When most people think about the country's most beautiful national parks, the ones that come to mind are usually the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite...maybe Rocky Mountain. WHY, OH WHY is Zion National Park not at the top of that list?
My boyfriend and I spent 4th of July weekend camping right outside the park at an incredible campground called Quail Creek - close enough to drive into the park every day.
Our first day we drove through the park from the southwest corner to the northwest entrance. Mountain sheep grazed on the side of the road as casually as the tourists eating their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
We actually stopped off at the east edge of the park and had a lunchtime picnic before going on a short hike as storm clouds loomed over the canyon walls.
Our second day in the park we decided to tackle two of the most popular, and possibly most difficult, hikes in the park. We got up at the crack of dawn to beat the crowd (and the heat), and headed into the park to take on Angel's Landing - a 5-mile round-trip hike that was so uphill it felt more like twelve. But the views, man...THE VIEWS.
The last mile of the hike is what's called a "chain hike," meaning it's so steep and has such a vertical drop that hikers need a chain "railing" to hold onto on the way up and down. I promise though - it's not as horrifying as it sounds. The hike more so became a puzzle of "where do I put my feet and hands so I don't die." Totally not terrifying, though.
The last part of the hike left me huffing and puffing, but man...was the view worth it.
After we conquered Angel's Landing, we took a trip down The Narrows - which is a designated trail in a shallow part of the Virgin River that runs through a slot canyon. I was stunned at how cold the water was even in the middle of the summer, but it felt incredible on my feet after hiking all morning.
We weren't able to spend as much time in The Narrows as we wanted - we luckily paid attention to all the "flash flood warning" signs posted everywhere and made a swift U-turn as soon as we saw dark skies and heard thunder. Sometime I'll be back to canyon it from the top!
While the time we spent in the park was incredible, we learned quickly that camping in the desert in the middle of July was not the best idea...the only thing that got us through the second night was plastic bags full of ice water placed strategically around our bodies as we tried to fall asleep.
We decided to head home a day early instead of taking one more day to visit Bryce Canyon, which was a very difficult decision to make. We were already so exhausted, and honestly just sick of the heat and not showering. I was a little bummed about taking off early, but we told ourselves that Utah is a short enough trip that we could do it again.
And I have no doubts that we'll do it again.
TIPS FOR TRAVELERS:
- Avoid tent camping in the summer. There are so many beautiful inns and adorable bed and breakfasts right outside the park, and I can assure you it's probably worth the money to stay somewhere other than a propped up bag of hot air.
- Wake up early! You'll beat the crowds and the heat, so it's a win-win.
- Hike Angel's Landing. Hike The Narrows too, if you can - but if you have to choose one...I'll just say Angel's Landing might be the best hike I've ever done. Ever.
- Take the Shuttle. There's free street parking in Springdale, the town at the entrance to the park. Park there and ride in, and then shuttle will drop you off at all the most convenient locations.
- Explore Springdale. I didn't, and wish I had - there are so many adorable coffee houses, lunch spots and artist shops down the town's main street.
Want more? Check out the full photo album in the Zion National Park photo gallery.