Zion National Park Is Heaven On Earth For Lovers Of The Outdoors
With its red cliff faces and that distinct Westworld beauty, it’s picturesque every day and from every angle.
For the hiker, the climber, or the camper, Zion National Park is a dream come true. With its red cliff faces and that distinct Westworld beauty, it’s picturesque every day and from every angle. A five-hour drive from Utah’s Salt Lake City or two-and-a-half from Vegas, Zion is the road trip stop most people didn’t know they needed to make.
When it comes to American national parks, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon have long held the top spots most tourists’ must-visit lists. But, in recent years, Zion has become so popular that there very serious conversations being had about whether an online reservation system to just visit the park is needed. It’s just that good.
Before You Arrive
Peak season at the park runs from March through October, so if you’re planning to visit at these times, you’ll need to be pretty organised. Car parks are usually completely full by 10am, which is when vehicles start getting turned away, so plan your trip carefully. Don’t assume you’ll be able to rock up at any time and get a spot.
If you plan on camping inside the park – which comes very highly recommended – it’s smart to make a reservation as soon as you have your travel dates locked in. There are three campsites in Zion, but the Watchman Campground is the only site where you can reserve a spot.
The nearby South Campground fills up quickly each morning, with cars lining up from sunrise with no guarantee of a place. The park’s third campground, Lava Point Campground is a one-hour drive away from Zion canyon and only homes six sites that are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you do plan on camping bring food, water, firewood, and your comfiest hiking shoes.
Finding Your Way There
There are two visitor centres inside the park: one inside the south entrance and another at the west entrance. If you plan on camping at the South Campground, head to the south entrance, stopping in the small town of Springdale on your way to grab any last-minute supplies.
Springdale is a six-minute drive from the campsite and has a small grocer, ice-cream shop, and a pub (ie, all the essentials). If you happen to miss out on a campsite inside the park, there are also a number of RV parks around town that generally have space for last-minute campers.
If camping just isn’t your thing at all, there are also a number of hotels in Springdale, but be warned: they book out fast, too.
Hikes And Trails
If you hate hiking, stop reading now (and read this instead). But if you love it, you’re going to absolutely love Zion.
Angel’s Landing has got to be one of the world’s most-photographed hikes. The 8km trail will take you about four hours to complete, depending how many photos you stop for along the way, and whether or not anyone in your group has a paralysing fear of heights. The final section of the walk takes you along a thin, steep ridge with nothing but cliff face on either side.
If you’re looking to take a long hike that feels a little less life-threatening, a visit to Observation Point via the East Rim Trail is an A+ option. The walk will take you about six hours, but includes a walk through Echo Canyon and finishes with an incredible view of Zion Canyon from above. Just remember to leave early, and pack snacks to enjoy while you give your legs a much-needed rest at the top.
There are also shorter walks for the less ambitious. The Weeping Rock Trail is less than a kilometre long and leads to – you guessed it – a weeping rock that’s definitely worth checking out. Alternatively, the popular Watchman Trail takes around two hours to finish and still provides top-notch views of the canyon.
Zion is huge, but, thankfully, there’s a shuttle bus service within the park, dropping off visitors to different locations depending on what they want to see and do.
Most of the routes inside Zion canyon are not recommended for inexperienced climbers and, for the same reason, the park is wildly popular within the rock climbing community. Between March and May, and September through November are the best times of year to climb, when it’s not too hot and there’s less likelihood of rain.
However, if you have plans to climb, it’s worth checking online before arrival as routes close throughout the year to due to the nesting of the endangered Peregrine Falcons.
(Lead image: Matt Machin / Flickr)