Zion National Park truly is an iconic park. The towering sandstone cliffs swirled with reds, creams, and pink tones overlook the green canyon and Virgin River below. The name Zion means “promised land” and we can see why. It’s a park full of rich history of native peoples and pioneers, and is now preserved for generations to enjoy as a national park.
We love Zion for the scenery and found it to be very family friendly. One of our favorite things to do in Zion is hike. Many popular trails originate from the canyon floor. The trails range from beginner to advanced, and most are even passable without hiking boots! The free shuttle provides access to all of these hikes, and there are several options for lodging and camping near the trailheads.
We’ve visited Zion on several occasions, but most recently we took little Mar for her first trip to the park. During this family outing, we enjoyed the southern portion of the park. We took the shuttle around Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and hiked up to Observation Point. As a heads up, spring through fall the scenic drive is only open to shuttle buses, so plan a little extra time to park outside the park at the visitor center or in Springdale. If you can get to the visitor center early, they have free parking. If you end up parking in Springdale, parking is about $20 per day as of Fall of 2018.
We opted to hike up to Observation Point because it offered sweeping views of the entire canyon throughout the hike without death-defying drops like Angel’s Landing. It’s a bit longer than the Angel’s Landing hike, but it was worth the extra miles as we ended the climb with a view looking down over Angels Landing. We’d highly recommend the hike, but if you have a fear of heights, it could push your comfort zone a bit!
The 8-mile out-and-back hike starts out with a large set of switchbacks that zigzag up the eastern walls of the canyon. As we climbed we could see Weeping Rock to the north and Angel’s Landing across the valley. The views were incredible.
After the switchbacks, the trail leveled out for a bit as it snaked through Echo Canyon. This was one of our favorite parts of the hike because of the steep canyon walls, the beautiful colors and patterns in the rock, and the cooler temperatures.
Once we exited Echo Canyon, we hit the last set of switchbacks through white and yellow sandstone rocks. The trail had a steep drop-off on the side, but thankfully was wide enough that we could hang on the canyon wall and still feel safe while we enjoyed the views down the canyon as we hiked.
When reached Observation Point, it was nirvana. The views stretched all the way down the canyon, and we were looking down over Angel’s Landing. Pictures do not do this view justice.
The terrain for most of the trail is hard-packed rock and cement, making it non-technical and easy to pass without hiking boots despite the steepness of the trail.
The hike back down seemed much faster, but it is a bit tough on the knees. It was fun to see how the colors of the canyon changed in the late afternoon light. It almost seemed a like a whole new place. All in all, the hike took us about 4 hours moving slow with the baby and a lunch stop. We met a young group on the shuttle bus at the canyon floor who descended in one hour!
Here are a few tips about planning your trip to Zion:
Zion has several lodging options including campgrounds and the Zion Lodge. The National Park has three campsites including the South, Watchman, and Lava Point Campgrounds. The campgrounds tend to fill up quickly, so if you plan to stay there, plan ahead. Check out the Zion National Park website for more information on their campsites.
If the campsites are full and staying in a hotel doesn’t strike your fancy, consider camping in the BLM Land (Bureau of Land Management) south of the park. This area has so many great pull-offs for camping. Check out this publication from the National Park website for more information on the camping in this area and “leave no trace” tips. You can also find additional tips for locating free camp spots in one of our previous blogs.
Zion has trails for all ability levels, and most of them originate from the canyon floor, making trip planning a breeze.
We loved the Observation Point hike. It provided sweeping views of the canyon the majority of the hike and was a nice family-friendly day hike. We’re looking forward to our next trip to Zion to explore some of the sites missed including the Zion Human History Museum.
If you plan to hike The Narrows past the paved riverside walk, make sure to check the weather and know the risks for flash flooding. For more info check out the park website.
What are your favorite parts of Zion National Park? Leave a comment below!