For Bobby's birthday this year, we made the trek out to Zion National Park to celebrate inside the deep canyon walls with plenty of extreme hiking, breath taking views, and the awe-inspiring beauty of nature.
We were cramming a lot in to one weekend, so in order to get to Zion as quickly as possible, we left straight from work and split up the drive time with an obligatory pit stop in Las Vegas (about 6 hours from San Diego and less than 2 hours from the park). Although Vegas was a sinfully good time, we lost track of time (and money - as Vegas has the tendency to make one do) and made the mistake of accidentally staying up until the sun rose at 5am. We took a nap, reluctantly got our of bed at 8am, and then finished our drive to Zion.
We originally intended to stay at the South Campground right inside the park because of it's proximity to the bike trails, but because it was Memorial Day weekend, that site was already booked up by 8am (reservations aren't accepted. The Watchman Campground right near by does accept reservations, but you must book it out 6 months in advanced). We were cranky and angry with ourselves for our Vegas shenanigans causing us to miss out on the campground, but since we arrived at the park on a Thursday morning (instead of the start of the Memorial Day weekend on Friday,) we were able to snag an even better campground on the East side of the park: Hi-Road Campground(formerly know as Zion National Park RV and Campground).
Although you have to drive through the canyon for 20 minutes to get in and out of the park from this campground, the drive is beautiful, and the site itself is much more secluded. We opted for a primitive site nestled fittingly beneath a juniper tree. The facility was well maintained, with hot showers, and access to laundry on-site, and a well-stocked convenience and gift shop across the street (where you actually buy your site pass from). In the end, I was thankful we ended up at that campsite, because the sites inside the actual park were very crowded with absolutely zero privacy from both other campers and from park goers (we prefer our solitude).
After we were settled in to our site, we ventured to the Canyon Overlook Trail on the East side of the park to get a taste of what Zion had to offer. This was a short and easy 1 mile round trip trail. There is a tiny bit of elevation gain, and it ends with a beautiful view overlooking the east side of the park.
We woke up early the next morning and headed for the most famous hike at Zion National Park: Angel's Landing. This summit towers over the land with a complete panoramic view of the park. It was once said the point was so high that only angels could land there, but luckily for us mere mortals, there are now chains to help pull you up the steep rock ways and steady you so as to not fall off either side of the 1,500 foot drop offs.
The 5 mile hike took about 5 hours to complete. The trail starts with The Wiggles, a 2 mile set of repetitive switch backs that take about an hour to complete. This trail felt very strenuous until we reached the cool Refrigerator Canyon where we could take a "break" from the steep trail and the hot sun.
From there, we reached the "point of no return" where one must decide that the views are "good enough" or can continue upon the most strenuous .5 mile trek up Angel's Landing. We obviously powered on.
Although the final portion of the hike to the summit is only a quarter of the distance as The Wiggles, it takes just as long, if not longer to get up. The trail is very steep and narrow, and there are 1,500 foot drop offs on either side. You must climb on all fours on the ascent and brace yourself on the trail chains to climb through the rocky terrain. 6 people have actually died on this trail, but the risk is half the fun, and the views are a total pay-off. Read our in-depth Angel's Landing trail tips here.
The view at the top is completely magical. It is incredible to look down and realize you made that entire 1,500 foot climb from the bottom of the canyon to the top of the peak! A true feeling of accomplishment washed over us (in addition to a feeling of sore muscles, buns of steel, and blister ridden feet). I'd love to say it was easy to get down once we reached the summit, but because of how steep the trail is, it was actually just as hard, and potentially more dangerous, to descend.
We bathed our blistered feet in the river at the bottom, and then headed over to Zion Lodge to relax with a couple beers and look up at the peak to revel in our accomplishments. With a rush of adrenaline and a desire to waste no time during our short stint in the park, we decided to hike over to Emerald Pools: a 3 mile round trip with 3 levels of pools dropping in to one another. Although it doesn't seem possible, more people have actually died on this trail (7 to be exact) than on Angel's Landing.
Exhausted, we hopped on our bikes and rode back via the Pa'Rus bike trail to our parking spot at the entrance to the park. Luckily the trail back was completely downhill and we flew through the canyon with the breeze sweeping across our faces.
For our final day at Zion, we decided to hike The Narrows: the trail in which you are constantly submerged in the Virgin River as it bends through the most narrow parts of Zion Canyon. After completing a feat like Angel's Landing, any other trail seemed like it would be easy as pie. The Narrows was not.
This trail does not test your fear of heights, or your climbing skills as Angel's Landing did, but instead, your power of mind over freezing water temperatures! One foot in and you toes and legs go completely numb! We rushed the distance to the nearest portion of dry land. The frigid waters were unbearable, but we wanted to perservere. So we kept on at that same pace - freeze, rush to dry land, freeze again. After about 3 or 4 times of rushing the waters, the numbness really does take over and you can venture on (we went about 5 miles deep, but the trail can be up to 16 miles round trip).
I wish we were more prepared for how cold the water really was. If you are thinking about venturing in to The Narrows, I highly suggest you read our trail tips here beforehand!
We changed out of our soaked shoes (fresh socks never felt so good) and we headed back to our bikes for our final epic bike ride through the canyon.
Traveller's tip: biking really is the best way to get around the park. No cars are allowed in the canyon, walking takes way too long, and the shuttles are dank and crowded. It is relatively small compared to other National Parks, so you could actually see the whole park via bike if you choose. The bike trails steadily incline the entire time in to the park, but the ride home is all down hill and completely glorious! Plus you can park anywhere knowing that you can easily bike to your spot instead of having to dread walking anymore than you already have on the trails. (Parking during high peak seasons is a real pain!)
We said goodbye to the gorgeous canyon, grabbed celebratory birthday blizzards from DQ, and began the 8 hour car ride back to San Diego. Miraculously, Bobby made it to his extremely physical job for the County Parks the next day (I don't know how he did it. I luckily was able to rest - and rest I did).
We hope you enjoy Zion as much as we did Wild Ones! Be careful out there!