I swallowed hard. “Really? That’s the line for the shuttle bus?” I got a resigned nod in response. “But, it’s only half past eight”, I mumbled with hanging shoulders to no one special, as if someone could magically make the line disappear. So we waited. It took us 1.5 hours to get on one of the shuttles to Zion Canyon, the most well-known part of Zion National Park.
Again, a river, this time the Virgin River, has dug into the sandstone for many, many years. Most names in Zion National Park are from Mormon settlers. Count of the Patriarches (a three rock formation), Temple of Sinowara (a sandstone amphitheater), Angels Landing (one of the world’s most dangerous trails), Kolob Arch (the sixth longest stone arch in the world), the East Temple (another mountain; )) and much more.
Zion National Park is a national park for families with children of all ages. With the exception of Angels Landing, every hike is for children possible and not exhausting. The trails are all excellently developed and require no special equiment.
With 4.5 million visitors a year (2016), Zion is ranked # 3 of the most visited national parks in the US. Only the Great Smoky Mountain NP and the Grand Canyon can attract more visitors. However, Zion is tiny compared to the others and since it is forbidden to drive into the most visited Zion Valley by car, from the beginning of February to the end of November a lot is going on. On average, about 15,000 people visit the national park per day. And that’s a lot on 590 km2 or if we only look at the canyon at only 24 km in length. To make a strange thought experiment: Put all visitors of one day along the valley in a row and let them fall over like dominoes. With a distance of about 60 cm apart this would work and that the whole 24 kilometers – every day! Well, let’s leave that 😉
The Zion Valley could be thought of as a long valley with steep red rocks where a river – the Virgin River – flows in the middle. It’s very green for the desert, and that’s why the Mormon settlers probably called it Zion, which means Hebrew as refuge. Zion is full of possibilities in the smallest space. For me personally, it loses its appeal because of the crowds. Waiting while hiking is a new experience for me.
What can you do in Zion National Park? Here is our TOP 7:
1. The Narrows
The narrowest point in Zion Canyon, at the very end, is known as The Narrows and is one of the most popular hikes in the park. You can hike in the water directly in the canyon or swim partially. The water is quite cool in the spring, not to mention cold and therefore appropriate equipment in the form of waterproof shoes, neoprene socks and appropriate waterproof clothing has to be brought along. Of course, this can be borrowed in the many outdoor shops in Springdale or directly next to the visitor center. (about 50 USD per person). In the summer, according to stories, normal water shoes are fine.
2. Canyon Overlook Trail
One of the most photographed parts of Zion National Park is Canyon Overlook Trail and one of the most crowded hikes. On the approx. 2 km long loop trail, the hiker can get from the stop of the shuttle to the lookout point, from where the canyon can be overlooked.
3. Watchman Trail
The three-mile hiking trail is one of the few hikes that you can do without a shuttle directly from the Visitor Center. The path is very simple and impressive. I recommend this hike on the day of arrival. You get a good feeling for the nature of the park and the landscape.
4. Angels Landing
The only hike that is not kid friendly. It has been classified as one of the most dangerous hikes in the world (by some hiking guides as the most dangerous in the world). The first part is a normal, well-developed hiking trail. This is followed by the part secured with a chain. First, there is only the abyss on the right side of the ascent, further up the abyss is revealed on both sides. What remains is the chain in the middle. The dangerous thing in my opinion, not the abysses on both sides, but the many people who are completely unprepared – often equipped only with street shoes – on the chain and do not go back and forth, often for 20 minutes – not kidding. This creates a hiking traffic jam of the extra class. If you want to pass, whether uphill or downhill, you have to leave the chain and go unsecured for a certain time. Selfish and fearful as most are in chains, nobody takes care of others. My recommendation is to take the first bus from the Visitor Center (7am in the morning) and get on as fast as possible to avoid a few rookies in the chains on the descent.
5. Hidden Canyon
The Hidden Canyon is something special, even on crowded days. At Weeping Rock, this hike takes you up the mountain for about 300 meters in serpentines. Then you can hike the Hidden Canyon – as far as you want and be able do. Sometimes a little climbing is needed. My tip is to take a lonely picnic somewhere in the Hidden Canyon.
6. The Subway
A hike for which you need a permit from the ranger station. There is a lottery of 80 walks a day. To get to the “subway”, which looks like a tunnel in which a subway drives, you need the whole day. The path itself is not particularly difficult but it’s a very long hike. So bring back real equipment or borrow 😉
7. Mount Carmel Highway
The construction of this 1711 meter long tunnel began in 1927 and when it was completed, three years later, it was the longest non-urban tunnel in the USA. With its 3.45 meters (11.33 feet) height, we had to buy a permit with our RV, because the tunnel can only be passed in the middle with such a high RV. The drive through the tunnel and on the following road to the eastern beginning of the national park, no one should miss. There are many opportunities to stop for a short time, take pictures and do short hikes.