Zion National Park Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Zion National Park

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    Emerald Pools

    by goodfish Updated Mar 4, 2015

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    Trails to the Emerald Pools are some of the most heavily traveled in the park, and not what we’d planned do again but with a heavy weather/flooding threat scratching the itinerary, what the heck: it’s a nice hike.

    There are three of them: lower, middle and upper, and you can choose to do as as many or few of them as you have time/energy/ability for. We combined all three plus two more - Kayenta and Grotto - for a 3+ mile loop:

    Starting at Zion Lodge, head towards the river, cross the pedestrian bridge and follow the signs to (easy) Lower Emerald. Follow the paved path approx. .6 mile to an alcove where, depending on recent rainfall, a waterfall cascades into the pool. At this point you can return the way you came, continue on to the (moderate/easy) Kayenta trail, or upwards to (moderate) Middle and Upper pools.

    Middle Pool trail (unpaved; moderate) passes behind the waterfall, climbs steeply upwards .2 miles to the top of the alcove above the Lower Pool, and across shallow little streams which spill over the edge.

    Upper Pool trail (unpaved;moderate) rises .3 miles to the largest of the pools. From here you have to backtrack the way you came, or to the junction leading off to the Kayenta Trail - which we did, and recommend as it provides some impressive views as it descends back into the canyon. From the end of that trail, you may return to the lodge .5 miles on the flat, easy Grotto trail, or jump a bus at the Grotto shuttle stop.

    A couple things to know:

    • This route may also be done in reverse

    • No swimming or wading is allowed in the pools

    • Sections of trail can be exposed and hot during the summer.

    • Areas which are damp or have water flowing over them can be very slippery!

    http://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/upload/HikingGuide2014.pdf

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    Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

    by goodfish Updated Mar 4, 2015

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    From mid-March to the end of October, shuttles are just about the only traffic on this road winding through the bottom of the canyon. They make nine scheduled stops, and provide audio narration about some of the dramatic formations to be seen along the way: The Sentinel, Court of the Patriarchs, Towers of the Virgin, the Great White Throne, and that majestic icon of Zion, The Watchman, to name a few.

    I’ll recommend giving yourself enough time so that you can see them at different times of the day as they change colors and appearance with the direction of the sun!

    During the winter months, when the shuttles don’t run, you’re allowed to drive through the canyon yourself. We more often just hike from one location to another along the road, picking up trails where possible, and using the shuttles on occasion.

    http://www.nps.gov/zion/parknews/newspaper.htm

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    Zion - Mt. Carmel Scenic Byway

    by goodfish Updated Mar 4, 2015

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    We’ve probably been over this thing four or five times and it never ceases to amaze!

    Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (also Highway 9) was an engineering miracle when it was built in 1927-1930, and is the high-drama route for entering/exiting the park. You’re most likely to travel this way if coming from or going to Page, Kanab, Bryce, Grand Canyon North Rim or other points east but it’s a terrific to-do for anyone visiting Zion with their own wheels.

    At Mt. Carmel Junction on 89, head west on 9 about 12 miles to the park’s east entrance gate. For the next 12 miles you’ll descend into Zion Canyon amid a stunning landscape of majestic monoliths, mesas and interesting formations in gorgeous sunset colors and fascinating textures. The road involves six switchbacks, two tunnels - one of which is over a mile in length (see my Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel review if driving an RV or other oversized vehicle) - and there are a few pull-offs along the way. Trailheads for strenuous East Rim (connections to Cable and Deertrap Mountains) and popular Canyon Overlook are also along this route.

    There are some long drop-offs so if you have an extreme fear of heights you might want to choose the south entrance instead, although that’s a long way around if coming from the east. My Other Half is not wild about drop-offs but did just fine driving this route in either direction so chances are that you will too.

    You will end up at Zion Canyon Junction where you’ll take a left to the Visitor Center, campgrounds, south entrance and town of Springdale. To the right is Zion Canyon Scenic drive; closed to private vehicles from roughly mid- March to end of October. You can, of course, reverse my directions and drive up out of the canyon as well.

