Hiking in Zion
June 28, 2016 6:07 AM   Subscribe

I am headed to Zion National Park to do some solo hiking over the 4th of July weekend. From what I understand it is going to be extremely hot and crowded. For anyone who has been there before, can you offer some tips on logistics, stuff to pack, recommended hikes, beating the heat, etc. I will be staying in Springdale. I would like to do The Narrows but will avoid Angel's Landing due to my trouble with heights. Any info you can provide that would make this awesome would be much appreciated.
posted by jasondigitized to Travel & Transportation around Duck Creek Village, UT (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was just there hiking in April. It is so incredible! I can't give too many tips on logistics and beating the heat, because April vs July is really different, but I can recommend a couple great hikes. We especially loved the West Rim trail, which starts out on the same trail as the one that takes you to Angel's Landing, but before actually doing the Landing, you turn off and keep on hiking (you can also hike into it from another direction as a backpacking trip, but our hiking book described this there-and-back route, which was great). The first part of the trail will likely be extremely busy, but we had the rest of the trail, after the Landing cut-off, more or less to ourselves (again, obviously it will be more crowded in July, but it will be a lot less crowded than other trails). It took us probably 5-6 hours total to hike it, including a nice lunch break at the top.

Observation Point is another hike we really enjoyed. It was definitely busier, but the iconic view of Zion from the top was really worth it! It look probably about 4 hours total.

We also stayed in Springdale, and it was so great to leave the car and take the town shuttle to the park entrance, and then the park shuttle to the trailheads. It is an incredibly well-organized place.

Have a great trip!
posted by sabotagerabbit at 7:17 AM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

The only way to truly beat the heat and crowds is to start very early i.e. not long after first light and then take a break somewhere during the mid-day sun. Other than that you are looking at mitigation strategies like big floppy hats, and lots of water. The narrow deep slot canyons of Zion do give you some protection as the sun won't be beating down on you directly except for the very middle part of the day. The downside of this of course is that they take longer to get lit in the morning and they can get dangerously dark really quickly in the later part of the afternoon.

As for hikes, there is a good stopping point on the Angel's Landing hike called "Scout Lookout" that is immediately before the vertigo inducing holding onto chains portion of the hike. It allows you to see the canyon floor from above and experience Walter's Wiggles & Refrigerator Canyon (which is cool as the name implies) without doing the Angel's portion.

I'll second Observation Point and add that you shouldn't let the first visible chunk of the trail discourage you. From what you can see from the trailhead is indeed a slog up switchbacks of the apron of the mountain and it is pretty uninteresting but as soon as you turn the corner and loose site of the main canyon floor, you'll be immersed in a wonderful slot canyon that is beautiful beyond words. The middle portion is in this canyon and then the last part of the hike to the point is another steep ascent to the titular Observation Point which puts you at roughly the same altitude as Angel's Landing with a similar view just that you are a few kilometers closer to the back of the Zion Canyon. Also off this trailhead is Hidden Canyon which is another fun slot canyon to explore.

The Emerald Pools are very exposed so if you are trying to beat the heat that is not a good place to be during the middle of the day. If you want to drive through the tunnel to the eastern chunk of the park, the Canyon Overlook trail is short and fun with a beautiful view. Also farthest east is the Checkerboard Mesa. There is no defined trails here but you can wander around and take pictures of you want.

As for the shuttles, it is high season so you will have to use them to get north of "Canyon Junction" on the map i.e. you can still drive into the park and east through the tunnel. All of the longer/interesting hikes are north of Canyon Junction so you will be fast friends with the shuttle. Regarding the tunnel, it isn't a long distance but because the tunnel is narrow big RVs need the whole to get through which means that traffic is often stopped which can double or triple your transit time.

It has been a few years but the food within the park wasn't anything special but there are lots of good options in Springdale. Lastly, if you are flying into Las Vegas, keep in mind that Vegas and Zion are in two different time zones when planning transportation logistics.
posted by mmascolino at 8:38 AM on June 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you don't have time or energy, just do Hidden Canyon
posted by A189Nut at 8:54 AM on June 28, 2016

Thirding Observation Point trail.

