I've been to Zion National Park 3 times; the photos below are from 1979, 1989, and 2009. In 2009 I got to the east entrance of the park just as the "campground full" sign went up, so I spent my first night in a campground (now Zion Park RV) near the east entrance to the park. Once you arrive at Zion you need to get off the shuttle and walk to really experience the grandeur the park. There are many trails in the park that let you see Zion "up close and personal". This presentation takes you along several of the "frontcounty" trails; they are relatively short, don't require permits, and your chances of getting lost are slim to none.
Zion National Park has a very nice Visitor Center complete with gift shop and bookstore, a museum with gift shop and gallery, and the historic Zion Lodge that also has a gift shop (notice the subtle trend here). The visitor center and museum are located at the south entrance to the park, while the lodge is midway up the canyon. Zion National Park has three campgrounds, none of which have gift shops. South and Watchman campgrounds are located in Zion Canyon near the south entrance. Lava Point campground is about an hour away from the canyon on Kolob Terrace Road. The park even has -- Tesla Charging Stations. The town of Springdale is adjacent to the park just outside the south entrance. It has additional campgrounds, lodges, hotels, restaurants, etc., etc., etc.
Zion Human History Museum
Emerald Pools Trails
This hike is one of my Big Three, the other two being the Narrows and Angels Landing. There are three Emerald Pools, the upper, middle, and lower. The trails to the lower and middle pools are lush with vegetation and lots of water, while the trail from middle to upper pool is more open with magnificent views of the canyon. The best place to start hiking is from the Zion Lodge. It's about one-half mile to the lower pool, one mile to the middle pool, and 1.5 miles to the upper pool. You can visit all three pools in a 3 mile round trip. The paths to the lower and middle pools are sidewalks, while the trail from middle to upper pool is sand and rock with moderate to strenuous grades. The lower and middle pools are beautiful, but the upper pool is my favorite. It's surrounded on 3 sides by sheer cliffs and very dramatic. You could explore around the pools and wade in the upper pool when I was there in 1979 and 1989. Now pools and surrounding areas are off limits (too many park visitors).
Sand Bench Loop
The Sand Bench trail is 3.5 miles round trip. It's rated as moderate mainly because you are walking in fine sand most of the way. The trail begins at the shuttle stop for the Court of the Patriarchs, crosses the Virgin River, then begins a gradual 500 foot ascent to the Bench. The Bench was formed when part of Sentinel Peak broke off resulting in a massive landslide. The trail continues along the Bench and splits at the end to actually form a loop. The left arm of the loop (closest to the river) offers excellent views of the canyon floor, while the right arm (closest to the base of the Sentinel) provides great views of the mountain, and evidence of the landslides that created the bench. The Sand Bench Trail is a popular equestrian trail, so be careful where you step.
The trail to Angels Landing begins at the Grotto Trailhead. Cross the road and the Virgin River and turn right onto the West Rim trail (left will take you down Kayenta Trail). West Rim trail travels up a series of switchbacks into Refrigerator Canyon. Angels Landing trail splits off from West Rim trail at the head of the canyon. It rises very quickly to the to of the ridge via a series of 21 very sharp switchbacks known as Walter's Wiggles. You reach Scout Lookout at the top of the ridge and take a breather before the final push up the Hogsback to the summit of Angels Landing. The Hogsback is a steep climb on a narrow ridge (not recommended for those with a fear of heights). There is a chain strung through stanchions driven into the rock that provides handholds most of the way up. Be careful! Finally you reach the Landing, with gorgeous views up and down the canyon and the company of rather assertive chipmunks.
Weeping Rock trail if the shortest trail in the park (one-half mile round trip). It is somewhat steep, gaining 100 feet of elevation, and is not recommended for wheelchairs or strollers. The trail ends at an overhanging cliff from which little streams of water constantly drip, giving the formation its name. The perpetual source of water produces not only lush vegetation and handing gardens, but also lots of slippery rocks.
The Riverside walk is an easy 2-mile round trip hike on a mostly paved path. The trail is also known as the Gateway to the Narrows, which is exactly what it is. The trail begins at the head of Zion Canyon in a natural amphitheater called the Temple of Sinawava. It ends where the canyon walls close in and the Virgin River is channeled into the world famous Zion Narrows. At this point you need to get your feet wet. Continue by wading upriver to really experience the awesomeness of the Narrows. FYI, the water can be pretty darn cold in the spring and fall. I'm not sure I would hike the Narrows in the winter.
The Watchman Trail is a little hidden gem. The trailhead is located right near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, and the majority of visitors to the park blow right by it in their haste to get to the more famous trails. The trail is 3 miles round trip (about 2 hours) and is rated easy to moderate. It travels beneath Bridge Mountain and ends at a bench near the base of Watchman, with an elevation gain of 300+ feet. Most of this trail is in full sun and a desert environment, so the best time to hike it is early morning or evening. Take plenty of water. The trail provides magnificent views of the mountains on both sides of the canyon as well as park buildings and a panorama of Springdale, UT.
Background content obtained from Wikipedia and the National Park Service.
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