    Good things to know:

    • You will need to pay the entry fee or have an annual pass to go this route, even if you don't intend to spend time at the park

    • There is very little shoulder, and parking is allowed only in designated spots

    • Backups are common due to the oversized vehicle restrictions in Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. Be prepared for some long waits, especially during high season and on nice spring/fall weekends.

    • Never stop or slow to take pictures in the tunnel (there are openings in the walls with some killer views)

    • Pedestrians and bicyclists are not allowed in the tunnel

    • Again, reference the information on tunnel procedures and fees for oversized vehicles!!

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    Riverside Walk

    by goodfish Updated Nov 15, 2014

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    Ah, they got this one right; a “walk” is exactly what it is! This is a sweet, 1-mile (2 RT) paved promenade above the river, deep between the canyon walls. Along the way are hanging “gardens” of lush, green ferns and mosses which grow out of “weeping" fractures in the rock. Here, the river bubbles musically over stones and little waterfalls, and sandy beaches alongside tranquil pools invite wading on hot summer days: wear your swimsuit and pack your water shoes!

    It is handicapped accessible, and doubles as the trailhead for hikers heading into the Narrows so it’s also very busy much of the day; if you’re looking to have more of it to yourselves, do this one early in the morning or in the evenings. Otherwise, it's a terrific activity for families with young children or visitors with mobility challenges any time at all.

    NOTE: the river will rise very quickly and become dangerously fast, muddy and debris-filled during or after heavy rain so this is not a good time to wander off the path.

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    Zion Canyon Village

    by goodfish Written Nov 15, 2014

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    If you are using the free Springdale town shuttles to access the park, you’ll be walking through this cluster of tourist services located just outside south pedestrian entrance. While not on park property, the market here is convenient to the campgrounds for restocking supplies, or for picking up fixings for a picnic at The Grotto.

    Additionally, there’s a small outfitter offering showers, bike, tube and Narrows equipment rentals, a gift shop, theater and craft-brew pub restaurant.

    Again, while it’s right at the entrance to the park, it is OUTSIDE of the pedestrian gate so please see my “Entry Pass Hairball” info if you are camping or visiting as a group on a shared vehicle entry pass!!

    Here is the general website for the Village:

    http://zioncanyonvillage.com/zion-national-park/

    And here are some individual websites for some of the businesses:
    http://zionoutfitter.com/river-tubing/

    http://toaquimsvillage.com

    https://www.facebook.com/ZionCanyonBrewPub

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    Zion Human History Museum

    by goodfish Updated Nov 14, 2014

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    Here’s something to do on a very rainy day.

    This is a nice little museum that doesn’t talk about the obvious geology but about the people who’ve lived in the canyon. From ancient indigenous to pioneer to present day era, the history of Zion's occupation and development is told through artifacts, photos and other displays, plus there’s a film that provides some nice information about the park.

    It's on the second shuttle stop, after the Visitor Center, and is a great place to hop onto the Pa’rus Trail for a scenic walk to the next shuttle stop at Canyon Junction (take some nice snaps from the bridge!) or back the other way to the Visitor Center. The museum is free, and hours vary seasonally so see this page for current information:

    http://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/hours.htm

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    Angels Landing

    by goodfish Updated Nov 12, 2014

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    Along with the Narrows, this is Zion’s premier hike, and the one which sells a lot of “I survived Angels Landing” t-shirts. I haven’t done this one yet so I’m not going to tell you that it’s ridiculously dangerous so don’t even think about it, or that it’s possibly one of the best hikes you’ll ever do. Nope. We had some time and weather complications plus a few other factors to weigh so it’s still on the list.

    This review is simply to encourage you to do your homework before taking it on:

    • Know your abilities. If you are afraid of heights, suffer from vertigo or are not in any sort of shape to make a strenuous, several-mile climb, this is probably not for you.

