We Headed To Zion National Park
We had two days in Virgin, Utah and planned to go hiking in Zion National Park from this stop. It was a busy travel day when we first visited to Bryce National Park. And then did the long slow drive to our hotel through the Zion park grounds. We enjoyed a down day to relax before we hit the park.
When we visited Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and then drove through Bryce Canyon National Park we were at the top of the canyons and looked down. In Zion, most of the park was at the bottom of the canyons. So we got a very different perspective on the stunning peaks. Various hiking trails at the top of the peaks provided the view down into the canyons.
The altitude at the base of the Zion canyon was still around 4,000 feet (1,200m). Peaks towered over 8,700 feet (2,650 m). It was no wonder that we continued to see such bright blue clear skies.
We enjoyed our day hiking in Zion National Park. And got a short introduction to all this park has to offer. But we only saw enough to know we want to go back one day.
Entering Through Zion East
After we visited Bryce National Park, we headed south on state road 89. At Mt Carmel Junction, we turned east on Route 9 to get to Zion National Park. If we turned west, this led us to the Grand Canyon. But on an adventure at another time, we visited first the Grand Canyon North Rim and then explored the Grand Canyon South Rim.
When we planned this route, we did not really understand that our drive took us through the park to get to our stay in Virgin on the other side. We hit the park entrance and used our National Park Pass to continue on. But we wondered if people paid if they were only going straight through.
Driving The Switchbacks In Zion East
The drive in from the east entrance took us steadily down into the canyon via a continuous series of switchbacks. At times the road dropped off beside the car far down into the canyon.
Traffic slowed down when we reached the mile long Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel. There were size restrictions on the tunnel. And at times they needed to let traffic go only in one direction for bigger vehicles.
All along the route we got our first view of the amazing rock structures in Zion National Park. There were few spots to pull over to look at the rocks. And at this point, we were very late in the day. We did not expect our trip through Zion to be at an average speed of 15 mph! This was well below the slow speed limit posted.
Entering through the East entrance was a stunning way to first see Zion National Park. Even if was totally unplanned.
While the canyon was the most popular part of the park, there were also some great places to hike in Zion National Park on the east side. The Canyon Overlook Trail was a moderate path over rocky and uneven paths with steep drop-offs to the viewpoint at Pine Creek. There was also a strenuous hike along the East Rim Trail though Echo Canyon to the viewpoint over Zion Canyon. Neither of these were on our agenda for this visit hiking in Zion National Park.
A Day Off In Virgin, Utah
By the time we finally reached the hotel in Virgin, it was almost sunset. We quickly checked in and then headed out with a list of restaurant recommendations in the area.
On our 2 day stay in Virgin, we had no trouble finding great food every time we went looking. We ate twice at the Stage Coach Grill. It was a meat lovers paradise and a definite local favourite. We made sure to make reservations on our second visit.
The Fort Zion Trading Post was fashioned after an old wild west town outside and a saloon on the inside. We were sure that families would enjoy this spot.
For lunch one day, we visited the River Rock Cafe. Fresh roasted coffee was the draw. But a pizza with a great view made us glad we stayed to eat in.
The hotel was surrounded by stunning rock landscapes. It was not hard to take a day off and relax with this view. Especially when the view was over the pool. Or when the red rocks glowed at sunset.
We enjoyed a down day at the hotel and in the local area before we spent a day hiking in Zion National Park. It would have been an ideal relaxing day had this not been one of the worst hotels on our trip. Paper thin walls ensured we heard every sound made in the rooms on either side. Not a great spot for catching up on sleep.
Stopping At The Zion Visitor Centre
We headed out very early for our day hiking in Zion National Park. We knew that parking was scarce. But we managed to find a spot close to the Visitors Centre.
Just in case, we had a fallback plan. The Zion Shuttle picked up at various places in nearby Springdale. We figured we could always go back if necessary. If we had stayed in Springdale, we definitely would have used the shuttle and left the car behind.
We made a short stop at the Visitors Centre to get our bearings. The relief map gave us a good view of the path we planned to travel that day. There were 9 stops on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. No self-driving was allowed in the canyon, so we used the shuttle to move from stop to stop.
The Zion map provided information about hiking in Zion National Park. For each stop, we considered the difficulty of the hike, the elevation change during the hike and the average duration of the hike to decide where we would explore on our day at Zion.
With our route planned, we headed to Stop 1 to pick up the shuttle. The peaks of Zion National Park called to us from the distance.
The Riverside Walk At The Temple Of Sinawava
We took the shuttle to the far end of the route at Stop 9 for the Temple of Sinawava for the easy Riverside Walk hike. The paved path followed the Virgin River at the bottom of a steep narrow canyon. It was still early in the day and the canyon was deep in shadows.
We started in a flat meadow area. As the path narrowed, we walked closer to the rock wall edges. There were fascinating rock formations along the path. And we even found a few Moonflowers.
We often walked down at the water’s edge. The water levels were not high but we enjoyed the rushing water views. In places the water was a deep emerald green. Later in the day, we caught interesting reflections of the rocks above us.
