When I was in 6th or 7th grade, we had to pick a National Park to do an oral report on for social studies class. I don’t remember what national park I ended up doing my report on, it might’ve been Acadia since I had just visited Acadia over the summer with my camp on a teen tour [where you travel to different places for the summer, day trips and overnight trips ranging from 3 days to a week], or it might’ve been Zion, Olympic, or Bryce Canyon because those were the national parks that I always said I had to visit one day because to middle school aged Lyssa, those seemed like the most beautiful and awesome national parks ever. Justin and I got to cross Olympic off that list in 2015 on our honeymoon up the west coast [along with Yosemite, Yellowstone, Crater Lake, Grand Tetons, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, & Rocky Mountain National Parks], but this winter was the first chance I ever had to visit the Utah national parks.
I wasn’t really worried about the government shutdown as we headed towards Zion and Bryce because I knew the state of Utah was paying to keep them open over the holidays because tourism is a huge boost in their economy.
Justin and I left Tucson really early in the morning because Utah was a good 8 hours away from Arizona. The beginning of our car ride was pretty tame. We stopped at a Starbucks in Phoenix to get a Starbucks mug to add to my always growing collection:
They didn’t have the full-size mug, only the Christmas ornament sized mug, but it was better than no mug since I have no idea when I’ll be in Arizona next to get the full-size mug [and eBay is overpriced!]. I also got an egg nog latte.
On the way to Springdale, I saw we were right by Horseshoe Bend, and wanted to make a detour there because who the hell knows the next time I’ll actually be in Arizona and get a chance to see it. Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe shaped [hence its name] part of the Colorado River, where the river bends around a cliff, sort of reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. When we went there was no parking in the actual lot, but there were several off-road parking lots on the side of route 89 with shuttles run by Horse Bend Tours for twenty bucks. From what I understand, they’re renovating the parking lot so there will be more room for people to park because tourism to Horseshoe Bend has exploded lately. There were a lot of policemen on the road by the Horseshoe Bend and they were looking for people to give tickets to, so I think you’re better off just paying the parking fee since it’ll be way cheaper than an illegal parking ticket in the long run!
The hike to Horseshoe Bend isn’t really as easy as it looks from the parking lot. It’s about a 200 ft elevation gain. The trail itself is pretty sandy and easy, I wouldn’t say it’s really steep when compared to the trail we hiked at Bryce Canyon, for example, but the first hill you see isn’t the end of the trail, after that hill, the trail slopes down for about a half-a-mile, and of course what goes down must go up when it comes to hiking, so you need to hike up the trail when you finish. But again, I wouldn’t say it’s a hard trail, just the sandy hill you see from the parking lot is a tease, so be warned. There are a lot of benches you can rest if you get tired while walking down to the overlook. Bring water though, Justin and I didn’t because we thought the trail was shorter than it actually was, and I regretted that choice. It’s not a long trail, but its still the desert and the desert has a hot sun.
When you finish the trail, you come to the Horseshoe Bend Overlook:
We were there around 4 or so, and we didn’t have the best lighting for pictures, but that just happened to be when got there, and that’s life.
The overlook is SUPER CROWDED [In fact, apparently a girl fell to her death the day before we got there at Horseshoe Bend]. There are a lot of people and a lot of people do stupid things to get that one “perfect” photo. So be careful and be completely aware of your surroundings.
Unfortunately, due to time restraints, we were unable to tour Antelope Canyon, which is also nearby, if you have more time, I highly recommend both. They’re both amazing natural wonders.
We took our pictures, and headed back to the shuttle, headed back towards Utah until we were again distracted by the Glen Canyon Dam.
It was getting late, so there wasn’t much to see, but it was still pretty cool to look at, but by the time we passed Lake Powell, it was completely dark, so we didn’t see that, at all.
Shortly after we crossed the border into Utah, it started snowing. It started as light flurries, then it got harder, and we were driving in complete darkness up mountain roads as we approached Zion and the Zion-Mt Caramel Highway, it was terrifying and I kept on shouting “We’re going to die, we’re going to die”. It was pitch black out except for the fast swirls [think Spirographs] of white snow. As we ventured down the highway on icy and snowy roads, on the side of a steep canyon, in pitch blackness, it was fucking terrifying. Eventually traffic came to a complete halt [you know for the three or so crazy cars that were driving in the weather] because a car had spun out on ice and went sideways off the road into a snow-ditch. National Park Service had to dig out the car, and they were lucky that Zion actually had Park Services working.
