Zion National Park, Utah – American Road Trip (pt32)
Sept 27 2015. Day 49 of my American Road Trip.
At long last, the final National Park of my American Road Trip has arrived. And while my last, Zion National Park was actually Utah’s first, established in 1919. As the National Park Service states, “Zion encompasses some of the most scenic canyon country in the United States.” Not to mention it has one of the most popular slot canyon trails in the world. You’ll understand what that means later.
In addition to my virtual tour guide, Dan, Zion came highly recommended from my good friend from part 7, Brook Barbour. Earlier in the summer he and some friends stopped by Zion and took some great video at Angels Landing. Since I didn’t make it to Angels Landing, I figured I’d start this post with Brook’s video so you get the full, top to bottom, experience. The views are ridiculous. Skip to 2:22 for the grand finale.
Zion National Park
Zion is actually a huge park covering 229 square miles / 590 square km. A million years of water cutting through the Navajo sandstone created the massive canyons you see today. The park was established in 1919 and has about 2.5 million visitors a year.
The Zion Canyon area, which includes the town of Springdale, Utah, is the primary hub of tourist activity and is home to the park’s most popular outdoor attractions. Here you can do everything from casual walks, hiking, climbing and camping to horseback riding and guided ranger tours. The link below has more details on everything Zion. If you enjoy outdoor activities, Zion Canyon should be on your places to visit list.
To get to the main attractions within Zion Canyon during the summer, you need to take the shuttle bus. It’s not optional like I assumed when I arrived and passed all the silly people waiting for it. Oops. But never fear, there is plenty of parking at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and shuttles are frequent.
As usual, I didn’t know much about Zion other than how to get there. After reviewing the Zion Canyon map, I decided to start at the northernmost shuttle stop and just wander south throughout the day. Little did I know at the time I’d be wondering north instead, wading through a rocky riverbed surrounded by 100 foot plus sandstone cliffs and witnessing some of the coolest scenes of my trip.
After a 30-minute ride on the “Scenic Drive” shuttle, I arrived at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop. I didn’t look around much because of all the people and just headed straight for the mile long Riverside Walk trail. The trail leads into a towering, wide open sandstone canyon which hugs the relatively small North Folk Virgin River. At the end of the established trail is where it got interesting.
The trail ends abruptly at the river’s edge, with steps down to the sandy shores. It’s a nice scene on a summer day with people picnicking and sunbathing everywhere. When you look right though, the wide open canyon of the trail abruptly gets very “narrow” and towering sandstone rock replaces the sandy river banks. Further up, the river disappears around a bend.
And people were walking into this. I didn’t know it at the time, but this is where Riverside Walk trail turns into The Narrows and the river becomes the trail. I stood for a few minutes and watched a few hikers cross the river and wade north around the bend. What the heck was this and where were people these people disappearing to? As I stared at the gray, towering, river swallowing sandstone cliffs, my curiosity reached an all time high.
This is part of the trip when conducting absolutely no research turns into some fun. Yes, I may miss some important spots in the park. But I also got to experience The Narrows much like the first explorers with that, “what the heck is this?” mindset . Of course, the first explorers weren’t surrounded by 100’s of tourists, but you get the idea.
I ventured across the river in my Asics running shoes, shorts, and t-shirt with my non-waterproofed backpack, camera and cell phone. There was no way I was missing this little adventure, even if it meant I put my camera and cell phone in the drink. I just had to make sure I maintained my footing as I walked a few hours over a rocky riverbed. No big deal.
I continued to walk for a couple of hours before turning back. After speaking to people on the trail, I realized this could be an all day venture if I wanted it to be. While that sounded enticing, I didn’t want The Narrows to be the only thing I experienced in Zion Canyon.
And no, I never fell or put the camera or phone in the river. Although it got close a couple times. Holding the camera while I walked the river was a risky move, but the pictures and video I got made it well worth it.
The Narrows really needs to be walked to be understood. Pictures and video are nice, but like so many other things in life, they don’t do the experience justice. I’ve never seen anything like The Narrows in 50+ countries.
Hopefully by now, the term slot canyon has explained itself. And I’m sure you can see why The Narrows is Zion’s most popular hike and one of the world’s most popular slot canyon trails.
Kayenta & Upper Emerald Pool Trails
After an exhilarating half day in The Narrows I could have left Zion Canyon a happy man. But I had daylight left and felt the need to see more. I caught the shuttle bus down to The Grotto stop and made my way over the river to the Kayenta Trail, a moderate 2-mile hike that leads up the mountain to the Upper Emerald Pool Trail. The views along these trails can’t be beat.
On my way back down the mile long Lower Emerald Pool Trail I was able to snap a few pictures that really capture Zion’s beauty.
At the bottom of the Lower Emerald Pool trail, my Zion Canyon fun bag was full. After eating one of the greatest burgers in recent memory at the Zion Lodge, I made my way back to the Visitor Center and my car. I was spent and ready to sit for a while.
Zion was truly a great experience and it’s another park I’d like to explore and re-explore much more. With friends next time preferably. From the giant rocky Alp-like mountains to the hours of walking through riverbed in a narrow canyon, Zion was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
After my great day in Zion, I made my way to Las Vegas for a quick overnight and a good night’s sleep. Yup, I went to Vegas for a good night’s sleep.
One more day and my American Road Trip comes to an end.
Thanks for reading.
Last Stop: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Next Stop: Home and “American Road Trip Top 7”