After 5 days of exploring the mountains of Grand Teton and mesmerizing over the powerful geysers and colorful hot springs in Yellowstone, we finally made our way south through the entire state of Idaho and into Utah to visit Zion National Park. We had quite a fiasco on I-15, 200 mikes past Salt Lake City, as our car broke down in a heavy construction zone on the highway . We ended up having to tow the rental over 130 miles toward Springdale, AZ (home-base for Zion) before realizing that we broke down because...we ran out of gas. It was a silly mistake looking back, but in our defense, the gas meter on the car was broken and the car scans at the nearest auto shop after our initial tow didn't help to diagnose the real issue. If anyone's wondering, Avis ended up reimbursing our $$$ tow ride after we returned the car a week later, but the situation was definitely frightening to say the least and I'm so happy we were safe.
Where to Stay
Even with our little setback with the car situation, we made it to our hotel in Zion the same day as planned (just 3 hours later). We stayed at La Quinta Inn in Springdale, which I highly recommend due to its close proximity to the park entrance (~5 minutes by car). If you plan to stay overnight and do a multi-day visit to the park, definitely choose one of the dozens of hotels/inns in Springdale since many of them are just a couple minute drive into the park, or in some cases, you can even walk right in to avoid dealing with the limited parking situation. La Quinta is a beautiful resort with gorgeous views from every angle, especially from the pool. However, I'm willing to bet that many of the other resorts have similar, spectacular views since the red rocks are so close and surround Springdale. Pick the hotel that best fits your budget, though I found many of the options here to be much more affordable than the hotels in West Yellowstone and Jackson.
COVID-19 has certainly shaken up the travel industry and the parks have made it their number one priority to keep visitors as safe as possible as they have resumed service over the past couple of months. In an effort to promote social distancing and reduce capacity to comply with COVID-19 guidelines, Zion now operates on a ticketed shuttle system (as of July 1, 2020). Before COVID, you were able to hop on and off the shuttle buses throughout the park to access various hikes whenever you wanted throughout the day. Now, you must reserve a $1, non-refundable ticket for each guest online prior to your visit. Tickets are available for one-hour blocks between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. (advance and day-before tickets available from 6 am to 2 pm; limited afternoon walk-up available from 3 pm to 6 pm).
- Tickets went on sale through Recreation.gov on July 16th for the month of August.
- Advance shuttle tickets will be available on a rolling two-week basis for the month of September.
Tickets for September 1 through September 15, 2020 will be available on August 16, at 9 am Mountain Time (MT).
Tickets for September 16 through September 30, 2020 will be released on August 31 at 9 am MT.
Read more about how the shuttle system here as it will include detailed instructions on shuttle stops and how to reserve your tickets.
Getting your hands on a shuttle ticket is the toughest part, so if you manage to snag a few, congratulations! If you didn't do your research and come unprepared like many visitors I saw asking the info booth at the park, don't stress too much because you can still enjoy Zion without using the shuttle system. However, the most famous and best hikes in the park like the Narrows and Angels Landing, will require the use of the shuttle, so try your best to secure the tickets if you can.
Our first day at the park was spent exploring trails that didn't require shuttle access. We parked at the Visitor Center and luckily were able to find a space. Parking is definitely limited and can be tough to find, so I highly recommend coming early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Plus, the temperature will be cooler and much more enjoyable. Afternoon temperatures during our visit was upwards of 110 degrees in mid July!
Length: 3.1 miles (1 way) Time: ~2 hours
The Watchman Trail was one of my favorite hikes out of all the parks we visited during this west coast trip. Even though there was no shade at all and it was a toasty 105 degrees and rising by 11am, I thoroughly enjoyed the steady inclines and gorgeous panoramic views. Even by noon, it wasn't too crowded, though if I knew how hot it was going to be, I probably would've done this hike earlier in the morning to avoid the hottest time of the day. The Watchman Trail can be accessed right from the Visitor Center, which means you won't need a shuttle ticket to enjoy.
Length: 3.4 miles (1 way)
Time: ~1 hr 30 mins
The Pa'rus trail is a highly accessible and non-strenuous, flat path that can also be accessed easily from the Visitor Center. It is perfect for those who want to enjoy gorgeous scenery and river views without needing to exert much energy as it is more of a walk than a hike. This trail is great for families with small children or for those with elders in their group as it is the perfect morning or evening stroll. There aren't many dog and bike friendly trails within Zion, so Pa'rus is also perfect for a walk with the pup(they must be leashed) or for that bike ride if you want a change of pace from hiking. You can bring your own bike or rent one for the day at one of the shops in Springdale.
Angels Landing Trail
Length: 5 miles
Time: ~3.5 hours
Angel's Landing is one of Zion's most popular hikes, and if I must say, one of the tougher ones. During our entire trip, we did over 12 hikes, and this was definitely the most strenuous one by far. There is a 1680 ft elevation gain over the 5 miles, and I was not prepared for the steep inclines, which is basically the entire way up. Unfortunately, the chain section of the Angels Landing Trail (see in the second photo below) was closed due to COVID-19. This section is one of the most famous parts of the park and has the best views based on people who had done it before, so it was a bit disappointing that we were unable to climb it. However, safety comes first and we were still able to enjoy the views at the lookout at the top. Make sure to bring a packed lunch for a picnic with epic views.
We started the hike at 8:30 am and ended at around 12pm since we continued a little bit further after Angels Landing. Again, I must stress to GO EARLY. The heat during peak summer in the mid-afternoon is quite unbearable and I could not imagine doing the climbing we did if it had not been early in the morning.
The Zion Narrows Riverside Walk
Length: 1.9 miles Time: 45 minutes
If there is one thing we missed out on in Zion, it's definitely the Narrows Riverside Walk. The trail is only under 2 miles, but requires special equipment (including booties and pants) since most of the hike is through the water between the canyon walls. You can rent the equipment at many of the adventure shops in Springdale, but make sure to plan out your visit in advance since the Riverwalk can only be accessed via shuttle at this point.
For those adventure seekers, you can take the Zion Narrows Trail to Imlay Temple and Big Spring, which is 8.6 miles and take over 6 hours to complete.
And that's a wrap for the grand national park tour! The Grand Canyon was originally part of the potential trip plan, but after such an exhausting and rewarding week in Jackson, Yellowstone and Zion, we decided to skip Grand Canyon to relax a bit more in Vegas.
COVID is far from being over, so continue to stay safe and healthy during this time. However, do keep in mind that spending time outdoors and enjoying nature is both good for your body and soul, so whether its hiking at a national park or walking in your neighborhood, get out there and stay active!