Ever since I moved to northern Arizona almost a year ago, I’ve been eager to take a trip to Zion National Park, a southern Utah destination known for its surreal beauty. Spring and fall are great times to visit, both because the weather is nice and mild, and because the tourist volume is a little lower. My birthday happened to be a couple weeks ago, so I used it as an excuse to twist my honey’s arm into going.
[Note: All photos in this post were shot with an iPhone 5 (pro tip: if you are taking pics outside with your iPhone, use HDR mode, because seriously it makes a world of difference). The only editing is the size.]
More than anything else, I was dying to hike Angel’s Landing. One of the most famous hikes in Zion, it’s 5 miles total and climbs about 1500 ft. You hike from the canyon floor (where this picture was taken) up along the “spine” of that shark-fin-ish rock formation you can see in this picture. The hike is a bit harrowing but really beautiful.
The red rocks, canyons, and sandstone in the park reminded me a lot of Sedona and other parts of northern Arizona, but it’s decidedly more green and less desert-y, which I found refreshing.
Zion felt a little bit like a nature lover’s Disneyland, and I mean that in a good way. The park is beautifully maintained, and you can tell that immense care was taken in constructing the trails when they were first created in the 1920’s and 30’s. During high-volume days, there’s even a shuttle that visitors ride to the various trailheads and locales since parking is limited. The shuttle adds to the quasi-theme park feel, and the diverse selection of trails and sights are your “rides”. It’s one of my favorite national parks I’ve been to so far and I would love to go again.
We hiked Angel’s Landing the morning of my birthday–which I thought was a pretty baller way to have a birthday. It started off in the lower 40s when we started the hike in the morning, but it warmed up into the 60s during the day with plenty of sun. With that in mind, my strategy was to pick layers that I could easily add and subtract, and ones that would give me lots of warmth when I needed them but not take up a lot of space in our pack when I didn’t.
I wore my YogaSmoga racer back underneath my lululemon full tilt LS (I looove rulu for hiking), plus my lululemon keep it up jacket, new mini check pique vinyasa scarf, and frosty run gloves and toque. The hat, gloves, and scarf were serious heat-holders that were also very packable. The jacket is also both warm and compact–my puffy fluff off jacket would’ve been a problem to stuff in a pack, since I’m sure I would’ve gotten too hot for it.
During hikes, especially steep ones, my legs tend to gather a lot of heat, so I always go for a lighter bottom and layer up on top instead. I went with my Splits59 nova trailblazer capris since the supplex fabric and slightly longer length offer a little more warmth than some of my others. Also, it has “trailblazer” in the name, so it seemed appropriate.
As we made our way up about 3 zillion switchbacks, the morning light hit the canyon walls beautifully. Morning and later afternoon make for some amazing pictures, since the oblique angle of the light makes interesting shadows and highlights on the canyon walls versus the more uniform lighting of mid-day.
The first half of the hike with the switchbacks leads up to Scout’s Overlook, where you get nice views of Zion Canyon. It’s a good stopping point for those not comfortable with the rest of the hike. In this picture, you can see the last half-ish mile of the hike up to the summit. The pic is a bit washed out from the sun, but you can see the ridge where the trail runs. Yup, it’s narrow as hell.
One of the signatures of the Angel’s Landing hike is these chains running up along the ridge. They help hikers pull themselves up, control their descent on the way down, as well as give you a little peace of mind.
Here’s the deal: you really need these chains because you’re hiking along a narrow, 100% exposed ridge with 1,400 ft dropoffs on either side.
1,400 ft! To the bottom of a canyon floor! Look back at the first pic. It’s like a shark fin–straight.thefrigg.down.
It’s extremely difficult to really capture the depth with a lame phone camera–or really any camera–but if this doesn’t make you want to hurl, I don’t know what will.
To give you an idea, it’s comparable to standing at the top of the Empire State Building. Except, instead of a nice fence and a flat, concrete floor, you have chains and lumpy rocks.
Btw–no, I am NOT standing up in this pic, don’t get crazy. I’m sitting down at an overlook point with my booty decidedly on firm ground several feet from the edge. Buuut it’s kind of cool (AND SICKENING) that it looks like I’m standing up.
Despite all this insanity, very few falls/fatalities have occurred on the trail, and it’s friendly to casual hikers–and I mean REALLY casual, like the people I saw wearing jeans, a cardigan, and keds that made me wonder if they even knew they were going hiking at all. If you’re a reasonably able-bodied person who is not an idiot, and if the trail isn’t icy or wet, you’re not in any significant danger.
