Zion National Park, Utah’s first national park, is located in the southwest portion of the state. It is filled with beautiful steep cream, pink and red cliffs. It offers an easy walk along a river canyon, a narrow slot canyon, as well as many other hiking opportunities. But even if you are not into hiking, you will find beautiful scenery that is easily accessible. No wonder it is a popular destination.
We drove from the Grand Canyon along the scenic monolith-lined Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. We were welcomed to the park by the unusual erosional checked fissure patterns of Checkerboard Mesa. When we emerged from the Zion tunnel we were greeted with a series of switchbacks that afforded continually changing perspectives on the surrounding mesas and the canyon below.
The Best Laid Plans
Unfortunately, we weren’t the only people trying to get into the park. Although Zion has not yet instituted timed entry as other national parks have done, parking limits some of the traffic. We were unable to find a parking spot in the parking lot and were forced to park in the next-door town of Springdale and walk back to the park (about a 15 minute walk). This reduced our time there.
The Shuttle Loop
During the peak tourist season, the park has shut down Zion Canyon Road to private cars. The only way other than walking down the road (which is the Park’s primary attraction) was by shuttle bus.
Although we try to avoid the park shuttle buses due to long waits, Zion has a winning formula with buses leaving every 6 minutes. We got right on the narrated shuttle that takes about 40 minutes to go to the end of an 8-mile road into the heart of the canyon. The ride goes past stunning scenery along the river valley. You can hop off and on the bus to take hikes or just to explore an area.
Exploring Zion’s Beauty
The entire valley is magnificent. The shuttle takes you past stunning scenery, along the river valley. The valley narrows from several hundred feet wide to less than 20 feet at The Narrows. Thousand-foot cliffs and much taller monoliths surrounded the valley. Some of our favorite sections included:
The Court of the Patriarchs. While this group of sandstone cliffs is clearly visible from the road, its beauty unfolds even more dramatically after a 50-yard, uphill climb.
Lower Emerald Pools is accessible after an easy 0.6 mile (each way) walk. It is surrounded by cliffs on the way in and ends in a grotto with painted walls and a thin veil (during the summer) of water feeding a pool colored with green algae.
The Temple of Sinawava, where the bus ends, leaves you at the foot of a flat, one-mile (each way) walk, along the Virgin River, through an ever-narrowing canyon, surrounded by 1,000+-foot sheer cliffs.
Other interesting sites include the Great White Throne (part of the Court of the 4 Patriarchs), Pipe Organ and the Altar and the Pulpit (at the Temple of Sinawava).
Riverwalk to The Narrows
Then the real narrowing of the canyon began and where the paved, mile-long Riverside Walk to the Narrows begins. As the park’s most popular scenic walk, it can get quite crowded in spots.
As we walked along the trail we saw a number of people wearing virtually identical full-body waders and carrying identical walking sticks. We discovered the reason when we approached the end of the walk at the entry to the Narrows. Entering the Narrows required wading in waist-deep water–something for which we were totally unequipped.
While we fell a few feet short of our destination, the beautiful journey was its own reward. We returned along the riverfront walk, hopped the first bus for the scenic ride back to the Visitor Center, and walked back to our car.