Zion National Park is the oldest and most popular National Park in Utah, and was our final stop during our 5 day road trip through southern Utah. Interestingly this park started out as the Mukuntuweap National Monument, before becoming Zion National Monument and eventually becoming Zion National Park in 1919. The name change was apparently done to lure more tourists to a National Park whose name they could more easily pronounce! I guess the re-branding did help in some way, since this was the 8th most visited National Park in the US last year.
Of the 3 national parks we visited as part of this trip (Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef being the other two), this was the park I was most excited about. The picturesque Zion Canyon is almost 15 miles long and about 0.5 miles deep carved by the Virgin river flowing though the bright red Navajo sandstone. Apart from the canyon, this park also has mountains, buttes, mesas, natural arches and probably some of the most scenic hikes; the most famous of them being The Narrows.
Hiking the Narrows is mostly done by wading through knee deep water for 12 miles while being at very close proximity to the high and majestic canyon walls. I remember reading somewhere that if any place had the power to inspire awe it’s the Zion Narrows, so like most other travelers who have been to Zion, this was also on my list of things to do! However, a 12 mile water hike is no easy feat, so I set a more realistic expectation of doing about 3.6 miles up to a section where the walls of the canyon really close in and then return back. However, after getting to the start of the hike, I realized it would have been very strenuous to even do the relatively shorter version of the hike due to the lack of proper gear. So, I made a note of being better prepared in my next trip to Zion and saved this for another day. (I am headed back to Zion National Park again in May’ 2013 and this will definitely be on the top of my agenda!)
Some of the other very popular hikes in Zion include Angels Landing, Grotto Trail, Kayenta Trail, Weeping Rock, Riverside Walk and Canyon Overlook. We did the Weeping Rock, Riverside Walk and Canyon Overlook trail and all of these were relatively easy even with our two year old. We had entered the park from the east entrance after travelling south westwards for about 90 minutes from Bryce Canyon on a very scenic section of Highway 89. The Canyon Overlook trail is a great introduction to Zion National Park for all the visitors entering from the East. This trail is about 1 mile long and the elevation gains are fairly steep but not too exhausting. This trail takes you away from the road, through a large natural cave carved out of the rock walls, and eventually offers an extraordinary view of Zion Canyon below, where you can see the road wind through the canyon, and the steep canyon walls far in the distance.
From early April until late October, the Zion Canyon scenic drive Road (main section of the park with all the viewpoints) can only be accessed through a park shuttle. We had a hard time trying to find a parking spot, but after we did it was really convenient to hop on to the free shuttles that run every few minutes from the Visitor Center and the Human History Museum. Our first stop on the shuttle was the Court of the Patriarchs (these are 3 sandstone cliffs named after Biblical figures Abraham, Issac and Jacob), then we stopped at the Zion Lodge for a quick bite and continued northwards to visit The Grotto, Angel’s Landing, Weeping Rock and all the way up to the Temple of Sinawava, where we did the 2 mile round-trip, Riverside walk that runs along the Virgin River, leading to the Zion Narrows.
By the time we had completed the Riverside walk trail, it was approaching sunset and we took the shuttle back and headed to the Canyon Junction. This spot is one of the most popular spots in Zion for Sunset photography and by the time we reached there, it was already crowded with people crouching over their tripod mounted cameras. Sunset was spectacular and Vaishakhi managed to capture the breath taking views on film. Finally it was time to head back to our hotel in Springdale, located about 5 minutes from the south entrance in the park. Spending the night in a hotel so close to the Park allowed me to get into the park very conveniently the next morning in order to witness a beautiful sunrise. After a very fulfilling trip, we headed westwards for the 430 mile trip back home.