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 a few reviews that it rivaled Yosemite because of its 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
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!
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.
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.
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. Furthermore 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 waterfalls, complete with several different microclimates 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
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 long 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!
Pa’rus Trail – A really simple easy trail, in fact, it’s paved, allowing cycling, strollers and dog walking. Although its the most easily accessible trail in the park don’t be fooled into thinking it’s boring. It winds its 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.
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 pullouts to view it from. 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
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.
We enjoyed several more days hiking in the hoodoos and viewing beautiful sunrises 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.
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.