I wouldn’t recommend driving through the desert in the middle of September in a car with no air conditioning, however we are living proof that it can be done. From Southern California we passed through the blazing heat of Nevada and Arizona before we arrived in Southern Utah. Many of our friends were not envious of our plans to travel over 800 miles, and cross over two states, just for the weekend. The common conception, to a number of Californians, is that Utah has nothing to offer and they wouldn’t dream of visiting.
We were among the many who believed this misconception until we discovered Zion National Park. After exploring this place of refuge, our eyes have now been opened to the infinite natural wonders Utah has to offer. Zion boasts massive canyons that seem to converge with an enormous sky. Hues of pink, red and cream dance along the sandstone walls like oil paints smeared on a piece of canvas. We came here on a whim and walked away with an admiration of the rugged beauty that lies just seven hours from our home.
One thing to keep in mind when looking for places to stay while visiting Zion National Park; when you make a reservation at an RV resort or campground, make sure they give you a campsite number. There are many RV parks that offer tent camping, but it may not be what you are expecting if you enjoy the wilderness. On the other hand, if you like sleeping next to a main road in your tent, then feel free to make reservations at Willow Wind Resort in Hurricane. I’m sure they will have space for you.
For a campsite that is not located in the middle of town, you might try Sand Hollow State Park in Hurricane, which is about 45 minutes from Zion. They offer primitive sites for $13 per night or full hook ups with showers for $25 per night. It overlooks Sand Hollow Reservoir where you may or may not contract swimmers itch according to the sign at the gates. If you stay here, you must remember that park gates close at 10:00 pm, so no late arrivals are possible.
You can also stay in St. George, off Exit 8 (From the 15 Freeway), where hotels start at $29 per night. Check around for reviews on cleanliness of these hotels. We stayed at the Sands Motel and it was good enough for a place to rest our heads, although don’t get me wrong, we still used our own blankets since we had them with us.
There are a plethora of lodging options in Springdale, at the heart of Zion, but you may find the accommodation either too expensive or at max capacity. There are also a couple of campgrounds inside Zion National Park. Watchman Campground allows reservations, although in the summer the sites are booked well in advance. The South Campground is first come first serve, so get there early.
Zion is by no means in the middle of nowhere, as we had expected. It is not as primitive as some National Parks we have visited. For instance, there are lots of restaurants and shops in Springdale if you are willing to spend a few extra dollars.
Parking is not a problem since there is a free town shuttle from anywhere in Springdale to the entrance of the park. You may also try your luck getting a spot at the lot inside the park if you arrive early or if you visit during off-season. Zion offers a park shuttle that runs from April through October. During this time, you may not drive your own vehicle on the scenic drive in Upper Zion Canyon.
During summer months, the park shuttle runs from 6:30 am to 11:00 pm. It is a highly informative way to see the park. During the ride they explain the history and point out which hikes start at each of the shuttle’s eight stops. Just be prepared for hot weather if you go during the summer months, which may deter you from doing some of the more strenuous hikes.
Emerald Pools is a very popular hike and has three different levels: lower, middle and upper pools. If you decide to hike to the upper pool during the summer months, it is a little strenuous and hot, so bring a bathing suit or at least be prepared to take your shoes off to wade up to your knees. It is well worth it to see this pool and to cool off while you have a little rest.
The park’s most visited attraction is the Riverside Walk (Gateway to the Narrows Trail). It takes about 1.5 hours round trip and as the name suggests, the trail follows along the river. You will likely see a variety of wildlife along the trails including friendly squirrels begging for food, possibly a family of deer and maybe even a tarantula. No joke about the hairy spider, it scared me senseless!
At the end of the Riverside Walk trail, you can continue your way up the river approximately two miles by wading through the water between a narrow canyon. The water can get substantially deep in certain areas; as a result some people bring water shoes and a few even wear wetsuits. It’s quite an adventure to hike the narrows trail, although there are warnings of flash flooding so be mindful of your surroundings. The safest time to hike this trail is June or September when thunderstorms are least likely.
For a more strenuous and daring hike you can try Angels Landing. This trail runs along a narrow rock fin with up to 1,000-foot drop-offs on both sides. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart. If you are interested in checking it out, you may want to watch a video of people hiking it on youtube.com first.
This park has a variety of trails in addition to the ones mentioned here from easy to strenuous and even spots to go Canyoneering. When planning a visit here, give yourself at least two to three days to cover a good portion of the hikes. Zion is indeed a place of refuge, a sanctuary, to say the least. One may get lost in the expansive beauty of such a place. Whether you are the camping type or you like to stay in a cozy hotel, your options near Zion are endless.
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