If you appreciate high rises of canyon walls, amazing views and seeing a variety of ecosystems in one package, Zion National Park should be added to your “must visit” list. The park is great for casual tourists, hikers, back packers, canyoneers, and advanced rock climbers.
This was actually our second trip to the park. Technically, we were all here before, but Bunny was still cooking! Goose was about two years old and I was five months pregnant. This time around, both kids walked, and I didn’t have to hike in my maternity office clothes!
We stayed at the Watchman Campground, which is located right by the Visitor Center. It’s a pretty campground, with a good amount of trees and passing wildlife. The crown jewel of the wildlife sightings was a California King-snake that wiggled by!
The sites have electric hook ups and there is water and a dump station available on site. My only complaint was their ground cover for the sites. It was very pretty and matched the landscape well, but holy orange. Everything was orange. The kids were orange, the adults were orange, Jolly was orange, and of course the dogs were orange. We took them to a groomer after this trip and they wanted to know if we lived on a baseball field.
The park has a few distinct sections, the most visited being the Valley. During the high season, and shoulder seasons, driving into the park is limited to guests of the lodge. The remaining guests can park at the visitor center and take the shuttle bus in. The shuttle bus has nine stops, including the visitor center, and each stop has something worthwhile to see. We limited ourselves to The Emerald Pools, The Human History Museum, and the Riverside Walk. The Riverside Walk is the gateway to the Narrows, a canyoneering hike which is mostly walking through the Virgin River. We have not yet been able to do this, first we’ve never been there at the right time of year, and second it’s not terribly safe with smaller kids.
Throughout the Valley, you can find a variety of treasures. In addition to the rock formations and geological features, there are weeping rocks, hanging gardens, and a variety of plant and animal life. Occasionally, it’s possible to spot climbers scaling the steep canyon walls!
On the Riverside walk, the animal life consisted of the most aggressive squirrels I’ve ever seen. This is what happens when people feed the squirrels. They were completely fearless of people and even chased Bunny for food. It was not a pleasant experience. A fellow hiker lent me his hiking pole to try and dissuade a particularly annoying squirrel away from my pack. I tried slapping the ground near it to no affect. After that spectacular failure, I tried to gently push it away with the pole… it just rolled over! Lesson here, don’t feed the wildlife.
Another great hike in the valley is The Watchman Trail. The trailhead is walking distance from the campground and visitor center, and if you don’t mind a bit of a climb, it’s totally worth it. We were treated to the flowering desert plants, which were just amazing. I slowed us down by taking a picture of pretty much every flower I came across. The viewpoint gives sweeping views of the valley below.
An under-visited part of the park is the Kolob Canyon/Terrace. We did two hikes in this region, Taylor Creek Trail and Northgate Peaks. Taylor Creek is a more popular trail which winds through a canyon, passes a couple of log cabins, and ends at the Double Arch Alcove. The Alcove is a really neat spot and the kids loved discovering their echoes. If undertaking this hike, bring warm layers, the deeper into the Canyon you go, the colder it gets. Sturdy foot wear that can stand up to water is a must as the trail crosses the creek about seven hundred times.
Northgate Peaks trail is an easy four mile (ish) trail which meanders through high plateau meadows and forest. It ends with a great view of Zion Valley, Northgate Peaks, and the Pine Valley Mountains. We stopped right at the first big viewpoint, but we saw a lot of hikers go further to more adventurous spots.
The Eastern Section of Zion is worth a visit as well. We skipped it this time for a few reasons. First, we had a bit of hiking/sight seeing fatigue and just never got around to it. The other is that to get to the Eastern section, you must drive through the Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel, which is an attraction in it’s own right. For regular sized vehicles, it’s a free tunnel trip, but for oversized vehicles, including our dually, it’s a $15 fee. The tunnel has to be shut down to one way traffic when larger vehicles need to go through, so it’s a fair price. This section has beautiful sandstone formations and not too many trails(if any). There are still a good amount of unofficial walking areas and we’ll have to visit it next time.
Our timing in this trip was great. The weather was cool, albeit windy, the wild flowers were in bloom, and best of all, we were there at the same time as another family with kid about Goose’s age. They hit it off immediately and the kids spent their time playing at our site or theirs. It’s always a treat when we find some kids for ours to play with, and even more so when we like the parents too! Now we have some new friends to visit when we pass through their stomping grounds.
Zion is a real treasure, and it’s no wonder it’s our third most visited park. We look forward to coming back and we’ve left ourselves a few jewels to discover. I look forward to returning and climbing Angel’s Landing, exploring the Eastern Section, and hiking through the Narrows!
Now, here are some of the flowers!