Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- Zion National Park
- Hiking Zion National Park
- Don't-Miss Hiking Trails at Zion
- Hiking The Narrows
- Getting to The Narrows
- Hiking the Narrows
- Rent Gear for The Narrows
- Canyoneering for Beginners
- Hire a Canyoneering Guide
- Questions to ask an Outfitter
- Recommended Itinerary for Visiting Zion National Park
- Getting to Zion National Park
- Where to Stay Near Zion
- Where to Eat in Springdale UT
Zion National Park is one of the USA’s most beautiful national parks and hikes in the park are legendary. There are hikes that work well for younger kids and newbie hikers. And then there is The Narrows, a challenging hike through the vigorous Virgin River. Zion National Park has plenty to offer anyone, starting with the stunning red rock views.
Zion National Park
Locals like to remind American citizens: You are a national park owner. National parks are supported by the American public and owners have the right to visit. Unless the park is full — which can happen quickly at Zion National Park, thanks to our Covid-19 summer. Locals will also remind you that the correct pronunciation of Zion rhymes with lion.
In 2019, 17,000 people visited Zion on Memorial Day weekend. During the same weekend in 2020, only 1,400 visited, due to the pandemic. I had planned an epic family hiking trip for my daughter’s college graduation but ever-changing Covid rules and an uneventful graduation ceremony threw too many wrenches in our plans. My family lost interest.
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Luckily I have adventurous friends. I had been visiting one of my friends in LA when the pandemic hit and I opted to quarantine with her for several weeks. When the park reopened, we packed our masks and hit the road for a long weekend. We agreed that a national park with wide open spaces would make it easy to have a socially distant vacation.
TravelingMom Tip: The National Park Service does a good job updating park access information here. Starting July 1, 2020, shuttle tickets with designated ride times will be required for all shuttle riders. The tickets will have unlimited use for 24 hours and cost $1 (non-refundable).
Hiking Zion National Park
What do you want to do at Zion? Hike? Horseback ride? Canyoneer? Fish? Bike?
My plan was to hike all day everyday.
We arrived at 6:30pm and got in a short hike along the Virgin River near the official Visitor Center in Zion National Park, then we drove Zion National Park Scenic Drive to take in the spectacular views.
There are so many hiking trails to choose from:
- Short hikes (Canyon Overlook Trail, The Grotto, Weeping Rock Trail),
- Long hikes (The Subway, Observation Point), strenuous hikes (The Narrows and West Rim Trail- top down),
- Easy hikes (Watchman Trail, Timber Creek trail),
- Hike that is good for bikes and pets (Pa’rus Trail- a paved trail).
Do your research before you go! I found this website very detailed and accurate when I was trying to figure out which were the best hikes for me and my friend. And this website has great family hiking information and terrific photos. When I visited, several trails, including Hidden Canyon trail, Echo Canyon trail and East Rim trail, were closed due to rock fall and landslides.
TravelingMom Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we're traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.
Don’t-Miss Hiking Trails at Zion
We wanted to hike the popular trails. The Narrows , Kayenta trail to the lower Emerald Pools and Angel’s Landing were at the top of our list.
Since I don’t love heights and Angel’s Landing requires hikers to hold a chain to hike the side of the mountain, I was only mildly disappointed to find the trail was closed due to not being able to social distance in that tight line. There is no net and people have fallen from that precipice. There are no rangers patrolling so a few teens/young adults jumped the barrier and hiked it anyway.
Instead, we hiked Scout’s Landing, a gorgeous observation point with substantial elevation gain (5,790′). It’s just below Angel’s Landing and a challenging uphill climb. The hike offered gorgeous views. The switchbacks and serious drop-offs make the hike challenging and rewarding. The panoramic views at the top are the ultimate reward.
Hiking The Narrows
The first question I am asked when I talk about visiting Zion is whether I hiked The Narrows, the narrowest part of Zion Canyon. Visitors can access The Narrows along the paved riverwalk (wheelchair accessible) or by hiking IN the Virgin River. The water is cold and the depth fluctuates. Flash floods happen and weather should be consulted before the trip.
I did see a few kids ages 8-12 hiking and two dads had toddlers in backpacks. Experience helps but even the inexperienced can make it through a portion of the hike. You can turn around at any point.
