Solo Road Trip: Part V – Zion National Park

In case you missed previous posts:

I wanted to do Bryce and Zion all in one post, however Zion was by far my favorite place I visited so I knew this post would get long. You’ll also notice the featured image for this post is also the featured image for the site, that’s how much I loved Zion.

Day 5 continued:

The drive between Zion and Bryce was breath taking. (I fear I’m running out of adjectives, I’m going to have to break out the thesaurus shortly). After nearly another hour and a half on the road I arrived at Zion.The park was pretty busy and it took a while to get to the visitor center and parking area as there’s a tunnel with only one lane open, which meant long wait times and backed up lines getting into the park. Zion is set up a little differently from the other parks. At Zion you have to park at the visitor center, the only vehicles allowed to enter the park are the shuttle. There are 9 shuttle stops starting at the Visitor Center and working your way to the back of the canyon. Here’s the map:

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There’s a decent amount to see at the visitor center, several small exhibits and lots of information on the park in general, but I didn’t spend much time here, I wanted to jump right into it. Same goes for the museum. I was a little limited on time and had other things I wanted to see. The Canyon Junction was the last stop before you got into the park area where only shuttles could go.

Stop #4 – Court of the Patriarchs

The Court of the Patriarchs was the first stop that I got off the shuttle to start exploring. There was a very short trail and a sign explaining the origins of the three peaks that you’re across from. The three peaks were named in 1916 by a Methodist minister after the three towering figures of the Old Testament – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

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From left to right; Abraham (6,890′), Isaac (6,825′), and Jacob (6,831′)

Stop #5 – Zion Lodge

After a brief stop at Court of the Patriarch I was off to the next stop, which was the Zion Lodge. The lodge offers a place to stay, eat, and shop. There are a few trails from this stop, including one of the longer trails, Sandy Beach Trail. It’s a 7.6 mile long horse trail that on foot takes about 5 hours to complete round trip. You get to hike across a landslide that happened back in 1995 which caused the river to wash the road away stranding over 100 people at the lodge until they could get an emergency road in place, which only took about 24 hours. I skipped this trail due to time restraints and instead did the lower and upper Emerald Pool Trails (about 2 miles). Unfortunately I couldn’t seem to get a good photo back here, but there’s a few waterfalls in a nook of the canyon that had small pools of water beneath them. From there I took the Kayenta Trail to the next stop, the Grotto.

Stop #6- The Grotto

Not much going on here other than a pretty picnic area and a trail head to get to Angel’s Landing. The view from Angel’s Landing is probably the most spectacular from the park. I’ll never get tired of this photo.

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View of Zion from Angel’s Landing

The hike can be a little nerve-racking, 6 people have died on the hike since 2002. There’s a narrow portion where there’s not much between you and the 1,200′ drop off besides a chain to hang onto. Here’s an idea of a portion of the hike (not my photo):

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“Step of Faith” at Angel’s Landing

Stop #7 – Weeping Rock

The weeping rock trail is the shortest trail in the park coming in at just a half mile. The path there is steep though. Weeping Rock is a unique feature of the park. Continuous water “weeps” out of the Weeping Rock alcove, keeping lush hanging gardens moist. The weeping is from above where Echo Canyon, one of the parks many slot canyons is located.  There are other seepage areas resulting from the “spring line” between the two rock strata, Kayenta and Navajo sandstone, but Weeping Rock is an impressive one. An impermeable shale, the Kayenta layer, makes up the floor of the slot canyon that prevents water from absorbing into the ground and forces it to find a place it can penetrate, such as at Weeping Rock. It takes a long time for the water to find its way out, the water can take as long as 1200 years to find its way out. Ferns and other plants grow on the side of the rock face.

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Stop #8 – Big Bend

Big Bend is exactly what it sounds like, its where the river bends around a rock formation. I was alone for most of my time here and I got to try out my camera on some deer that were grazing near the river.

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The best view of Big Bend is by far from Angel’s Landing:

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Stop #9 –  Temple of Sinawava

The final stop at Zion is Temple of Sinawava, which is a vertically walled, natural amphitheater nearly 3,000 feet tall. From this stop there’s a river walk, where you have a smooth, paved one mile out and back trail that takes you to the back of the canyon. The walk is beautiful and very easy. There was a beautiful large buck just laying in the brush at one point and the views of the river with the canyon reaching up over 2,000 feet just make the walk impossible to take in it’s entirety.

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At the end of the river walk you come to what is called “The Narrows”. The Narrows is the narrowest part of Zion Canyon which can get as narrow as 20 feet. Your time in The Narrows will mostly be spent walking through the Virgin River that over thousands of years has carved the canyon. From what I was told, the best time to hike The Narrows is late spring through summer as the water is warm and the water level lower. The water was too cold to make the trip back when I was there, but here’s an idea of what it looks like.

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My next trip to Zion will definitely include a trip through the Narrows. Most people hike the narrows upstream for about 2.5 miles where The Narrows meets with Orderville Canyon, however you can go as far back as 5 miles into Big Spring. Traveling into Orderville Canyon or beyond Big Spring is prohibited though.

After finishing up my hike back to the entrance of The Narrows and returning to the stop I rode the tram back to the Visitor’s Center, while on the tram ride I chatted with the “tour guide” and asked about places to eat in the town just outside of the park, Springdale. By the time I reached the visitor’s center the sun was setting over the red rocks of the canyon and I was on my way to grab a quick dinner at Zion Pizza and Noodle. By the time I finished my meal it was dark and the quickest way route to my next stop, the Grand Canyon, was back through Zion. Driving through the canyon was a little nerve-racking, but before I left the park I pulled over, got out my camera, and took this photo looking back over the canyon to the Milky Way. (Unfortunately I lost the high-res photo and this is the best one I have left).

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After my long day between Bryce and Zion National Parks I still managed to drive a little over 2 hours to spend the night in Page, AZ, my second and final time staying in a hotel on the trip. The Grand Canyon was on the agenda for the next morning.

Next Post: Solo Road Trip: Part VI – Grand Canyon

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