After an earlier than expected finish from hiking in the Grand Canyon we were looking for something to do for a few days and were recommended day hiking in Zion National Park in Utah. We found it difficult to find accommodation in our price range so ended up spending the night at Kanab, Utah before heading out early and driving the 30 miles to the entrance of the National Park.
We arrived at the East entrance at 7.50am however the Ranger wasn’t ready to take our money yet so waved us through meaning we didn’t have to pay. A short drive through the tunnels to the full campground where we stalked people until we saw some leave then immediately took over their spot. Once set up and after a brief chat with the most unresponsive and disinterested Ranger I have ever met we caught the free shuttle bus from the Visitors Centre into the Park and over the space of 2 days did the following walks –
Angels Landing (4hrs and 5.4miles/8.7kms)
We decided to do this walk based on pictures we had seen and the number of t-shirts saying ‘I survived Angels Landing’ or similar in the gift shops. The shuttle ride from the Visitors Centre to The Grotto bus stop took approx. 25 minutes and we exited the bus having just listened to the warning about this walk played over the loud speaker system. If that wasn’t enough to make you nervous then the sign at the start of the walk warning of possible death should have but given the number of people visible climbing up there we figured we were safe enough.
The walk starts on a dirt track following the river then quickly changes to a concrete footpath zig zagging its way up the side of the Canyon.
Once you think you’re at the top you move into a slot canyon where the shade and freshness of green trees brings a welcome break from the sun. It is short lived as once at the other end there is a series of tight and steep switch backs to navigate called Walters Wiggles which tests even the most dedicated person’s cardiac fitness.
At the top of these so called wiggles is a natural rest area where the path flattens out and many people stop to rest on their way up or down. If you stop to rest here be sure to keep your packs closed and don’t drop any food as the neighbourhood Chipmunks are thriving and very bold.
It took us about an hour to walk to this half way point and after a rest we decided to push on to the real climb. It looks intimidating for some and given the trail means only one person at a time creating bottle necks of people waiting to pass up or down. This slow process of moving forward then waiting for others to pass so you could move further meant the last section took an hour to climb but only because of the waiting periods which allowed a good excuse to catch your breath.
There were people of all shapes and sizes and ages attempting this climb some of who had no business being up there. Anyone with a moderate level of fitness could complete this climb however those with fear of heights, mobility or balance issues should stay down at the half way point – unfortunately some people found this out too late and watching them attempt the climb back down was a painful process.
Given the popularity of the climb it was to be expected the top would be busy but we were hard pressed to find a rock to sit on once there from all the people enjoying the view. After a break and some time just enjoying the view it was time to climb back down which follows the same path.
Observation Point (5hrs and 8miles / 12.9kms)
I chose to do this walk instead of walking The Narrows as I knew I wouldn’t last long walking through cold water. The shuttle bus took approx. 30 minutes to arrive at the Weeping Rock bus stop from the Visitors Centre and from there you follow the procession of people all scrambling up the path same as you. I had hoped this walk would be quieter and less populated and it was in comparison to Angels Landing however there were still plenty of people hiking it.
The walk started up some steep switch backs which was again paved concrete (though in worse condition than Angels Landing and washed out or uneven in places). Eventually they ended and you walk through an unexpected slot canyon.
The change in terrain is dramatic and most people like me spend down time in there enjoying the view and the serenity of the place. Eventually you will decide to move on and once through the slot canyon the path gets steep again and you find yourself back walking up switch backs.
It feels like it goes on for some time and it does before finally levelling off on top of the canyon. You then walk on dirt, sand and rocks around to the observation point which gives commanding views through the Canyon back over Angels Landing and down towards the Zion Lodge. After time spent taking it all in and resting you start the walk back down the same path.
Guest Post by Craig Sangster – The Narrows (<8hrs and up to 9.4miles / 15.1kms)
If you’re looking for a hike in Zion National Park without any real elevation changes then The Narrows hike up the Virgin River is for you. You get there by riding the shuttle to the very last stop which is the Temple of Sinawava and then take the Riverside Trail to the start of the hike about 1.5 km’s in. There the paved trail ends and the Narrows walk begins. You can do a return trip hike of about 15km’s all in without needing a special permit. Anything longer than that or if you plan to camp overnight requires you get permits through the Zion Canyon Wilderness Desk. Be warned though, you’re going to have very cold, wet feet doing this hike unless you happen to be lucky enough to have proper waterproof walking shoes or, like many people I saw, rented a special waterproof shoe they got from a rental shop in Springdale which charged $25USD for shoes, socks and a stick or $40 and included waders. I opted to cheap out and go just wearing my normal hikers which made for a pretty shocking first few minutes wading through the mid-morning icy water until my feet just went plain numb. The trail (which is not really a trail so much as a pick your spot to cross effort) zig zags from one side of the river to the other so you find yourself in rock filled water that is often knee high, sometimes mid-thigh high and generally quite fast moving so having a good walking stick or pole is essential.
When you’re not watching your step to manoeuvre over river rocks or trying to keep your balance crossing small but surprisingly strong rapids or dodging the dozens of other people navigating up and downstream along with you, you’ll find the scenery quite beautiful in places. Sandstone rock worn smooth by eons of time being polished and carved by the rushing river through often narrow canyon passages make for some great photo opportunities so make sure you bring a good camera.
Also make sure you bring a small towel and an extra pair of shoes and socks or the ride back on the shuttle will not be pleasant. Your feet will be forever grateful! Also try and get there early in the day when the light is better for taking pictures and there aren’t as many people around. When I was heading back out around noon there were literally hundreds of people filing in often in large groups which not only slowed your progress as you had to often wait turns to cross the river in sections but also detracted from the overall enjoyment of the hike as it got noisy and a bit chaotic. It is also an area prone to flash floods so make sure you check the Visitors Information Centre for the latest updates on that. All in all it was a fun hike, not too strenuous, has some good photo taking opportunities and I would recommend it to someone looking for something a little different than a normal hike provides.
- Accommodation around Zion can get crowded and expensive so book ahead. If camping and unable to reserve a spot then turn up early morning and wait. It seemed common practice to drive around and find someone who looked like they were leaving and sit there until the spot was free. Campground is $16USD per night
- If you arrive before the payment station is open then entry into the park is free. It does mean you cannot then leave the park as they request proof of payment on entry.
- Mind the many Chipmunks – they love hanging out at rest stops and are not afraid to climb on you.