But it sure does make for an exciting hike unlike any I’ve ever done before, and many “holy s#*%”s were uttered along the way.
The final ascent has some pretty intense elevation gains that make you especially grateful for the chains. I love the “halo” created by the sun behind the rocks.
The top offered amazing 360-degree views through Zion Canyon and a beautiful mix of blues, greens, reds, and browns.
The great part about this hike was that the journey to the top was just as exciting, cool, and beautiful as arriving at the summit, which makes for an all-around great experience.
Also, the summit is kind of overrun with hungry chipmunks with no concept of personal space. Cute, but they WILL steal your sandwich.
I really, really wanted to find a slice of cake and eat it at the summit because duh, but we went to a couple stores beforehand and all I could find was this grossly overpriced, semi-stale brownie. Manpanion happened to have matches in his pack, so we even made a little “candle”. Thanks to the wind, it took 4 matches to get this picture.
Still bitter I didn’t find cake.
We hiked A LOT that first day. Since our pace is pretty strenuous, Angel’s Landing only took us about 4 or 5 hours including an hour at the summit, and we had plenty of daylight and energy left to burn. We went on several smaller, mostly flat trails to fill out the rest of the afternoon.
These two photos were along Riverside Walk, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The short trail runs alongside the Virgin River, a small but mighty river that (literally) cuts through the bottom of Zion Canyon. That second pic isn’t altered–there’s a natural blue-green color to some portions of the water produced naturally from algae living in the water. It really adds to the almost mystical feel of the park.
In total, we racked up about 11 miles the first day. Later that night, after we recouped with dinner and a change of clothes, we went to see Mockingjay. Even though the town of Springdale is TINY, the one screen it has happened to be an Imax playing the movie, which I counted as excellent luck. Also, sitting on my butt and crushing on Gale was a fabulous end to a long day of logging a crapton of miles in the park.
The theater didn’t have cake either.
The second day was only a half day, since we had the drive home to tackle, too. We wanted a moderate hike, so we headed to Hidden Canyon trail.
The weather was basically the same, but I switched my crops to lululemon’s black grape rebel runners and layered my paris perfection cool racerback under my white herringbone forme jacket. I used the same scarf, second jacket, and gloves, but switched to an older purple hat from Mountain Hardwear that I love to pieces.
After ascending about 1000 ft via switchbacks, we wound around some exposed bits with a sandstone wall on one side, and dropoffs on the other. There are beautiful views along the way, and even a little observation point you can hike out toward the end of the trail. Like Angel’s Landing, the park has installed some chains to help you manage, but at least in this case you have a solid wall to hug on one side.
When you reach the mouth of the canyon, the officially maintained trail ends. But, the narrow canyon forms a “trail” that you can walk into as far as you like. A posted sign advises hikers that some rock scrambling and climbing is required, and most hikers are limited in how far they can explore the canyon by how comfortable they are with navigating boulders and other shenanigans.
Most of the obstacles were pretty straightforward, but I almost lost my cool on this one. Again, the depth is hard to make out in these pics–the ground is about 10 or 15 ft down from this pic and you have to hug the rock face and shimmy yourself up/down. The rock is very smooth and curvy, plus there’s sand everywhere, which means slippery footing.
On the way down, I got stuck about halfway because I was too short to reach the next foothold without releasing one hand, too, and I am not down with 2 points of contact. After several minutes of me getting increasingly flustered and my hands starting to hurt from the cold rock, Manpanion (who has the patience of a saint) decided to just get back on the wall and offered me one of his hands as a handhold so I could continue working my way down.
Crisis averted. Still alive.
The hike through Hidden Canyon itself was so beautiful and serene, like traveling to some secret world. It’s a less famous/popular hike, which meant a lot of peace and solitude, a nice change of pace after the more crowded trails the day before. The canyon was home to all kinds of rock, moss, and some fall colors.
We made it probably a mile into the canyon before reaching a rock wall about 15 feet high that was almost totally vertical. It had some craggly bits for climbing, so my honey was able to scale it without any trouble. I wasn’t comfortable, though, plus we’d gotten pretty far and seen a lot anyway, so we headed back.
After a lovely lunch outside at the Zion Lodge, we hit Canyon Overlook trail on our way out for a brief, flat hike that offers views into the other side of the park. In the first pic, you can see the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway winding through the park. When we drove through the park to get to Springdale on our first night, it was late at night–we had no idea we were surrounded by all that.
Also, for the last pic, I feel like I should’ve raised my hands over my head maniacally like I was conjuring some epic thunderstorm, ya know. Ah well.
And that was my trip to Zion.