One of my favorite parts about living in San Diego is the abundance of National Parks within weekend-ish distance. This year, I took advantage of the couple extra days off of work over Thanksgiving to make the mini trek out to Zion National Park. The drive is about 7 hours from San Diego (no traffic) and a fairly easy drive as you’re mostly on one highway the entire time. We took off early Thursday morning and arrived at the park mid-afternoon. Here’s a breakdown of my favorite hikes from the weekend 🙂
Angel’s Landing: This trail is rated strenuous with an estimated hiking time of 4 hours in Zion’s trail guide. Round trip, with photos and snacks, it took us about 3 hours but we were definitely pushing the pace a bit on the way up. This hike starts with switchbacks going up and down the side of the mountain called “Walter’s Wiggles” that will give you a solid glute workout. After the switchbacks, it is a fairly easy hike with a slight elevation gain till you get the Angel’s Landing. This is where the trail gets fun.
If you aren’t someone who enjoys heights, you could stop here and still get some great views. I’m not the fondest of heights, but can say the trail forward looks more treacherous than it actually is. There are chains to hold onto along the way and a few spots where you have to scramble over the rock, but for the most part the trail is a steady elevation gain with enough rock to get a solid footing. The views at the top are beautiful and there are lots of flat rocks to sit on, have a snack, and soak up a little sun before heading back down. Overall, Angel’s Landing was the most unique hike because of the challenge of having to wind your way, somewhat precariously, over the cliff.
PRO TIP: get up early and go first thing! I thought it was busy as we were going up, but coming back down there were major lines building up to go across. The ridge has a bunch of pinch points where only on person fits so if the trail gets busy, these points back up real quick.
If you are up for a bit of a longer hike, I would highly recommend Observation Point. The trail is rated strenuous with an estimated hiking time of 6 hours in Zion’s trail guide. It took us about 3 and a half hours, including snacks and photos at the top. While I think we had a good pace, we were definitely making a point to go slow(ish) and enjoy our journey up and down. I think you could safely budget 4 hours for the hike. Similar to Angel’s Landing, the hike starts with switchbacks going up the side of the mountain.
From here, the trail carries you back through the canyon, then wraps around to Observation Point, which summits at 6,507 ft. Higher than Angel’s Landing, I think this hike gives the fullest view of the park. I found the trail up to Observation Point to be the most diverse and I think the section that goes through the canyon is just so cool and worth the hike in itself.
PRO TIP: Again, go early. This trail was quieter than Angel’s Landing but still starting to fill up as we were making our way back down. Also, bring layers. In the morning and in the shade it is much colder than in the sun. It gets pretty variable depending on if you’re in the canyon or on the ridge. I took on and off my hoodie at least 10 times throughout the hike.
Weeping Rock: This is a super easy, quick walk from the same trailhead as Observation Point. Water that has filtered through the sandstone formations is forced out of the rock here, creating a waterfall of sorts. There are also “hanging gardens” along the side of the rock. Quick and picture worthy stop.
Pa’rus Trail: By the time we arrived to the park the first day and checked in, we didn’t have a whole ton of time to hike so we opted for this trail as we didn’t have to worry about being back before sunset. The whole trail is paved and is more of a walking trail than a hike. The path winds through the valley with mountains on either side of you. You’ll likely see mule deer along the side of the trail who are (at least compared to the white tail deer I’m used to in NY) very unafraid of people. I saw one just a few feet away from me off the trail. Really pretty views along the trail and a nice, easy walk to end your day with.
Lower and Upper Emerald Pools: These were the least thrilling hikes for me. Combined I think it is 2 miles to the upper pools with fairly easy, small sections of incline. The pools are pretty and have mini waterfalls similar to Weeping Rock. These trails can get busy as they are more accessible to families or those looking for a shorter hike. If you have the time, worth going. We did these trails after Observation Point and found they were perfect to end the day with.
Kayenta Trail: After the Upper Pools trail, instead of retracing our steps, we took the Kayenta back to the trailhead. Kayenta adds a couple extra miles onto your hike, mostly of paths that wind along the side of the mountain, providing incredible views of the valley and the Virgin River. I feel like I’ve said there are incredible views a lot, but there really are. The whole park is stunning.
Overall PRO TIP: if you are going to Zion anytime in the near future, beware that they are redoing the main road going in and out of the park. Traffic can back up for up to 30-40 minute waits on either end as you often have to wait for cars to clear out from the other direction. We stayed in the center of town and were able to walk to the entrance and avoid this madness. I loved not having to drive the whole weekend 🙂 Check the road status before you go and plan accordingly!
Packing PRO TIP: Bring snacks and water with you as there’s not anywhere in the park to get food aside from the lodge at the beginning. Wear layers and sunscreen. Bring hand sanitizer.
Last PRO TIP: As you take the shuttle through the valley, keep an eye out on the side of the canyon for rock climbers. We were lucky enough to see a group of climbers scaling the mountain as well as a guy ON A TIGHT ROPE between cliff edges.
Also, because hiking makes you HUNGRY, here are a few of the places I recommend:
Zion Canyon Brew Pub: Right by the entrance to the park, we stopped here both days after hiking for a glass of wine/beer and some fries. #hikinghunger
HooDoo’s General Store: Good place to grab any food you forgot to pack for your trip. Great soy lattes and a variety of wraps or sandwiches for a quick bite.
Bit and Spur Restaurant and Saloon: When going to a bar in the middle of nowhere Utah, I wasn’t exactly expecting excellent Mexican food. Count me wrong on this one because they had amazing burritos, fajitas, and spicy margs.
Apologies I have zero food pictures. We chose to leave our phones at the lodge for all dinners. This was part of a conscious effort to disconnect during the trip.
For the majority of the trip I was pretty phoneless. I brought it with me for the hikes in order to take photos, but left it on airplane mode all day. For meals, the phone was left behind. I really tried to not have it be present, which was SO rejuvenating. The more I take conscious breaks away from my phone, the more I move away from the need to consistently check it, the more I tell myself I don’t need to instantly respond to messages, the more I feel my stress levels decreasing. I recognize in today’s world that our phones are pretty critical, BUT, if you have an opportunity, like a trip to a national park, a day hike, or even just a dinner, turn it on airplane mode. Let the messages wait. Disconnect. Be present.
Still left on my Zion hikes to do: the Narrows. Waiting for warmer weather for that one!