Zion National Park, Utah. While some people recognize the
name, many have never heard of the small desert park in the canyon lands of
Utah, only a couple hours’ drive from Las Vegas. Zion, known for its beautiful
hiking trails within deep canyons, is where my family chose to spend a few days
Why Zion? It’s family-friendly, outdoorsy, and above all,
drop-dead gorgeous. The sights alone of the painted desert and the rust-colored
canyon walls are worth the whole trip. Located inside a canyon, visitors can
stare up at towering peaks and down at picturesque rivers. But Zion is more
than a pretty picture; its hiking trails provide the best experience any
hikers—experienced or not—could hope for.
Here’s my take on Zion National Park and why Carlsbad folks
should venture on out.
Zion is known for its day hikes, meaning hikers can do incredible trails without having to camp out overnight. The two most popular trails are the two trails that my family and I hiked: Angels Landing, and the Narrows. Neither one is easy, but both are very do-able. Shuttles take hikers to their desired hiking locations, so transportation and accessibility is never a problem.
The Narrows--my personal favorite--is a fun, adventurous
water hike. It’s called “the Narrows” because the hike takes place in a river
between the narrow canyon walls that get increasingly narrow as the hike
continues. The best part about the hike? The river is the trail! Hikers
wade upstream through the river--sometimes waist-deep, sometimes neck-deep. It’s no wonder that the Narrows is the most popular trail— while Zion constantly has hot temperatures, the river water gives hikers a way to keep cool while they
hike. And the views from inside the canyon walls are spectacular.
But for the truly hard-core hiker, Angels Landing offers an
entirely different experience. It’s literally quite the cliffhanger—after a
series of calf-burning switchbacks, hikers must climb the last half-mile on an
incredibly steep cliff that reaches a height of 5,790 feet. When I did this
hike, the 21 switchbacks were enough for me, but my family decided to attempt
the steep, dangerous half-mile at the end. The last half-mile consists of steep
cliffs, with no trails but simply metal chains to grab onto as you crawl over
precarious footholds to reach the summit. After doing part of the last
half-mile, my nervous mother (can you blame her?) made the whole family stop and turn around. Signs throughout the trail warn hikers that there have been at
least five fatalities within the past years, so take this one seriously. This trail isn’t one for small children or casual hikers. Just make sure to leave your fear of heights at the hotel!
There are, of course, plenty of smaller, shorter trails, all
of which are great for pleasant family hikes. The Grotto and Emerald Pools are
both trails leading right from the Zion Lodge that are each a half-mile
long—the perfect length for the casual hiker. The River Walk is a one-mile hike
that’s handicap-accessible; it runs alongside the Virgin River, excellent for
people who want to hike and take occasional dips in the river at the same time.
And for those of you who want to see the hikes without
actually hiking, there are horseback riding programs available on different
trails throughout the park.
I stayed in Zion Lodge, which is located right inside the
park. With a cafeteria, gift shop, and restaurant, Zion Lodge offers the
typical hotel fare. But one aspect of Zion Lodge that isn’t so typical? The
fact that you can choose to stay in one of the small, quaint cabins that are a
part of the hotel. You can always stay in a regular hotel room, but in my
opinion, any visitors should take advantage of the lodge’s cabin experience. While
the cabins don’t have TVs, they do have air conditioning, and there isn’t a
better place to stay when you’re trying to get the full Zion experience. There
are hotels right outside the park as well, but I highly, highly recommend staying in the Zion Lodge to get the best access to the canyon's marvelous hikes.
Invest in the right equipment. Before trying the Narrows
hike, make sure to rent special “canyoneering” shoes and walking sticks from
various stores right outside the park entrance (I rented mine at Zion
Outfitters for twenty bucks. Totally worth it). When people attempt wading over
the slippery stones and boulders in the river at the Narrows with nothing but
tennis shoes, they don’t get far. I cannot stress this enough. Also, if you’re
looking for shopping and great places to eat, check out the cute little
mini-town right outside the park entrance. It's got a market, some sports bars, and gift shops galore. Don't worry--you won't be in the middle of nowhere.
Zion is 100 percent worth the trip. When choosing a vacation destination, don't just go for the typical ones-- you'd be surprised at what the less well-known places have to offer. Yes, the Grand Canyon might be the more popular destination for travelers hoping to get some gorgeous desert views. But if you go to the Grand Canyon, you’re only looking at the desert from above. In Zion, you’re experiencing the desert from inside. Don't underestimate this small park and decide to skip it. I'm glad my family didn't!
See Zion’s official website for more on Zion National Park: nps.gov/zion/index.htm