Zion National Park, UT

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After three days of working at Trading Post (pictured) I finally get to go inside Zion, although it teases me from the bluff overlooking the campground on a daily basis. On my first day I took a quick hike up this bluff and get a shot of park of the campground from above, and also overlooking the valley that runs into Zion. The park starts less than a mile from where I’m living, so close I can almost touch it.

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It costs $25 for a 7-day vehicle pass into the park. Motorcycles are $12 as are bicycles and walk-ins. If you’re going to be driving your RV through and it’s taller than 11’4″ or wider than 7’10” you’ll have to pay an additional $15 fee for traffic control to get through the tunnel, and there are time of day restrictions as well. Vehicles longer than 50′ or taller than 13’1″ are not allowed.

Route 9 is the only road you can drive on during the busy season, it cuts from east to south and covers a pretty small portion of the park in Pine Creek Canyon. The free shuttle service goes up Zion Canyon and is the way to access most of the park’s hiking trails and see most of the views. I found the shuttle service a little confusing at first so let me try to explain it in a way that’ll make more sense and get you the most out of your visit.

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Although there is parking at the Visitor’s Center just inside the park’s south entrance, it was completely full up when I went on Friday morning, and the pamphlet I got says it’s usually full from 10 am to 3 pm in the summer. If all you have time for is a drive through the park and don’t particularly care about seeing the Visitor’s Center, then go ahead and pay the vehicle fee and take Route 9, there are several pull offs for pictures and it also access to the 1 mile round trip Canyon Overlook Trail, which gives a panoramic view of Pine Creek Canyon where it meets Zion Canyon. This trail is rated moderately difficult and has a few steep drop offs. The first six of my pictures after the two from the campground were all taken along Route 9 and this trail. This road also includes an impressive 1.1 mile tunnel that was quite fun to drive through and a steep section of road with six switchbacks.

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If you want to spend more time in Zion, or want to see the Visitor’s Center during busy hours, you’ll need to get on the shuttle. There are two shuttle services, the first ferries people from various stops in the town of Springdale just outside the park’s south entrance right up to the entrance to the park, where visitors then walk into the park and arrive at the Visitor’s Center and can take the second shuttle service, which goes from the Visitor’s Center to various stops along Zion Canyon. If you’re staying in Springdale, I’d just leave the vehicles alone and use the shuttle service. If you’re coming from farther, you can try to pay the vehicle fee and park at the Visitor’s Center to catch the shuttle service going up the Canyon, but as I said parking is hard to come by. I ended up driving all the way through the park into Springdale and catching the shuttle back in because there simply wasn’t room to park at the time. It was a bit of a time waster, but worked out in the end.

zion-national-park05Once you’re on the Canyon shuttle, the fun begins. The round trip is about 80 minutes and has eight stops. It’s free, so stop as often as you like to get off. Shuttles run every 15 minutes from 8 am to 8 pm until Labor Day.

There are 18 day trails in the park, and 14 are only accessible from the Canyon shuttle. I’ve only done three of them so far – the Lower and Upper Emerald Pool Trails and the Canyon Overlook Trail but they’ve all been great. Zion is definitely a good park for hiking, as I do more of them I’ll be posting about the experience.

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My advice on the Emerald Pools, the lower one is great and is rated easy with a paved trail. The trail cuts behind the falls and you can get misted and cool off if you go under it. The waterfall into this pool was quite small when I hiked it due to the dry conditions, but it was still really neat to see because the undercut cliff it flows off of is so tall. The trail to the next two is unpaved and rated Moderate, the middle pool isn’t far from the lower but isn’t as scenic, the upper pool is considerably beyond that but quite pretty. There is no waterfall here, but the pool is larger and set at the base of an impressive cliff and is shaded in the afternoon. Either stop at the lower and turn around (1.2 miles round trip) or go all the way to the upper pool (2.2 miles round trip).

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Photography is stupidly easy inside the park, because it’s just that breathtaking of a place. Point your camera and snap the shutter and you’ve probably got a worthy photo. I believe I have something like 15 photos in this post, and I could have easily had twice that. Every curve of the road gives another view just begging to have it’s picture taken. The lack of foliage makes it easy to get pictures of the geology, and where there is foliage, it’s contrast to all of the reddish rock makes an equally compelling picture.

The east end of the park has smoother more rounded rock formations that aren’t as tall but have incredible patterns and grain to them. In places it looks like hot fondue was poured slowly and allowed to harden in waves of rust and cream. Stop at any of the pull-offs along route 9 in this area for a fun picture.

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Once you pass through the long tunnel you’re in Pine Creek Canyon which also makes for good pictures in a different way. The mountains here are tall and much steeper and make a great backdrop, and there are several arch-like formations in this canyon that haven’t become true arches as the rock wearing out underneath hasn’t hollowed all the way through. Zion Canyon that you see with the shuttle is similar. I wonder if in a million years or so, this area will be like a new Arches park.

