Unquestionably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, visiting Zion National Park was one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve wanted to visit for quite a few years and it did not disappoint. Zion rivaled my all-time two favorite places – Montana: The Most Beautiful State in America. and Norway – with the beauty beginning almost instantaneously. Not far from the entrance, enormous rock walls shoot straight up hundreds of feet into the air, which soon begin to surround you from virtually every angle as you drive through the 2-lane highway. It’s breathtaking, gorgeous, and unfathomably large. If Gods walked among the Earth, they would call Zion National Park home.
Located in the southwest corner of Utah, admission is $35 per vehicle (veterans are free) and is valid for 7 days. It sits approximately 2.5 hours from Las Vegas, 4 from Salt Lake City, 5.5 from Phoenix, 6 from Los Angeles, and 8 from Albuquerque. For us, it was a less than 2-hour drive since we stayed in Page, Arizona. You can’t start off any further than that and expect to see Zion in the same day. This is a colossal park, with 12 miles between the east and west entrance, and countless trails, alcoves, and areas to explore. Many of the hikes take 4+ hours to complete. We took off around 9:30am, after visiting Horseshoe Bend: Incredible and Magnificent. first (highly recommend), arriving around 12pm, and the place was PACKED (although nowhere near as bad as when we returned a year later – Return to Zion: The Bottom Narrows.). Once arriving at the Visitors Center, we were greeted by a completely full parking lot and a flashing sign saying, “parking lot full, park in town”.
Zion sits right outside Springdale, Utah, which begins literally mere feet from the western entrance of the park. We were extremely lucky and snagged a spot in town – I’m adding this part to prepare people so they are unlike us, who arrived to a major National Park at 12pm on a Sunday, not expecting to experience parking issues.
Important note: Zion limits the amount of traffic through the park during “peak season”, which is from March to November. There are two main roads, shaped like a giant Y. The small, top-left section is the restricted, shuttle-bus-only Scenic Drive. The right side is the road that takes you between the two entrances. Only from December to February can you drive your own vehicle on the Scenic Drive. This is due to the overwhelming number of visitors, plus it limits accidents and mishaps, as people like to ride bikes and walk along this road. To access any of the magnificent areas along the Scenic Drive, you must ride the shuttle. The shuttle bus is included in the entrance fee and runs periodically every 15 or so minutes.
Some of the main trails and points of interest include Angels Landing, Court of the Patriarchs, Watchman, Sand Bench, the Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, Observation Point, Temple of Sinawava and the Riverside Walk, Hidden Canyon, Echo Canyon, Big Bend Viewpoint, and the Virgin River Narrows.
We visited two: Temple of Sinawava and Court of the Patriarchs.
Temple of Sinawava
One of the most popular hikes in Zion, Temple of Sinawava offers some of the best views of the canyon and is an enjoyable walk. It’s a heavily trafficked 4.4 miles out and back trail, coming in around 2.4 miles each way. Adding to its popularity is that it’s paved, mostly flat, and follows a lovely stream. It’s the 12th and final stop on the shuttle bus route, so unfortunately you do have to sit through all stops along the way.
The beauty and grandness of the canyon begins almost as soon as you step off the shuttle bus. There are unfathomably large canyon walls that almost immediately begin to shoot up all around you, encompassing you like a big hug as you walk through the canyon. A small stream runs along the trail, and you a can easily make your way to it, either to romp in it or walk beside.
The paved trail officially ends at the stream – however, you can continue along through the canyon via the stream if you want, which they call “hiking the Bottom Narrows. You can do this in regular hiking clothes and shoes, but I wouldn’t encourage it during the fall/winter months. Hikers who complete this hike are usually decked out in full water-trekking and hiking gear, complete with water-resistant pants and hiking poles, and heard one tell a fellow hiker that “the water gets up to your chest at some points”.
The 4th stop on the shuttle bus route, Court of the Patriarchs is considered to be the shortest trail in Zion. Truthfully, it can barely be called a trail. From where the shuttle bus drops you off to the viewpoint, it’s probably .1 miles, if that. You will likely walk more around the entrance, going between shops and the bathroom, than you will on this trail.
However, the super short is necessary, as it elevates you just enough to get a wonderful view of the patriarchs. The three massive peaks are named after Old Testament Biblical figures – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Not surprisingly, they were named by a Methodist minister named Frederick Vining Fisher in 1916, who took it upon himself to name many of the major points in Zion. The tallest is Abraham Peak, at 6,890 feet. Isaac Peak and Jacob Peak are not too much smaller, with the former coming in at 6,825 feet and the latter at 6,831 feet.
These three guys aren’t the only prominent and famous points at this stop, there is also The Sentinel and Mount Moroni. Mount Moroni sits right next to Jacob Peak, while The Sentinel is its own mountain/peak, sitting to the left of the three peaks that make up the Court. It comes to 7,120 feet, much larger than the patriarchs and is part of the Towers of the Virgin.
Overall, I wanted to visit this majestic place for years and it did not disappoint! I’ve been to a handful of National and State Parks, which are all very wonderful in their own ways, but Zion is truly one of the best. The beauty hits you before you even pass the parks entrance, continuing the entire length of the park. I’ve traveled to many places, and I was still in awe by Zion National Park. So, if you ever get the opportunity to visit this gigantic and stunning national park in southwest Utah, don’t pass it up!!!
P.s. Zion is approximately only 15 minutes from Grafton Ghost Town, somewhere I also highly recommend visiting if you are in the area! Grafton, Utah: “The most photographed ghost town in the West”.
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