Zion National Park

Doug en route to Observation Point

Zion (pronounced ‘ZY-in’ by locals, not ‘ZY-on’) National Park is the most superlative of the National Parks we visited so far. It has the tallest and most dramatic cliffs, soaring 2,500 feet from the Zion Canyon floor. The most innocently named Virgin River continues to flow through the canyon years (ok, millions…) after carving those cliffs. Zion has the largest number of scenic roads with four providing views into the park’s most beautiful areas. The main road through the Zion Canyon features the largest fleet of tandem buses we’ve seen. Zion has the greatest number of elated day hikers anywhere (despite a limited number of day hikes available within the canyon).

We heard that the walk-in campground at Zion typically filled up by around 9am. On our first attempt, which involved a 5am start to a long approach from the east, our best efforts got us in the park’s east entrance, through the mile-long tunnel (one way at a time, for vehicles as large as ours) and up to the campground at 9:05, where we were 25th in the long line of cars and RVs waiting for a campsite. The line slowly shortened, but not short enough; we just missed the cutoff for the day. No worries, though – we had a plan B. Zion is surrounded by BLM land which allows camping essentially anywhere. We drove up Kolob Canyon on one of Zion’s scenic roads for some sightseeing, passing through 2 layers of plateaus surrounded by gorgeous rock formations, and for some recon. We set up camp at a pleasant and convenient BLM site along the North Creek, not too far from the main road into town, and enjoyed a totally chill day. This time, we were 20 minutes from the Zion campgound…

Jobs Head from Wildcat Canyon switchback

We were 6th in line at 6am when we arrived the next morning. By 7am, there were 30 vehicles in line. We were situated in a great campsite by 9am, just in time for a downpour that lasted most of the day. Not to be deterred by a little rain, we donned our rain gear and rode the bus through the canyon, scouting out places we’d explore once the rain stopped. The park features many ‘walks’ – paved paths leading to interesting sights less than a mile from the bus stop, which we enjoyed when the rain slowed down. The Zion Museum and Zion Visitor Center are dry places where one can learn about the history and geology of the park.

Leaving camp on foot early the next morning, we caught a bus that took us part-way up the canyon. From there we spent a cool, mostly sunny day hiking to the Observation Point. Crazy! The point juts out into the canyon from the summit of Mount Baldy 2,000 above the river and overlooks most of Zion Canyon. (The other Zion day hike is to Angels Landing, which, though spectacular in its own right, is dwarfed by Mount Baldy.) Getting there included approximately a million switchbacks carved into sheer cliffs over the course of 4 miles. (Because the canyon is so deep and narrow, it holds on to the moist air (recall, southern Utah is in the desert), enabling the growth of many varieties of flowering plants nestled into every little crack in the canyon walls everywhere along the trail and moss (yes, moss!) – it was just gorgeous! The trail to Observation Point may also have been the noisiest trail we’ve ever been on – hikers audibly squealing with delight at every turn as yet another spectacular view unfolded. And there were a lot of them!

Mount Baldy, Observation Point

Zion has impressive systems to manage the crowds, including an easy to use shuttle bus (no cars in Zion Canyon most of the year), queue management at shuttle stops and tunnels, and clear signage at trails that are surfaced to prevent erosion caused by the passage of 9 million feet each year. Despite the crowds and limited day hikes, Zion is spectacular and we’re very glad we visited.

As we left Zion to join friends in Arizona for a few days, we couldn’t decide whether to take the shorter, more direct route, or the longer, more scenic route. We opted for short, but we found that route closed due to rock slides. The universe has spoken – scenic route it is…

For those who are interested, more pix on Kolob Terrace, a rainy day in Zion, Observation Point.

Selves-ie atop Observation Point

2 thoughts on “Zion National Park”

    1. Thanks Chris! We only wish the pix could reflect more of what we’re actually seeing. There ain’t no lens wide enough to capture the vast beauty. C’mon out and you’ll see what I mean…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *