Fun fact about Zion National Park: the summer season is peak season. When it’s like 100 degrees. Most of the parks millions of visitors pass through between May and September. The other three seasons are slow, the temperatures are mild, and personally I believe the snow dusted landscape is something not to be missed.
Unfortunately, I visited during an abnormally cold time, complete with a heavy snowfall. It did limit my exploring options a little, because I ran into this sign a lot.
I had a lot of available time in Zion, so I decided to take my first day easy. I took a drive to the back of the park, where The Narrows trailhead is. The Narrows is a popular hike in Zion, but as it definitely involves getting wet, it was a hard pass for me, at least on this trip. To get to the official Narrows trailhead however, there is a very easy trail called Riverside Walk. Unfortunately that trail was closed due to falling snow and ice. So I drove back the way I came and decided to tackle the second hike I had picked out for the day, Weeping Rock. And that one was closed too.
The next parking area was a little busier than the others, so I figured I would be in luck. I threw Marlow into park, grabbed my pack and immediately hit the first trail I saw. I was being the worst type of hiker, I had no idea how difficult the climb would be, how long it would be, or where I would end up. But I decided early on that if it got too difficult I would turn around. It was definitely uphill, with a handful of switchbacks, and it was more difficult than I wanted for the day, but it was beautiful. So I kept at it.
Eventually I learned that I was hiking my way to Angel’s Landing, one of the best view points in the park. Also one of the most dangerous to get to. As unprepared as I was, and with the conditions being snowy and icy and slippery, I ended my hike at Scout’s Lookout. There I watched people slip their way down Angel’s Landing, even with their crampons and trekking poles. Of which I had none. So unfortunately I was at the point where it was too difficult to continue, but someday I’ll be back to complete the hike.
The view from Scout’s Lookout was gorgeous, and I got to enjoy some of the more difficult aspects of the hike including Walter’s Wiggles, which was frozen over so I completed a fantastic move called the “sit and slide” to make my way down. Overall the hike was mildly strenuous, and you definitely have to be sure of your footing when the trail is iced over, but at least when you end the hike at Scout’s Lookout, it was an incredibly manageable hike. I might come to amend this when I get around to climbing up to Angel’s Landing though.
I wrapped up my day exploring the Visitor’s Center, shivering as I walked between the various displays, and stopping myself from buying nearly everything at the gift shop. I picked up my Junior Ranger workbook, one of my favorite things about the National Parks. They don’t care that I’m 27 years old, so I get my badge everywhere I go.
It turned out that it was a good thing I picked up my workbook, because the area got hit with a snowstorm that night. The next day, nearly everything was closed, including most places in Springdale, the town just outside the gates to Zion. So I spent the day filling out word searches and learning more about the park.
The next day, when things had melted, I went into the park again. My first stop was at theZion Lodge, to hike to the Emerald Pools. The trail to the upper and middle pools was closed when I was there due to storm damage, and I was a little apprehensive about the hike because almost everything I read raved about the upper pool, hardly mentioning the lower one. The path winds by some beautiful sights, finally opening up to a small grotto. Admittedly the pool was looking less than emerald, but there was a beautiful waterfall and it had frozen in the most incredible ways. It was definitely worth the visit.
Even more incredible was the climb to Canyon Overlook Trail. When I walked up to the trailhead, a park ranger was shoveling the sidewalk. The trail was covered with about eight inches of snow, and it hadn’t been disturbed. I took that to mean that this trail, like so many others, was closed. Luckily the ranger was there though, so I was able to ask if it was open.
She responded with a resounding, “it’s open!” And then added that I was the first person to hike the trail in two days, as the access road had been snowed out, so I had to report back with the conditions. The hike had gorgeous overlooks, and it passed along cliff-sides, and under alcoves in the rock. Eventually it opens up onto a plateau, and there is where my blissful solo hike started to go downhill. Figuratively.
The snow made it difficult to find the trail, and I tried about five different routes, giving up on each. Eventually a couple turned up and they were able to use a map on their phone to find the proper route. We continued along, through the snow, and eventually found the overlook, but not before we nearly stumbled into a group of bighorn sheep. The path definitely got busier as I began to descend, but those moments of solitary are something I’ll hold on to forever.
That afternoon and the next day were dedicated to the Zion Half Marathon, hosted by Vacation Races. The expo was that afternoon, and eating a great prerace meal was also on the agenda. (It was an enchilada and prickly pear margarita. I’m obviously very health conscious.) The race was Saturday morning, and oh BOY was it cold. I was miserable. The course was beautiful though, and so I guess it was worth it. I just wish it would have been above 10 degrees. I spent most of the day recovering, partially from the strenuous activity, but mostly from the cold.
Sunday was my last day in Springdale, and the first day I had to use the Zion shuttle, and I wanted to tackle the rest of the hikes on my list. Riverside Walk and Weeping Rock were still partially closed due to the weather, but I did get to experience a little of them. I also stopped at the Court of the Patriarchs, and climbed the short hill there. It only took about fifteen minutes, which was a perfect because I was able to hop on the very next shuttle.
I then walked the Pa’rus Trail from Canyon Junction, to the Human History Museum. The museum isn’t that big, so if you missed it or if it’s closed, don’t fret. There were some great nuggets of information there though, so it’s worth a stop if you have the time. Continuing along the Pa’rus Trail, I followed it back to the Visitor’s Center. The path is easy, paved, and there are hardly any elevation changes. It passes through some beautiful areas though, and I wish I would have walked it toward the beginning of my time here. It was a great way to get acquainted with the park.
My final experience was the Watchman Trail, starting from the Visitor’s Center. This was my absolute favorite hike. It wasn’t long, and although it is a climb, it didn’t feel strenuous at all. The reward at the end, the overlook, was the best I had seen in the park. I sat up there for ages just soaking it all in.
My next night I spent in Cedar City, UT. This was a better starting place for me to access Kolob Canyons from. Kolob Canyons is technically a part of Zion National Park, but unless you’re willing to combine a couple of very long backpacking trails, you’ll have to enter the park via a separate Visitor’s Center. This is the only building on the property, aside from a handful of bathrooms, and it is really just an information desk and a very small gift shop.
The hiking is incredible though. I started my day on the Taylor Creek Trail. Personally, I found the “end goal” to be a bit of a let down, but that didn’t make the trail any less impressive to me. Along the way, you’ll run into two separate cabins, built by Gustive O. Larson in 1930. You’ll also catch views of the iconic red rock faces of the area, and traverse along side a small creek. I was pleasantly surprised both by how few people there were on the trail, and how gorgeous it was.
To wrap up my day, I followed the park road to its end, and hiked the Timber Creek Overlook Trail. If you don’t take the short hike, you’ll still have an opportunity to see the finger canyons, but if you feel like taking the short one mile roundtrip hike, you’ll be blown away. Maybe even literally. The top of the mountain is very exposed, and very windy, but astounding. It was a perfect way to tie up my time in Zion, as I’m pretty sure I could see every single place I had hiked the past week.
There is one other hike I wish I could have done, a fourteen mile round trip hike to Kolob Arch via La Verkin Creek, but I was unable to do so because of the weather. The volunteer I spoke to told me that when the conditions are clear, it’s a great hike, but to struggle through the snow, especially when no one else had done so in days, would make it difficult. I’m adding it to the list of Hikes I Need To Complete Next Time I’m In Zion.
Overall, I’m so happy that Zion was the first National Park of this trip, and of my newfound freedom the van brings me. I loved being able to slowly experience everything this area has to offer.