Zion National Park: The Progressive Traveller Guide

by | Jun 15, 2018 | Fitness, North America, Tourism, Transport, Travel, Travel Tips, United States of America (USA)

Exploring Zion National Park

The inside travel guide to exploring Zion National Park Utah

The Zion National Park (originally called Mukuntuweap National Monument) was established in 1909 by William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States (1909–1913). The 147,000+ acres park is located within the U.S. state of Utah.

In 1919, the park was expanded and renamed Zion National Park. The name change was partly due to the fact that ‘Mukuntuweap’ was difficult to pronounce and the National Park Service was concerned that if people couldn’t pronounce the name then they wouldn’t visit the park.

In 1937, Kolob Canyon was added to Zion National Park. The word “Kolob” is from Mormon scripture meaning “residence closest to heaven.”

Zion National Park was first explored by Mormon pioneers, missionaries, and explorers. The name Zion is a Hebrew word that means ‘a place of peace and relaxation.’ This was the name given to the canyon in the 1860s by Mormon pioneers.

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During the busy Spring and Summer months there can be long lines waiting for the shuttles. These lines move quickly however allow an extra half-hour to your start time.

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Zion Canyon Shuttle Queue

(June 2018)

Zion Is A Place For Everyone

7-Hours in Zion Heaven

Hiking in Zion National Park is a very rewarding experience with a wide selection of trails varying in degrees of difficulties, level of fitness including some wheelchair and scroller friendly trials.

During my 7-hour visit in Zion, I explored ‘The Narrows’, ‘Weeping Rock’ and ‘Emerald Pools’.

Springdale Park and Ride

After parking at the free shuttle parking lot at Springdale, I took the free Zion shuttle service a few bus stops to Zion Canyon Visitors Centre. There is limited paid parking available at the main canyon (visitor centre) and these parking lots fill up by early morning with visitors who enjoy hiking before the day heats up.

Springdale Shuttle Schedule

The Springdale shuttle service is very efficient leaving frequently from the Zion Canyon Visitor Centre. The loop shuttle buses arrive at each stop, every 7-10 minutes. Free Shuttle Schedule 2018

The free Zion Canyon Shuttle operates seasonal from March through to the end of November 2018.

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America the Beautiful

Once at the park, crossed over the pedestrian bridge to the National Park ticket entrance. If you are planning to visit a number of U.S. National Parks, it is advisable to purchase an annual U.S. National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass for $80U.S. The card allows you and your passengers access into all U.S. National Parks. The person who purchases the card must also present photo I.D. each time with the pass.

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Zion Canyon Shuttle

From Zion Canyon Visitor Centre, visitors catch another free bus shuttle up Zion’s scenic main canyon.

For visitors who are limited by time, riding the shuttle is the easiest way to see some of the parks most beautiful sights.

A round trip takes approximately 80 minutes and shuttles run regularly from each stop allowing visitors to ‘get on and off’ to explore the park.

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The most scenic stops are:
• Bus stop 2. Zion Lodge
• Bus stop 4. Court of the Patriarchs
• Bus stop 8. Big Bend

The bus stops at:
1. Visitor Centre – Pa’rus, Archaeology, Watchman Trials
2. Zion Museum
3. Canyon Junction
4. Court of the Patriarchs
5. Zion Lodge – Emerald Pools, Sand Bench Trials
6. The Grotto – Angels Landing, Kayenta, Grotto Trials
7. Weeping Rock – Hidden Canyon, Observation Point, Weeping Rock Trials
8. Big Bend
9. Temple of Sinawava – Riverside Walk, The Narrows Trials

Progressive Traveller’s Zion Park Itinerary

Riverwalk & The Narrows

I caught the shuttle to the end of the line which is Stop 9, ‘Temple of Sinawava’.

From Temple of Sinawava you can access the Riverside Walk, Virgin River and The Narrows.

Bus Stop Amenities:
• Restrooms
• Water bottle filling station
• Ranger-led programs

The Narrows
Length: Up to you
Difficulty: Moderate

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After a relaxing Riverside walk along the Virgin River, I continued hiking on to the ‘The Narrows’. The Riverside walk is approximately 1m / 1.6k from bus stop 9. Here you see some of the best ‘narrows’ sections of the North Fork of the Virgin river.

The majority of hiking ‘The Narrows’ is largely wading up the Virgin River (canyon wall to canyon wall) as it meanders through the deep corridor of Navajo sandstone.

The river trail is an unforgettable breathtaking experience of rising majestic canyon walls, sandstone grottos, natural springs and hanging gardens.

The day I was there, the water was thigh deep in a few places, however, most areas were ankle or knee deep. Water levels change from season to season; most hikers will wade at least waist-deep and may need to swim a few short sections.

I wouldn’t say the entire trail was easy as some places were more difficult to walk than others due to the water current and slippery rocks underfoot.

The beauty of this trail is there is no formal destination and it is up to you when you wish to turn back.

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Equipment Recommendations:

Waterproof enclosed footwear, hiking poles or hiking stick, waterproof backpack and pouch for camera and mobile, microfibre towel, sunscreen, hat and water. 

Gear Hire

You can rent hiking and wet water gear from Zion Outfitters outside the park in Springdale.  All Narrows equipment can be picked up either the morning of your hike or the evening prior after 4pm. 

Click here for hire information 

Check the Weather:

All narrow canyons are potentially hazardous, heavy rains can flood the banks of the Virgin River. Be alert that Flash Floods are often caused by storms miles away.

Do not attempt this hike if the forecast indicates rain. The river levels can change in minutes from a calm shallow flow to a deadly wall of rushing water. 

Zion Weather Information

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Weeping Rock

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After 3 hours exploring ‘The Narrows’, I hiked back to Bus Stop 9 to catch the shuttle to ‘Weeping Rock.’

Weeping Rock is a short trial from Bus Stop 7 but quite steep. The shortest trial in the park is mostly paved and ends at a large rock alcove with overhead dripping springs and hanging gardens.

The water drips out of solid rock creating a mini waterfall and watering system for the rock plants. The view of the canyon walls and forestry surrounding the park is beautiful from the alcove.

Length: 0.4m/0.6k
Difficulty: Easy / Moderate
Elevation: 98ft/30m

Bus Stop Amenities:
• Restrooms

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Emerald Pools

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From Zion Lodge picnic area, you cross the road to a flat, sandy and rocky pathway that runs about 2m/3.2k along the Virgin River. On my visit, the river level and the lower and upper pools were shallow and slow flowing. These elements are different between seasons hence why Zion is a place to revisit. Some visitors were enjoying picnics and cooling off in the river. 

After taking in the vistas surrounding Weeping Rock, I headed back to Bus Stop 7 and caught the shuttle to bus stop 5 to ‘The Emerald Pools’. Emerald Pools is a popular family spot as it’s a short easy hike with small waterfalls and pools including beautiful views of Lady Mountain, the Great White Throne, Red Arch Mountain and the sourcing cliffs of Zion Canyon.
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Zion lodge is the hub of the park with a large grassed area outside the historic lodge. Here, you will find restaurants, beer garden, bookstore and souvenir shop. The huge tree in the centre of the grassed area is perfect for picnics and a rest stop.

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There are actually three sections of the hike:

Lower Pools – more suitable for young children, strollers and wheelchairs

Middle Pools – longer and steeper than the Lower Pool Trail

Upper Pools – more strenuous hike however the effort needed to reach these pools is well worth it for the magnificent views of the canyon

Length: 3m / 4.8k roundtrip

Difficulty: Easy / Moderate

Elevation: 70f / 21m to lower, 150f /48.5m to middle, 200f / 61m to upper

Bus Stop Amenities
• Snack bar and Restaurant
• Water filling station
• Restrooms
• Accommodation
• Shops
• Horse riding
• Other trials

Summary of Zion Park

From my experience at Zion Park, I enjoyed my visit and felt like I got to see and do a number of great things within my time frame.

The shuttle service was somewhat slow inside the park however considering how many visitors were there on a Sunday the line moved at a reasonable rate. 

Starting at the end of the shuttle line was a good way of seeing the layout of the park and starting points for the various trials. I was glad I started at the Riverwalk and The Narrows as I was able to dry out my hiking boots by the end of the late afternoon. 

 

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