Getting to The Narrows
Right now, there are three ways to get to The Narrows:
Drive: This is new, thanks to the coronavirus. Cars are allowed into the park for the first time. And the hikers lined up for a parking spot! The lot was full by 6:30am, 30 minutes after the park opened. Carloads of visitors started lining at 4:30am to get in. When I visited, park shuttles had been paused so park rangers would allow in only as many cars as there were parking spaces. If your hike can wait, head to the park later in the day. Parking spaces usually open up around 4pm. Park gates close at 6 pm. If you stay in the park at Zion Lodge, the only lodging in the park, you get a head start on snagging one of the limited parking spots at the Temple of Sinawava (the starting point for The Narrows). It’s 6 miles from the Lodge.
Walk: I would have been too tired to tack on 6 miles each way to reach the Narrows, but it is possible.
Ride: Pre-Covid, there were shuttles running people up to The Narrows every 5 minutes. Under Covid rules, the shuttles were shut down completely but two companies were awarded contracts to provide rides to hikers. For $30 round trip, you can skip the 4:30am car line and get a ride from the company’s store to Temple of Sinawava, the shuttle stop for the The Narrows.
TravelingMom Tip: The National Park Service does a good job updating park access information here. Starting July 1, 2020, Park shuttle tickets with designated ride times will be required for all shuttle riders. The tickets will have unlimited use for 24 hours and cost $1 (non-refundable).
At Temple of Sinawave, there is a shaded waiting area, bathrooms and water fountain. Then, take the river walk, a one mile paved hike, to the entrance to The Narrows.
Hiking the Narrows
Hiking the Narrows is strenuous. You are hiking against the current of a fast moving river. Depths and water velocity varies daily. I consider myself a semi-experienced hiker, but hiking through the rushing current of the Virgin River was challenging. I wound up hiking The Narrows alone, which was scary at times, so I tagged along behind a group of 20 somethings so I could follow their path through the river.
The bottom of the river is all large rocks that you cannot see because the water is moving too fast. The procedure is to stick your pole out in front to test for depth, then poke around to find a “safe place” to step. I would plant the pole and use that for support against the current. If you look down too long, the fast current of the water can make you lose your balance. I had to learn to go slowly, trust myself and breathe with each step. Every time I tried to hurry, I almost fell.
TravelingMom Tip: Always plant your hiking pole downriver to provide support against the current so you don’t fall over.
The way back was WAAAY easier and took half the time. It took me 4 hours to do the 6 mile round trip hike (2 miles of the hike is on the riverside walk). Two and a half hours to go up the Narrows and 1 hour to return.
Everyone was kind and helpful. That’s just the vibe among the hikers.
Rent Gear for The Narrows
There were plenty of people braving The Narrows in shorts and hiking shoes. They all had tomato red legs from the cold. And the water was COLD! Having the right gear matters here. There are two choices near the park: Zion Outfitters and Zion Gurus, to rent the following:
Neoprene wetsuit socks. The neoprene material kept my feet warm.
Boots. These weren’t great. The boots are not leak or waterproof and a bit slippery but still a better option than hiking boots or sneakers.
Waders. There are 2 options here: bibs (from Zion Outfitters) or turtleneck (from Zion Gurus). I rented the bib waders and chose to hike just under 2 miles to Wall Street, a confluence of 2 rivers flanked by narrow canyon walls. Water got up to my chest at one point but did not fill the waders. If you plan to hike the full 10 miles, you will need the full turtleneck suit because there is one point that is 6’ deep. At that point, you will need to decide whether to let your suit fill up and then empty it later or remove it and put it back on when you dry.
Wooden hiking pole: My trekker poles are great for hiking but they would have snapped in half on my Narrows hike because of the pressure from leaning on it to navigate the boulders under the water, against the fast current of the water. The wooden pole was lightweight and much more sturdy.
TravelingMom Tip: Both outfitters offer a variety of sizes of waders to rent and gear for purchase. Zion Gurus gave me the most helpful information that helped me out on my hike like rent the wooden pole, water depth and pack more food.
Canyoneering for Beginners
Zion National Park is one of many canyon options in the area. Guided canyoneering is not allowed in Zion so if that is on your list, know that you will have to drive one hour each way to get to another canyon. I canyoneered even though I am afraid of heights. And I’m so glad I did! It was awesome, thanks to my supportive guides from Paragon Adventures, which offers a variety of ways to see the slot canyons in the area.
Before this trip, I didn’t even know that canyoneering (rappelling, hiking, swimming or biking through narrow canyons) existed. I assumed it would be like hiking through the slot canyons. That was a big part of our day, but we also navigated around pools of water and rappelled hundreds of feet. This requires gear, knowledge, and for me, not looking down.
