Saturday, November 22, 2008

Road Trip 2008: Zion NP

Second stop during our road trip was Zion NP. I knew what to expect from it, as I already visited it during Thanksgiving in 2006.

This second visit was somehow much more enjoyable than the first one. I am not really sure why. I guess several small things contributed to it. First, weather was better this time: it was warm and sunny, but not too hot, for most of the time. Thanks to it, Agnieszka and I could camp, which I almost always find more enjoyable than staying at a hotel/motel/lodge. The previous time, Jochen and I had to sleep in the lodge outside the park as it was already pretty cold then. Moreover, somehow I did not mind all the tourists this time. I guess, by now, I got used to US parks being overcrowded...

However, it is also possible that a shuttle system put into place by Zion NP authorities contributed positively to my experience. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive leading inside the canyon, is not accessible to private vehicles (unless you have a special permit). That means that to see the canyon you either need to hike or take a free shuttle. Thanks to it, your experience of the pristine beauty of the canyon is not spoiled by thousands of cars moving around you in all possible directions.

During this trip, Agieszka and I spent two days inside the park. On the first day, we drove along stunning Zion-Mount Camel Highway stopping at several vista points. Later in the afternoon, we took the shuttle into the canyon and we went for several short hikes (Riverside Walk leading to The Narrows and a trail leading to Weeping Rock). Whereas on the second day, we went for a slightly longer hike to famous Angels Landing that offers spectacular views of Zion NP.

As I already hiked Angels Landing the previous time I visited Zion, I preferred to hike Hidden Canyon trail or part of The Narrows. We decide against hiking either of them, as Agnieszka felt that they might have been too difficult for us, and I did not want to push her into doing something she did not feel fully comfortable with. As much as regret not hiking those trails, I am also a bit happy about it, as it means that I still have at least two reasons to visit Zion NP in the future :)

Practical info:

1. There are two campgrounds and one lodge within the park. They fill up quickly, so book as soon as you know your travel dates. If you do not manage to get a place there, there are also many accommodation options in Springdale (from where you can even take a free shuttle to the park) and other nearby cities. If you stay at one of the campgrounds, be aware that there are no showers, though for a small fee you can take a shower at one of the hotels in Springdale.

2. There are so many things that you can do in Zion NP, that I would think you should plan to spend there at least 2-3 days. There are several half-day hiking trails there, but it is also possible to go for longer hike there, e.g. into The Narrows. This hike can take anything between 1 to 4 days.

3. The best time to visit is probably early spring or late autumn. During summer months it gets incredibly hot there, whereas during winter months nights get very cold and sleeping in a tent then is probably not the best idea.

The Great Arch is clearly visible from multiple vista points on Zion-Mount Camel Highway:

Typical scenery of Zion canyon:

Checkboard Mesa:

Beginning of The Narrows trail:

Me, on the trail to Angels Landing:

Scout's Outlook on the way to Angels' Landing:

View from Angels Landing trail into Zion canyon:

Beautiful Virgin river:

Court of The Patriarchs: