Bryce Canyon and Zion: Less Crowded Hiking Edition
July 30, 2019 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I will be driving through Utah on the way to New Mexico in August and will be spending 4 days in Kanab, UT as a base to check out Bryce and Zion. I know that both parks are extremely popular, so I'm looking for some advice for hikes or trails that may be less crowded (we will also be going through Monument Valley and the Goose Necks later in the trip).

I went to both Bryce and Zion as a kid, so technically I guess I have been before. I'm reasonably fit and regularly do 7ish mile hikes, but I'm not looking to do anything super technical or strenuous.

Mostly I'm looking for suggestions for hikes or trails (maybe some slot canyons) that will be a little quieter where I can appreciate the scenery. I also have had great experiences with checking out smaller state parks or National Monuments that aren't as well known, so I'm also interested in any suggestions for hikes that aren't at the National Parks.

Also, if anyone has used a guidebook or website that was particularly helpful for planning a trip to this area that would also be helpful.
posted by forkisbetter to Travel & Transportation around Kanab, UT (10 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: So in Kanab you will be super close to my favorite State Park in the entire universe, Coral Pink Sand Dunes. I cannot overstate how beautiful and quiet and weirdly otherwordly that place is, especially in comparison to the great big towering intense scenery of both Zion and Bryce. Plus you can take an ATV tour if that's up your alley - not for me, but people out riding the dunes always seem to be having a great time. I hope you get a chance to check it out!
posted by DSime at 9:52 AM on July 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Check out Kodachrome Basin State Park near Bryce
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:25 AM on July 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For slot canyons, you want Wire Pass/Buckskin Gulch. The full trip is my all time favorite backpack, but the first part can be done as a day hike, and it's one of the best hikeable slot canyons you'll find. It's INCREDIBLE. It will be HOT and IIRC, there isn't any potable water in that part of the hike, so be prepared. You may also need to do a bit of scrambling and/or some wading -- conditions change regularly.

Also, since you'll be in the area for a few days, look at trying to get a permit for The Wave. You're too late for the advance lottery, but they issue 10/day for the next day on a walk in basis. That hike also starts at the Wire Pass trail head (about an hour away from Kanab).

August is right in the middle of monsoon season in Arizona, so if there's the slightest chance of rain, stay out of slot canyons. They can flash flood if it rains even miles away, and there's no high ground in Buckskin Gulch for the first 14 miles or so. Do not risk it. I cannot emphasize this enough.
posted by natabat at 10:42 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: At Zion, Hidden Canyon was a gem once we got past the first few miles. Just a few folks out there with us and it was September so Angel's Landing was insane. Slot canyons and precipices galore.

Outside Bryce we rented mountain bikes and rode at Red Canyon nearby. It was gorgeous and we had the place to ourselves, aside from the ghosts of Butch and Sundance.

Seconding Kodachrome, it was amazing.
posted by headnsouth at 10:45 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In Zion, I recommend taking East Mesa Trail to Observation Point. It's a 6-7 mile out-and-back up on the mesa overlooking Zion Canyon. I wasn't too keen on climbing up Angel's Landing, and the friend I was with realized that Observation Point was where all those postcard photos are taken from (plus you can SEE Angel's Landing and all the people suffering on it from there!).

Note that you'll need to leave Zion and pass through private property to get to the East Mesa trailhead on rough unpaved road, so I recommend hiring a shuttle to the trailhead. We literally dialed a number in our guide book and booked a ride for the next day, but I'm sure you'll have more options if you search online in advance.

When we went, it was a really quiet trail (I think we saw a single-digit number of people the whole time, including the folks who had taken the main trail up from the canyon floor), and the payoff at Observation Point was spectacular. It's an out-and-back, so you do spend a fair amount of time hiking through regular old subalpine forest, but since that's a different ecosystem from where I live, I enjoyed it.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 11:10 AM on July 30, 2019

Best answer: Agree the Hidden Canyon is fantastic and I will add that Observation Point is also fantastic and is the same trailhead for Hidden Canyon. Effectively you start out climbing the apron on the mountain and when you get to the top, go right for Hidden Canyon and left to go to Observation Point. The route to the left has some very spectacular slot canyons that are otherworldly. It ends with a strenuous hike/scramble that puts you at roughly the same level as the top of Angel's Landing with a similar view and likely a lot less crowds.
posted by mmascolino at 1:21 PM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: On the off chance that you get there and the heat is overwhelming (elevation helps a great deal but it will be August, after all..) you might consider Cedar Breaks National Monument as an alternative to Bryce Canyon.

Cedar Breaks is another amphitheater filled with hoodoos. Not as famous as Bryce but it is (a) less visited, and (b) at a higher elevation.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:27 PM on July 30, 2019

As with almost all the National Parks, once you get about 1/4 mile from a parking area, you will not find yourself to be at all crowded. I have hiked in both, both in August, and had long periods of time go by without seeing anyone. The exception was the Narrows at Zion, which has a lot of "buzz" and makes people think they want to do it - my traveling companion did it and found it crowded and disappointingly dry that time of year.
posted by Miko at 6:57 PM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I hiked Zion by myself on a 4th of July weekend a few years ago. Get on the first bus at 6:00am. Head to the Narrows or Observation Point and just get going asap. You will beat the crowds at the starting point and frankly, after a mile, most tourists just turn around. I didn't encounter any crowds in the Narrows that early. On the way back, it got super busy as I got closer to the starting point at the 'bottom'.
posted by jasondigitized at 10:42 AM on August 1, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks so much for the tips on this! Zion was in fact absurdly crazy crowded by about 10:00 am. We got up super early and got there around 7:00 and were able to park and take a couple of hikes before it got hot. The advice to go up to the Northern part of the park, Kolob Canyon, was excellent and there was virtually nobody there. We saw way more wildlife on the hike in the box canyon up there.

Loved our stay in Kanab! It was an easy drive to all of the parks we wanted to see and the town itself was delightful.
posted by forkisbetter at 1:34 PM on September 4, 2019

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