As you get close to the Visitor’s Center and the Virgin River things green up and there are actual trees. The river is quite clear and remains cool even in the summer, I believe at the Visitor’s Center the temperature was listed as 64 degrees. The park’s two campgrounds are near the Visitor’s Center and the water and are shaded, but it’s hard to get in right now. The South Campground is first come first served, so if you arrive early enough in the morning you have a chance. The Watchmen Campground is a reservation campground, and it sounds like it gets booked up months in advance for the summer.

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As far as amenities go, every stop has water fountains where you can fill up your water bottles, which is good if you’re visiting this time of year. The Visitor Center and the Lodge stops on the shuttle tour have restrooms, and the Lodge also has a little cafe, gift shop, and lodging.

Beyond all of that basic stuff, let me just say that Zion is everything I’d hoped it would be when I envisioned a trip out West. It’s just so different from anyplace I’ve been so far. The only additional recommendation I’d make at this point is to say that if you can manage it, visiting in spring or fall would probably be even better – less crowds and better daytime temperatures, although with the humidity as low as it is here, while I’ve been hot it hasn’t dampened my outings so far. Tomorrow I’m going with some coworkers to hike the Narrows in the park which I’m really excited about, I won’t spoil all the details but it entails hiking up a slot canyon in water. Have a good week everyone!

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WiFi is being too slow to get all the pictures up right now, I’ll edit the post and get the rest of them later.

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

36 Comments

  1. Mark Sundstrom on July 3, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Hi Becky, you’re in one of my favorite parts of the country; you’ll have a great time there. Zion is great, so is Bryce and the North Rim; Cedar Breaks is also nice if you get a chance. One of my favorite roads is Utah Highway 12, though I haven’t driven it with the Casita yet.
    All the Zion hikes are fun; I do recommend Angels Landings, up to the top of Walters Wiggles. Looking down from the top of the Wiggles is fun! Don’t feel like you have to do the part after the Wiggles to the actual top of Angels Landing; it’s extremely narrow with huge dropoffs – and people do die on that part of the route — I don’t like that so I just skip it. Instead you can continue on another trail a mile or more to some pretty back country. Have fun!
    –Mark



    • Becky on July 6, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      Angel’s Landing is on my to-hike list with co-workers, we’re going to try to do one hike a week. I’m not afraid of heights so I intend to go all the way to the top, I’ll be careful!



  2. Troy on July 3, 2014 at 1:57 pm

    Really beautiful looking place. Looks like a summer full of adventure and exploration. Jealous!

    Question: Do you tell fellow employees/employers about your blog?

    Be safe on the hiking trails.



    • Becky on July 6, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      So far yes Troy, what a great area this is!

      If they seem interested in what I do yes I tell them, so some do and some don’t.



  3. Dawn on July 3, 2014 at 7:14 am

    Thanks for the memories of a trip in my childhood! Love Zion!



    • Becky on July 6, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      Aww, so glad you liked it Dawn!



  4. Amber on July 1, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Love the photos! I have never been there, and your descriptions along with the photos have made me add it to my list of places to see. I’m glad you are enjoying it there. Looking forward to reading your future posts about the area and your job there.
    Amber recently posted..Slunky hose supports and X-chock wheel lock stabilizers…My Profile



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      If you get a chance you definitely should visit it sometime Amber. There’s definitely more to come…



  5. Barrie on July 1, 2014 at 9:02 am

    Thank you for your wonderful pictures and descriptions. I enjoy every post.
    Cheers,
    Barrie



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it Barrie!



  6. Furry Gnome on June 30, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Wow! Looks amazing! Glad you’re there to enjoy it.



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      Yeah, it’s such a great place.



  7. Liz on June 30, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    My partner David and I have visited Zion twice in the spring. Highly recommended! But even at this time of year, I’m sure it’s fantastic. Be sure to hike the Hidden Canyon Trail. FYI–My partner David and I have published a mystery set in Zion and featuring a couple traveling in their Casita (like you and like us) who become accidental sleuths. It includes a lot of history of the area and is based on a true unsolved mystery. The e-book is titled Prey for Zion and is published under our pen name–E.D. MacDavey. You’ll find it in the Kindle Store on Amazon for a mere 99 cents. If I could figure out how to embed a link here, I would!



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 1:07 pm

      Interesting Liz, I’ll give it a peek!



  8. Tracy on June 30, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Want to go to rainbow bridge while you are working close by? We are working at Lake Powell, Wawheap. I can finagle a free trip by tour boat. shoot me an email.



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      Oooo, that sounds like fun Tracy! I’m definitely interested, let me work on the timing.



