Most of us dream of traveling to faraway exotic places to see untouched landscapes and take in some awe-inspiring views. But what about what’s right in our own backyard? Domestic travel might not sound as sexy but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any unforgettable experiences right here at home. One of those places is Zion National Park in Utah, a place that will cause your jaw to drop as you become overwhelmed by the park’s natural beauty.
Truthfully, you’ll want to see it all, like a kid in a candy store – and we really can’t blame you. But in case you can’t fit it all in in one go, here’s our essential list of places at Zion to get a taste.
To preface, you can drive through on your own and enjoy some of the stunning sights and even see wildlife wandering across the road or you can enter on foot and take a shuttle to any of the eight designated stops along the way.
The shuttle system limits traffic and helps reduce pollution in the park and we’re perfectly content with this. Not only does it mean you don’t have to worry about steering a pesky vehicle and potentially driving off a cliff, but you can take pictures and travel at your own leisure.
Out of the eight spots we recommend 3: Emerald Pools, Angel’s Landing and The Narrows.
*Photo by Jeff Krause
The hike up to the pools is roughly a one-mile loop and the view is rewarding. There is a small waterfall that trickles down into a stagnant body of water and the liquid flows through a small sandstone crevice. The sandstone’s smooth appearance will make you want to reach out and touch it, and while you can try, you likely won’t be able to reach it 😉
There are 3 sections (lower, middle and upper pools):
- The lower falls takes you through vegetation that becomes much more lush and the trail heads under an alcove with 2 waterfalls deeding the pools below.
- The middle section takes you on top of the cliff you just walked under. This section of the pools are those that feed the waterfalls.
- Finally, the upper pool appears after a hot and sandy quarter mile. This little bit of effort will take you to the last pool at the base of the 300 foot cliffs above!
Since the Emerald Pools hike is short and sweet it can get pretty busy, so it’s best to do this one as early as possible, otherwise you’ll have a lot of company on the trail.
*Photo by Dmitry.S.
Start this one early!
Even though the hike is only 2.4 miles each way, the steady climb up can take a toll on your calves! The entirety of the path is brutally uphill and certain parts are steep enough that it will make you use certain muscles that you didn’t even know existed. As you reach the top of the paved path, you will face two options: take in the view here or continue onwards to the top.
The remainder of the path is on top of a sheer cliff and the possibility of dying is real! Since 2004 there have been a handful of individuals who have fallen and died here. There is no need to worry as long as you’re mindful of the path, but if heights aren’t your thing you may have a tough time during the last part of the hike.
- Chains are bolted into the rock to help you as you make your way along the side of the cliffs with 1,000 + foot drops right to your side! Definitely one of the more unique hiking experiences you’ll encounter.
After the tumultuous journey, the reward for your hard work will be sweet. The vantage point from the top of 5,790 feet is awe-inspiring and nearly indescribable in beauty. The whole ancient valley will lie at your feet as you look upon what nature created. If you come to Zion from anywhere in the world just to see this one thing, it will be worth it.
Just remember, the later in the day you go the more people will be packed on a tiny cliff path. Might not be the best idea if you’re already a little nervous…
*Photo by Robbie Shade
Probably the reason most people want to come to Zion, The Narrows are truly something else. Just imagine walking in the middle of a river that’s carved its way through a canyon, with massive walls towering above you. Pretty easy to see why this is one of our favorites.
- Be prepared to get wet. A lot of the trek involves trekking through sometimes waist deep, frigid river water. If you do not rent waders (which you can do at a local shop in town), you will have a much tougher time getting to where you want to go.
- Depending on when you hike The Narrows the water can be pretty cold. Wear dry fit clothes or a bathing suit. Cotton shirts and pants will just stay wet and keep you cold. At that point, you’re better off walking around in your birthday suit.
As you make your way further down the river you’ll achieve a sense of satisfying isolation and an incredible connection to your surroundings. On either side of you, giant, thousand foot tall cliffs will loom over you like living giants.
What’s more striking is the combination of vivid, distinctive colours swirled throughout the cliffs. These huge stone structures make the river cold since they don’t allow sunlight into the narrows, causing you to be in the cool shade for most of your journey.
The further along you go, the thinner the canyon walls get. The gradual transformation into slot canyons is an eerily serene and comforting experience but one well worth the time spent traversing through the cold river.
Seriously though, Zion is a must-see for everyone.