Hailing from British Columbia, I’ll admit, I thought I lived in the most beautiful place in the world. That was before I visited southern Utah.
Tuesday, October 11
Waking up in Mesquite, Jason and I packed up the truck, crossed into the northwestern tip of Arizona and then pushed onward into Utah. Immediately the land became cragged and dramatic. Grey skies overhead threatened rain but by mid-morning the dullness of the day had burned off. We grabbed coffee in St. George and then followed I-15 north until exiting at Hurricane. From here we drove east along the Virgin River toward Springdale.
On the advice of my contact at Visit Utah, Jason and I had settled on hiking The Narrows. The trail isn’t so much a trail, but a shallow river that leads hikers through an increasingly narrow gorge. The Narrows and Angel’s Landing are counted among Zion National Park’s most popular day hikes.
In Springdale, we popped into the visitor centre where I picked up an inexpensive but adequate pair of water shoes and a collapsible walking stick. We parked the truck, loaded our day packs and caught the free shuttle to the park entrance. After paying a $15 admission we crossed the foot bridge and queued for the second shuttle.
After fifteen or so minutes we boarded the shuttle and patiently waited while we drove the 6 mile paved road up Zion Canyon, calling stops 1 through 8. Each stop marked a point of interest, trailhead or attraction. Our trailhead lay at stop 9, at the formidably named Temple of Sinawava.
Into the Wild: Zion Canyon
As our shuttle wound its way up the Virgin River, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the sheer canyon walls. They were spectacular. On the floor of the canyon we were flanked by imposing crags, some bluffs towering thousands of feet overhead. Peaks – clustered and sentinel – punctured the rim’s skyline and the blue sky vividly contrasted the orange and red-hued sandstone. Some walls looked as if they had been rubbed with a grey crayon, while others invoked layered sand art. All of it seemed near otherworldly. Had I ever been anywhere with such standout natural beauty? This was the type of place that emanated such grandeur that its natural beauty wasn’t contained simply to its aesthetic, rather, than the profound way it made me feel. I felt small among the mountains; I felt wavering among their stoicism; and I felt mortal among their antiquity.
At the Temple of Sinawava we set out along the Riverside Walk, a gently graded, one-mile paved pathway, terminating at the trailhead of The Narrows.
“I’m so excited I could skip!” I announced to Jason, a shit-eating grin fixed on my face. We were about to spend the next four hours on a hike with serious undercurrents of Indiana Jones-level adventure.
Hiking The Narrows
We brushed past the visitors who dared not go further than the end of the paved path. The water was nipping cold but my curiosity for what lay beyond the next bend burned hot. The water was not typically deeper than mid-calf and most times, the river offered a sliver of dry bank to scramble over.
We weaved back and forth, bank to bank, trying our best to exploit the path of least resistance. I navigated between smooth river rocks and swathes of fine white sand, sussing out the depths with my walking stick. It wasn’t difficult but I didn’t care to risk twisting or rolling my ankle.
We were in the company of all manners of hikers. Young, old, fit, gasping, awkward, lithe, solo, trio, fast, slow, nervous, confident, athletic, touristic. But everyone, surely, recognized that the place we were exploring, in the moment we were present in, was a special one.
For two and a half hours we walked and waded up river. The canyon narrowed, the crowd thinned and sun cast shadows down the gorge. We sat on a rock in Wall Street where the narrows were some thirty feet wide, and hastily devoured our granola bars. We had gone as far as we’d go that day. As is usually the case, the more we saw, the less we felt we had seen. I have a sneaking suspicion though, this won’t be the last time I venture into Zion.
What You Need to Know About Zion National Park
Zion Canyon is set up in a linear experience. From the front entrance, visitors travel north through the canyon, along the 9.7 km road, stopping at any of the nine stations.
How the Zion shuttle works:
From mid-March through late October, visitors can take advantage of the free shuttle.
There are two shuttles. The first is the Springdale line (loop), which makes 6 proper stops throughout Springdale. This is handy if you are staying in a local hotel, or if parking at the main lot is at capacity. (If you arrive between 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. you’re advised to park in Springdale.) You can park anywhere in town that does not have a parking restriction at no cost. (!) The Springdale shuttle deposits visitors at the front entrance of the park. From here, pay the admission, use a washroom, rent equipment (if needed) and queue for the second shuttle: Zion Canyon shuttle line. You can hop-on/hop-off as many times as you please. The last shuttle departs Stop 9 at 7:30 p.m.
Stop 1: Zion Canyon Visitor Center
Stop 2: Zion Human History Museum
Stop 3: Canyon Junction
Stop 4: Court of the Patriarchs
Stop 5: Zion Lodge
Stop 6: The Grotto – Angel’s Landing trailhead found here
Stop 7: Weeping Rock
Stop 8: Big Bend
Stop 9: Temple of Sinawava
Tip – during busy weekends, people attempting to board the shuttle at stops along the way may find the arriving shuttle is already full.
Parking – park in the national park or along the streets of Springdale for free.
Park Accommodations – there are three campsites within the park: Watchman Campground, South Campground, and Lava Point Campground. Additionally, the historic Zion National Park Lodge offers heritage lodging located at Stop 5; $200 USD+ pn.
Springdale – the scenic town that lies at the foot of Zion. There are hotels, restaurants, shopping and outdoor gear shops.
Have you ever been to Zion National Park? Hiked The Narrows? Did you love it as much as I did? Let me know – comment below!