By Meghan Sturgell
When thinking of Zion National Park it’s hard not to picture giant slot canyons and a wild and vast Utah desert. At least, these are a few of the things I imagined when planning my Zion trip. I had dreamed of going to Zion for many years but nothing could have fully prepared me for the reality of Zion. Great, towering mountains, a sea of red, with a spattering of green trees and underbrush greeted me as I drove from my home in Nevada to Utah.
The small yet culturally rich town of Springdale greeted me at the entrance of Zion, where the visitor center awaits all guests. Parking is available at the visitor center and the park’s quick and efficient shuttle service allows for visitors to enter the park. At the time of my visit in November, the shuttle had six stopping locations. These locations hosted trailheads, bathrooms, lodging, and food. Private vehicles were not allowed on the scenic drive while the shuttle buses operated. The shuttle system is free and a shuttle stops at each location every five minutes.
My first day at Zion started early, I was on the West Rim Trail heading to the famous Angel’s Landing by 8 a.m. The November morning was cool and breezy, and the trail was mostly empty. Angel’s Landing is considered one of the world’s most renowned hikes and for me, it was definitely unforgettable. The hike is considered strenuous, it’s a five-mile round trip, has an elevation gain of over 1,400 feet, and can take up to 5 hours to complete. The first portion of the trail consisted of multiple large and not-too-steep switchbacks up Refrigerator Canyon, aptly named for its cool and dark location in the canyon. These switchbacks lead you to a very scenic and easy walk until you reach Walter’s Wiggles; a set of 21 extremely steep switchbacks where you quickly gain elevation. At the top of Walter’s Wiggles, you reach Scout Lookout. This is the point where you decide to keep pushing forward or turn around. The final half-mile is not for the faint of heart. Steep drop-downs await you on either side of a narrow ridge to the landing. Hanging onto a chain bolted in the rock wall at 1,400 feet in the air can really take your breath away. The view once you reach the summit is a breathtaking panoramic of the surrounding canyon, leaving you awestruck and beyond ecstatic for tackling such a difficult yet rewarding hike.
My second day in Zion started even earlier, as I had more preparation to do for the planned hike. At Zion Outfitter, located right by the Visitor Center, I got specialized waterproof pants, canyoneering boots, waterproof socks, and a walking stick to hike The Narrows. The Narrows is the narrowest canyon in Zion and you are walking in the Virgin River surrounded by rock walls a thousand feet into the air. The Narrows leave you feeling tiny in comparison to the surrounding towering walls. In November, the water was cool but not freezing and the chance of flash flooding was lower than in the spring months. The Narrows is also considered a strenuous hike, but mainly due to hiking upstream in the river. The hike is very flat, with no steep inclines, you hike in as far as you want then turn and hike back out. I hiked for about three hours in and another three hours back. Most of the time the water was knee-deep, but a few places went above my waist. Traffic was minimal and at a few places, being alone in such an enormous place really made me appreciate our world and the beauty it has to offer.
If you are considering making a trip to Zion National Park, I highly recommend attending in the later months as the crowds are smaller, the weather is cooler and the fall colors are spectacular.
-Elko Programs Coordinator, Meghan Sturgell
Above: The last half mile to Angels Landing.
Above: The Narrows
Above: The Virgin River in The Narrows
Above: The deepest section of The Narrows I hiked.