    • Read firsthand accounts from other hikers, and take a look at footage taken by some of them of the most difficult (for most people) 1/2 mile. There’s a lot out there on youtube: here’s just one example:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILFpA4wv9EQ

    • Consider the sorts of treks you prefer. For instance, we are fans of relative solitude and quiet, and don't enjoy hiking in a crowd? Depending on season and time of day, Angels is a freeway of humanity and probably not something we’d enjoy. Frankly, safety issues created by the inexperienced, the panic stricken, the improperly equipped, the foolhardy or those simply lacking polite patience on (what should be) one-way chains or tight spots concern me more than the 1,400 ft drops.

    • If hiking with friends or family, respect their feelings as well. If they choose to end their hike at Scout Lookout and skip that last 1/2 mile, support their decision. Shaming or teasing a hysterical child or terrified adult into doing something they’re not comfortable with just increases the risk of an accident. My DL is not at all steady with extreme heights so if I get the chance to do it, I know I’ll be going it alone, and making my own decision at the Lookout...which promises views spectacular enough to cheerfully call it a day should the knees go wobbly!

    • Lastly, give it a miss if it’s wet, icy, very windy or there are storms in the forecast

    While there have been multiple fatalities on this trail, those numbers are fractional when you consider the millions who’ve made the climb it since it was constructed in 1926. I’ll stop short of calling it “safe” but it’s done daily by juniors, seniors and everyone in between - which generates a lot of income in t-shirt sales!

    Maybe I’ll have my own someday?

    http://www.utah.com/nationalparks/zion/angels_landing.htm
    http://www.sltrib.com/blogs/hiking/1383502-155/landing-angels-hike-chain-hikers-shouldn

    It's waaaay up on top Zoom of the Landing Trailhead sign
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    Grotto Trail

    by goodfish Updated Nov 11, 2014

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    This little half-miler is a walk in the park. :O)

    Unpaved but easy, it’s a connector between Zion Lodge and Kayenta, Emerald Pools and Bright Angel Trails, and runs through the canyon’s picnic area. This area was the park’s campground back in the1920’s, and several historic structures from that era, built in a "National Park Service Rustic” style first popularized by Mary Jane Colter, still dot the landscape. It is a cool and shady oasis on a hot day, and a great spot for a backpack or take-out lunch from the lodge’s Castle Dome Cafe.

    There are some impressive views of Angel’s Landing at the trailhead near the Grotto shuttle stop, and deer, turkey and other wildlife are frequent visitors!

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    Pa’rus Trail

    by goodfish Written Nov 11, 2014

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    To call it a “trail” is a bit of a stretch for this paved, level route between the Visitor Center and Zion Canyon Junction. It’s really more of a wide sidewalk which meanders beside the Virgin River, across several bridges, along the South Campgrounds, and has a spur off to the Human History Museum. It’s the only path in the park which welcomes 4-legged friends (leashed), and is also wheelchair accessible. Bikers and hikers use it as an alternative to the shuttles, and the scenery is well worth skipping the bus ride as you pass by the Sentinel, Towers of the Virgin, Streaked Wall and other fantastic formations.

    Pa’rus - the Paiute word for “tumbling water” - is about 1.8 miles in length, and shuttles can be jumped at either end or at the History Museum, which is around the halfway point. Heading north, bikers and hikers may also just continue on along the scenic drive another 6 miles to Temple of Sinawava (hikers can go another mile to the end of Riverside Walk) or points in between.

    From the Visitor Center, it’s an easy walk/pedal into Springdale, as we did most of the time.

    Extra tip: The bridge at Zion Canyon Junction and spots along this trail are great places for sunset snaps of The Watchman. The weather didn’t exactly cooperate but that’s where I took my intro page shot on the best of three cloudy evenings.

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    Kayenta Trail

    by goodfish Written Nov 11, 2014

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    I mentioned this in my Emerald Pools review as it's the route we took down on our loop hike. This one-mile path (one way) from the pools is a honey with gorgeous views of the canyon as you descend...or rise, if going up to the pools from the opposite direction. At the bottom, you may either connect with the Grotto or the trail to Angel’s Landing. The park gives this a “moderate" rating because of an uneven surface and long, unprotected drop-offs but it’s not difficult, and is a nice choice for anyone looking for maximum impact without a ton of effort.