The rest of the way down we followed a snow plow through the snow line of the national park, the switch-backs were a little icy, but not too bad with a plow in front of you, and as we got lower and lower, the snow almost seemed to vanish from crazy blizzard like conditions to slow flurries, eventually we made it to our bed and breakfast for the night, and I was just grateful we didn’t die.
We stayed at Canyon Vista Lodge in Springdale, UT. We both really liked it. Our room was really awesome and had one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on. It also had a kitchenette, which is great when your vacation diet mostly consists of ramen noodles. There’s also wifi and cable.
They don’t make you breakfast, but they do give you vouchers to use in town, since we were there during off-season, only one place was open, but it had good food. The B&B also had a hot tub, which we didn’t get a chance to use, and it’s maybe 10 minutes from the entrance to the National Park. I highly recommend it if you are sick of the basic hotels you find everywhere and want to do something different. There are quite a few B&Bs throughout Springdale.
I calmed down after arriving at the B&B, and we got settled a little bit, but when to bed pretty early because we wanted to get right to Zion the next morning before the crowd got there.
The next morning, we were at Zion right as the Visitor Center opened at 8 am.
Since we got there so early, we were able to park near the Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center parking lot was completely full when we left.
Zion was using its shuttle system during the Christmas holidays because of the amount of people visiting, I was initially worried about how that would work, but it ended up being really convenient and it was nice not to worry about finding a parking place for your car at a trailhead or anything. We barely waited for a shuttle, most of the time the shuttle was right there, and we didn’t have to wait more than maybe 5 minutes.
The sun was barely rising when we went to catch our first shuttle.
When we were on the shuttle they announced that the road after Zion Lodge was closed due to ice. They weren’t plowing it or anything because the plow was needed for the Zion-Mt Caramel Highway and even with the state funding, Zion was short-staffed. They said the road would open if the ice melted. It didn’t open at all when we were there, and at Bryce I even heard that they had to close the Angel’s Landing hike because it was too icy and dangerous for people [especially a lot of those idiots who do anything for that “perfect” picture].
We took the shuttle to the lodge:
But before I get into that, it’s time for a history lesson. Zion National Park became a National Park in 1919 when President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law. Up until that point it was known as Zion National Monument. The most prominent part of the park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and 2640 meters deep. The Virgin River runs through the canyon. Zion National Park has different types of life-zones within it which allow for very diverse plant and animal life throughout the park. There are numerous plant species, 289 species of birds, 75 different mammals [including 19 different species of bats], and 32 different reptiles. The life-zones within Zion include desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest. Zion National Park also includes mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, and natural arches.
The most well-known trails at Zion include Angel’s Landing, which you couldn’t pay me enough money if you tried to convince me to hike that, and The Narrows. Angel’s Landing is about a 2.5 mile [one-way] hike with a elevation gain of 1500 feet, and there are 21 steep switchbacks, as well as sharp drop-offs and narrow trails, meaning if you take a wrong step, you fall and die, some of the trail is so narrow, that you need to hold onto the chains to successfully navigate it. YOU COULDN’T PAY ME ENOUGH MONEY TO HIKE THAT even if I was in the most awesome shape ever. With my luck, I’d slip and die as I fell off the cliff. And I can’t even imagine the vertigo or fear as you climb down that trail.
On the other hand, I would love to hike the Narrows one day. [It can be done in winter with proper equipment, but obviously with the government shutdown, this winter was not a good winter to do the Narrows]. It’s a hike through the Virgin River, where you’re actually hiking in water, depending on how far you hike and what season you go, the water depth ranges from ankle deep to waist deep to perhaps having to swim through certain sections. I think hiking through a river through a slot canyon seems like the most awesome hike in the world and I WILL HIKE IT ONE DAY.
Anyways, Zion is the third most visited national park following Great Smokey Mountains and Grand Canyon. In 2017, 4.5 million people visited Zion. The most popular time to go is during the summer, but even when we were there over Christmas break, it was still very crowded. The least crowded time to visit is in February, from what I’ve read. And from October to May [not including Christmas Break] people can drive through the National Park, whereas during summer, visitors either have to catch a shuttle from town or try their lucky at parking in the Visitor Center Parking lot.
Anyways, when we got to the Zion Lodge, we decided to hike the Emerald Pools Trail.
Since it had snowed the night before, a lot of the trails started icy. Before the trip, I bought crampons for Justin and me mainly for Bryce, but their proved their use at almost every park we visited.
