Weekend Adventure: Zion National Park

Guys, we finally made it to Zion!

We changed it up this trip and opted for a hotel stay because — in case you’re not aware — it is now hot as balls in Southern Utah and a few weeks ago when we were in Canyonlands trying to sleep in the 80-degree heat, we decided that we needed a break from tent camping in these extreme temperatures.

Remember, we’re used to camping in Oregon where it gets absurdly, wonderfully cold at night, even in the summer.

We stayed at the La Quinta Inn in Springdale, right outside the entrance to the park. The hotel was reasonably priced (I think about $150 a night) and it looked like a freaking resort. Also, I have to say that after walking through the town and seeing the other hotels, you could definitely get away with staying in a motel or cheaper hotel here and it would still be nice (and have a pool).

A note to travelers driving north to south: if you want a plethora of restaurant and fast food options, stop in Cedar City. There are quite a few food options in Hurricane but not nearly as many. Also, come on Utah, bring me some more Chipotle restaurants please!

I haven’t been to all of the national parks (yet), but so far Zion appears to be the Disneyland of national parks. They have a shuttle system for the park — which we knew about — so you have to park at the visitor’s center and take the shuttle. The visitor’s center parking fills up quickly so if you don’t arrive early enough, you’ll be better off just taking a shuttle from Springdale into the park. There are several shuttle stops in the town — walking distance from any of the hotels — that take you to the park’s pedestrian entrance.

What we didn’t know was that at 7:30am the line for the shuttle would already be insanely long! We waited about 45 minutes to get on the shuttle. Alternatively, we could have walked to the museum and probably gotten on a shuttle faster at the second stop, but it really wasn’t that bad of a wait, and anyone who has been to Disneyland or Six Flags can tell you that they’ve sat through worse lines.

We decided to start with Angel’s Landing. It’s a long-ish, very strenuous and scary (for Kevin) hike and we weren’t sure if we’d want to do anything else after completing it. It was an absolutely amazing hike. 10/10 would recommend. Yes, it is very high up and there are cliffs and it’s very strenuous (we were so sore the next day!) but it is so worth it. If you have a legitimate fear of heights or you have physical limitations, this hike may not be the right one for you — but you can still go to an awesome lookout below Angel’s Landing so you should definitely at least do that! The trail up to the lookout is paved and very accessible (it’s a long ways up but not too steep).

We had lofty goals of hiking Angel’s Landing and The Narrows in the same day but Angel’s Landing took a lot more out of us than we thought (and it takes awhile to get to the top because there are so many people going up and down). We decided to hit up the museum (obviously to watch the video) before leaving the park for the day.

And it was a good thing we decided to leave because — TMI — my special lady monthly time decided to make an early appearance and I had limited supplies on-hand. We headed back to the hotel and decided to spend a few hours by the pool before dinner. Everyone else was still at the park so we had the pool to ourselves for two hours!

We had an early dinner around 4:00pm at the Zion Canyon Brewing Company. It was already super busy either with the early dinner rush or the late lunch rush, but we only had to wait a few minutes. The food was delicious and reasonably priced — we both had burgers and a hearty portion of fries — and they had chimichurri fries! Basically I have been missing out on these my whole life and I didn’t even know it! They also had some great beer selections. I haven’t been drinking recently but I decided to go for the Coffee Stout, which was delicious and totally worth it — basically an iced coffee with a side of beer.

Unfortunately, we had eaten dinner a little bit too early. After we finished eating, we realized that we were exhausted and sore from the hike but it was only 5:30pm! I tried to convince Kevin that it was still early enough to nap but no dice. We wandered around the town for awhile and spent $20 on stickers because we’ve started collecting them and sending them to my mom after every trip. In my defense, stickers are a lot smaller than the average souvenir and not nearly as mainstream as collectible shot glasses (which you can — surprisingly — still find in Utah!).

We settled in for the night at about 7 when we realized Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was on tv and we didn’t feel like walking around anymore. It became very apparent that we’d eaten dinner too early when we had to venture back outside to get Kevin second dinner (overpriced Subway) and then I convinced him to go to bed by 10 because I was exhausted.

