajo Trail Loop below.

If you have time, and hopefully you do, take the time to hike the Queens Garden Trail (2 miles RT, slightly challenging). This trail will take you down in to the canyon and closer to some of the hoodoos. You can connect it with the Navajo Loop Trail if you want, but it is better to hike the entirety of both trails so you don't miss anything. Combined, take your time to enjoy the views, both will take you about 2 hours total. 

After you are done watching the sunrise and taking in the views from the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trails, we recommend you start the drive through the rest of the park. While we drove through and stopped at all of them, we would recommend a different course if we were to go back. Drive all the way to the back of the park / end of the road first. This will do two things, one, all the stops are on the right side/canyon side of the road (East Side), so it makes it a lot easier to pull in to stop. Two, it is less crowded working backwards as most people will see the park in the opposite manner. Feel free to stop wherever you would like with what time you have, however, the two stops you can't miss are the Natural Bridge and Bryce Point.  The Natural Bridge is in some ways more impressive than the arches in Arches National Park. There is no hike involved in this stop, simply a small lot to park and look. Takes 5-10 minutes.

After the Natural Bridge comes my favorite stop, Bryce Point. Please, please, make the hike all the way up to the highest viewpoint, right where the trail splits off to the Under-the-Rim-Trail. While it may look like a steep 1/4 mile climb up from the parking lot, Bryce Point has the absolute best views in the park. You can see the entire canyon sweep out before you. Allocate at least 30-45 minutes for this stop to appreciate the view. It is truly spectacular.

Final Words on Bryce

Overall Verdict - Bryce is the most beautiful park that we stopped at on our grand tour of the West's National Parks. An absolute can't miss.

Days/Nights to Camp/Spend Here - We recommend ending your driving day at Bryce, camping for one night, and spending the morning touring the park. After visiting in the morning, we recommend traveling on to your next destination, Zion for example.

Camping Evaluation - We stayed at Sunset Campground, as opposed to North Campground, because it was where we could find a spot. We came in to the park at around 6pm, and got the second to last spot there. So we were really lucky. The campground was nice with tent only sections minimizing the RV noise. Standard accommodations for a campground. It was also closer to Sunrise Point, which was nice in the morning as it meant a shorter drive at 5am, but honestly, there really isn't that much of a difference. North Campground does take reservations, so if you have a reasonably rigid itinerary, which we didn't, that is always an option.

Best Time To See Arches - Have to see sunrise, it is a must, so early in the morning works best. Check the sunrise times for your visit, but we were up at 5 am to explore the park and see the sunrise, but we were there in July.

Tips/Tricks -If Sunrise Point is too crowded for you, take a walk down the paved path to Sunset Point which has equally amazing views. Also, drive the park backwards for ease of use and the absence of crowds.

Best Hikes - The Navajo Loop (1.4 miles RT, slightly challenging) and Queens Garden Trails (2 miles RT, slightly challenging) deserve your time.

More Photos - Below in the slideshow and more in the gallery here.

Feel free to email me if you have any questions!