A Visit to Zion National Park
“Zion is my resting place forever;
in her I will dwell, for I prefer her.”
This year is the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service, and what better way to start 2016 than with a visit to one of the top-rated, most beautiful parks in the western United States?
Ian and I have been planning another natural park visit not only to satisfy our outdoor adventure cravings, but because we have a history of being pretty spontaneous and successful with last-minute-organized day trips. Zion has always been on our list, and the only time I’d ever went, I was with my parents and too young to appreciate it. The timing of the day trip to Utah was ideal, New Year’s weekend, and I had a friend with an open room in nearby Vegas. It was almost too perfect.
January/Wintertime at Zion National Park is perfect because cars are allowed to go through the historic Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, instead of having to park and take the service shuttle. Not only does it mean less people around (in the summer, Zion is packed), but more flexibility with less to carry, because everything’s already in your car. (Entry fee is $30 per vehicle, year-round). The drive around the reserve itself is fairly short, less than two hours even with stops, depending on what you want to see or hike.
On the morning of Jan. 1st, we packed our backs, and made the quick 3-hour trip from Southern California to Las Vegas, where we stayed at a friend’s place in the quiet, northern part of town. The next day, we left bright and early (perhaps we slept in a little bit, oops) for Utah. From Vegas to Utah, it’s about 2-2 & 1/2 hours (about the same drive from where we live, down to San Diego), and you pass through a whole lot of Nevada desert and a strip of canyon along Arizona, before finally arriving in sunny, fresh air Utah. On the drive up, we only made one stop, passed through the canyon alongside the Virgin River, and got into the park a little past 10am. With much of the morning already gone, we were afraid we wouldn’t get to explore as much before sunset. But despite our limited time in the park, somehow we were able to squeeze in THREE full hikes and other sights:
- The moderate–and our favorite!–Canyon Overlook Trail (which took the longest, but the scenic view was worth it),
- Drove through the tunnel along Zion-Mount Carmel Highway (take this winding, twisty road to get to the Canyon Overlook trail, just outside of the tunnel).
- Stopped at most major sites along the drive (including Weeping Rock, Temple of Sinawava/Riverside Walk/entrance to The Narrows, Angel’s Landing, and the Great White Throne–all highly suggested!).
We ended an adventure-filled day with (what else?) grub, locally-crafted beer, and live music at the Zion Canyon Brew Pub, just outside the park. Good beer, food, and hiking stories to last the whole drive home? No better way to end an epic day.
Packing for a day-trip in Zion (November – March, winter season):
– Layers. Even though it was sunnier out for January, it’s still pretty chilly, especially when hiking up the terrain. Wear a thick, multi-layered (and preferably insulated) jacket!
– Here’s what I wore. (Half-off–thank goodness for Northface Outlet sales!)
– Lots of snacks, and plenty of water (avoid plastic disposables. Bring one refillable bottle per person).
– Something light and easy (re: sandwiches) for lunch; compostable + less packaging = easier to carry.
– Plastic, recyclable bags: one for trash, and one for more recycles, to carry with you out of the park. In general, try to avoid throwing trash in the national parks; it creates unwanted landfill. Subaru is doing a whole environmental campaign on it.
– An Osprey daypack, and if you have the extra expense, a water reservoir pack to fit inside (from REI). The daypack is light, travel-friendly, has the right amount of pockets (to fit a camera, compact first aid kit, phone and snacks) and perfect for hikes. As for the hydraulics, sure, it may be “nerdy” looking to have a spout sticking out from your backpack, but it’s perfect to share, and it was efficient not having to pull our water bottles out every so often!
– Comfy shoes for hiking (and possibly, ice-slipping). I haven’t invested in good hiking boots yet, but luckily the grip on my Nike Frees saved my butt when I slipped going down an icy path!
– An all-wheel drive car (luckily the roads in Zion weren’t too bad, but ice/snow happens!).
– Binoculars! We were greeted by a family of deer grazing across the river on our last hike by The Narrows, and the calm, peaceful animals in the wild were spectacular to watch up close.
This is the most important thing: to take everything in.
For me, the best part was not just the drive up, the view, or the good company. It was the peaceful silence. At times I would stop, put down my camera/phone, open my eyes and just inhale the moment. Coming from Southern California, you won’t get that kind of natural beauty or silence anywhere else. Thank you, Mount Zion, for your beauty, moments of peace and the journey overall.
On to the next park!