June 18-19, 2014
Without a cloud in the sky, our second destination on Road Trip USA: Summer 2014 was hot but breathtakingly beautiful (and also quite appropriately named). Zion — or “the promised land” — is a large National Park in Utah home to the popular Zion Canyon, an expanse surrounded by sandstone and limestone formations tall enough to almost entirely shade the valley below by early afternoon.
A FANTASTIC SHUTTLE SYSTEM
During the busy summer season, the park mandates free shuttle usage to access Zion Canyon, the popular section of the park. It’s quite convenient, not having to worry about driving, and we found the shuttle staff to be friendly and happy to answer questions.
If you’re arriving in the afternoon, it’s recommended that you park just outside the park in Springdale and take the free shuttle into the park. There’s parking available at the Visitor Center, though the lot is usually full by mid morning. More about the shuttle here.
HIKING IN ZION NATIONAL PARK
Though some hikes require permits due to high popularity, the most astonishing view I saw on our entire road trip was from the Angels Landing hike at Zion National Park (no permit required).
We had paid $5 to enter a “Last Minute Drawing” lottery to hike The Subway, a hike to beautiful pools in the Left Fork of North Creek. (Do a Google image search of ‘The Subway Zion,’ and you’ll see why we wanted to do this hike.) But after receiving our email notification that we weren’t selected, we opted instead for the craziest hike I’ve ever done in my life. There may not have been emerald pools awaiting us at the end, but the view was spectacular and the hike, itself, thrilling.
ANGELS LANDING: THE CRAZIEST HIKE OF MY LIFE
Who would want to try a 5.4 mile 4-hour hike with with this description: “Long drop-offs. Not for young children or anyone fearful of heights. Last section is a route along a steep, narrow ridge to the summit.”?
Oh, and with this icon printed next to it on the map:
Well, as it turns out, we did! Ian had done the hike before in high school (with only vague memories of the hike being too scary for some of his classmates to consider completing), so we figured we’d give it a shot. We road the shuttle up to The Grotto, the starting point for the Angels Landing hike, and began the ascent around 4pm.
The first 1-1.5 hours of the hike is quite steep, but not very scary. There ARE drop-offs, but you’ve got a big rock on one side for this part of the hike, and the walkway is paved and practically the size of an airplane runway in comparison to what you’ll teeter across at the top. So if you’re too scared for the crazy part at the end, you can still get a great view hiking up to Scouts Landing. Then you just turn around and head back down the way you came.
Don’t Look Down
Though I have a mild fear of heights, we started the hike knowing we could turn around at Scouts Landing if it looked too scary beyond that point. When we made it to Scouts Landing, we actually went for it without much hesitation.
This part starts with a somewhat steep chain-grabbing portion up the side of the sandstone to get up onto the ridge, with a huge drop-off on your right side. But you can lean in and keep your body close to the sandstone while also holding onto the chain to pull yourself up, so this part isn’t really too bad as long as you’re in good physical shape.
About 10-15 minutes into the “long drop-offs” part (where you’ve got massive sandstone to safely lean into on one side), you get to the “along a steep, narrow ridge” part with a slightly intimidating-looking descent ahead in your path before a steep climb to the summit. Here, we hesitated, along with some other hikers.
We snapped a few photos at this point (above) and considered turning around, but as other hikers returning from the summit started passing us, they offered reassurance that the hike didn’t get much harder or scarier past that point. There were really only a few places where you were right smack on top of the narrow ridge, with drop-offs right and left, but you still had the chain to hold on to, and these portions only lasted for maybe 10-20 feet at a time. After about 5 minutes of consideration with a “we’ll go if they go” sort of mentality amongst the hesitant hikers, we put our cameras away and set out for the summit.
Angels Landing Summit
It was worth it. We were at the top in maybe 20 minutes and then spent at least another 20 hanging around on the landing to enjoy the 360-degree view and take plenty of pictures.
And Then Back Down
And then we just had to do the whole hike backwards, which we did in a short enough time to just barely make it on the last shuttle down to the Visitor Center.
CAMPING IN AND AROUND ZION NATIONAL PARK
We discovered it’s pretty difficult (perhaps ‘impossible’ is a better term) to find camping space in the park during the summer without a reservation. Both days when we arrived (once at 3pm and once at 10am), the first come first served campgrounds were already full. If you’re searching for alternative lodging, it’ll be tricky to find anything in Springdale without a reservation, especially for under $100. When we found that all the local campgrounds were also full, we ended up driving back to Hurricane to tent camp at an RV park on the first night.
Check the Zion National Park camping page for more info and a list of some alternative places to check if the park is full.
DRIVING THROUGH THE PARK
If you don’t have much time to see the park, you do have the option of driving through, though you won’t be able to drive on the popular Zion Canyon Scenic Drive from May through October.
Though you can drive yourself through part of the park, I highly recommend stopping and taking the shuttle ride along the scenic drive if you have time. On our second day in Zion, we drove through the park, from the South Entrance up to Canyon Junction and then out the East Entrance.
ABOUT ROAD TRIP USA: SUMMER 2014
In June 2014, we spent two weeks traveling through the Western U.S. between Los Angeles, California and St. Louis, Missouri. With stops in Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Missouri, we saw some spectacular sights, including several National and State Parks, plenty of wildlife, the hike of a lifetime, and the fabulous wedding of one of my best friends since middle school.
With St. Louis (my hometown) as our final destination on our outbound trip, we spent several days in the good ol’ StL while I introduced Ian to some of my favorite people and places in St. Louis. View details about our Road Trip USA, Summer 2014, including links to posts from other places we visited along the way, here.