Start of Angels Landing trail (William J. Hunter)
Canyon hiking provides great variety. The views change markedly with elevation and weather. The types of plants and trees varies dramatically based on proximity to water. Sunny, lower canyons are hot, but shady canyons by the water are refreshingly cool. Zion Canyon in Utah, epitomizes this variety like nowhere else, with the exception possibly of the Grand Canyon. But Zion Canyon is smaller and more accessible. Here are some great day hikes in Zion if you like solitude, adventure, or fun.
During the summer, you can't drive your own car into Zion National Park. Instead, use the Zion Canyon shuttle, which you can catch at the park entrance. You can park your car in the lot at the park entrance (which is usually full) or you can park in Springdale, and then either walk or take the Springdale bus shuttle to the park entrance.
You can ride a bicycle into the park, which is a great option because the only vehicular traffic you have to contend with are the shuttle buses. The only catch is that when shuttle buses passes you on your bicycle, you must come to a complete stop. The bus drivers enforce this rule, as I learned from experience.
Before planning your hikes, always check to make sure the trails you want to hike are open. The park service periodically does trail work and closes some of these trails.
The hike to Observation Point starts at the Weeping Rock Trailhead, which is the 7th stop of the Zion Canyon shuttle. At 8 roundtrip miles and 2,100 feet of elevation gain, this hike is moderately strenuous, but it is great for those who want some solitude and limited exposure to drop-offs. That does not mean it is boring though. Midway through the hike, you pass through Echo Canyon, which is a beautiful, narrow, and aptly named canyon. Finally, the views from Observation Point are stunning. You can see the entire canyon below, including Angels Landing. If you bring binoculars, you can spot the hikers on top of Angels Landing, well below you.
View from Observation Point (William J. Hunter)
Angels Landing is a popular and iconic hike that provides incredible views for those who can can stomach the vertigo-inducing exposure and the crowds. The hike to Angels Landing starts at the Grotto Trailhead, which is the 6th stop of the Zion Canyon shuttle. You will not have any trouble finding the trail - just follow the stream of people. This trail exposes you to more than a thousand-foot drop-off on both sides of the trail (where you also must pass hikers coming from the other direction). Built-in chains are there to make you more secure, but in the end, you have to trust your balance and your nerve. Over the last 12 years, at least five hikers have fallen to their death from this trail.
Angels Landing trail (William J. Hunter)
The first part of the hike from the Zion Canyon floor to the West Rim is along the Angels Landing trail, but at Scouts Lookout, you take a left and continue up, escaping from the Angels Landing crowds. After some climbing, the trail levels off and then actually descends into a valley before climbing steeply again to the West Rim, which is about a five-mile hike. The trail continues for another 11 miles to Lava Point. From the West Rim you have expansive views of the valley and across to Observation Point. The West Rim trail provides more solitude that the other trails mentioned here, but at 10 miles round-trip and with 2,500 feet of elevation gain, it is more grueling. Taking this trail as a one-way trip down into the canyon might be more enjoyable, although long, at 16 (mostly downhill) miles. Plus, you would need to arrange transportation.
The Emerald Pools hike is great for families or for those who have physical limitations but still want to hike and experience the beauty of Zion. The trail is short and not terribly steep, unless you go up to the upper pools, which is about 3 miles round-trip. The hike starts at the Zion Lodge, which is the 5th stop of the Zion Canyon shuttle.
The waterfalls and pools are more impressive in the early spring or after a rain. But the hike does offer nice views of the canyon, especially if you go in the evening or in the morning, when the light is best.
View from Emerald Pools trail (William J. Hunter)
The Zion Narrows is a unique and classic canyon hike and is best for those who like adventure and fun. You actually hike in the Virgin River, which flows through a deep and narrow slot canyon. The hike starts at the last stop of the Zion Canyon shuttle, at the Temple of Sinawava, where the massive rock walls of the canyon close in on you. You will get wet on this hike and because very little sunlight reaches the bottom of the canyon, you will get chilled, even in summer. You might want to wear water shoes, as you hike in waist-high water at times. You can rent equipment, such as water shoes and poles, near the entrance to Zion National Park, in Springdale.
The Narrows (www.public-domain-image.com)
Zion Canyon is a hiker paradise. You can find hikes of all types, from short hikes on paved trails, to water hikes in narrow canyons, to adrenaline inducing, gut wrenching climbs on sheer cliffs. While popular hikes are usually crowded, especially during the peak season, you can still find solitude on the less popular climbs, such as Observation Point or the West Rim.
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