Spring Visit to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks

Introduction to Zion

In May of 2012 Anne and I had the extreme pleasure of visiting Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.  These would be the first of five national parks we would visit in our month-long travels through Southern Utah. We decided to start with Zion National Park. We had read in a few reviews that it rivaled Yosemite because of it’s beautiful river valley, sheer mountain landscapes and sandstone cliffs. Luckily I was able to book us in for a week at a great RV Park right at the entrance to the park. Arriving at  Zion Canyon Campground gave us a glimpse into the natural beauty we were about to experience. Majestic looking reddish sandstone cliffs and a lush green river valley right beside our campground!

Zion campground

Our RV Park right near the entrance to Zion N.P.

We quickly unhooked, grabbed a bite to eat, put the beagles down for an afternoon nap and headed off to the park. There are free park shuttle buses that transport people to  most of the top attractions ,vistas and trail heads and they stop right in front of the RV Park. This really helps with reducing congestion in the park as it is a fairly narrow valley. It also makes the visit more relaxing, not having to worry about parking, navigating, etc. The first time in we rode the 40 min or so loop on the shuttle and got our bearings and decided where we would like to explore.

One of the buses that take you up and down the Zion Canyon

Zion National Park Shuttle Bus

Entering Zion

Zion National Park entrance gate

Anne decided she would like to start by photographing one of the most iconic landscapes in Zion. We showed up late in the day to stake out a position on Canyon Bridge to shoot Sunset on the Watchman. It started out with her and a few other tripod nerds as I like to call them and by sunset the bridge was wall to wall photographers jostling for positions. Check out her blog to see what she came up with.

Anne and some other tripod nerds getting the iconic Zion picture

Anne and other tripod nerds getting the iconic Zion picture

There are dozens of hikes you can do while enjoying Zion from very easy flat paved right up to extremely challenging where you must use repelling gear and waterproof packs. Being visitors to the US we choose to avoid any hikes that may get us injured and in the hospital. Further more we aren’t used to a hot desert climate so we stuck to the easy or moderate variety. Joe’s Guide to Zion National Park was the best guide I came across in planning our hikes. Always take plenty of water! You lose water fast there, even on short easy hikes you can get dehydrated quickly.

Our Favorite Hikes in Zion N.P.

Emerald Pools Trail – This one I’ll call moderate because of the elevation changes. But because of this fact we were able to get some spectacular views of the Virgin River valley below. The hike takes you up to a series of greenish colored pools and weeping water falls, complete with several different micro climates and varied plant life.

A nice family-friendly collection of trails located across from the Zion Lodge that wander through three levels of pools, complete with small streams and small waterfalls. The hike up to the Upper Emerald Pool is a bit strenuous, but very short and it is worth the effort! – http://www.citrusmilo.com/zionguide/emeraldpools.cfm

One of the many pools you find while hiking in to the mountains.  These hikers found a spectacular place for lunch

Canyon Overlook Trail – This was my favorite hike of all. Pretty flat and not too long. First you drive up from the valley on a series of switchbacks and then through the famous 1.1 mile Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel to the eastern higher elevation section of the park. Up there we explored slot canyons, checkerboard mesas and hiked to the overlook showing the valley below. Breathtaking!

Yipes! careful there!  Anne is in heaven in this landscape

Slot canyon we found  SW Utah 119 (1024x768)

Pa’rus Trail – A really simple easy trail, in fact it’s paved, allowing cycling, strollers and dog walking. Although the most easily accessible trail in the park don’t be fooled into thinking it’s boring. It winds it’s way along the Virgin River crossing it several times providing stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Stop, have a sandwich and drink in the scenery and wildlife. The day we hiked it was perfect weather, mid 70’s and blue sunny skies showing off Zion’s Virgin River Valley at it’s best.

Heading out on a nice hike along the vally floor  Can't beat the scenery on this hike

Anne is all set for some great photos  Zion and Bryce Canyon Photos2

Zion National Park lived up to all the hype and more. We spent an entire week there and could easily spend a month and not run out of things to see and do. The park has an outstanding visitor center, Imax Theater nearby and several art and mountain climbing equipment shops. Also the local town of Springdale, Utah situated a few miles from the east entrance is loaded with great restaurants as well as art/antique/novelty/sporting goods shops. Make sure you find try the Bumble-Berry Pie, yum!

What an introduction to Utah! Next we headed up to the next park on our list Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Well after a week in the summer like conditions in Zion the temperature change at Bryce was a bit of a shock. Off went the shorts and t-shirts and on went the pants and sweaters. Bryce Canyon sits at an elevation between 8000-9000 feet so the weather is a bit cooler. Also the elevation for me takes a little time to adjust to. As with Zion we booked into a campground right at the edge of the park, minutes from the entrance. Ruby’s Inn RV Park and Campground is a nice full service campground with decent sized sites and is a perfect place to explore Bryce from. Bryce Canyon National Park is a long strip of eroded sandstone with varied formations to view. There is a long 20 mile or so road with many pull outs to view it from. Also many trails lead down in among the sandstone hoodoos.

Bryce Canyon, famous for its worldly unique geology, consists of a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The erosional force of frost-wedging and the dissolving power of rainwater have shaped the colorful limestone rock of the Claron Formation into bizarre shapes, including slot canyons, windows, fins, and spires called “hoodoos”. – http://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

Bryce Canyon Overview

Bryce Canyon N.P. Overview

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Luckily for Anne our visit to Bryce Canyon coincided with the arrival of a super moon. A time when the moon appears larger than normal and a photographic gem. We researched and scouted out a perfect spot near an iconic Bryce Canyon rock feature the Thor’s Hammer. The skies cooperated and Anne was able to get a beautiful image.

Super Moon over Bryce Canyon

Super Moon over Bryce Canyon

We enjoyed several more days hiking in the hoodoos and viewing beautiful sun rises and sunsets in Bryce Canyon National Park, a truly unique place on earth. After that we were off down the Scenic Highway 12 for more of the incredible scenery Utah has to offer.

You can get right down into the hoodoos but man it's a trip back up  Hoodoos in Bryce Canyon

Enjoy a Video/Photo Montage of our Visit

This was our spring visit to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. Feel free to ask questions or add anything more about the parks in a comment below. Please enjoy the photos and share this post with friends.

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  • CBreaze Ontheroad

    We arrived at Zion today! This is helpful with our planning. Thanks!

    • Ray

      Awesome! Have a great time, such a gorgeous place, I’m hoping to revisit this fall

      • Kay Smith

        Hi Ray:
        Encouraging to see that you took your 2 dogs with you. We have 3 dogs and are considering a trip cross country with these parks included. Did you run into any problems with the dogs in any of the parks? We just bought a class B RV with a generator so that we can keep the dogs and the van cool as we are traveling. Were most of the campgrounds you encountered dog friendly. I am a little concerned about having 3 dogs because I know some of the campgrounds/parks put a limit to 2 dogs per campsite.. Any input you have would be appreciated. I am thinking springtime travel also so that we don’t encounter too much heat..

        • Ray

          No problems at all Kay, the area seemed pretty dog friendly. The National Parks don’t allow pets on very many trails but there are a few. I think if your dogs aren’t nuisances or noisey no one will notice or care. Most campgrounds don’t care until they receive complaints, that’s why they post the dog rules so they have a way to remove pet owners that aren’t responsible.