We finished our Riverside Walk at the Narrows after about an hour. Hiking in Zion National Park can come in many forms. At this point, the trail went into the steep canyon and much of the hiking was in the water. We did not come prepared for walking in the water on this trip.
Views Along The Way Back
After a short stop we headed back along the Riverside Walk. The sun was higher in the sky and the beauty of the glowing rocks started to show up. All along we stopped to look up and admire the variety in the rock structures.
At one point, we found groups of people pointing. We soon found out why! A small group of mule deer wandered by the water.
We were glad that we headed right for the last shuttle stop to start our day hiking in Zion National Park. As we headed back out, the paths were much more crowded. And the temperature started to rise.
A Short Stop At The Big Bend
After our long walk along the river, we were not sure how many more stops we would make on the way back down. We got off the shuttle at Stop 8 for Big Bend. This was mostly a stop to take some pictures of the rocks that towered overhead.
Far above we saw Angels Landing. This was one of the most famous hikes at Zion National Park as it headed out on a narrow rock fin. With his zoom lens, David saw people walking on the edge. And even a few brave souls rappelling on the rocks.
We planned to stop next at Stop 7 at the Weeping Rock. It was a short but steep hike. But a major rock slide closed this trail. When you are hiking in Zion National Park and see the signs on the paths about falling rocks, take them seriously.
When we got to Stop 6 at the Grotto, we considered getting off here. There was an easy path from there to the Zion Lodge stop. But it was now past lunch time. So we left that hike for another visit.
The trail head for Angels Landing was at the Grotto. But we never considered heading that way. There was also another hike from the Grotto along the Kayenta Trail. This path was an unpaved climb with moderate drop-offs to the Emerald Pools. We decided we wanted the easier walk to the Emerald Pools at Stop 5.
Another Walk Along The Virgin River
We got off at Stop 5 at the Zion Lodge. There were several options for lunch. We ultimately grabbed some takeout rather than sitting in the restaurant. The rock views around us in all directions were stunning. We really wished we planned our trip earlier so that we could have stayed at Zion Lodge inside the park.
From here we could also take a horse ride along the Sand Bench Trail. This path led to a massive landslide under the Sentinel. It was a 5 hour trip so this was definitely left for another visit. But we certainly wanted to visit the Emerald Pools from this stop.
A short walk took us to the bridge over the Virgin River and the path that ran alongside. From here we got yet another amazing panoramic view of the rocks of Zion National Park. The wide vistas were stunning. But when we looked up the rock face by the path, we found fascinating rock views as well.
We followed the path and soon heard the sound of rushing water.
Walk Under The Waterfall At The Emerald Pools
We got our first view of the Emerald Pools in the shadows. The pools were shallow and not quite the emerald colour we expected.
A little further down the path, a waterfall fell down the rock face. As we saw in the morning, the water levels were low. But we still got wet as we scrambled along the wet path under the water stream. We were sure we would get soaked in high water flows. It reminded us very much of similar rock waterfalls we found on our visit to Watkins State Park in New York State.
The path ended shortly after the waterfall. A major rockslide took out sections of the path. There would be no visit to the Upper Emerald Pools on this trip.
We enjoyed being cooled down by the waterfall spray before we turned around and headed back. It was a refreshing stop hiking in Zion National Park.
A Shuttle Ride Through The Canyons Of Zion
After walking to the Emerald Ponds, we were done for the day. We got back on the shuttle and enjoyed the ride down through the canyons past Stops 4, 3 and 2. We were glued to the windows as we watched the rock faces that towered above us. There was such a variety of colours and textures.
There are no real hiking paths at Stops 4, 3 or 2. But it would have been great to stop and really take in the views. We got a great video of this ride down that will have to keep us until we head back for more hiking in Zion National Park.
Returning To The Visitors Centre
We left the shuttle when we returned to Stop 1 at the Visitors Centre. It was a great day hiking in Zion National Park. But we were done for the day. One day really was not enough to do more than give us a tease about this great park.
There were two hikes from Stop 1 that we did not do on this visit. The short but steep Archeology Trail can be walked from here. This path included views of prehistoric buildings and had several exhibits along the way. We also did not do the much longer Pa’Rus Trail. This paved trail goes along the Virgin River to Canyon Junction where the road headed up into the Zion Canyon. There was shuttle stop there to continue into the park.
The sun had already started to drop. The red rocks glowed. It was a beautiful view as we left Zion National Park for the day.
A Fun Day Hiking In Zion National Park
We had an amazing day hiking in Zion National Park. We were happy we started at the far end of the shuttle line for the Riverside Walk. The hike to see the Emerald Pools provide yet more stunning views.
At every point in Zion National Park, the rock views from the bottom of the canyon awed us. We were sure that hikes to the top peaks would provide another amazing perspective.
One day in the park was certainly not enough time to see it all. But it was a great teaser to know we want to return for more. And a wonderful way to finish our tour of the Utah National Parks.
Did you go hiking in Zion National Park? What was your favourite part of this park?
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