    Like many of the shots from this trip, clouds or threatening weather intervened so they’re not up to par: it’s much prettier than this!

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    Canyon Overlook Trail

    by goodfish Updated Nov 9, 2014

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    This is a nice little hike which rewards with stupendous views of Pine Creek and Zion Canyons. The trailhead is just before the east entrance of the Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel, and involves a steep initial climb up steps carved out the stone cliff to a ledge which follows along Pine Creek Canyon, through a shady alcove and over slickrock, to the overlook at the end.

    At the overlook, there is signage which points out some of the notable formations, and you get a good look at the Zion-Mt Carmel highway as it switchbacks down into Zion Canyon.

    It’s a good activity for families and those lacking the stamina for longer treks. Some, but not all, of the ridge is protected with metal railings, as is the overlook but drop-offs are long so if those bother you, this may not be your cuppa tea.

    Coming from the east, look for the parking area on the right (there are likely to be cars there) before the tunnel entrance, from which it’s a short walk west along the road to the trailhead. If coming from the west, a parking area will be to your right on the far side of the tunnel, from which you’ll need to (CAREFULLY!) cross the road near the kiosk for the tunnel’s traffic control. If you miss either of these or the small parking lots are full, you can’t turn around; continue through the tunnel (going east) or down the road some miles to reach a spot where it’s safe to do that (going west).

    You can take a nice virtual hike of this one here:

    http://www.bumbleberry.com/hiking-canyon-overlook-trail-video/

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    Southgate Petroglyphs

    by goodfish Written Nov 6, 2014

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    As isolated as it was for a long, long time, ancient indigenous groups hunted, gathered, grew crops and made their homes in Zion for 10,000 - 12,000 years. And like other aboriginal people who left traces of their presence on mesa tops, in protective rock alcoves and hidden canyons all across the American Southwest, they left those here as well.

    On a very large rock near the south entrance are a few images which were pecked into the surface over a millennium ago. The NPS doesn't provide an estimate of age, only that they could be anywhere from 1,000 to 7,000 years old. They also don’t know exactly what they mean but that some may be summer solstice markers.

    The stone has been rather sadly nicknamed “Sacrifice Rock” as it’s been badly vandalized. Close proximity to the road and nearby campground makes it vulnerable to defacing so the park doesn’t highlight its location. There is a small panel mounted near the boulder which has a few lines about the sacredness of “rock art” to the descendants of the Ancestors, and why it’s important not to touch them.

    There are many other petroglyph sites within the park but most are more remote, are off-limits to hikers, and/or their locations are not disclosed to protect them from similar abuse. If you ask the rangers at the Visitor Center, they’ll provide directions and a pamphlet about this one.

    The rock is in this photo
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    Zion Canyon Visitor Center

    by goodfish Written Nov 4, 2014

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    This is the ‘main' center (there’s another at Kolob Canyons) and the best place to begin a visit to Zion Canyon. Here you can talk to the rangers about best activities for your day, check weather reports before hiking the Narrows or remote trails, get info/permits at the backcountry desk, cruise exhibits, pick up a souvenir, and hop a free park shuttle to points of interest and trailheads on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which is closed to private vehicles at certain times of the year.

    While there is parking, the lot fills up very quickly during the busy season so it’s often easier to ditch the car in Springdale and take the free town shuttles to the pedestrian entrance. From here, it’s a short distance to the Visitor Center at which you’ll then switch to one of the park shuttles to get around. If you’re a walker, it’s entirely possible to get here on foot from Springdale hotels closer to the park entrance - as we did several times.

    The center is beyond the pedestrian and south entrance gates so you’ll need to purchase your park pass at either one of those to access the building. It's open all year but hours vary by season:

    http://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/hours.htm

    Note: if you are a group sharing one vehicle entry pass, see my review on walking in and out of the park!

