Zion National Park is one of the most crowded attractions in the United States but there is a good reason for the popularity. The scenery is stunning. The park is technically a canyon which has been formed by the Virgin River over the last 150 million years. While not as deep as the Grand Canyon, Zion is special in that visitors traverse from the bottom, riding along the river to look up canyon walls. Around every curve is a new, mountainous rock formation, where the natural design appears almost alien.
To get to the visitor center from the east, cars go through two tunnels, one that is over a mile long. The wait to get through the tunnel can be 15 minutes, depending on traffic. There are windows in the tunnel offering views of the canyon. For some reason, the fleeting views through tunnel windows seem to be the most spectacular in the park.
Zion offers several opportunities for recreation, including hiking, bicycling, climbing, camping, and more. There is something in the park for everyone, including a free shuttle system with nine stops throughout the park. The shuttle offers views throughout the canyon for the less outdoorsy type. From the shuttle you can see wildlife, rock climbers on the steep cliffs, as well as the Virgin River, which runs through most of the Canyon.
There is something in the park for everyone, including a free shuttle system with nine stops throughout the park.
One of the most popular, and yet most difficult hikes in the park is Angel’s Landing. This trail takes you to one of the highest points in the park after climbing over steep, narrow ledges. Another difficult hike brings you to the depths of the canyon. The Narrows is a hike you can enjoy for just an hour upstream, or you can turn it into an overnight trip. The entire hike is through very cold water, with the depth of the water just above knee level. Sometimes weather conditions prevent access to the Narrows, so it can get dangerous. It is recommended to check weather conditions before you go, and an even better idea to rent equipment from the park to help with your hike.
Our morning was spent hiking in a different way. There were lots of people on the trail, and only windows of time where you can hear the birds singing instead of people chattering. Three trails lead to the Upper Emerald Pool, a more difficult part of the hike that fewer people frequent. To get to the Emerald Pool, it’s easiest to take the shuttle to the Zion Lodge. The trailhead is just across the river. The view on the Lower Emerald Pool Trail goes under a waterfall, with a spray of cool water over the trail. The Middle Emerald Pool Trail takes you above the waterfall with access close enough to the edge to enjoy the sound of the water falling over the cliff. The Upper Emerald Pool Trail is steep, but the climb is worth it. For some reason, most people at the Emerald Pool understand the beauty that surrounds them and they find a quiet spot on a rock in the shade, eating their lunch and enjoying the scenery.
The Upper Emerald Pool Trail is steep, but the climb is worth it. For some reason, most people at the Emerald Pool understand the beauty that surrounds them and they find a quiet spot on a rock in the shade, eating their lunch and enjoying the scenery.
The Emerald Pools Trail leads into the Kayenta Trail with more sweeping views of the Canyon and the Virgin River. The shuttle stops at the Grotto, so you can call it a day or take the Grotto Trail back to the Zion Lodge and catch a shuttle from there. We decided to take the shuttle at the Grotto stop and head north so we could see more of the park, including part of the Angel’s Landing Trail and rock climbers high up on the rock.
We continued on the shuttle back to the Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center is impressive, and offers lots of information about the park (if it’s not already listed in the two brochures they give you when you enter the park). A stop by the Zion Canyon Brew Pub is in order after a day in the park. Of course, in Utah, state law regulates that if you order an alcoholic beverage, it must be accompanied by a food order. We weren’t complaining. The bruschetta was also a tasty treat after a morning of hiking.
The American Southwest is unique in the world. While visiting parks in Arizona and Utah, we have found people from all corners of the globe.. Germany, China, Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sweeden, Poland, France, Spain, Czech Republic, Australia, and the United Kingdom, just to name a few. (countries of origin are announced at The Wave lottery where we have spent several mornings). Our National Parks, especially in the Southwest are easily marketable, and are America’s “best idea yet” (Ken Burns).
Our day in Zion was wonderful, and it might not come again. One of the Rangers on the shuttle was talking about how for the past three years there have been 300,000 more people visiting the park each year. With the one million more visitors over the past few years, the park is getting crowded and the trails are starting to become dangerous. At some point there may be too many people in the park, disturbing the wildlife and the natural beauty of the Canyon. We overheard a park ranger saying the park service may soon implement a permit system or gate count to keep everyone safe.
For now, we are thankful for the time we had in Zion National Park, taking in the beauty and the wonder of the Canyon.
More adventures tomorrow…