The crampons were really useful. I had a few issues with mine mainly because my hiking boots have these weird little rubber eyelet on them, and the spikes would get caught on them, and I fell a total of six times throughout the trip, and my knee hasn’t been the same since, but aside from that, the crampons worked great. Justin had no issues, and when mine weren’t getting caught on my boots, they really helped me on the trails, which were covered with snow and ice at almost every park we visited. They’re really cheap too. I got ours for under twenty dollars on amazon.
The Emerald Pools trail is one of the most popular trails at Zion, and it gets crowded, but we got to it so early, that we mostly had the trail to ourselves. The Lower Emerald Pools trail is pretty flat and paved. It’s about a half mile with no elevation gain, at all, really aside from a few tiny little hills [the trail guides claim it has an ascension of 70 feet, but it’s extremely gradual]. The trail is really easy, and I think anyone could do it. It was absolutely beautiful, especially with the dusting of snow and the ice on the trees and bushes:
We really wanted to hike to the middle [ascent of 150 feet] and upper [ascent of 350 feet] pools, but they were closed due to some storm damage that has occurred in fall.
On the way back from the lower pool, we actually spotted some deer in the woods:
The hike really didn’t take us that long and it really wasn’t difficult at all. By the time we left the trail, a lot of people were starting the trail and it got pretty crowded.
After the hike, we caught a shuttle, and headed to the Court of the Patriarchs viewpoint, and it was in front of the trail where I wiped out for the first time thanks to my spikes getting caught on my boots. The Court of the Patriarchs can barely be considered a hike, it’s a steep 40 foot ascent to the viewpoint, though it was pretty icy when we walked up it.
The Patriarchs are three sandstone peaks named after Biblical founding fathers. The tallest is Abraham at 6890 feet. The other two are Isaac and Jacob Peak, they were named by a Methodist minister in 1916. The names stuck and never changed.
After viewing the three patriarchs, we decided to walk the Pa’rus Trail along the Virgin River. I REALLY REALLY wanted to hike the Temple of Sinawava, which is the trail that leads to the start of The Narrows, but since the road was closed after Zion Lodge, we didn’t get a chance to, so we walked the Pa’rus trail back to the Visitor’s Center.
The Pa’rus trail is the only trail in the park that’s wheelchair accessible, and that pets are allowed on. It’s about 1.7 miles long and starts at the Canyon Junction shuttle stop. We walked it from Canyon Junction to the Visitor Center. It’s paved and flat. However, since we went after a storm, the bridges crossing the trail were covered by a layer of ice. The trail has views of The Virgin River and The Watchman. It’s a super easy trail and anyone can walk it.
I thought it was very pretty, though I admit, it’s really not much of a hike, it’s more of an easy stroll, but I found it enjoyable. It was barely crowded when we walked it.
When we got back to the Visitor’s Center, we went shopping, we bought new passports, got our passports stamped, bought stickers, and postcards, etc.
The road still wasn’t open by then and it was around 1 or so, so we decided to take the shuttle back to Zion Lodge and have lunch at the restaurant there. The restaurant was pretty crowded [I mean it’s not like there are a lot of options within the National Park, especially during winter, so it was expected] and we waited about thirty minutes for lunch. I had a grilled chicken sandwich with ham and sweet potato fries and Justin had a bison burger, which he enjoyed.
By the time we finished eating, the road still wasn’t opened, and there really wasn’t much else to do at Zion that we hadn’t done already, so we headed back to the B&B.
At the B&B, we watched a National Lampoon Marathon, and spent time on our laptops catching up on email, gaming, and things.
The next morning we left for Bryce.
Overall, I liked Zion. I don’t feel like we really got to experience all it had to offer due to the weather and the government shutdown, but we at least got a taste of it. There were a lot of people there and a lot of the people were rude and they took away some of the joy from visiting Zion by making it seem more like they were visiting a “theme park” than a national park. I do want to go back to Zion, I personally like the winter, I’d take 20/30 degree temperatures over 100 degree temperatures ANY DAY, and wouldn’t mind going back in winter when there isn’t a government shutdown so I could experience more of the hiking trails [why yes I would do The Narrows in the winter, thanks for asking, the water level is the lowest it gets, and there are companies within Springdale that will rent you equipment that allow you to hike the Narrows in winter, think icicles and snow would make that hike far more awesome than it would be in summer].
Out of the five parks we visited on the trip, I would rate Zion third of five [Saguaro is fourth], though I admit it probably isn’t getting a fair rating due to circumstances out of its control. I think had the road been open and had more hikes been open, Zion probably would’ve been second on that list [nothing is knocking Bryce out of first] instead of Capital Reef. But all that means,is that we’ll just have to go back one day.