Zion and Kolob Canyon might be the King and Queen of the National Park System. By statistics alone, the Smoky Mountains would lead the way followed by the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite. All amazing places. People go here in droves for a reason. But for me, attendance only says so much. I found a place that one-upped them all. This is no small feat.
To understand, you just have to pack your bags, get in your family truckster of choice, and make the trip. Even staring at the twists and turns of the canyon, pictures don’t do it justice. In Christianity, Zion means heavenly city. In this 220 square mile area (a quarter the size of Yellow Stone), it’s all wonder and awe. Mountains and views are the currency.
This is why Zion is America’s Greatest National Park:
The Views and Iconic Tunnel: I entered the Canyon from the backside (coming from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim on Highway 89 instead of going through Springdale). I first read about Zion in a National Geographic magazine. This entrance has the famous half-dome like view (shown in the title picture). In the first five minutes of the drive, I realized this place was different from all the rest. The road twists and turns down into the canyon until you reach this sprawling tunnel carved by the CCC in the 1940s. I’m always amazed how old technology and human ingenuity can get a job done. How did the workers make it happen? They just did. No, aliens didn’t build the pyramids. And they didn’t carve this tunnel either. Eventually, the long road takes you to the campground, the hotel, and the small city of Springdale.
Disneyland Adventure: As the park is fairly compact, there is a bus system that takes you everywhere you want to go inside the park. I originally dreaded the thought of riding a bus. I think long lines and waiting. Like most, I like to be the captain of my fate/master of my soul.
But the buses runs like clockwork and they have the added benefit of cutting the congestion inside the park. The canyon is narrow. I couldn’t imagine it filled with honking cars and road rage during the peak of summer. The system preserve’s the canyon’s magic.
Once you board the bus, it takes you to the entrance to most of the hikes: Angel’s Landing, Upper Pools, The Narrows and more. It’s amazing how accessible everything is. It was like I was wearing one of those Disneyland watches to cut down on my ride wait. The Grand Canyon has a similar system, which works quite well if you take advantage of it.
Every Hike is a Winner: There isn’t a bad hike in the place. All are diverse. Each a different experience. Some are easy strolls. A few are butt kickers. All have spectacular views. Giant cliffsides. Stairs carved into the rock side. Waterfalls. Pools. Wildlife. Note, Zion can get hot in the afternoon heat. To put it in perspective, the bottom of the Grand Canyon runs 20 degrees hotter than its upper rim. Zion feels 20 degrees hotter than the bottom of the Canyon. It could have been the day I visited, but it was blazing hot. So, it’s best to start before first light to make the most of the day.
Angel’s Landing: When I pulled into the entrance, I asked the Park Ranger what is the one thing I just have to do. The reply, “Angel’s Landing.” This is possibly America’s best hike. If it’s not the best, it at least needs an honorable mention. Portions of this were also built by the CCC, the 27+ switchbacks carved into the canyon. It’s a butt kicker of a hike, but worth it when you reach the Summit at Scouts or Angels (Yes, you have to use chains to make the 1/4 mile ascent to the top of Angels). My kid grumbled more than a bit, but he thanked me when he made it to the top. It’s an adventure. One worthy of the Kodak moment. Not that you’ll need it. The memory will stay with you for a long time.
The Narrows: I loved the river side-walk to the slot canyon. It’s beuatiful. Quiet. And the canyon and water keep the heat at bay. We hit it first thing in the morning (If you only have one day in the park, most folks recommend you try Angel’s Landing first thing in the morning and then hike the Narrows in the afternoon). And we were the only folks on it. I have to admit when I came to the river I felt a little like Indiana Jones. The Ark of the Covenant had to be at the end of the nine mile hike. Now, hiker beware. You can brave into the canyon but water shoes and a good hiking stick are a must. Also, check with the Ranger’s station on current water levels. We came in the raining season and the little river that carved the canyon means business.
We didn’t go too far into the canyon, but on the way back out we saw a few others starting their trek. A few hours later we saw them again and asked about their hike. They turned around when the water was chest high. Fun for some. Not so fun for others. Always be prepared.
Kolob Canyon: It’s connected to Zion via a 13 mile hike or you can go around, which is a 40 minute drive. We took the drive. At the end of the day, we only saw five other people in this portion of the park. One Family. Two artists. I don’t know why most skip over this portion of the park. Don’t do it. Make the trip.
What an amazing place. Travel to Zion. Wade the Narrows. Fly with the angels (Actually, just hike it). See the Pools. Stare in awe at what a small river created over a few thousand years give or take (it’s amazing what a little water and time can accomplish). You won’t regret it. Not one bit.
(1) We had to wait for a wide load camper to pass through, the tunnel is only so wide.
(2) I setup a CloupUp stream to show off a few other pictures of the park. Check it out here.
(4) Notes on termperature differences at the Grand Canyon.
(5) Angel’s landing detailed. Thought this was a good guide for what you’re in for if you decide to give this a go.