The southwest corner of the USA is one of the best destinations for nature lovers. UTAH's 5 National parks are all close here, and Zion National Park is one of the absolute best.
Zion National Park surrounds the small town of Springdale and is only 2.5 hours from Las Vegas, It's not difficult to get to but certainly is hard to leave. For me the Canyon is a rare combination of elevation, open spaces, spectacular slot canyons and massive cliffs. There's also a river and brilliant geological colours all in an area not too big and not too small, its "just right".
Zion is also a hiking paradise for both adventurous and family oriented hikers. There is everything from flat paved paths to the infamous Angels Landing. The Narrows and Observation point are just as spectacular but in a completely different way. Angels Landing was closed while we were visiting due to a massive storm and resulting flash flood that occurred a month earlier, obviously we were disappointed that we were unable to complete this climb. It was quickly apparent that the whole area is dynamic, the geology is still active and soft rock and water results in changes. Sometimes these are dramatic, sometimes they are subtle. For more info on the geology in this area the link to Horizon Highway should satisfy.
I visited with the family in summer and stayed a few days exploring Canyon Overlook, The Narrows, Observation Point and a few others along the way. The hikes in Zion range from mild to strenuous but are all fantastic due to the unique and stunning scenery you will see.
The Narrows was our first choice as weather can change the conditions in a slot canyon dramatically, conditions were predicted to get worse during the week. As predicted the weather was good going in but a thunderstorm developed on our way out so the return leg was swift. Later on in the week large afternoon thunderstorms developed on the plains north of the park with some flooding reported.
The Narrows is a unique experience, walking on a shallow riverbed for hours is fatiguing on muscles that are not often used. Not being able to see where your feet are going certainly slows you down. Despite this I carried the camera in a waterproof backpack (up to chest deep) and captured some amazing scenes.
Whilst a walking stick is a necessity and suitable sticks may be found neat the start of the path; I used my camera tripod for support during the journey. I wouldn’t recommend this though, The fine silt found its way into the metal threads. Luckily there was no damage done, however I spent plenty of time cleaning fine sand from the leg lock mechanisms later in the day. The resilience of my Slik carbon tripod has impressed me, after ten years and many many outings from sub zero temp to hot deserts, it's still going strong.
After the Narrows a rest day was much needed, we woke late, had breakfast at the hotel and used the park shuttle to get to Weeping rock. Its a very short trail leading to a overhang where the constant water flow creates a lush green and wet rock overhang. We then briefly explored the start of the Observation Point and Hidden Canyon trail (see day three). After a few minutes, we jumped back on the park shuttle and headed back out of the park to the wheelchair friendly Payrus Trail.
We walked the paved path to the visitor centre and grabbed a few souvenirs. This was a leisurely morning, so we took the afternoon to explore Springdale on the way back to the hotel. There's an excellent selection of art and souvenir shopping in Springvale with the full range from Trinkets to Photography Galleries and Sculpture.
After a small rest we planned an early dinner to allow time to go to Canyon Overlook for the sunset. This involved driving into the park and up the switchbacks and then through the Carmen tunnel.
The tunnel isn't large and RV's are not permitter to traverse it outside of the designated time. The Park staff have to stop traffic as a two way traffic is not permissible with any RV in the tunnel.
Car parking was tight near the entrance to the Canyon Overlook hike (we filled the last spot) and we took the short but interesting hike to the overlook and sat on the rocks until it was dark. There was a modest group of about 30 people when we arrived, As a photographer we stayed later than most and were the last ones on the cliff edge when we left. Torches were needed to get back to the car but it's a view to remember and worth the time to really enjoy.
On Day Three, we tackled the Observation Point trail. This was a big day for us, climbing 2500ft during a 7-hour walk in 35 degrees(c) heat (I'm glad we trained for this). We set off on the first shuttle at 6.00am with about 12 litres of water and packets of energy food for our little trio of explorers.
Big thanks go to my wonderful wife as she carried all our food and three litres of extra water for me (My camera bag has limited space for water).
This is such a rewarding hike with many places to see stunning scenery, The start is steep but after a short while you will be looking down at the views and seeing the park from a very different perspective.
Echo Canyon is its own destination and is only about halfway to the top. It offers a little respite and a change of scenery prior to the big push to the top. Just past Echo Canyon, we saw three Bighorn Sheep on the side of the cliffs having a feed on the natural vegetation. Clearly unperturbed by people they took very little notice of the pesky humans trying to get a photo.
The view from the top of the Observation Point lookout is stunning, It certainly deserves its place as one of the top hikes in the park. It's longer and much higher than the famous Angels Landing and offers many varied views as you climb, it's a constant adventure! The spectacular view over Angela Landing and beyond the town of Springdale gives the entire valley some perspective. As we looked down over the cliff, we could see the tiny little busses dropping more visitors off along the park.
Whilst at the top, we took the opportunity to have a break, check supplies and have a small lunch. Surprising there was phone service at the top, and we may have "checked in" when we were sitting down. As expected there are no services, toilets or water supplies to access during the hike and none available at the top, so be frugal and manage your supplies. This became important to us later in the hike!
After about 40 min we headed back down the trail, the trip was uneventful, but we took many breaks to keep hydrated while managing our water supplies.
Near the end of the hike, is the start of the Hidden Canyon trail. We discussed the option of hiking this, Despite a dwindling water supply, we made the decision to divert from our original plan. While the Hidden Canyon hike isn't long, we were tired, and it was after 1.00pm on a hot day in the desert.
The detour to Hidden Canyon was steep and involved some walking along high exposed cliff edges with chains for safety. After this there was some scrambling across rocks and fallen tree trunks. Once inside the narrow canyon, we were exposed to the full afternoon sun. The appeal of being hidden wasn't all that exciting anymore!
Inevitably we exhausted our remaining water supplies about 30 minutes into the hike and had to make a hasty decision to retreat.
The last 50 min without water was a good lesson to not deviate from a well planned activity. We definitely enjoyed the Hidden Canyon area, but we should have planned the extra excursion a little better.
At the end of the day, we collapsed on a very comfy bed in an airconditioned room and slept very very well.
The following day we rose early and drove up through the the Carmel tunnel and left Zion NP behind us. We then headed to Bryce Canyon and then Route 12 led us to Capital Reef and beyond.