Park Talk: Zion National Park
I had the pleasure of having a best friend trip, with my ride or die Blake, to this beautiful park last May. Maybe eight months before we went we decide to point to a national park on the map go there. The only thing we planned was that it had a trail we could backpack…and that’s about it. We didn’t know anything else. Zion wasn’t on our bucket list per se, but it quickly became one of our favorite places in the whole world. Our trip was really broken up into 2.5 pieces as far as the park was concerned. Kolab Canyon, the main drag of Zion (where we did two smaller hikes), and Springdale. I am going to include all parts here in a single blog so if you don’t care about a section they’ll be clearly labeled, and you are more than welcome to scroll through. Scroll all the way down if you want a fun and real video of our experiences!
Kolab Canyon – Overnight Backpacking Trip
Location: Kolab Canyon (La Verkin Creek Trail)
Distance: Lee Pass to Kolob Arch 7 miles (one way)
Elevation change: 950 feet
Cost for backpacking permit: $5 nonrefundable for reservation. $15 for 1-2 people per site/night $20 for 3-7 people per site/night.
* For costs to enter the park please see the general Zion National Park information.
Parking: Parking is limited at the top. I would recommend getting there early if you are just going for the day. We got in late afternoon which also worked out as we were camping and only going a couple miles, we were able to snag a space from a day hiker.
Directions: Make sure if you are looking to go this side of Zion that you put in the right address to your GPS (or if you are without a GPS) you just need to make sure you are heading north on interstate 15 (exit 40) and follow the signs. This is a separate entrance from the main entrance.
Preparation: For a day hike may sure you have water and sunscreen. For a backpacking trip you will need all the essentials. There are two water sources on this trail so you can hike with less water and bring a filter. Stop in to the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center at the bottom and they can advise of current water availability. When we went the creeks were FLOWING. We really didn’t need to bring as much water as we did.
The Hike: After a late afternoon start into the Canyon we set up camp at campsite two. Which is roughly 2.5 into the park form the Lee Pass trail head. Our goal for the next morning was to make it the additional 4.5 miles to the Arch and then the 7 miles back out to the car. However, as our first real backpacking trip (and my first time camping EVER) we severely underestimated the toll on our bodies of traveling the day before, immediately hiking into the wilderness, camping, and continuing on the next morning as if nothing had changed. We both felt like crap the next morning. We went maybe another half mile to a mile into the trail and made the decision to turn around. We would have loved to see the arch but our main goal was try out our backpacking gear and decide if we loved it, the arch was just a bonus. SPOILER: WE LOVED IT. We decided it wasn’t the smartest decision to continue forward not feeling well and then still need to hike 7 miles (up the 950 feet) to get back to the car, so we turned around. We still hit 10,000 steps before we got the car and we judged that a win. Upon consideration afterwards we could have left our packs at the campsite to try hiking to the arch with less weight but as newbies to the backpacking lifestyle I think both of us felt weird leaving our homes and all our belongings behind.
Highlights of the hike. 1) The breathtaking views as you descend into the Canyon. As a gal who had never experienced this part of the country before I could not keep myself from calling it gorgeous, oh, about 100 times per minute. 2) The feeling of wilderness. As a sidestep out of the main portion of the park and really made for people who are planning on doing a serious hike there was barely anyone there. The feeling of being by yourself in this beauty is overwhelming. 3) The hike itself crossed a few different terrains. There are dessert sections, several creek crossings, a plateau of trees. It has a little bit of everything!
Location: Zion National Park
Difficulty: All Levels
Distance: There are several different hikes throughout the park. For a full list I’d recommend visiting their website. Blake and I were able to go on a couple and as those will be the ones I talk about those are the only ones I’m going to list here.
Cost to enter the park: $35 for a private vehicle, $20 per person, Annual pass for Zion $70, Interagency Annual Pass (all National Parks) $80. The Private vehicle and per person tickets are good for 7 consecutive days.
Parking: There is limited parking at the park but the whole town of Springfield is set up to help the flow of people to the park. There is a free shuttle service throughout the town that drops you directly to the park entrance. Just head to your nearest shuttle stop! Once you are inside the park there is another free shuttle system that will take you to 9 different stops, just leave enough time to catch the shuttle back down from the park.
Directions: The two closest international airports are Las Vegas, Nevada (170 miles) and Salt Lake City, UT (300 miles). We flew into Vegas. Keep in mind there is an hour time change between here and Zion, with Zion being an hour later.
Preparation: Everything you might need for a day long excursion!
- Snacks (careful the squirrels here are fearless!)
- Water bottle: there are plenty of water fill up stations throughout the park but make sure you start with some water and have a good refillable water bottle.
- Hiking shoes: No matter what you decide to do at the park there will be a lot of walking.
Lower Emerald Pool Trail
Shuttle stop: 5
Distance: 1.2 miles round trip (out and back)
Elevation: 69 feet
Estimated Hiking time: 1 hour
This is a paved trail that leads to a beautiful waterfall. The path leads you behind the falls for a spectacular behind the scenes view. There are a few places where the water from the falls can get on the trail so be prepared for a few slippery spots.
Shuttle stop: 9
Distance: 2.2 miles round trip (out and back)
Elevation: 57 feet
Estimated hiking time: 1.5 hours
This is a paved path that follows the Virgin River. It is a beautiful winding path that shows you a great view from the bottom of a canyon. You need to travel this trail to get to the mouth of the narrows and during times when the Narrows are open you can walk to the mouth of this famous trail for a quick view even if you aren’t going to attempt it. Unfortunately, when we went the river was overflowing with snow melt and the Narrows was closed.
Springdale was such a cute and easy town to travel around. Very much catering to the tourist flow from Zion park the free shuttle service runs throughout the town not just to the park. There were a bunch of delicious eateries and a great little grocery in the center. We found a great hotel that was not too much for our budget that provided great views from the deck and hot tub!
Blake and I both agreed this entire park and everything around it was heaven. Even a year later we talk about how relaxed we were while we were in Zion. As a park it was extremely well organized that even when it was busy you never felt overwhelmed with people. The shuttle system really made the difference because it took the stress out of trying to get good parking at all the “good” spots. We really were at ease exploring whatever we wanted. Although we both would have enjoyed some of the more challenging hikes Zion had to offer, we both agreed we were there to adventure and explore and have a great best friend’s trip. We were not there to murder our bodies on hikes we were not quite physically ready for, or even we were, we did not want to wear ourselves out and not be able to enjoy everything else. 10/10 we would highly recommend this park and adventure to everyone, there is a little something for all levels and ages and is truly a joy to explore and pleasure to experience.