For the Narrows, go to one of the outdoor outfitters in Springdale right when they open, and rent "water shoes" and a hiking stick. They will make your hike up the narrows soooooooo much more enjoyable - basically think neoprene hiking boots. The water will still be quite cold, even though it's hot out. The Narrows is the E ticket hike here, you'll love it. Don't be deterred by crowds - most of them don't get more than a quarter mile in. Check in at the visitors center the night before to make sure the forecast is favorable - they keep track of potential flash flood weather patterns upstream and will let you know if it's safe to go (it usually is but you want to be sure). I think they also have an internet page with this info you can check, and probably a phone recording.

Also, assuming you'll have a car, drive up to the Kolab Canyons area on the Northwest side of the park. Many many many fewer crowds. And a little higher altitude.

Heat strategies - get one of those rolled up bandanas with crystals that absorb water - like this - I've had great luck with these in hot dry weather.

Also, there used to be an ice cream shop in the visitors center, and a couple in town.

mmascolino is right - bring a sack lunch from outside the park. Not many options in the park.

It will be hot, but manageable. You'll have a great time!
posted by bluesky78987 at 12:20 PM on June 28, 2016

A couple of tips for Zion:

* Seconding bluesky78987 re:the Narrows. Rent water shoes and a stick. You're walking on slippery bowling balls, and you often can't see the bottom. Your foot will slide a bit and hit a rock. In regular sandals, that's going to hurt like hell. In water shoes, it's basically a non-issue. The outfitters in Springdale should have water flow information for the Narrows (I know Zion Adventures does). Generally, if it's raining anywhere in the area, you don't go. So base your plans around the Narrows. If you can do it the first day, and there's any doubt about later days, do it.

* Seconding mmascolino on Scout Lookout. It's the shoulder of Angel's landing, and the trail up to that point, though it does go up the side of a cliff, is basically never less than four feet wide at any exposed spot. I have definite issues with height, and Walter's Wiggles on the way up made me nervous, but again, the trail is wide and basically paved the whole way, once it leaves the canyon floor. I stayed to the inside of the trail and it was OK. The view just isn't to be missed.

As others have said, get up early. It's going to save you both crowds and heat.

* It's possible to take a shuttle to the top of East Zion and hike down from Observation Point. I know Zion Adventures runs a shuttle. You take the shuttle to Mystery Canyon, which drops you off at the East Mesa trailhead. You follow the trail straight until it gets to Observation Point. Good alternative to save time and effort in the high heat. (We were on a time frame, so we loaded the water shoes into our backpacks, hiked down East Mesa to Observation Point and then did the Narrows the same day.) The Observation Point hike is absolutely on the side of a very high cliff, but again, the trail is wide (~4-5 feet). I was nervous on the top section, but I got through it. The view can't be beat.

* In very hot weather, I like to take 1 liter water bottles, empty about 10% of the water and then freeze them. They'll stay cool for a good half day in hot weather. You'll obviously want to have an alternative water source while they're melting.

I like the Spotted Dog and the Whiptail Grill in Springdale. Whiptail is slow, but the food's good and the location is very cool. Make sure to drive through Eastern Zion, and do the short little Canyon Overlook trail for an excellent view from a side canyon in Zion.

If you have time, go to Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ (two hours away).
posted by cnc at 12:45 PM on June 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was just looking at my beautiful pictures from 3 years ago this week and thinking that it was amazing the pictures do not show crowds. Your mileage and definitions of crowds may vary of course but I experienced Zion doing a great job of handling the visitors. Nthing to get out early in the cooler morning to beat most everyone else who is sleeping.
posted by RoadScholar at 2:23 PM on June 28, 2016

They'll definitely be crowds at peak times at popular places over this summer holiday weekend. It will be very noticeable on the last stretch (beyond Scout's Lookout) of the Angel's Landing hike. There are parts of the trail that is essentially single file which causes large back ups of people. You'll also see lots of people at the Emerald Pools because it is a short hike from the trail head and a lot of people at the start of the Narrows. Starting early and getting away from the popular areas will certainly lessen your sight of crowds.
posted by mmascolino at 6:16 AM on June 30, 2016

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