‘No matter the risks we take, we always consider the end to be too soon, even though in life, more than anything else, quality should be more important than quantity.’–Alex Honnold
Zion National Park was the first stop of my quest to visit the Mighty 5 and, boy, did it not disappoint! A few things to get out of the way. You have to have a shuttle ticket to access the park. They go on sale ahead of time and sell out quickly (I bought mine a month ahead of time). You can get tickets after 3 but not ideal. I recommend checking the Zion NPS website prior to your trip for pertinent information. When I went, the Virgin River had a toxic algae bloom. It is very poisonous and deadly to kids and animals when ingested. Due to this, part of The Narrows were closed. It was recommended not to go in the water at all if you are a risk group. Also, The Narrows will close if there are rains further north. Rain can cause flash floods and has killed hikers who did not heed the warnings. Some areas were also closed, most notably Angels Landing, due to Covid and rock slides. The NPS does an excellent job of updating most sites in the parks system and is a fantastic resource!
As far as planning, know it will be hot for most of the year! I had previously purchased a water bladder (I know, a terrible name) and used it for this park. There is limited water and, due to the algae, you cannot drink from any natural water source even with a filter (as an aside, I always carry a Life Straw in my pack). I also had my two trusty Hydro Flasks. In the bladder, I did a mixture of gatorade and water and my Hydro Flasks were one gatorade and one water. I tend to get dehydrated easily, so I am very cautious, however, it is very hot and there are signs everywhere to be on the lookout for heat exhaustion and stroke. I also brought a lot of snacks (peanuts, trail mix, Cliff bars, and fruit leather). I tend not to eat very much when I hike but I wanted to be prepared. When you’re solo, even in a very popular national park (and Zion is one of the most visited), you need to make sure you have what you need to take care of yourself. The best thing about my Patagonia pack is it has lots of pockets. I have a small first aid kit, compass, swiss army knife, and a whistle. I had planned to bring my Chaco’s to hike in The Narrows but I couldn’t fit it all in my pack. I’ve considered moving up a size in pack and this experience made me consider it even more, especially as I’m planning on going to Yosemite in February. The bladder took up more room than I anticipated. Being said, due to the algae bloom and being by myself, I hadn’t planned on going deep into The Narrows and made the decision that I would just get my Danner’s wet (if you read my post on Tumalo Falls, you’ll know why I felt okay with this decision).
My shuttle time was 10 am but I arrived very early. The parking lot isn’t very big and once it fills up, you have to park in the neighboring town of Springdale. As I didn’t want to take another shuttle, I arrived about 8:30 (I stayed in St. George, UT, about 30 minutes from the park). I was able to relax and get all my stuff ready. I used the restroom and perused the gift shop. There are a handful of stops on the shuttle route but you must show your ticket every time you board…so don’t loose it! I decided to start at the last stop and work my way up. The last stop is the Riverwalk and The Narrows. This decision is a catch 22. The Narrows are less crowded (relatively) early and it is very cool because of the rock walls jutting 3,000 feet into the sky. However, it gets very hot everywhere else. The Narrows area was about 75 degrees. When I emerged, it was 100. It really put a damper on other things I wanted to do. The Riverwalk was really lovely and I was able to see some deer and a giant squirrel, or I think it was a squirrel. What surprised me the most was the Virgin River. It is not very robust. I do think as I grew up near the Colorado River and frequented the Grand Canyon as a kid, I just had expectations of what canyon rivers should look like. The Virgin River is not that. Although, the cool thing is Zion is like being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and you didn’t need to take a donkey to get there!
The Narrows were very cool, literally and figuratively. I did wish I had brought my Chacos but it was quite crowded and I had my camera. I am planning on upgrading my Lumix G7 to the Lumix GH5, which is splash and dust resistance (another aside, my lens’ will work on the GH5 so I plan on getting a wide angle lens to get some galaxy shots-perfect for night park trips). So maybe a return trip to Zion will be in order! I walked about a mile but coming back, the current was much stronger than I anticipated for water that went up mid-shin. Just something to be aware of. I had a hiking stick I purchased at the gift shop for $20 and I wouldn’t recommend doing The Narrows without one. The whole experience was really cool as you felt very small in the best possible way. After I emerged, I sat on the banks of the river and wrung out my socks. I enjoyed some gatorade and a cliff bar. It was really peaceful and relatively quiet…a perk of solo travel, you can find a spot and people leave you alone!
Once I emerged and entered the heat, I had already hiked about 4 miles. I went along the river near the access point to Angels Landing. So, portions of Angels Landing were closed and it is a vertical climb up a steep trail and a sheer drop. To add to the foreboding, there is a sign to tell you not only how dangerous it is but how many people have died. That number is a sticker to really drive the point home. Now, I highly recommend you do this hike first if it is on your to do. You want to be focused and cool. While I have really worked on my anxiety and fear of heights, this was way out of my comfort level. The heat was starting to get to me and there is not much shade in that area. Make sure you have plenty of water, gatorade, and salted snacks. All needed to replenish what the heat zaps from you. Angels Landing is NOT the place to run into a problem.
I slowly worked my way back to the Visitor’s Center. Once you return there you cannot take a shuttle back in without a new ticket, so make sure you are ready to leave. And while I was ready to return, I was not ready to leave the park. I stopped at Subway to eat and inhaled the food (again, issue with not eating enough while hiking…I am working on it because mostly I don’t feel hungry). Then I headed to Kolob Canyons and it is not to be missed. While still part of Zion it is about 30 minutes from the main park. It is a scenic road up a mountain and then a 2 mile trail in and out with incredible vistas at the top. Due to it being further out, Kolob Canyon is not heavily trafficked. Once you arrive at the top, you take a trail to the peak. This is where the heat really started to get to me. It was about 3:30/4 and nearly 100 degrees. I had a bottle of gatorade but really felt it when I got to the top. I knew I was teetering on heat exhaustion so I didn’t stay very long. But the views are wow! On a clear day, you can see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (note, while the North Rim is about two hours away, the entrance is currently closed due to construction so you can only enter from the South Rim and that is over six hours).
I had a really amazing day at Zion and I highly recommend. Whats really interesting is the parks just got better! My final ranking put Zion tied for third, which says a lot about the beauty of Southern Utah.
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