Zion National Park is the jewel in the State of Utah’s dusty crown. It’s combination of huge rock monoliths, unreal canyons and sweeping vistas of the Virgin River valley make it a must-see for anyone passing through Utah. But we assume you, dear reader, are only in possession of limited time and resources, and are therefore in need of some prioritization to make your visit to Zion an enjoyable but efficient one.
Here’s our pick of the top 5 things to do in Zion National Park, in order of preference:
1. Angel’s Landing
The photo says it all, really – Angel’s Landing is stunningly dangerous. Stunning, due to the unrivalled 360 degree panoramic views you’ll have of Zion National Park, and dangerous, because many people have fallen to their deaths during the perilous ascent.
The trail to Angel’s Landing takes you up a series of ingenious switchbacks cut directly into the canyon rock walls, whereupon you make it to the lower landing and then have to scale a dizzying series of narrow ridges to get to Angels Landing itself. The return distance is 5 miles, but allow 3-5 hours as there are some seriously steep elevation gains and it’s slow going. Take plenty of water, and wear grippy, sturdy footwear to ensure you don’t become yet another skydiver without a parachute.
2. The Narrows
The Narrows are a photographers dream, with vast walls of rock towering in all directions and subtle plays of light on surreal strata formations, however it’s a bit of a mission to get to some of the more impressive areas of the canyon. The mission, in our opinion, is well worth it.
The Narrows, as the name suggests, is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon, and most of the walking is in the Virgin River. Take the shuttle to Temple of Sinawava (the last stop at the top of the Park), walk the 1 mile paved trail to the start of the Narrows, then begin trudging upriver. Be warned – as you’re spending much of the time wading through the river, which depending on the time of year can be quite deep, you’ll need sturdy footwear and it wouldn’t hurt to have some kind of walking stick for stability purposes. Most people had rented special neoprene water shoes for the hike, but we made do with just our normal walking shoes and didn’t have any issues, aside from a whole lot of sand between our toes by the end.
While most people are deterred by the distance, we HIGHLY recommend walking all the way to the Wall Street area of the canyon, approximately 3.5 miles upriver from the end of the paved path. This is by far the most impressive stretch of the canyon, and we were taking photos left right and centre. You’ll know you’re close when you pass the adjacent, smaller Orderville Canyon, a tributary to the main Zion Canyon.
3. Zion Canyon to Mt Carmel Highway
If you’d like a spectacular introduction to Zion, consider entering the park from the eastern side, along Highway 9 from Mt Carmel. This takes you through a range of different landscapes, all surreal and all unique to Zion. The road itself is well maintained and winds lazily through the park, with multiple tunnels to drive through and be amazed on the other side. If you have a motorhome or large trailer, be prepared to pay a fee (I believe we had to pay $15 when we were there in September) in order for park officials to close the longest tunnel to opposing traffic while you drive through. This is an experience in itself, and it’s very cool seeing glimpses of the valleys far below as you drive past “windows” cut into the side of the tunnel.
4. Weeping Rock trail
After walking your arse off on the Angels Landing and Narrows trails, we thought we’d give you a bit of a break here. You still have to walk, but not far – Weeping Rock is but a short stroll from the shuttle stop, and offers interesting views of rock walls which are spring fed and create some rather unique hanging gardens – a welcome lush respite from the roasted landscape of the rest of the park.
5. Emerald Pools
Only a mile from the shuttle stop (a relatively short distance, by Zion trail standards), the pools themselves aren’t all that exciting, but their location is. The trail takes you through some picturesque terrain, with excellent views of the other side of Zion Canyon, and at the top you’ll be impressed by the towering cliff faces and water features at the lower pools. Watch you don’t sit on a tarantula, though (elaborations can be found in this post)!