I’ve gotta be honest with you, Zion hasn’t always been at the top of my national park radar. I always thought, “what could be so special about a desert?” Well, I will be the first to admit that I was 100% wrong. Zion is nothing short of breathtaking. The vastness of the rock structures is really humbling and the colors are incredible.
Zion is just a 6.5 hour drive from our home in southern california so we were only there for a 3 day weekend and I can’t wait to go back to explore more. That being said Zion is on the smaller side for a national park so I did feel like we were able to check a lot off in a short period of time and it made for the perfect socially distant getaway!
Where we stayed:
The closest town to Zion is Springdale, a small town made for tourists and full of hotels. We stayed at the La Quinta Inn for a reasonable rate and the location was great! It was about a 0.7 mile walk from the national park or a short shuttle ride away. If you have a slightly higher budget there’s a cute spot right outside of the park called the Cliffrose Lodge that is beautiful and if you are planning far in advance or on a tighter budget there are three different campsites in the park! We were actually hoping to camp but they were all booked out a month in advance when we were looking, so you’ve got to plan ahead.
Getting to the Park (Socially distanced style):
Zion is much smaller than most national parks so you are able to really experience a park in a shorter amount of time if you only have a weekend to get away. Since we visited during the pandemic there were extra health and safety precautions in place so keep in mind the transportation system may be different when you go. Currently the roads in the park are closed to cars and there is a bus system that will take you to the trailheads. They have taken out half the seats in the bus to allow people to keep their distance and provide masks at the entrance. Due to the reduced seating capacity the bus requires reservations which can be made 30 days in advance or the day before on the recreation.gov website. If you need to make the reservation the day before be sure to be on the site at 9am Mountain Time right when the tickets become available because when we went they sold out within 5 minutes of becoming available! The reservations are for an hour time window, so if your reservation is at 7 you can get on the bus anytime between 7-8. The tickets only cost a dollar each and the whole system ran quite smoothly. You do not need a ticket for your return time you can simply hop on any bus and head back but keep in mind the busses stop running at 8:30 so if you don’t make it to a bus stop before then or the busses are full you may have to hike upto 8 miles back to the base of the park! In addition the $1 bus fee there is a $35 fee per family to enter the park which lasts 1 week.
Hiking (The Narrows and Emerald Pool):
So where did we hike? While after we arrived on Friday we decided to hike the upper and lower Emerald Pools. We finished the hike just before sunset and it was a perfect time to admire the views without many other hikers on the trails. To get to the hike you should get off at stop 6, hike to the upper pools and then the lower pools then you can loop around and get back on the bus at stop 5. The whole hike is only about 1.5-2 miles and is a great option for beginner hikers.
The next day we hiked the Narrows from the bottom up route, and it was one of the most beautiful and unique hikes I have ever been on. The hike itself is about 90% through water and shaded so you don’t have to worry too much about the desert heat. In fact, if you are going early in the morning I recommend you bring a lightweight jacket as it can get a bit chilly. I would definitely save this hike for the warmer months because we were told it gets pretty cold in the winter. The hike is not a loop so you can turn around as far (or as close) as you would like however there is an “end” to the bottom up hike that is marked by a few waterfalls. It took us about 4 ½ hours to get to the end and about 3 ½ hours to get back so if you plan on doing the full distance you should reserve your whole day for it. We did the hike in a pair of mesh running shoes which worked great, but there is also an option to rent water boots and a hiking stick when you enter the park if you are worried about ankle stability. If and when we do this hike again I will be bringing a hiking stick!
What we ate:
As I mentioned before the town of Springdale is quite small, it consists mainly of gift shops and ice cream parlors so the dining options are limited. We went to the Spotted Dog cafe and ordered the brie appetizer, pasta purses stuffed with pear and ricotta covered in a sage butter sauce, and a salad which were all delicious. They also had a huge wine selection which is always a plus! The second day we headed to whiptail grill for some beers and nachos to refuel after 8 hours of hiking. To be honest the food wasn’t anything special, but the place was unique as it was an old gas station that converted to a big outdoor seating area. The happening place in town seemed to be King’s Landing Bistro, but I would recommend you make reservations if you want to head over there because it is slightly out of town and when we tried to go at 8pm on a friday there was a 2 hour wait!
If you are looking to get away to the great outdoors during these crazy times Zion is your spot! It is isolated and there are hikes appropriate for every skill level. If you head to the park be sure to reach out and let me know what hikes you did so we can keep up to date!
- Trails are frequently closed to to rock closures at Zion so be sure to check out the park website for closures.
- Set a timer on your phone to book the shuttle time, they book up quickly!
- Don’t stress about getting a hotel too close to the park. There is a free shuttle that runs through the town of springdale that goes to the entrance of the park so you can access a shuttle spot from most places. Plus, the further away from the park you are the more likely you are to get on a shuttle before it fills up!