9 July 2015

USA Road Trip | Zion National Park Part 1

“It’s hard to put it in to words isn’t it?” Yes Josh, yes it is but that’s not the idea of a blog. Zion is basically one big badass canyon, a biiiiiig valley. And it’s just beautiful!
Utah has the third most National Parks in the US with 5 National Parks but 15 parks (of all types) across the state. I won't try and explain the different types of protected areas as I don't fully understand them myself, but the 'big' parks that are protected by central government are managed by the National Parks Service.
According to the locals Zion is the best, yet I had never even heard of it when I started doing my research. Most people bypass Zion in favour of the well-known parks like Grand Canyon, Arizona & Yosemite, California. Zion is the 7th most popular national park (by number of visitors) in the USA, so I still wouldn't classify it as a hidden gem. 
The park is easy to navigate, hike and visit even if you’ve never hiked/visited a National Park in your life. I always have this vision of people in serious hiking gear with compasses and secret code language; well these people do exist but for the large part it's families, tourists and locals just out for a good walk and some impressive scenery. 

Logistics

Park your car in Springdale and use the shuttle to get in and around the park. There is one shuttle that stops several times in Springdale taking people to the Visitor Centre and then a shuttle that leaves the visitor centre and travels all the way along the valley. There is a map (page 4) and schedule on Zion’s website. Park along the road close to (or in the car park of) the Zion Canyon Theatre (page 7) to walk right in to the park and not have to switch shuttles.
Helpfully the map and guide pdf document tells you pretty much everything you need to know including a summary of the hikes available. You’ll also get this as a paper copy when you purchase your tickets.
Stay in Springdale to have the park on your doorstep or opt for Hurricane - a small town 30 minutes away. We originally booked Kanab but felt it was too far away. Driving through Kanab on our way to Bryce Canyon we realised it was too far to make the most of the park, especially those precious early hours.

Weather

The weather in Zion is HOT in summer and although the park does receive snow in winter, the temperatures of 10-15 degrees celsius don't seem so bad when you're from the UK! Whatever the season the temperature drops dramatically at night, so if you're planning to hike early (and you should!) then pack long bottoms and a fleece for the brisk mornings.

What to wear/bring

  • A reusable water bottle. None of the national parks sell bottled water and instead have an abundance of water fountains marked on their maps. For such a commercialised bottled-water-loving country I was pleasantly surprised to see such an emphasis on sustainable water supply. If you didn't pack a reusable bottle of your own there are some for sale in the park shop (in the visitor centre). 
  • Layers. I've already mentioned bringing layers for early morning hikes (say before 9am) but I would also highly recommend wearing a hat. We bought some completely geeky and keen hiking hats with Zion Canyon embroidered on the front and were so glad we did - the shade on your head makes a huge difference in the heat - temperatures are frequently as hot as 38 degrees celsius and some hikes are exposed to the sunlight.  
  • Trainers with good grip (not Nike Frees) will do you fine but if you have lightweight hiking shoes they would work well too.
  • Dry bag. Choose one like this dry bag to keep your valuables and food in if you're going up the Narrows (the whole trek takes a day) as even in the lower reaches the water can quickly be waist height.
  • Walking sticks. You can hire these - enquire at the Visitors Centre or just find a big stick on a trek.
  • High Energy snacks. Trekking is hard work and places to eat are limited in the park. We took nuts, fruit, energy bars and... Nutella Bagels. 
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