Last weekend Franco and I took our first road trip to a National Park. In one weekend we went to Zion National Park, Page, Arizona, and the Grand Canyon. The drive was absolutely surreal and gave even more validation to the saying “West is Best.” I’ve always had a weird obsession with Arizona, so I knew that our later stops would be amazing, but Utah was seriously awesome. I feel like Utah just doesn’t get the credit that it deserves. It’s a gorgeous state with some fabulous scenery and home to one of the most beautiful national parks ever, Zion. We went to Zion in the start of their winter season, so it wasn’t super packed and it was starting to get really nippy. I’m talking 30 degrees nippy. I swear living in Southern California has tainted us. For the past 23 years we’ve grown up with frigid winters but going to Zion and experiencing this weather was harsher than normal. Here’s everything you’ll need to know for your first weekend trip to Zion National Park:
We weren’t sure what to expect approaching Zion. Before getting to the South park entrance you drive through a cute little town. You can tell where the National Park begins because the road becomes red (the roads are so well kept it’s amazing)! Upon entrance to the park you pay the $30 fee for your car (the entry fee is good for re-entry for 7 days, you just have to show them your receipt when you get to the gate) and then you begin your journey through the park. When we first arrived we were trying to get to a trail near the East entrance of the park so we drove through the park and were in awe. From the insane sights you can get just by getting from one place to another, to the Wiley Coyote-esque tunnels it’s a lot to take in your first time seeing it. Depending on what time of the year and week you come you can drive the Zion National Park Scenic Drive. This drive is usually reserved for the park’s free shuttle. We were lucky enough to be able to take the scenic route the first day we got there and drove up and down the park to the trails as we pleased.
Side note: If you’re driving from Los Angeles it will take you about 6/7 hours without traffic!
Since we started this road trip with intentions of spending a day in Arizona, we stayed right outside the East entrance of the park which was closest to the highways we needed to get on the following day. We didn’t realize that in order to get to our hotel we had to pay the entrance fee at the South entrance and literally go all the way out to the other side of the park to get to our hotel. This turned out to be a really good intro to the park and trails.
Although we definitely wanted to do an all day hike like Angel’s Landing or the Narrows, we just didn’t have time. Instead we opted for four smaller hikes, two of which are *MUST-DO’s on your first trip to Zion.
The hikes are ranked in difficulty. Now, Franco and I are pretty experienced when it comes to hiking but since this was our first time here we aired on the side of caution. Hidden Canyon is rated as fairly strenuous. We saved this trail for last based on other reviews we read. To say that this is the most amazing hike I’ve been on would be an understatement. I’m talking cliffside trails, hanging on chains. Once you reach the end of the kept trail you’re literally free to roam in the wilderness as far as you can go (this requires a bit of scrambling). We got some insanely awesome photos and given our experience didn’t think the hike was as difficult as the ranking given. This hike gave us a taste of the real Zion hiking experience and ensured that we’d be back for Angel’s Landing and the Narrows!
The Canyon Overlook hike is a beginner hike that anyone could go on. Its walkability was super apparent given how many people were walking alongside of us. It’s a great intro to the park and provides some unbeatable views. After all, you get to overlook the whole canyon! This was the first thing we did once we got in the park and it definitely provided a great first impression. It took us less than the time stated on the guide to complete it.
Lower Emerald Pools & Weeping Rock
After getting through the Canyon Overlook trail pretty quickly we drove the scenic route to the Lower Emerald Pools trail. The path was a nicely paved walking trail alongside the river. Once you reach the end of the paved trail you can walk through the river in between the narrows but we were cold and unprepared to get into the water so we opted out. Next time though! 😉 After getting through the Lower Emerald Pools trail so quickly we stopped by Weeping Rock. I believe the map suggests that it’s a 30-minute walk but it’s more like 5 minutes. The trail ends at the Weeping Rock observatory point. I would definitely hit both of these trails if you’re looking to kill time and explore Zion!
We traveled to Zion during the beginning of their winter season. The temperatures were high 50s low 30s at night. My essentials for this trip included a Uniqlo flannel, Old Navy fleece & socks, leggings, Ray-Ban sunglasses, my trusty Stone + Cloth backpack, and Adidas hiking shoes. For this trip I definitely took the less is more approach. The only thing I was missing was one of Uniqlo’s ultra light-weight down jackets! 😉
*Pro-tip if you’re going to venture on a nature weekend like this, hiking shoes are KEY. Don’t leave home without them.