We had planned on hiking The Narrows the next morning, but after oversleeping and realizing it was 9:00am we decided on a different plan. The park was even more crowded than the day before — even though it was Sunday! — and we didn’t feel like doing a 10-mile hike (I’m not kidding you, that Angel’s Landing hike was tough). We decided that, rather than force ourselves to do a long-ass hike when we weren’t feeling it, we could just come back another time!

Rather than leaving the same way we came, we decided to drive on the scenic highway through Zion up toward Bryce. On our way up the canyon, we got to unexpectedly check off one of my bucket list items! I’ve always wanted to pick up a hitchhiker but I’m either alone (unsafe) or we’re together but the car is full of stuff. But as we were driving up the windy canyon road, we spotted a family of climbers with a sign that we couldn’t read, so I asked Kevin to pull over.

Turns out they had parked below because of the crowds and the lack of parking spaces, and were just trying to get to the trailhead a few miles up the road. We threw our stuff in the back of the truck and managed to make room for all four of them! On the way, we learned that they were from Montreal, Canada and were doing a long road trip to various national parks! It was such a wonderful experience and it definitely made me want to do things like this more often.

We drove through the 1-mile-long tunnel and then dropped them off at the trailhead. You can pay $15 to be the “only one” driving through the tunnel, but you can’t even stop at the lookout spots in the middle of the tunnel, so what’s even the point? Save your $15 and just drive through with everyone else!

A friend of Kevin’s had recommended that we stop at the lookout just past the tunnel, which ended up being a 1-mile round-trip hike and not a “get out of your car and take some pictures” lookout. But it was totally worth it! Absolutely stunning views.

The entire drive on the scenic highway was absolutely beautiful and I was convinced I wanted to move there by the time we circled back to I-15. We also checked out the Kolob Canyons section of Zion. We didn’t do any hiking, but we did grab a map and we drove to the end of the road just to see what trails were out there. I think we’ll definitely do some of those hikes next time because there was practically no one there!

If you are planning a trip to Zion or wanting to go, don’t be discouraged by how crowded it is or the fact that you have to take the shuttle through the park instead of driving. We honestly had a great experience here and we were happy to know that the park is being preserved better by limiting traffic only to the shuttle, rather than building several large parking lots by each trailhead. Yes, there are a lot of people and yes, you will wait in line. But if you’ve ever been to Disneyland or Six Flags or any theme park, those places make Zion seem empty in comparison.

If you want to get a parking spot, get to the visitor’s center before 8:00am. If you’re staying in the town just outside the park and you know you won’t make it to the park that early, just take the shuttle from town to the park’s pedestrian entrance. If there is nowhere to park and you’re forced to park outside of Zion, most of the parking lots and street parking in town were like $15 for the day! Which, if you’ve ever had to work in a downtown metropolitan area, is pretty much the norm, but if you’re hoping to save a few bucks — just leave your car at the hotel and shuttle in.

It’s truly a beautiful place and as much as we would love to go on a weekday or on the offseason, it’s still completely doable to have an enjoyable trip to Zion on a weekend in the middle of tourist season. And I love the shuttles. I wish more national parks would do this!

We did not camp this time because of the heat, of course, but also because it’s really hard to get a campsite inside the park. When we drove back via the scenic highway, we found a couple of small towns with campsites and rv parks. This is a slightly farther drive from Zion but this is the area I would camp at if we decided to camp next time. But honestly, if a hotel is in your budget — this is one of the places where I feel like it’s definitely worth it. Coming home to an air conditioned hotel room after hiking in the hot weather all day is worth my money!

We are camping at Kodachrome Basin State Park in a few weeks (near Bryce Canyon National Park) so we’ll see how that goes!

Published by Sami Hertel

Oregon native, current Utah resident, blogging about my adventures on lifeafteroregon.com!

2 thoughts on “Weekend Adventure: Zion National Park

  1. Great information on the park, Craig and I hope to take this trip in the near future. I enjoy reading about your trips.

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  2. Sounds like you had a lot of fun. We live in Northern Arizona so have made it to Zion a few times. Zion and Bryce are both beautiful. Look forward to hearing about your new adventure… Stay safe out there…

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