I called ahead to chat with Todd Goss (AKA The Old Guy), the owner of Paragon Adventures, and told him of my fear of heights. He asked if I was afraid to fly. When I said I am not, he said my fear was of falling, not heights and that I would be fine, because I would be strapped in. He approached every canyon that way – matter of fact – you’re fine – which made me approach each canyon the same way.
Todd and guide Jamie, were great coaches, explaining what to expect, where to put my feet and cheering me on. The only part I didn’t like was ending. I loved it and wanted to do more. I will do more.
Hire a Canyoneering Guide
I highly recommend a guide when canyoneering. Todd knew the detailed history of the canyon and had so much experience with so many different types of outdoor lovers (and haters) that I knew I was in good hands. That was even before I learned that Paragon Adventures has a 100% safety record.
The public relations representative for #GreaterZion offered #Paragonadventures to me . I purchased a guided hike of Snow Canyon from Paragon on my own. Thanks to our guides, my friend and I, both over 50 years old, canyoneered an 80-foot repel within an hour of our first-ever canyoneering journey with Todd and Jamie. We learned about ourselves, the canyon and the process. I feel 100% confident recommending them to start you, your kids and your grandparents.
Todd has owned Paragon Adventures for 25 years and is very involved in safety, certifications and taking care of the parks. Jamie chucked her environmental law job, got engaged to Todd and now adventures full time. She is fun and has rock climbed and canyoneered (like serious canyoneering with wet suits) all over the area.
Questions to ask an Outfitter
As a newbie, wannabe canyoneer, I had a lot of questions about selecting the right outfitter. Todd gave me some good questions to ask the next time I hire a guide.
- How long have you been in business? The longer the better because they will know the area well and there will be a longer safety record to check.
- Are your guides employees or contractors? Contractors have their own rules. Employees have to follow company rules.
- Can I check your safety record with your liability company? Companies with a clean safety record should welcome the question.
Beware of Commando guiding. These guides will take you wherever you want to go but they do not have permits or insurance, which are required by the parks. They don’t charge a fee but will ask for fat gratuity. Their guise is to act like a friend taking you to a canyon so that they are not technically breaking the law.
Recommended Itinerary for Visiting Zion National Park
If you’re flying rather than driving, fly to Las Vegas, rent a car and drive 2 hours to St. George.
Spend 2-3 nights in Saint George, Utah: This is the place for canyoneering. Take a day hike to Snow Canyon and don’t miss a chance to take the family to Red Hill Desert Garden. It’s full of endangered fish, brilliant red rocks and garden flowers. My black thumb and I never knew a desert garden could be so beautiful. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s FREE.
Spend 2-3 nights in Springdale, Utah: About an hour from St. George, Springdale was our home for our visit to Zion. If you have the energy, hike The Narrows and the Emerald Pools trail.
The ratings on the Zion National Park maps (easy, strenuous, etc.) are accurate. It’s all beautiful.
Getting to Zion National Park
Although it’s only 160 miles, the drive from Los Angeles to Springdale took us 7 hours. We straggled a little en route because we wanted to see what Las Vegas looked like Covid-empty. The drive is long and flat but easy, with speed limits that hit 80mph in Utah.
Vegas is the largest nearby airport. Rent a car there and drive the 2 hours to Saint George, the biggest town close to Zion. There also is a small airport in Saint George, with a few flights each day. You will find large box stores, a large selection of restaurants. (The Painted Pony was recommended to us several times).
Where to Stay Near Zion
We stayed at Springhill Suites in Springdale, Utah, less than 1 mile from the entrance to Zion. The hotel has an interior corridor, free breakfast, pool (NOTE: pool doesn’t open until 1pm on Sundays) and firepit. All of Main Street is surrounded by the ginormous mountains so I think that most of the hotels, restaurants and B&Bs along that street offered great mountain views.
Our queen suite was spacious enough for a family of 4 with teens. Thanks to a sofabed, we could have squeezed all 5 of my family in. However, now that my kids are young adults, I would recommend adjoining rooms. Not just for privacy but for a good night of rest. A good night’s rest is important to fuel all of the activities available. There was no kitchenette. Breakfast, which is included, was grab and go. Some guests gathered around the firepit outside and several took advantage of the pool. I did not see anyone using the gym.
Where to Eat in Springdale UT
Restaurants were just starting to open up In Springdale. Everyone suggested Oscar’s, but we never made it because the line was always so long. We did enjoy a lovely BLT on the patio at Cafe Soleil and Sol Market has a lot of terrific healthy quick meal options plus a deli. Bit and Spur got our order wrong and didn’t offer to fix it. Instead, the workers suggested we pick out the offending items in the food (onion pieces) that we had asked them not to include.