As promised, here are some more details and pictures from our stay in Zion. If you like you can jump to the details on Angel’s Landing, The Narrows, the two shorter hikes Emerald Pools and Watchman, our first back country camping on the West Rim, and some other random camping tidbits.
Angel’s Landing is one of the most famous hikes that we have come across so far on our trip, and we found the reputation to be well deserved. Backpacker magazine calls it a classic and National Geographic Adventure lists it in their top 10 best walk up summits. We knew it would be crowded so we woke up early on Saturday so we could be on the shuttle and up to the trail before 8 am.
One nice thing about getting around Zion is that they added a shuttle in the 1990s to address the traffic in the park. There’s one shuttle route that runs through Springdale and to the park, and one shuttle within the park. Unless you are staying at the lodge or have a back country or camp permit, you have to park at the Visitor’s Center or in town and take the shuttle up to the park. The shuttle was really convenient and they play interesting sound bites about the park along the way.
The first 2 miles of the hike up to Angel’s Landing have solid views, but the trail is paved and winds its way through some large switch backs, and then to some very tight switchbacks called “Walter’s Wiggles”, named after a park administrator who oversaw their construction in the 1930s. It took us about an hour to cover that part of the trail.
After a small scramble, we stopped at an early overlook before tackling the real climb up with the narrow path, chains, and long steep drop-offs on both sides. This was by far our most intimidating hike, since it was very strenuous and also felt quite treacherous, especially with slightly tired legs.
By the time we headed down, the trail was already filling up. I was glad we were off the especially precarious portion before many people came, because it seemed it would be both slower and more dangerous to traverse this trail with more people coming from both sides.
The Narrows is a section of the Virgin River upstream from the main canyon, and it was Adam’s favorite hike so far, because you hike along and in the river. Since the water was only about 45 degrees, we waited until after lunch to start the hike, so the temperatures outside would warm up as much as possible.
The hike begins at the bottom of the canyon, and you walk / wade / swim up as far as you like before heading down. It is possible to do the full 16-mile hike from the top down, but that is a LONG day and requires a shuttle and a permit. If we ever make it back to Zion, I will send Adam through the full canyon, and perhaps join him if the weather is a bit warmer.
We only traveled up for about 2 hours before I succumbed to the chilly temperatures and lack of sunny places to warm up. At that point we retraced our steps back down the canyon. As usual, I think Adam would’ve continued to hike until it was not physically possible to continue, but he didn’t want to go on with out me. Overall, this was the most unusual hike we’ve done so far, and one I would strongly recommend!
Emerald Pools and the Watchmen
We hiked to the Watchmen the first afternoon we were in Zion, since we had arrived, made camp, needed groceries, and then finally were ready to see some of the park. This is about a ~2 hour, 3+ mile hike that starts behind the Visitor’s Center and had some fantastic views.
We celebrated this achievement at Zion Brewery with more refreshing, but gentle, Utah beers, and learned about another exciting Utah beer rule, which is that any alcohol purchase in a restaurant must be accompanied by a food item. Bring on the tasty deep fried pretzel sticks!
We hiked the Emerald Pools trails later in our stay as another lighter day, between the Angel’s Landing hike and our backcountry adventure. I’m not sure why these are called the Emerald Pools, since they are not green, but instead are very clear and bright. They’re created by beautiful cascading waterfalls. This hike is typically a loop but a portion of the trail was washed out, so we did a one-way trip from one shuttle stop, The Grotto, down to another, the Zion Lodge. I would recommend going that direction since you get a slight downhill advantage, though the whole thing was an easy hike that only took us about 90 minutes.
The West Rim – Our First Backcountry Hike
After 2 weeks of straight car camping, Adam and I were excited to give backcountry hiking and camping a try. We hiked ~6 miles, mostly up, to the West Rim. We have been averaging about 2 miles an hour hiking with our day packs, and we were only a little slower than that on the way up due to a few longer breaks. There were only one or two times when I wasn’t sure we’d make it up to the top of the canyon wall staring us in the face.
Here’s a few other really exciting revelations I had along the trail about gear and weather.
Gear: We have a great set of camping gear, but neither of us purchased our sleeping bag as a backpacking bag, so Adam’s in particular is warm, but also humongous and doesn’t compress much. This worked out well for me, though, since most of MY pack was taken up by that monstrosity while Adam got the heavier tent and cooking equipment. I’m excited for backpacking more with slightly warmer weather, so we’ll have a little less bulk to drag around. We also carried most of the water that we needed, but we did one spring refill along the way.
Weather: We were warned that there would be high winds on the canyon rim, and in fact we’d had a lot of wind already on the trip, but the winds were by far the strongest we’d experienced on the trip, and temps were already below freezing when it got dark. Unfortunately, Zion has prescribed backcountry spots so we had limited options to relocate the tent. We tried three different places to minimize the dust that was getting swept up into the tent with limited success.
I was surprised our tent survived the night and didn’t get swept away with us in it, but we woke up to a very chilly morning and just wanted to get off the rim as quickly as possible. What took us almost 4 hours to cover on the way up took just over 2 hours to cover on the way down. I don’t think I was fully warm until we made it to the next town and stopped at a diner for coffee and a huge breakfast.
Camping and Other Random Fun Things
Finally, if you’re still reading or just browsing pictures, here’s a few fun facts about our time at the South Campground.
We spent a lot of time during our five days at our campsite (#106) in the South Campground. We met some really fun people, who all had great stories about places they’d traveled in the past and ideas for places we should go in the future. My favorite was our German friend Wolfgang who recommended retiring to New Zealand, but the most useful was definitely a couple from San Diego who gave us a whole slate of recommendations for California.
The campsite was full every day that we were there, though people were constantly coming in and out. I was surprised that Saturday seemed to be the most popular day for people to leave.
Next Stops… Las Vegas for a night, Puerto Rico for me, and some quality time in San Diego with our friends Pete and Alissa!