One Day at Zion National Park

08 May 2016

During National Park Week, we revived an old itinerary Caileigh had created for a four-day road trip throughout Utah and Arizona to see some of the most renowned natural beauties of the American Southwest. This called for a stop at Zion National Park.

WHEN YOU ARRIVE
Zion National Park is divided into two sections. Arrive through the South Entrance, and you'll find yourself in Zion Canyon, located just east of the small town of Springdale. The northern end of the park is the Kolob Canyon area. Because of its size, it's common for visitors to stay multiple days, and you'll find camping sites just beyond the Visitor's Center.

One Day at Zion National Park | The Brave Little Cheesehead
If you only have one day, plan to spend it in Zion Canyon. Park at the South Entrance and stop to pick up a map and chat up the rangers. We always recommend paying your park rangers a visit, as they have the most up-to-date information about park and road conditions and can help you get the most out of your trip no matter what Mother Nature throws at you.

Then, fill up on water and snacks, lace up those hiking boots tightly, and get ready for a whirlwind of a day!

TIP: This year marks the National Park Service centennial, celebrating over 100 years of preserving some of the most beautiful spots in the United States. During National Park Week, we received free access to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and Lake Powell. There are still a few other free entrance days this year, but we recommend leaving a donation during your visit to help keep these parks operating!

GETTING AROUND
From April to October, the park implements a mandatory shuttle system to reduce traffic congestion and make the park as accessible as possible for a higher volume of visitors during its busies season. The shuttle is free, runs frequently and offers a nice place to rest your tootsies between hikes. As you're plotting out your day, keep in mind the shuttle takes about 80 minutes to make its full loop, and double-check with the rangers what time the last run is. Otherwise, you'll be in for a long walk back to the parking lot--in the dark!

One Day at Zion National Park | The Brave Little Cheesehead4 HIKES, 15 MILES, 8 HOURS
With just one day, we still managed to tackle 4 hikes and 15 miles over the course of just 8 hours, and we admit to not really planning out our route until we arrived. So, if you don't have a massive amount of time at Zion--though we really hope you do--don't be discouraged! You may be surprised at what your can accomplish.

Angel's Landing
3.5 miles RT | 3 hours | 1,500 ft. climb | Strenuous | Shuttle Stop: The Grotto

One Day at Zion National Park | The Brave Little CheeseheadAngel's Landing is one of the two most popular hikes at Zion National Park. The last half mile boasts a seemingly treacherous scramble over a sandstone ridge that requires holding on to anchored support chains. Needless to say, it is not for the faint of heart. This was the most difficult hike we tackled, though we stopped short at the observation point at Scout's Landing, just before the scramble, due to unusually forceful winds that day--and a general fear of heights.
The first 45 minutes of the hike require a difficult ascent up on a wide, paved path, but it's well worth the views. After that, you'll reach a shady patch for about 15 minutes as you weave back through the canyon, climbing up more gradual switchbacks as you go. The last 30 minutes up to Scout's Landing is known as Walter's Wiggles, a series of about 21 steep and narrow switchbacks. If your thighs and calves weren't burning before, they will be now! We didn't see a single person take this on without stopping for a breather a couple of times through. But you'll feel vindicated once you reach the top, and your reward is a stunning stretch of flat sandstone upon which you can meander and soak up the incredible views of the park.

This hike will be most enjoyable for the physically fit, though I consider myself to be of moderate fitness level, took it slowly, and managed to complete it in 3 hours. We saw people of all shapes, sizes and ages enjoying this hike, so give it a shot! You can always turn back.

Riverside Walk
2 miles RT | 1 hour | Negligible climb | Easy | Shuttle Stop: Temple of Sinawava

One Day at Zion National Park | The Brave Little Cheesehead
The Riverside Walk is the short, yet beautiful trail out to the start of The Narrows, Zion's most popular attraction. The Narrows is the skinniest part of the canyon, with walls stretching upwards of a thousand feet. If the weather conditions allow, visitors can wade through the Virginia River that runs through it. The Narrows was one of our biggest draws to Zion National Park, so we were absolutely crushed to learn it was closed due to high water levels. 

Our consolation prize was being able to hike out to its start via the Riverside Walk. This hike is a great option for families, as the trail is paved and easily accessible by most. It offers an up-close view of the river, and for us, it was a nice leisurely trip following the trek up Angel's Landing. We had a chance to imagine what hiking through The Narrows might be like upon reaching its opening. 

Emerald Pools
1.2-2.5 miles  RT | 1.5 hours | 100-400 ft. climb | Easy to Strenuous | Shuttle Stop: Zion Lodge

One Day at Zion National Park | The Brave Little Cheesehead
There are three levels of the Emerald Pools trail--the Lower, Middle and Upper Pools--and the level of difficulty of this hike depends on whether you choose to do the full trip. The trail out to the lower pools is gentle, giving way to a waterfall you can walk behind, which pours right into the Lower Pools. Should you choose to clamber up to the Middle or Upper Pools, the trail will progress to moderately difficult and sometimes strenuous, but it is overall much shorter and therefore doable for many.

This is the one trail we probably could have done with out, but only because it had rained fairly extensively the weeks leading up to our trip, leaving the pools a deep, muddy brown instead of their normal brilliant, remarkable green. We only made it to the Middle Pools as a result, because we wanted to save our legs for the next trail on this list.

Watchman Trail
2 miles RT | 2 hours | 400 ft. climb | Moderate | Shuttle Stop: Zion Canyon Visitor Center

One Day at Zion National Park | The Brave Little Cheesehead
Perhaps one of the most underrated trails at Zion National Park, the Watchman Trail was hands-down the group favorite of the day. At the recommendation of the park ranger, we saved this hike for last given its proximity to the park entrance--a time saver on your way out--and its notoriety as one of the best places to watch the sunset. 

For approximately one hour, you'll steadily oscillate between moderately steep climbs and relatively level ground, though the terrain itself is quite rocky, making for a bit of a challenge. Because we embarked on this one just an hour and a half before sunset and park closing time, we were pleased to have the trail mostly to ourselves. At the top, you'll find an optional loop leading out to several look-out points that are well worth the last bit of effort. It's a great spot to rest, have some water, and just absorb the golden hour. We highly recommend adding this hike to your plans!

Planning a trip to Zion? Pin this infographic to save our itinerary! And consider adding Bryce Canyon National Park to your trip, too. 
One Day at Zion National Park | The Brave Little Cheesehead


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24 comments

  1. I've seen some gorgeous pictures of the emerald pool, and i'm hoping to get there later this year, im not much of a hiker though so id better start practicing!

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    1. Hey Ashleigh! Truth be told, I wasn't the best at hiking before the past year or so. If you're just starting out, stick with a few easy hikes and then start to graduate to moderate and difficult ones. Sometimes just finding places in your own backyard helps! And even though it's for a mountaineering hike, I like this guide by REI! It helps think about how to start training for hiking. :) http://blog.rei.com/social/mountaineering-fitness-and-training-tips/?cm_mmc=sm_pin_blog&crlt.pid=camp.aYVP9CqqUyov

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  2. It's neat to see a post that has practical advice for visiting a popular site, not just a list of attractions and such (the standard). Credit to you two for providing specifics.

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    1. Wow, thank you so much! We really appreciate you saying that. It was a little challenging for us to plan this trip and one I have coming up to Yellowstone in terms of figuring out how to space hikes out while at the parks, so we thought we'd structure our recap that way!

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  3. Looks like a beautiful park! I love the look of Emerald pools, I'd love to stand under that waterfall :)

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    1. It was, Crystal! We hope you have the chance to visit some day!

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  4. All the spots look amazing! My favourite must be the riverside walk. It's an achievement that you managed to visit all of them in just one day.

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    1. The Riverside Walk is lovely! We wished the water levels weren't too high, and we could have hiked through the Narrows. Guess we'll just have to return!

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  5. Nice post! I like how you broke down how strenuous the hikes are. It really helps for people who want to do a hike, but may not have all the energy to do an intense one! It would be cool to visit here - great pictures, too!!

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    1. Thanks Samantha! We appreciate that. Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. What a jam packed one day at Zion. I loved the park, but no way can I do Angel's Landing. Too scared of heights. Nice touch with the graphic too.

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    1. Thanks Theresa! It was a wonderful day. We're glad to hear we're not the only ones that were a little afraid of Angel's Landing!

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  7. I just love the natural parks in the states...just two more years and I got 8 weeks of discovering...might at Zion, looks like straight out of a western :D Thanks for sharing^^

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    1. Of course! Thank YOU for stopping by. We hope you make it out to Zion!

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  8. Thanks for all the practical advise. I love the timeline, it helps me to do my planning.

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  9. Wow, I had never heard of this national park before reading. Looks like a great place to visit. Will be sure to check it out if I visit the US in the future!

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  10. Never heard of this place before reading this, will definitely have to check it out if I'm in the US!

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    1. Hey Tom! Thanks for stopping by. Definitely recommend a trip to Zion, and you should check out our post on Bryce Canyon as well. They're within a 2.5 hour drive from each other!

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  11. This is on our list of places to visit next summer. Although I've heard dogs are not allowed in any national parks?? Do you have any thoughts/ideas on dog-friendly travel and hiking through the western states?

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    1. It's true. Dogs are not permitted in National Parks. As for alternatives in the southwest, Sedona, AZ is very dog friendly and there are many trails that dogs are allowed on, so long as they're leashed. Slide Rock, in Sedona, is a great spot to explore and you're welcome to bring dogs on leash. Similarly, the Valley of Fire in Nevada is dog-friendly and it's a beautiful area to explore. Many state parks allow dogs, so I would recommend reviewing your options there when planning. Hope this helps!

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    2. State parks...perfect! I'll start there! Thank you!

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