Zion National Park

Hiking Zion National Park Utah: Beauty everywhere

One gorgeous vista after another -- whether I'm peering down at the river, or up at the mountains, or across at the peaks, scenes unfold each more impressively beautiful than the next. Zion National Park in southern Utah, one of the state's five national parks, is huge, diverse, and gorgeous. Start at the Visitor Center and let them help you select the hikes that match your interest and level of fitness. Then go forth and be awe-struck.

Our New Book

Zion National Park is one of the most popular parks in the National Park system (hosting almost 3 million visitors in 2012) for a reason. This 229 square mile gem offers a trail for everyone from slow-walkers and folks toting children to the adventurous few who climb straight up Angel Falls. And if you wish to escape civilization, visitors can get a backcountry hiking permit.

Here's a full one-day itinerary for just one small portion of the park starting at the Zion Main Canyon Visitor Center at Springdale, Utah.

Zion's Emerald Pools Hike

Take the shuttle by the Visitors Center and exit at Zion Lodge. The Emerald Pools hike is considered one of the more scenic. There are three pools and the hike starts off easy and progress to moderate after you leave the first pool. It is also one of the most popular hikes in the park. After a rainfall the pools fill with water from the falls and are described as jaw-droppingly beautiful. In dryer conditions, such as on my visit, the lower pool, reached by a fairly easy path, is more a puddle but it is a good hike for novices and those not quite in shape.

The hike to the second pool is described as moderate. That seems to mean scrambling over rocks and doing a bit of pulling yourself up. When there's rain, there's more of a waterfall, but it's still cool and delightfully misted. The second pool is more scenic than the first and those who persevere can enjoy the truly lovely third pool, even when the lower pools are almost dried up. There is no swimming in the water, not even wading, but there's a crescent of soft sand and a cool rocky cove that makes for a great respite before the climb down.

On the way up you might notice a sign for Kayenta Grotto trail. Make a note where you saw the sign. Since the trip back down is over the same Emerald Pools trail, switching for the descent down the mountain will offer different, and truly gorgeous views. The grotto itself no longer exists -- a rockfall closed it years ago, but the name persists and it is now a picnic area.

Hike Riverside to the Beginning of the Narrows

Now that you're back down, stop by Zion Lodge for a bit of lunch. Afterward take the shuttle to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava and hike the short and lovely Riverside trail. It leads to the more challenging and very wet Narrows trail but you can just stop at the beach. There are actually two Narrows -- at Riverside the Narrows hike is called the Bottom-Up and the hike goes up the Narrows. People returning from the trail can be identified by the neoprene wet suits they wear. But for the rest of us this is a waterside stroll with a few inclines. The water is mountain fed and chilly all year long but the powdery sand is inviting.

Check Zion National Park website in advance for special ranger-led programs and talks.

If You Go

Some people make it a day trip from St. George, but if you want to stay even closer to the park, the tiny tourist town of Springdale offers a great location for a Zion visit. The Flying Monkey will keep you fed, and the Las Quinta offers comfortable rooms, their signature free breakfast, free wifi, and they're across the street and one block from the free town shuttle to the park's visitor center. Spring through fall, Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (the main route throught the park) is open only to the Zion National Park's shuttle busses. As an added advantage, the shuttle buses within the park are narrated with bits of pieces of the history and geology of the park.

After a night in Springdale, I'm on the road out of the park. My camera is packed away. I think, foolishly, that I'm done taking photos. Until I round the bend and surrounding me may well be the most gorgeous vista of all. The camera comes out and I'm snapping away -- I simply can't get enough of the beauty that is Zion National Park.

For great information on visiting Utah go to Utah.com

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Neala Schwartzberg McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

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