We continued our drive down Route 21 after crossing the Utah Border, an interesting road up big mountain passes and down through expansive valleys. After passing through a couple small farming communities, we joined Interstate 15 at Cedar City, then exited on Route 17 to Toquerville, and then east on Route 9 at La Verkin. You could call this point the gateway into Zion, as you immediately get a view of the giant red and white rocks that become more dramatic the closer you get to the park. I lost count how many times we said, “Wow, look at that!”.
We pulled into Springdale as the sun was setting. We grabbed a room right next to the park entrance at Flanigans Inn, by far the nicest place we stayed the entire trip. On the same property is the Spotted Dog Cafe. We had gourmet dinners of wild trout, wild game meatloaf, and pasta, and the next morning we enjoyed a healthy breakfast buffet. Before leaving for the park the next morning, we followed a short trail behind the Inn up to a small labyrinth and observation point. The view was spectacular, and got us even more excited to get into the park.
We paid our entry fee into the park, $25 for a private vehicle and valid for 7 days. We were ready for a campsite, so we grabbed a site in the South Campground just past the Park Entrance. There wasn’t much left to pick from, and the Campground Full sign went up shortly after we setup camp. There really isn’t a bad site in the place though with the great views in every direction.
After getting the tent setup, we were ready to do some hiking. We hopped in the car for a short drive up the road where we were met with a sign that said Shuttles Only. I knew about the shuttles, but didn’t realize they were mandatory this time of year. Later I would discover the necessity of them, as there would be no way to fit all the visitors’ cars up in the canyon. It would be a traffic jam disaster. Another good thing about the shuttles, is that it opened up the road for cycling families. Riding the gentle grade up the canyon looked like a blast!
We drove back to camp and parked, but weren’t quite sure where to pick up the shuttle. This took some time hiking around, but we finally found the stop down by the visitors center in the Watchman Campground. We learned that the shuttles run every few minutes, stop at every trailhead in the canyon, and run pretty late into the evening. It turned out to be really convenient, but still crowded. Sometimes you had to wait for the next shuttle at some of the busier stops, but it was still way quicker than if you would have had to find your own parking.
The first trail we wanted to hike was the Riverside Walk that leads to The Narrows. We hopped off the shuttle at the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava. The Riverside Walk is just over a mile in one direction and follows the Virgin River up the canyon. It’s also a wide trail, and even accessible by wheelchairs. As the canyon walls start to close in, you really get a feel for how tall they are!
Once at the end of the trail, The Narrows start. The Narrows isn’t a trail, but a route up the Canyon through the Virgin River. We swapped out our hiking boots for our water sandals, picked a good route for our first river crossing, and hopped in. We only made it a few steps before aborting the mission and fleeing back to the river bank. The water was FREEZING! This water must have just recently been snow. We hopped around and regrouped, then decided to give it another go. We joined hands to help fight the swift current, and trudged our way across the knee deep water.
We were nearly in tears by the time we reached the other side, and our lower legs were numb. A short hike up the far bank, and it was time to cross back over. Again, pain. But not as bad as the initial shock. While we were thawing out at the next bank, we could see that there was one more bank, and then you would be stuck in the river for as far as you could see up around the corner. We knew we weren’t going to get much further, but decided to go a little ways more just because we were there.
As we were delicately shuffling across the river, we noticed some people in neoprene waders and canyoneering boots carrying walking sticks. With exception of the current, they walked pretty easily up the river. Apparently you can rent this gear back in town. Still, we heard it started to get pretty deep up around the bend. I think this hike would be best in the Summer and Fall. According to the guide books, you can even make a 2 day hike out of it, starting up at the top, and hiking back down the canyon!
When we got back to the Riverside Walk, it felt so good to get back in warm wool socks and boots! We hiked back to the shuttle stop, then got a ride down to the Zion Lodge for some ice cream. After a break, we took the bridge across the river and hiked up the Emerald Pools Trail.
Getting to lower Emerald Pool was another quick hike, but not short on scenery. Once at the lower pool, you hike beneath an enormous overhang, and the water cascades over you into the pool below!
We hiked back down to the lodge, and took a break on the lawn under a giant tree. It was nice that you didn’t really have to go far at all to see amazing things. Laying down in the lawn while staring at the cliffs above is something anyone can do.
Back at camp, we prepared a much simpler dinner than the night before. We also decided to get to bed earlier too. It began such a peaceful night, and I imagined many more nights like this. Not far into the night though, the wind really picked up. We were plenty warm, but the tent flapped in the wind all the way until morning! Sleep was off an on. Kristy said she even heard some of the neighbors abandoning camp in the middle of the night for the motels back in Springdale!
We broke camp as the sunlight spilled down into the canyon. It was still a bit breezy, but it was warming up good, the promise of a decent day ahead. A little groggy from the night before, we packed up and headed to Springdale in search of some good coffee and breakfast.
Over breakfast we decided that we’d head to Bryce Canyon. Although there was still much to see in Zion, we were eager to get somewhere less crowded. We also had many places to visit during the week. We definitely want to go back and visit some of the more remote places in the park. It’s a huge park, and we mostly just stuck to the canyon bottom.
We headed east out of Zion along the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. The road gains elevation quick as it leaves the park, and is very windy. My son decided he’d get in a quick video game as we drove. Big Mistake! Soon he was telling us he didn’t feel so good, and was asking us to pull over! Lucky for him we were just nearing a pull-out. He hopped out of the car and got sick over the railing. There went that expensive smoothy!
Less than a hundred yards from our emergency stop was the entrance to the tunnel. It is 1.1 miles long, and there is no stopping once in the tunnel! We really dodged a bullet on that one. The car would’ve been awful for the rest of the trip.
After exiting the tunnel, we got up on top of the canyon. I was surprised how interesting and different it was up above. We pulled over for a quick hike around the slick rock before leaving. After exiting the park and continuing east, the scenery almost instantly and drastically changes. There’s a bit of green farmland, and then back into some rolling hills. It’s almost like leaving a dream!
More photos in the Zion photo set over on Flickr!
The official Zion National Park website with helpful info: http://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm
Another tip: Check your local library for hiking guides.
Next up, Bryce Canyon!