My first visit to Zion National Park!
Wednesday, March 28 I leave my camp near Overton, NV to head north into Utah. I want to spend a couple nights close to St. George, UT to do some shopping, laundry, get a haircut, etc. There is some BLM land right on the south side of St. George in the Arizona Strip which would be very convenient for running my errands. I arrive early afternoon. There are quite a few RVs camped here so spots are limited. I find a site that isn’t too close to others.
I think this is the saddest place I have camped so far. The area is used as a dumping ground, there is trash everywhere. Also there is a lot of target shooting using bottles and cans, and other objects as targets. So there is broken glass, rusty cans and all sorts of other debris scattered around. I don’t think I have ever seen a place so disrespected before.
St. George itself seems to be a very nice city. I was able to get all my chores done and stock up on groceries at the Smith’s Market, which is part of the Kroger chain.
Easter Sunday, April 1, I leave St. George and drive to Virgin, UT to camp along Sheep Bridge Road just off Hwy 9. Since I’m only staying one night, I camp in the first open pull-out that I come to. It is level so I don’t need to unhitch, yay! From here it is about 15 miles to the park entrance. I want to get in the park early before all the parking fills up. Campground check-in time is noon, but I hope to be able to check in a little early.
Sheep Bridge Road has nice views of the surrounding mountains, mesas and east towards Zion. The sunset turned the mountains red as fire!
Zion National Park
Monday morning, I pull out of camp about 8am. There is road construction in the town of Springdale at the park entrance, so there was a short delay. I arrived in the RV parking area around 8:45 and there were about four spaces left! My reservation is in Watchman Campground. While I am waiting to get into my site I go to the visitors center and spend some time there. Campground check out time is 11am so I walk back to the campground. While I was speaking to the host, the previous camper came through and checked out. I check in and get setup in my site.
The seasonal shuttle system is in operation to transport visitors along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, so private vehicles are not permitted on the road. By the time I get over to the shuttle, there is a huge line which I stand in for two hours. So this visit will require patience 🙂 I have a kindle book to read, which makes the time pass.
There are nine shuttle stops along the canyon. I ride the shuttle to the end of the line and hike the Riverside Walk along the Virgin River, which is about 2 miles round trip. From there I go to Weeping Rock and hike the 1 mile RT up that trail.
Then to Emerald Pools at the Zion Lodge stop. I hike up the Emerald Pools trail to the three pools then take the Kayenta trail back to the road at the Grotto stop, 3 miles RT. This prickly pear cactus along the Kayenta trail has two heart shaped pads. I didn’t see the one in the lower left until I was cropping the photo.
From the Grotto, I catch the shuttle back to the visitors center. It’s nice that the days have gotten longer so I could get some hiking in my first day here.
Tuesday, April 2, I plan to hike the Hidden Canyon trail, which is about 3 miles RT if you go up Hidden Canyon to the arch. Elevation gain is 900ft. I really need to do some hikes with elevation gain to get my conditioning back.
The trail winds up along the canyon wall to the mouth of Hidden Canyon.
Going up the narrow canyon about a quarter mile, there is a small arch. The coolest thing about this hike is right above the arch there was a spotted owl perched in a tree. All the way up the trail, the people coming down were talking about this owl. I really couldn’t believe it was still sitting there with all the people coming up there. Everyone was being pretty quiet so it seemed to be ignoring them.
It is about 4pm when I get back to the shuttle stop, so I head on back to the campground. Although the park is very crowded, I have enjoyed my first two days. The canyon is unbelievably beautiful. Zion is now the fifth most visited National Park with 4.5 million visitors in 2017. All of these visitors are concentrated into a very small area along the Scenic Drive.
Wednesday, April 4. I hike the Angels Landing trail. This is one of the most hiked trails in the park and the last half mile traverses a very narrow ridge. So I want to get an early start before it gets too crowded. I plan to be up at 6am and to the shuttle at 7am. But I set my alarm for 6pm instead of 6am – aaargh!!! So I don’t awaken until 7 and get to the shuttle at 8am. Still, I’m at the trailhead by 9am, so that was okay.
The trail goes up the ridge from the left and out to the right end of the ridge. It is about 5.4 miles RT with 1488 ft. of elevation gain.
The first mile or so traverses across the canyon face and up to a notch in the wall.
After going through the notch, the trail ascends 23 switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles up to Scout’s Landing.
From here the trail traverses the ridge a half mile out to the point overlooking the main canyon.
At the top in one hour and forty minutes!
The ridge is narrow and there is a lot of exposure, but the Park Service has put up chains to hold onto in any location where there is risk of falling off the edge. So if one is paying attention then they should be able to complete the hike safely. However it could be scary for someone with a fear of heights. I got an early enough start that it wasn’t too crowded. Even so there were waits going up and down the ridge for hikers coming from the opposite direction to pass. It gets worse as the day goes on. So best to get an early start.
Thursday, April 5 is my last day in Zion. I take the shuttle to the Court of the Patriarchs stop. This was the last stop that I hadn’t been to yet. The main attraction here is the view of the three mountains which are named Abraham Peak, Isaac Peak, and Jacob Peak. And thus the name Court of the Patriarchs.
There is a bridge across the Virgin River to where the Sand Creek trail is. I decide to walk over there. There was a group of turkeys right at the bridge, including two big toms.
Once across the river, I saw there was a side creek coming in with a trail going up it which I decide to follow. This trail isn’t marked or shown on the small map that is handed out at the entrance. So there was no one else on the trail. I took my time wandering up looking for birds, etc. Also, peregrine falcons nest along these cliffs, I was hoping to see one. It was maybe a mile up to where the trail ended at a cliff face. After the last three days of masses of people on all the trails, the solitude was wonderful. On the way back down I saw a great blue heron wading in the creek. I stopped and sat down to watch him for a bit. He caught one fish and resumed stalking. Then he took a couple steps out of the creek and I thought he was going to fly away. But instead he grabbed a small mammal, a rabbit I think. He carried it back in the water and then swallowed it. I couldn’t believe I was seeing this – I thought herons only ate fish!! Sorry if this grossed you out, but it was like watching an episode of Nature on PBS!
I really enjoyed this day, even though I didn’t hike very far.
Friday morning I break camp and leave the park. I have enjoyed my visit here. I may come back again, but a little later in the season. Maybe in early May. The leaves should be on the trees by then and more flowers in bloom. So it wouldn’t be so brown. Or in the fall when the cottonwoods are in color.