• Bill Brandenburg, MD

Zion National Park Babymoon

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

Introduction

The United States National Park System consists of 422 individual parks, monuments and locations of natural and/or cultural value. Utah is famous for its wide-open desert wildernesses and has 5 national parks; Arches, Canyonlands, Capital Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. In 1919, Zion became Utah’s first such park and consists of 229 square miles (590 km2) of desert, mountains, canyons, and forests located in the far southwest of the state. Zion Canyon is the parks most famous feature. It consists of 15 miles of giant Navajo sandstone cliffs, epic desert slot canyons, and the Virgin River. The relief is over 4000 ft and nothing short of striking. Desert, riparian, and coniferous ecosystems make this place feel like the promise land!


Park Entrance


Trip Objectives

Zion screams adventure. The hiking, canyoneering, biking, technical rock climbing, nature watching, and other outdoor recreation activities can satisfy most all needs. Our goals were simple, have a relaxing long weekend and experience some of the classic hikes in Zion Canyon. My wife Karlee and I were celebrating our baby moon. Being 6 months pregnant, Karlee wanted to experience the Canyon but keep the struggle to a minimum. We settled on 2 classic outings, The Narrows and Scout’s Lookout hikes over a 3 night, 2 day trip.



Wildlife and Vegetation

Desert mule deer, turkeys, chipmunks, ground squirrels, and numerous other birds were all frequent sights in the park. The diversity of plants was striking. Various conifers, prickly pear, ferns, and bamboo were all present in different environments. The riparian ecosystem (at the rivers edge) was extremely interesting and harbored life we did not expect to see. Simply put, the park is an ecologist’s dream, even in spite of the thousands of human feet marching around daily. With such large crowds, wildlife has become accustomed to people. Chipmunks and squirrels are aggressive and very good at taking your lunch. Even the mule deer came right up to our deck and seemed to demand food at times, at one point even pushing us back inside.


Echinocereus triglochidiatis aka Claret Cup or Mojave Mound Cactus



Ferns in the desert! Karlee's dreams are coming true!


Getting There

We drove down from Boise, Idaho, approximately 8.5 hours. Flying into Las Vegas, Nevada is probably the best air transport option. Springdale, UT is the town closest to the park. The town gets blasted with tourist. This is a great place to stock up on all needed supplies including food and gear. However bringing food and alcohol with you from a larger town is recommended due to large crowds and limited diversity of food choices. Driving into the park was not a problem for us. Just a few minutes wait each time. Entering Zion Canyon is a different story. Zion Canyon is closed to non-authorized vehicles. Therefore, it must be accessed via shuttle, bike or on foot. If you do not have a shuttle ticket and want to see the canyon, a bike is highly recommended.



Zion Canyon from Scout's Lookout


Parking / Shuttle Access

We stayed at the Zion Lodge. This allowed us and our vehicle deep access into Zion Canyon. Driving beside the Navajo sandstone cliffs and getting an inside parking pass was a highlight of our trip. It put us in walking distance to many classic hikes. However for most people, parking is a major issue. Many people stay in Springdale as part of their trip to Zion. The Springdale shuttle is free and provides a ride to the Zion Canyon visitor center from various locations in town. From the visitor center, one can catch the Zion Shuttle, if they have a ticket. Zion Canyon Shuttle Tickets are available at recreation.gov. In the past they may have been unlimited. Now they cost $1 per ticket and are available 2 weeks ahead of time on a rolling basis as well as at 9am the day before. Tickets are very hard to get and stressful, selling out in seconds. Plan ahead! Zion Canyon can see well over 10,000 visitors a day. As shuttles only have capacity for about 3000 people due to the pandemic, access is very limited.



Where to Stay

Many people will stay in one of many hotels located in Springdale. Honestly the views in town are remarkable and this gives easy access to food and amenities. Some people will utilize national park campground/RV park. Backcountry passes are also available through the ranger service for those planning multi-day outdoor excursions. We stayed at the Zion lodge. The best part about the lodge is its location in Zion Canyon. The rooms were nice, very peaceful, and each had private patios. The food at the lodge left a lot to be desired, so bring supplies. The Zion Lodge is a great hangout spot. It has great people watching, animal watching, and majestic views in every direction.

Zion lodge and 3 turkeys


Fees

Zion lodge was $250 a night during our trip, in October of 2020. Many other hotels are in this range and even lower in Springdale. A one-week pass to the park was $35 per vehicle. Most of the food in town and gear was reasonably priced. Shoe and walking stick rental for the Narrows was $25. Shuttle tickets are $1 a way. Certainly, much cheaper than a winter ski trip.

The Narrows

Slot canyons are what Zion is most known for. One of the most famous desert slot canyons in the world is the Narrows. The final stop on the shuttle route is the Temple of Sinawava. It is here that the Narrows begin on a one-mile paved walkway. When the pavement runs out, the pain begins. Essentially the best way to describe the narrows is a river hike. You literally walk in the water, up a tight canyon, with occasional stretches on dry land. Difficulty level is often affected by the amount of water flowing in the North Fork of the Virgin River as well as the temperature. Flash floods can occur and have drowned many people, so be aware of conditions and weather. We hiked on a low water day that was relatively cool. So, staying warm was difficult. Remember that being wet makes you very cold. Even on hot days, people are still at risk for hypothermia on this hike, particularly early in the morning and late in the day. The Ecosystems and geology present inside the Narrows were mind-blowing. It is a do not miss for any avid hiker. However, you are unlikely to find solitude as 1000s of people hike the Narrows daily (poop before you go). On top of this, the Narrows will beat you up! Even experienced hikers in great conditioning will leave this classic, feeling like a truck just hit them. One nice part about the narrows is that most people just hike up the slot canyon until they feel too tired. Whenever people have had enough, they can turn around. We went about 8 miles round trip. Other potential hazards include toxic cyanobacteria blooms in the virgin river (ask rangers about this).


The Narrows! Is that my wife or Gandalf?




You shall not pass!


Tips for the Narrows

1. Plan ahead, just getting to the start of the hike can be very challenging.

2. Get in the best shape possible.

3. You will get wet. Drying fast and keeping your supplies dry is what is important.

4. Proper footwear is key. Non-stick rubber like Vibram, thick rubber soles, neoprene socks, and fast drying shoes are strongly encouraged. If your feet are happy, you will likely be happy. Shoes can be rented in Springdale.


Karlee rented Adidas Terrex and neoprene socks. I wore my everyday New Balance Minimus shoes with synthetic ski socks. Both got the job done, but my feet were cold and I wish my sole was thicker!


5. Consider trekking poles or a walking stick as balancing in the river can be tough

6. Storing all supplies in a dry bag or other waterproof method is highly recommended. At some points water will come up to the chest, even on low water days.

7. Plan on moving very slowly and be patient with other people. Most people look like zombies trying to walk in the water. If you have knee or ankle problems, I strongly advise choosing a different hike!

8. Bring extra clothes for warmth, think fast drying stuff!


Scout's Landing

This hike takes you from the canyon floor to a high lookout point with spectacular views. The journey was about 5 miles round trip from Zion Lodge and gained about 1500 feet of elevation. Most of the trail was paved and quite luxurious. However, the terrain is steep, and exposure can be scary for many hikers. The crowds were immense, and everyone seemed to be looking for social media hero status with smart phone pictures at every turn (epic selfie’s have led to numerous fatalities in the National Park system and around the world). Angel's Landing, a popular class 3 rock outcropping/peak is accessed from this trail as well. Getting to the top of Angels Landing requires scrambling on all fours with significant exposure. The parks system has installed a chain to hold onto, which has emboldened many to tag the summit, in spite of inadequate mountaineering skills. I spent about 20 minutes in this line, before losing patience and ducking out. Scout's Lookout is just a short hike from the start of Angel's Landing and affords much more solitude. This was a great hike to see Zion Canyon. It also allowed for some well needed rest following the Narrows. However, if you seek solitude, I would avoid both of these classic Zion hikes.


Scout's Lookout Tips

1. Comfortable footwear is the most important thing to remember for Scout's Lookout.

2. If considering Angels Landing, sticky rubber soles (like Vibram) are a smart idea.

3. Basic mountaineering experience will make Angel’s Landing a breeze. As most people lack experience and are not use to exposure, anxiety levels were very high in the chain line!

4. A rain jacket, wind, and sun protection are highly recommended



The geology is mind blowing at Zion. These yellow rocks really caught our eye on the Scout's Lookout hike.


Trail or paved walkway?




The jerry line on the chains leading up to Angel's Landing required more patience than I could give. For anyone with class 3 or 4 mountaineering experience, Angel's Landing is a breeze. For most others, it is terrifying. I watched countless people holding onto the chains with a death grip instead of using their feet.


Angel's Landing and Zion Canyon from the Scouts Lookout trail.


Conclusion

Zion National Park, and more specifically Zion Canyon, is an epic wilderness that get absolutely flogged with tourists most all the time. The Navajo sandstones cliffs, geology, varied natural ecosystems, abundant wildlife, and wide open spaces make this park a must visit destination, none the less. Planning your access ahead of time is so important during the pandemic as shuttles to Zion Canyon are limited. A bicycle is highly recommended if you do not have shuttle tickets on hand. Plan ahead for your outdoor adventures while at the park. The Narrows are a must. But expect large crowds, sore muscles, and some degree of misery. Proper footwear and conditioning is key to a successful trip. Also, expect to be cold and stay dry! Happy travels.

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoy Zion National Park! It made for the perfect baby moon!

Remember, leave no trace!


Bill Brandenburg, MD

Links

Zion National Park: https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Shuttle Tickets: https://www.recreation.gov/ticket/300016/ticket/3010

Gear/Shoe Rental: https://zionoutfitter.com/

Wikipedia/Zion NP: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zion_National_Park




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