You may not have heard much about Zion National Park, in Utah. It is overshadowed by its bigger, more famous neighbor, the Grand Canyon, which is wide and open and puts on a show for you in the changing light.
And it may seem a little staid next to its showy smaller neighbor, Bryce Canyon, where hoodoos seem to dance and play with you and invite you in.
When you first arrive in Zion, you might even say, “How can I really see this park?” This is a place of soaring and brooding walls; it is a park of hidden treasures.
As a kid exploring Zion National Park, what I remember is the winding road into the park, the towering cliffs around the lodge, and a walk under a big overhanging rock I was worried would fall on me. That rock is pretty stable, however, because, as an adult, I again walked under it.
My favourite new memory, from a recent visit, is a day hike in The Narrows.
There really is no place to drive around inside the park. Scenic roads lead into it and stop at the Virgin River, which cuts through it and continues to carve the canyon.
Private vehicles are not allowed into the heart of the Zion Canyon during the crowded summer months, but free shuttle buses run frequently to popular stops. Shuttles also run from the nearby town of Springdale. It’s easy and convenient to transfer to the park shuttle.
If you arrive in the Zion National Park on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, you’ll start your scenic drive as you enter the park.
This winding road offers sweeping views of the canyon, the Great Arch of Zion, and the Checkerboard Mesa. You will also pass through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. (Note: This road has oversize vehicles restrictions. It is narrow and winding. If your RV is too big, you may be re-directed or you may need an escort to drive this road. There is an extra fee of about $15 for the escort.)
You must do a little walking to appreciate Zion. A short but steep hike will take you to Weeping Rock. Take the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava stop. For a short easy walk, take the mile-long paved trail up the river to the beginning of a slot canyon.
If you want a classic Zion National park hike, the Temple of Sinawava stop is also where you will begin the hike through the Zion Narrows. This is a fun, exhilarating, inspiring hike, but the Park Service emphasizes that it is not to be taken lightly. There is no trail per se: the Virgin River IS the trail. You will be walking IN the river as much as 60 per cent of the time.
The current can be strong, and threatens to sweep you off your feet in places. The water is cold, and you will be in shade of the sheer vertical canyon walls which soar above you.
Check with the Visitors Bureau for information that will help you decide if you should take this hike. You don’t need a back country permit if you are just going part way up the slot canyon and back in one day, but you need to check the weather. Flash floods are a constant possibility. If conditions are right, and you are prepared, this is a hike you will never forget.
Hike up to Angel’s Landing for a different view over part of the park. Switchbacks climb up, and a narrow rocky ridge takes you to the lookout, so it’s not for someone afraid of heights.
For the more adventurous, there is rock climbing.
There is a Lodge inside the park and plenty of accommodations in the town of Springdale.
As you walk and explore, you’ll find that Zion National Park rewards your walks with the hidden treasures you didn’t expect when you first saw that towering rock wall as you drove in.
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