National Parks – Zion

What makes you trudge upstream like a salmon? The Narrows at Zion National Park.

The Narrows hike is on many people’s must-do list when they visit the park. As the first stop on our spring swing through the National Parks, we found Zion to be more than just hiking the Narrows.

Joel Hiking Zion Sig

We spent two full days in Zion making our way through the most popular hikes in the southwest portion of the park within Zion Canyon itself.  Visiting in late May, summer vacations for American families with children were not yet in full swing. The park shuttle was already in use and the trails were relatively sparse.


Popular Day Hikes

Emerald Pools

Three options are available with choices that can accommodate varying levels of exertion.  The Lower Pools trail is accessible.

Upper Pool Sig

Reflections along the Emerald Pools Trail

Valley View

Canyon view from the trail

Riverside Walk

The mile long trail traverses the river alongside towering canyon walls showcasing determined spring wildflowers clinging to the rocks. It ends at a beach-like location where all can dip their feet into the river to experience a taste of the Narrows hike.

Enjoy a casual stroll on this trail, taking time to snap photos of magnificent canyon walls and the shy charms of  wildflowers and birds. This is a very popular trail so get an early start if you want to avoid crowds.

As in all the National Parks, it is important to keep wildlife wild. On this trail in particular, beware of the squirrels begging for food. There is a fine for feeding the wildlife since it leads to aggressive behavior especially towards children.



The Narrows

Our first day at Zion was cloudy and then it started raining — not very motivating for hiking upstream in a cold river.

Overnight we almost gave up on it but decided that we would be really disappointed with ourselves if we chickened out.

Here are some tips from our trip:

  • walking sticks or trekking poles are a must
  • sturdy shoes that can get wet will make it easier to walk on the rocky bottom.
  • for your lower body, wear synthetics that dry quickly or are meant to be worn in cold water
  • upper body layers can keep your core warm

Just outside the park’s pedestrian entrance in Springdale (literally just outside the entrance, across a footbridge) is an outfitter that can provide dry pants, boots and walking sticks. If we had known these were available, they might have made the hike a lot more pleasant.

We walked upstream about 1.5 hours with the return only taking 1 hour. We were more sure footed and the cold water didn’t feel so intense at that point.

I’ve been trying to figure out what distance we hiked but from what it looks like, we turned around before the junction with Orderville Canyon which is the most spectacular section with slot canyons. Estimates put the junction at 2 hours upstream.

Sigh. Armed with better knowledge we would have continued on. Next time….

Both Narrows Sig

Starting out timid, we picked paths through the shallowest water. Soon, we kept pressing on regardless of depth.


Following in the Narrows Sig

The canyon walls are starting to close in



Booking our hotel reservations late limited options and kept us moving from park to park and from town to town. Plus planning for a two month trip has different budget requirements than a shorter visit with family. We tried to keep a balance between lower cost accommodations and park lodges primarily based on what was available and what we hoped to experience each day.

For Zion, we chose to stay outside of the park and it’s neighboring community of Springdale. The close hotels are pricey and Hurricane at 25 miles away made for a reasonable drive before high season began.

With limited vacation time, the expense of the closest hotels could be worth the value of parking the car once and using the shuttle, walking and biking the main drag for the duration of a trip. (If naps figure prominently in your schedule, then definitely stay in Springdale.)


Driving from Hurricane Sig

The drive from Hurricane offered beautiful vistas


Springdale runs a local shuttle along the strip of hotels and restaurants ending at the Zion entrance. During most seasons, private cars are not allowed on the park drive and be warned that the parking lot fills early in the morning. Make it easy on yourself, if you are driving, park in town and take the Springdale shuttle. We found the drivers to be friendly and helpful.


Springdale Shuttle Dropoff Sig

The Springdale shuttle drop-off area just outside the park gates


Once inside the park, you board another shuttle which stops along the park road at the various trailheads. During high season, start your day by heading first to the end of the line and work your way back towards the park entrance. Beware of aggressive squirrels along the Riverside Trail – they may look cute but some have been known to bite the hands that feed them.


Squirrel in Action Sig

This squirrel ripped through the backpack trying to get at the snacks within – this guy has developed a taste for people food.


When the weather allows, enjoy dinner at one of the many outdoor patios. Sunsets are spectacular against the towering walls of Zion.

Sunset from Patio Sig

The rain stopped in time for a sunset view while we enjoyed dinner in the town of Springdale


The brew pub just outside the park gates requires the purchase of food if anyone wants to imbibe. (This is still Utah after all – which maintains interesting liquor laws.)


I found great vegetarian options along our National Parks tour. The Zion Canyon Brew Pub served upscale pub food with a great patio view.

I found great vegetarian options along our National Parks tour. The Zion Canyon Brew Pub serves upscale pub food with a great patio view.


We found Southern Utah to have spectacular geography and endless ways to enjoy it. Watch for my next post as we delve into Bryce Canyon.


Been to Zion? Share your memories and tips.