When early Mormon settlers arrived in the area now known as Zion National Park, they called it “Zion”– the heavenly city – because of its inspirational beauty and cathedral like stone canyons that frame the park. We are always surprised by how beautiful each national Park is in it’s own right, but we were especially taken aback by the beauty of Zion. Here we were really in nature, experiencing it and feeling it. It’s just what we needed.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Use the Park Shuttle! March to October, cars are not permitted to drive through Zion. The shuttle is free, fast, and easy. I usually don’t use the shuttle getting around the parks visited, but I was pleasantly surprised at the timing and comfort. The windows are huge, so you can enjoy the scenery while listening to the audio narrator tell you about the park sites as you pass. The shuttle stops at every stop every 15 minutes or less; and all of the stops are clearly marked on the Park map provided at the Visitors Center.
Zion National Park is roughly 3 hours from Las Vegas, 7 hours from Los Angeles and 11 hours from San Francisco. Going there can seem a bit out of the way, but you can pair it with trips exploring nearby National Parks: Bryce, Death Valley, Joshua Tree National Park, or Mojave Preserve.
Where We Stayed
There are a few places to stay near Zion National Park that are economical. We stayed in Super 8 in Hurricane,UT; about a 30 minute drive from the hotel to the park’s Visitor Center. Springdale is more popular and closer with visitors, but it was much more costly to save us 20 minutes worth of driving. The room was average, clean, and well maintained.
They serve warm breakfast with the standard waffle fair and there was a wonderful pool with a shaded area for the parents that don’t want to swim, but the kids do.
What We Saw
The Riverside Walk is a popular trail with people of all ages. Take the shuttle to the end of the route and stop at the Temple of Sinawava (#9). The trail travels along the Virgin River and leads to the beginning of the famous Narrows hike. The Riverside walk is popular because the trail only gains a few feet in elevation over the 2-mile, out and back. The trail is accessible for the first 0.5 mile before the trail becomes gravely and sandy. The incline can increase in some cases up to 20% so you can hike part of the trail, and turn around if you want too. You can also at any time, get off the trail and dip in the river to cool off.
If you keep going you’ll find yourself in the Narrows.
The Narrows was not something we planned on extensively doing this trip. My mother who has balance issues, a nephew who is light as a feather and under 4 ft tall, and I, being 7 months pregnant didn’t think it was safe to hike the Narrows this summer. But after a lot of research on our situations, and feeling confident in our plan, we decided to go for it. Many bloggers and visitors suggest that only the athletic should attempt the Narrows and/or special gear was needed to hike: hiking poles, neoprene clothes, etc… but that is not the case for us who were going doing to dip our toes in the adventure before us.
We decided we couldn’t miss out on this opportunity so we decided to hike out to the beginning part of the Narrows and go as far as we could go. I did bring water shoes and a walking stick to help, but we went about .5 mile into the Narrows to Mystery Falls before we tired out and decided to turn around. This was the spot where a lot of families with children turned around as well. The water that far out only was about knee height; so we felt safe and didn’t have to fight against the current. I was able to stop and take pictures, taking my time and really enjoy the scenery. When going through the Narrows, keep your eyes forward and use your feet to feel for a steady standing spot before moving forward, looking down in the moving water can create a dizzying affect making your more likely to misstep and fall.
I absolutely suggest renting gear and going further if your heath can stand it. The Narrows is an experience you cannot miss. While I wish I could have gone further, it was pretty cool being the only pregnant woman out there attempting the Narrows even a little bit.
Total Time: 4 hours
Tips for the Narrows
- Best time to visit, especially pregnant or with smaller children is between June – September. By that time the water level is lower and the cold river feels good against the warmer weather.
- Hiking further in the Narrows means hiking against the current, make sure you have proper footwear, clothing and a stick for hiking.
- There is no out from the trail, so prepare a plan of how far you want to go before you leave. If you get tired you still have to hike back so check with your hiking party first so you all agree.
- There are toilets at the Temple of Sinawava and none afterwards, so use it before you hike.
- This may be a hike in the river, but it is still a hike. Carry water and snacks to keep your energy up.
The Lower Emerald Pool Trail
The Lower Emerald Pool Trail is a paved, 1.3-mile round trip hike with 154 feet in elevation gain. Stop at shuttle stop #5, this easy hike leads to the lower Emerald Pool. In the winter there will be a small waterfall, in the summer the waterfall may have turned into a fine mist. The trail is in the shade for much of the hike, making it a great way to escape the heat.
Please take care on this hike. While this is a great hike, cool and fairly even, there have been some deaths and incidents. Stay on the trail and away from the friendly animals, no photo opportunity is worth risking your health or life. There are also many friendly and not so friendly squirrels on this hike, please stay away from them or you might end up leaving with a not so nice memory.
Total Time: 1.5 hours
Zion Human History Museum
Since I am the kind of visitor that always wants to learn all about the National Park’s history, stopping at the Human History museum is a must. It serves as the parks traditional Visitor Center, highlighting the history and science of the park’s creation. You can watch the Zion National Park short film, interact with the exhibits, or shop a little in the small gift shop.
You’ll learn about early inhabitants of the park, how people have tried to use and develop the land, and the biggest winner: there are many rangers available for conversations and programs! The Junior Ranger Program requires attending a ranger program, so this is the perfect place to stop and build a better understanding with the area.
Total Time: 2 hours
Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
The scenic drives in Zion National Park are seriously impressive. We took the The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway (Highway 9), on our way out of Zion and headed towards Bryce. The road travels between the South and East park entrances and offers plenty of places to stop and admire the views or park for a short hike.
What We Ate
Eating within the park is limited, but is a nice experience available breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Zion Lodge Cafe
Located at Shuttle stop #5 is Zion Lodge. If you are getting off here to take the Lower Emerald Pool trail, there are spacious and clean restrooms, a cafe, a grill, and plenty of room to stretch out. You can go into the Red Rock Grill or the Castle Dome Cafe for sit down meals or quick bites to eat. The prices were incredibly friendly and the staff quick to churn out yummy food.
We ordered pizza slices, sandwiches, and drinks for our group of six and the total cost was around $22. We sat on the patio to eat, but many families were picnicking under the giant Cottonwood tree in front of the Lodge.
View All the Places We Visited in Zion National Park
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