Returning to Zion National Park

On Sunday, June 23rd, we started day two of our family vacation by making the 50-minute drive from our AirBnB in Washington, Utah to Zion National Park.  We found parking in Springdale and hopped on the free shuttle to the south entrance of the park.

It had been nearly 36 years since Bill and I last visited Zion, Utah’s first national park which was established on November 19, 1919. Out of Utah’s Mighty 5 – Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef – Zion was the park I remembered the least. Our earlier visit was more of a sprint, driving on the scenic Zion-Mount Carmel Highway with very little time for hiking. One thing that had made an impression on both Bill and me was the orangish-brown asphalt that blended in so perfectly with the surrounding area and we were disappointed to see that much of that had been replaced with regular black asphalt.

 

Planning Our Hikes

For the most part, I took a back seat during our trip, leaving the decision making for which hikes we’d take to the rest of the family. I regret not studying the maps like I usually do, but at the time, I happily allowed myself to play tourist to my five tour guides. One of the hikes high on my radar prior to our trip was The Narrows, but it was closed due to high water. The Narrows hike involves walking upstream through the Virgin River as it meanders through slot canyons. High water or sudden rain storms can make it treacherous, and unfortunately for us, the water level was just an inch above acceptable levels on the day of our visit.

 

Riverside Walk

We started the crisp 73° morning off by taking it easy on Riverside Walk, a 2.2-mile roundtrip hike deemed easy on the trail guide. It’s a paved trail; however, near the end of the trail, hikers have the option of walking along a sandy path closer to the Virgin River. We stayed on the paved trail on our way up to the entrance to The Narrows and then spent a little time on the sandy path as we made our way back to the trailhead.

I enjoyed letting the green Maidenhair fern that grows along the canyon wall guide my way for much of the hike…

Zion National Park

 

As I mentioned, The Narrows was closed due to high water so once we reached this point at the end of Riverside Walk, we had no choice but to turn around.

Zion National Park

 

We took our time on our hike back out of the canyon and stopped for a few selfies…

Zion National Park

 

As I mentioned earlier, there’s an option to hike on a sandy path along the Virgin River for part of the tail…

 

The tall rock walls of the narrow canyon were breathtaking…

Zion National Park

 

Weeping Rock Trail

Our second hike on Weeping Rock Trail was super easy and only .4-mile roundtrip. We hiked uphill on a paved trail to a rock alcove that had a constant dripping of water from springs above. Looking up, we could see Maidenhair fern cascading off of the rock overhang as well as the water. We had to make a quick entrance and exit from underneath the alcove to avoid getting drips of water on our heads and down the back of our shirts.

Zion National Park

 

Look closely and you can see water dripping from above as you look out of the rock alcove and toward the left side of the canyon…

Zion National Park

 

This is the view looking out to the right, but unfortunately the dripping water isn’t visible in the picture…

 

After taking a few sets of stairs down from the weeping rocks, we had this magnificent view as we started our short descent to the trailhead…

Zion National Park

 

Lower Emerald Pool Trail

Our third hike of the day was on the 1.2-mile-roundtrip Lower Emerald Pool Trail, also deemed easy in the trail guide. The dirt path is mostly in the sun during the early part of the hike, but as it approaches the pool areas, it becomes shaded and paved.

Zion National Park

 

The trail follows the Virgin River for about a third of the way to Lower Emerald Pool…

Zion National Park

 

Once we got to Lower Emerald Pool, we experienced a familiar cascade of water from the rock overhang above; however, instead of a light dripping there was a steady flow of water.

Zion National Park

 

Upper Emerald Pool Trail was closed due to a huge rock slide so we weren’t able to continue on our journey to admire the pool and its overflowing water that creates the cascade into Lower Emerald Pool.

Zion National Park

 

As we neared the bridge on our return that would take us back across the Virgin River and to the completion of our hike, we watched as a group of horseback riders crossed in front of us…

Zion National Park

 

By the time we wrapped up our third hike of the day, we were quite hungry and stopped at Zion Lodge for sandwiches which we ate picnic-style on the lawn outside the lodge.

 

Watchman Trail

Refreshed from lunch and a short rest, we were ready to tackle Watchman Trail, a 3.3-mile roundtrip dirt trail with many switchbacks and steep drop-offs. Considered a moderate hike in the trail guide, we were curious to see how different it would be from our easy morning hikes. The temperature had risen to 82° by the time we started, and with the majority of the trail being in full sun, the contrast to our cooler and shaded morning hikes was quite noticeable.

Zion National Park

 

Our hike up to the plateau was pretty uneventful; although, I was a little nervous at one particularly narrow section where there was a significant drop-off. The climb was worth it, though, with a closer views of the Watchman and magnificent views of Towers of the Virgin and lower Zion Canyon down below.

Zion National Park

 

We stayed at the trail summit for about a half hour, taking pictures…

Zion National Park

 

And just enjoying the view…

 

We named the round rock in the middle of the picture Penny Rock because from a distance it looked like a penny.

 

Here’s what Penny Rock looked like up close from the trail side…

 

Not surprisingly, the descent was much easier and took quite a bit less time than the ascent. We walked through wild flowers as we neared the road crossing…

 

With a view of where we’d just hiked behind us, we had only one more thing to do before we called our hike on the Watchman Trail a success…

 

And that was cooling our hot and tired feet in the Virgin River…

 

Zion-Mount Carmel Highway

What both Bill and I remember most from our time in Zion many years ago was driving through the park on the orangish brown Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. The rock formations and vegetation provide such beautiful scenery that it’s hard to maintain the minimum speed while driving into the park from the east entrance. With Joseph driving, Bill took the following pictures by holding his camera out of the sunroof and snapping away!

Zion National Park

Photo credit: Bill

Zion National Park

Photo credit: Bill

Zion National Park

Photo credit: Bill

Zion National Park

Photo credit: Bill

When another driver slowed to tell us that there was a herd of bighorn sheep just ahead, we pulled into the overlook parking area and got out of the car. While we were stopped, the herd crossed the road allowing Bill to take these fantastic pictures.

Zion National Park

Photo credit: Bill

Zion National Park

Photo credit: Bill

Zion National Park

Photo credit: Bill

 

Final Thoughts on Zion National Park

We loved Zion for the variety of hikes and types of scenery that’s spread across its 146,597 acres. There’s something for everyone from easy to strenuous hikes on trails that stay low along the canyon floor to others that reach high into the sky with long dangerous drop-offs.

 

  • Questions:
  • Have you visited Zion National Park?
  • Do you enjoy hiking or running on easy trails or do you like to be challenged?
  • Are you afraid of heights?

 

Happy Running! ~ Deb