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    Zion Adventure Company

    by goodfish Updated Nov 3, 2014

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    They were the first to outfit hikers for The Narrows, and the first in Southern Utah to provide guided rock climbing and canyoneering adventures. Nearly twenty years after their humble beginnings in a small shack, Zion Adventure Company is now one the premier outfitters and guide services in the country, and the trusted go-to place for big fun in this part of canyon country. Photography workshops; instruction in canyoneering, slickrock biking, backpacking and rock climbing; trailhead shuttle services; overland tours; tubing packages; rental equipment of all kinds…and a terrific staff besides.

    I’ll concentrate on the Narrows as this is what we used them for. One of the NPS rangers recommended renting the basic equipment package from them (canyoneering boots, neoprene socks and walking sticks) and we were really glad we did. All of this is designed to keep you upright on a rocky, slippery river bottom, and your feet warm - if not dry - during hours in the water. Wet and dry suits can also be rented for cooler air/water temps but it was warm enough when we did it not to need them. We added a dry pack to the pile for the camera and anything else we wanted to keep out of the water in case of a spill, or deep enough spots to have to swim.

    Along with your equipment, you'll also see a short film on slot canyon safety and what to look for which may indicate big trouble coming your way: get out NOW. They have a constant pulse on the regional weather, river temps/flow rate, and will refuse rentals when it’s unsafe to make the hike. Listen up and find something else to do if this is the case, OK? The Narrows - as is true with any slot canyon - is one lousy place to be in a flash flood, and you’re likely not to survive one.

    They’re in the know about local trail and backroad conditions too so stop in and see ‘em. Yep, they had to ixnay all of our big plans on trip #2 because of heavy weather coming our way. Disappointed as we were, it was nice that they cared more for our skins than making a buck.

    Extra tip: if the Narrows is in your plans, see if you can rent your equipment the evening before, although much of what is returned that day may still need cleaning/drying so may not be available. Should you get lucky, having it at hand will allow you to get into the river early, before it gets busy. Waiting until they open at 8:00 (with other people doing the same), fitting your socks/boots, seeing the film and then getting to the trailhead eats up time.

    http://www.zionadventures.com

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    The Narrows

    by goodfish Updated Nov 2, 2014

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    This is a not-to-be-missed experience hiking in the Virgin River to a slot canyon only 20-30 feet wide but up to 2000 feet deep. There are 3 ways to to this but I'll focus on just the bottom-up day-hike option from Zion Canyon as the top-down version from Chamberlain's Ranch is a 12-miler that requires a permit, shuttles, and sometimes overnight camping.

    Enter the Virgin at the end of Riverside Walk (see that tip) and wade upriver. It's a couple of hours to a breathtaking narrowing of the canyon, and 4 hours to the (mandatory) turnaround at Big Springs (10 miles, RT). You'll be walking with the current on the return trip so coming back doesn't take as long. Water depth will vary: you might have to swim a couple of spots during a wet season.

    For a shorter hike, go as far as Orderville Canyon and back: 5 miles RT.

    I'll advise getting into the river early in the day to enjoy some solitude; The Narrows are best enjoyed quietly and without a crowd. If you do run into others, it's a good time to trade photo-opportunities but then give each other some distance. Wear clothing that dries quickly, pack water, snacks, first-aid kit, etc. and please leave no trace.

    Zion Adventure Company in Springdale has all the right stuff for this thing: for a reasonable price they will rent you sturdy boots, thermal liners (to keep your feet warm) walking sticks and waterproof pouches for supplies. They will also give you the run-down on how to anticipate a flash flood before it happens. Being comfortable can make or break the experience, trust me, and our own boots stayed dry for the next day's hiking. Gotta love it.

    NEVER attempt this without checking into the Visitor Center or Zion Adventure Company for weather conditions as even if it's dry in the park, a storm upstream can create flash flooding. And for pete's sake don't try this barefoot either (as I saw some clueless, pained-looking tourists try to do). The river is rocky, slippery, chilly, and has a stiff current: good place to turn an ankle.
    This hike is only recommended for mid-to-late summer and fall (best time is Sept/Oct) when temperatures are warmer, and water level/flow tends to be lowest.

    Honestly, this is one of the best hikes in the park: a gotta-do!

    http://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/narrowsbottomup.htm

    Trailhead, The Narrows, Zion
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Zion National Park Things to Do

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