Along For The Ride: A Walk In The Park (Part 25)
A Walk in the Park
Southern Utah is a hotbed for dramatic landscapes. After my stay in Kanab, I was ready to treat myself to one of America’s spectacular landscapes, Zion National Park . There was a bit of planning involved, as most National Parks seem to be biased toward tourists as opposed to wandering adventurers. Subsequently, I was prepared to willingly subject myself to the system.
First, like my experience in Big Bend National Park, I had to contend with a $25 entrance fee, which granted me access to the park for one week. Second, I had to determine exactly where I was going to camp, which can be challenging at tourist destinations.
Enroute to Zion
From where I was based in Kanab, Utah, the east entrance of Zion National Park was a short 35 minute drive to the north. It was a lovely drive, highlighting much of Utah’s natural beauty. While I hadn’t encountered much traffic on the way, when I reached the toll booth at the entrance of the park, there was a line of cars, busses, and RVs paying the fee and trickling through.
Beyond the east entrance, the landscape suddenly became very dramatic. The road wound its way between towering stone spires garnished with trees, grass, and shrubs. The mountains seemed to roll on in every which direction, as I leaned forward into my windshield to try to find their tops as I drove.
This continued for miles, as the road followed the gurgling Virgin River, and passed through multiple dimly-lit stone tunnels that had been drilled decades ago to allow vehicular traffic.
Popping the Camper
Shortly before reaching the western end of the park, near the Springdale entrance, there was a campground that was geographically perfect, but it was full, and there was a nightly fee - which was reasonable, but not ideal. Since I had paid the entrance fee to the park, I could come and go as I pleased throughout the week, so I decided to keep driving and seek out some BLM land where I could spend a few nights.
With some research I found a spot only a few short miles from Springdale. It was atop a nearby plateau, and while the long dirt road to the top of the plateau was lined with private property, it gave way to BLM land at its summit. A rocky primitive road revealed a handful of clearings featuring small fire rings. This was perfect, and only a stone’s throw from Zion!
Early next morning, I drove the Jeep back into Springdale with the intention of a heading into Zion for a hike! I parked the Jeep and walked into the National Park where I hopped aboard a free shuttle. There is a shuttle service that transports people throughout the interior of the park, as many roads restrict personal vehicles.
I disembarked from the shuttle at the trailhead for the Angel’s Landing hike. While it’s a relatively short 5 mile round-trip, it features a significant 1,500 foot elevation change, and it’s not for the faint of heart!
The majority of the hike is a paved trail that starts next to the Virgin River, then zig-zags up a red sandstone cliff face, cuts through a chasm, and then zig-zags some more until you reach the ridge. There, the trail transforms from a leisurely stroll into a technical scramble along the ridge that is no more than a few feet wide at some points!
Don’t worry. There is a securely-anchored chain that hikers can hold for the remainder of the climb. I’m not the least bit afraid of heights, and I regarded this section of the trail as fun. However, if you do have a fear of heights, this hike might be extraordinarily challenging!
The 360 degree view from the top was spectacular! The canyon wound its way around the base of the landing, and cars and busses could be seen in the valley below. They looked like ants!
The next day started much in the same way. While Zion National Park might not have been a four-wheel drive destination, there was plenty to explore on foot. This time, I took the shuttle to The Narrows.
The Narrows is a 16 mile gorge through which the Virgin River flows. In some places, the walls are a thousand feet tall, and the floor is only 20-30 feet wide. This hike can be as easy as a short out-and-back romp in the water, or it can be a multi-day excursion involving swimming and canyoneering.
After a quarter mile of paved trail, I donned my water shoes and started hiking upstream. This is akin to a water park attraction. During peak season, the river is clogged with people. However, the further you venture, the fewer people you see, and the more exotic the scenery gets!
Almost the whole time, you’re hiking in knee-deep water through an ornate, and visually-stunning canyon. I highly recommend good water shoes, and a dry bag. I had my electronics in a day pack, and at times, I had difficulty keeping it out of the water!
For the day-hiker, this hike ends when you’ve had enough and decide to turn around. However, once you get going it’s hard to stop, because each bend in the river yields a stunning new view.
I must’ve followed the gorge for hours. I had no idea how far I had gone by the time I returned to the shuttle!
While you won’t be engaging four-wheel drive in Zion National Park, my experience there was nothing short of amazing. In fact, I enjoyed it far more than The Grand Canyon. Even though it’s already extremely popular, I think it’s an underrated National Park destination.
It is impossible to leave Zion without a wealth of extraordinary new memories!