      • Tracy on July 2, 2014 at 5:50 pm

        Give me one or 2 days notice. It’ll be good to meet in person. Spacy3333@gmail.com
        One at 7am everyday. Bring lunch.



  9. Fireman Steve on June 30, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Like others have mentioned, try hiking the “Narrows”. Awesome experience.
    Have fun. I hope it’s not to hot there yet…



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Haha, I said I was doing that next in the post, it was a lot of fun! More on that coming.



  10. Hans Kohls on June 30, 2014 at 10:17 am

    While you’re in the area check out Best Friends Animal Sanctuary http://bestfriends.org/the-sanctuary/explore-the-sanctuary/ It is not that far from the East end of Zion Nat Park. They have tours and you can even volunteer if you like and get your animal fix. http://metamorphosisroad.blogspot.com/2012/11/kanab-ut-and-best-friends-animal-society.html
    Hans Kohls recently posted..A Day in Hood River CountryMy Profile



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      Yeah I’ve seen the signs coming from Kanab, that’s also on my list. 🙂



  11. Jodee Gravel on June 30, 2014 at 9:55 am

    Thanks for the great tips on access to the park. We have only driven “through” one time and are looking forward to spending a couple weeks there in Fall 2015. I hear the Narrows hike is awesome and look forward to hearing your experience. What a great place to call home for the summer!!!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..We’re Not Leaving the Planet, Not Even the Continent!My Profile



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      The narrows was great! I’ll be writing about that next, hopefully tomorrow if there’s time. Glad you found this information helpful.



  12. Reine on June 30, 2014 at 8:56 am

    Those of us who have the Senior Access Pass get into Zion and all other national parks for free. Best $10 anyone 62 or over will ever spend. Enjoy your summer and Zion. You will enyoy the Narrows trail.



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 1:01 pm

      Yep Reine, although $80 for a year can be a good deal too if a person goes often enough, we’ll have to see.



  13. Jack on June 30, 2014 at 7:42 am

    I new you would like Zion,it’s breath taking some time. I went thru the tunnel on my motorcycle with out my headlight, kinda crazy but fun. check out Bryce Canyon great hiking there too.



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      Yep Bryce is on the list Jack. And I’m tsk-ing you now for not turning your headlights on, that could be dangerous.



  14. Joann on June 30, 2014 at 12:18 am

    I am glad that you are enjoying your first week at Zion. I loved the time I spent at Zion two years ago. I stayed in Watchman Campground. Several times I got on the first shuttle of the morning and rode it out to the last stop. From there I could walk the path beside the water all alone, just enjoying the cool of the morning and listening to the birds sing. I turned around at the place where you had to enter the water to continue. Wading in the water does sound like fun, though.

    Enjoy your summer! There are lots of wonderful day trips from Zion, some at higher altitudes where you can get a break from the heat.



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 12:59 pm

      It was a lot of fun wading up the river, what a unique experience it was! I’ll be blogging about that next. I’m glad you enjoyed your trip there too, Watchman campground sitting near the river like it does has a lot of shade which is nice.



  15. Kim on June 29, 2014 at 10:54 pm

    Love your new home!
    Kim recently posted..Boring, OregonMy Profile



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      It’s so gorgeous! Wonder what it’ll be like in a month when the rains start.



  16. Ron on June 29, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Great post & photos, enjoy. Ron



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 12:54 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it Ron!



  17. Caroline near Seattle on June 29, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    as we all said in your last entry … you’re in for a fantastic summer and we’re all looking forward to reading about your hikes and experiences.
    It’s quite telling that you didn’t say one word about your job! That’s a good sign! Lovely photos. As you said, Zion lends itself well to photography.

    BTW, how IS the job? how is your camping area. Do you have wifi access at home?



    • Becky on July 2, 2014 at 12:54 pm

      Eh, the job’s a job Caroline. I decided when I started this adventure that I was going to prioritize life over working so I don’t think about it much when I’m not there. Well, that and it’s not as fun for my readers to hear about work compared to the area. 😉

      Right now the places doesn’t have enough help so I’ve already got keys and the code to the safe and am opening and closing on my own, which I’d rather not have the responsibility of doing, but that’s how it goes. It’d be great to have another couple people, especially since this is 4th of July weekend and we’re bound to be very busy.

      The campground doesn’t have WiFi but where I work across the street does so that’s where I get online, hence there are days when I don’t get online at all, one of the trade-offs for a remote and beautiful location.



      • Caroline near Seattle on July 2, 2014 at 5:44 pm

        I was only looking for a little basic info, similar to what you described last summer. For people who plan to fulltime and/or workcamp, a little info about employment is always appreciated.
        ie, do you have a set schedule, will you always get 40 hrs, how many other employees camp, or are most employees local, are utilities incl.



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