This is the classic view of Zion National Park. It was taken at the bridge on Hwy 9 that crosses over the Virgin River. This is the view looking to the south.
The Virgin River is responsible for the sculpting of Zion Canyon and although it usually looks quite tame, it can become a dangerous torrent under severe weather conditions.
Zion is a hiker's park first and foremost, with walks to accommodate every level of hiker, with some even wheel chair accessible. The park's tour-de-force is Angel's Landing. Though we found better views from two other vantage points and even a cooler trail on one, this is one of those must do hikes if you are physically fit and not too afraid of heights. Most of the five-mile round trip hike is a relentless and boring series of switchbacks that will have you cursing your poor cardiovascular system if you haven't trained properly. We were in great shape, having just hiked out of the Grand Canyon so we were just flying up it. The middle section of the hike is called refrigerator canyon and you'll welcome the cool weather after the hot slog up. Then comes the “fun” part, the chained climb up the spine of Angel's Landing that leaves many back at the Scout's Lookout which has fair views in its own right.
Observation Point was for us the top hike in the park. This eight-mile round trip hike climbs higher than Angel's Landing and affords a more sweeping view with Angel's Landing in the foreground for perspective. There is none of the hair raising chained climbing as on the Angel's hike, but the hike itself is more varied and interesting, passing through the very beautiful Echo Canyon en route. This is actually a worthy hike in its own right if you are not going to any of the slot canyons in the southwest. You can combine this hike with Hidden Canyon if you miss those Angel's Landing chains. This is another one not suggested for those afraid of heights. We found it more fun than the actual Hidden Canyon which seemed to go on forever but we'd been hiking for quite a few hours at that point. If you want to go deeply into Hidden Canyon, it might be best to do this as a separate hike. The park suggests five hours for Observation Point so count on a bit more if combining the two hikes or if you want to linger in Echo Canyon.
The Riverside Walk is a beautiful walk that just about anyone can do. This wheelchair accessible trail mirrors the Virgin River and walks along a weeping wall which flowers for good measure. You can a great feel for the canyon as it gets more narrow as you walk down it. The end of the trail proper brings you to the infamous Narrows Trail. This “trail” takes you into the Virgin River at its most narrow. At times of low water flow, it is possible to do multi-day hikes into the narrow canyon. This is no easy undertaking and flash floods are possible at any time of year. I walked up it a few miles in September of 1995 but on our recent visit in 2008 it was much too early in the season, in May. The waters were flowing so profusely, it was forbidden to enter.
This is a short 1 mile return hike which takes you to a spectacular viewpoint of lower Zion Canyon and Pine Creek Canyon.
You will gain 163 feet in elevation along this trail, mainly by way of steps and staircases, all well guarded with handrails. At one point you will pass under a large overhanging rock, where this photo was taken.
This is the viewpoint that you will come to at the end of your short half mile hike up from the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway.
You can see in the shade of the canyon wall, the switchbacks of the highway as it exits from the one mile tunnel and descends to the Virgin River and westward into the park.
The tunnel itself is an attraction. It is 1.1 mile long and was a tremendous feat of engineering back in the 1920's when it was constructed. It was completed in three years for only three million dollars! You can view the "windows" of the tunnel from the Canyon Overlook, if you look to the the canyon walls to your left from the viewpoint.
I never use postcards in my VT pages, but we did not encounter a viewpoint of these amazing switchbacks up to Scout Lookout on the Angel's Landing Trail. You will have to enlarge the photo to get a good look at the trail. You can see in the photo how steep your ascent will be up the side of this rocky canyon wall.
Take your time and drink plenty of water, and remember the walk back down will be a breeze!
When we arrived at Zion National Park, we decided to do the Emerald Pools Trails. Well, it was getting dark, and we were tired after flying all day, so we only did part of it. We decided to do it all over again the next day. There is a trail for Lower, Middle, and Upper pools. The lower are my favorite because of the waterfalls. Imagine that....:-)
Lower - Easy; great reward
Middle - A bit more climbing involved; not as pretty
Upper - A somewhat strenuous climb over rocks that your knees will feel; very peaceful and shady area at the pool
The Watchman is a great relatively short hike into the high country with great views of the Watchman rock formation, one of Zion's symbols. This nearly three- mile round trip hike climbs almost 400 feet and is best done late afternoon, early evening for the best light on the park sentry. There was quite a wild flower display when we did it in early May and some atmospheric clouds made for an exciting wait to see if there would indeed be a sunset on the Watchman.
If you are coming from or heading to the east, you will have to travel along the scenic Zion-Mt.Carmel Highway. Even if you are not headed that way, it is worth the trip. A drive through the mile long tunnel is itself an attraction.
In the eastern section of the park, you will encounter a more rocky landscape than within the lush walls of Zion Canyon. There are many pulloffs to park your car and take a walk along the seemingly petrified red rock rivers. I love the flowing striations of the colourful rock against the blue sky.
The first stop along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive after the junction with the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway is the Court of the Patriarchs. The peaks stand high over Birch Creek and were named by Frederick Vining Fisher, a Methodist Minister in 1906. He named them for three of the most important people in the Old Testament. The mountains are (in order left to right) Abraham Peak (6890 feet), Isaac Peak (6825 feet), and Jacob Peak (6831 feet). You can hike a trail to get a closer look at the peaks or take a short, paved trail to an overlook.
We encountered this large mule deer buck only a few feet off of the path to the Emerald Pools. He was quite unconcerned by his growing audience for awhile, but then decided to take off ahead of us down the path. I can imagine those hikers coming the other way must have been surprised to see a large buck coming toward them.
We also saw alot of birdlife and chipmunks throughout the park, apparantly several mountain lions have also been spotted in Zion Canyon.
This is a fairly level, paved trail that follows the Virgin River through the narrow canyon. It is a two mile return trip and is wheelchair and stroller accessible.
From the end of this hike you can continue walking upstream through the river into Zion Narrows. If water levels are high, as it was when we were there, this trail will be closed. It may also be closed if there is a threat of rain since flash floods are a serious danger.
The Virgin River is something you kind of take for granted unless you are coming form other Utah parks that lack such a river running through it. It was not lost on the Mormons who undoubtedly settled here as much for the water as for the majestic scenery. To be honest, it is part of that majestic scenery in too. Open photo for panoramic effect.
Anyone who has looked at my other pages knows I am a strong advocate of stopping at the Visitor's Center to gather information. The Visitors Center at Zion National Park is located near the Southern Entrance by Springdale. It is a nice Visitors Center with a few interesting displays inside and outside.