Here there Be Squirrels: Zion National Park

Oh, Zion. Where to begin? 

Zion is by far my favorite National Park (thus far.) I mean, what’s not to love? It’s a literal desert oasis. It has some of the BEST hiking trails, the weather was surprisingly mild, wildlife was abundant... and the views. Y’all. Here ya go:

Where we stayed: South Campground. There are walk-in sites available, but they fill up so fast we didn’t want to risk arriving in Zion and promptly ending up without a place to stay. I reserved our site two weeks before our arrival (when the reservation window opens.) Those reservations fill up very quickly, too—it’s definitely a “have two computers opened to two different campsites and refresh the pages alternately till one goes through” kind of situation. All sites fill up within minutes of the reservation window opening, so be prepared! (I may have done a victory lap around the kitchen island when our reservation went through.) 

Some things to note: 

  • Once upon a time, it may have been possible to drive your personal vehicle throughout the entirety of the park. Now, only a portion is open to personal vehicle use, and the rest is only accessible by park shuttles. I hated them at first, but it helps keep the park from being trampled by the many, many tourists, reduces the need to pave over valuable habitats to build expansive parking lots, and… the shuttles are free. So really, they’re a good thing. The shuttles start running at six AM and yes, you’ll want to be onboard at that time, unless you feel like swimming in a sea of your fellow tourists.

  • The only public showers are in the nearby town of Springdale.

  • Beware the squirrels. 

To the hikes!

South Campground, Zion National Park, Utah

South Campground, Zion National Park, Utah

  • The East Ridge Trail. We only did four miles in, four miles out. Still, we had a 1,000-foot elevation gain as we hiked to—you guessed it—the eastern ridge of the canyon. From there, the trail would’ve continued another six miles to the bottom of the canyon.  As it was getting late (and upon finding signs that a mountain lion had passed through recently,) we decided against continuing.

  • Canyon Overlook Trail.  One mile round trip, maybe 100 feet of elevation gain (if that,) trailhead situated just outside the eastern entrance of the Mt. Carmel tunnel. This is a trail that is so worth it. My only regret is that I didn’t lobby hard enough for a night hike. The astrophotography would’ve been epic. Next time! 

  • Emerald Pool Trails. The trailhead is near Zion Lodge. It’s a light, easy half mile to the first pool, about another mile to the middle pool, and a moderate quarter mile (with a couple hundred feet of elevation gain) to the upper pool. The highest pool is surrounded by a large beach and dizzyingly tall canyon walls. You should go early to avoid the crowds. (Are you sensing a theme yet?)

  • The Grotto Trail. We hopped on this trail on our way back down from the Emerald Pools, as it seemed to be less crowded. Our suspicions were correct, and we were also pleasantly surprised that it affords you some of the best views of the canyon. It’s an easy half-mile trail that connects the grotto picnic area (near the middle pool) to Zion Lodge. 

Fellow Narrows hikers who are clearly cooler than I am.

Fellow Narrows hikers who are clearly cooler than I am.

  • The Narrows. Caleb and I got to the Narrows via the Riverwalk trail from the Temple of Sinawava. The hike to the narrows is very easy, with frequent picnic spots and river access points. When we got to the entrance of the narrows, Caleb opted to stay on dry land while I continued on for about an hour into the canyon. I turned back long before I wanted to. This, along with the East Ridge Trail, are two hikes we plan to extend the next time we visit Zion.

 (Note: This hike is where we were nearly jumped by a very chubby, very unafraid, and clearly very hangry squirrel. Ever since I was bitten by a squirrel on our honeymoon in New Orleans, I’ve been TERRIFIED of overly “friendly” [read: evil, perfidious] squirrels. So when this one snuck up within inches of us, I had to use every ounce of willpower to resist the urge to punt it into the Virgin river. My accompanying bloodcurdling shriek did amuse a gaggle of French tourists, at least.)

Have you been to Zion? If so, leave a comment below and let me know what your trip was like!