16 July 2015

USA Road Trip | Zion National Park Part 2

Missed Part 1? See Zion National Park Part 1 .

Even though the hikes are labelled easy, moderate and strenuous it’s hard to actually understand what you will and won’t be able to manage. If you’re choosing to do any of the strenuous hikes, I would definitely recommend getting to the park for the first shuttle from the visitor centre at 6am (summer) as it is cooler and many hikes are shaded at this time.

Most reasonably fit and able people will manage moderate hikes - I would look at the length of the hike too as this may give you an idea of what you're comfortable completing. Some hikes are not roundtrips, so ask a friendly guide for advice about how to link hikes and plan your day. We favoured shorter hikes (max 4 hours in length) with lots of variety and chances to get water (and snacks) rather than one, day-long hike. The rangers are very helpful, but it's worth having an idea of how long you want to trek for/things you might want to see. Here were the trails we checked out, which will hopefully give you some inspiration!

We chose to do the following hikes...

Watchman Hike 

We had originally chosen Canyon Overlook Trail but you need to drive out to this trail, as it was not on the shuttle route and by 9am there was a high risk that the car park was already full. Though not as high as Canyon Overlook Trail, Watchman Hike has a similar but much wider view and the ranger recommended this as a good switch.
 A large part of the hike was shaded at around 9am which was appreciated. It was also a relatively quiet trail and we passed maybe a dozen people over the 2 hours. The trail head is right by the Visitor Centre and there weren't many people along the trail, all resulting in the perfect trail to start the day!

Lower Emerald Pools, Middle Pools, Upper Pools & Kayenta Trails

Next we headed for one of the most popular trails in the park, Emerald Pools. The lower, middle and upper trails follow on from one another and the Kayenta Trail leads you back down the valley via an alternative route.
 The Lower Emerald Pools Trail is popular with families due to its relatively gentle gradient and wide paved trail. When you reach the Lower Emerald Pool you can rest in the shade with the spray from the water cooling you down.
Heading away from the Lower Pools, the further you climb the less people you see (though it’s still very popular) and the more exposed the trail is. At the Middle Emerald Pools people were soaking their hats in the water to help cool themselves down and children were pointing to the tadpoles in the shallow water.
The Upper Pools had the largest area to picnic and laze around on the large boulders in the shade. You can see where the 'Emerald' comes in to it - the pool was very green due to moss and algae.
The views on the way up to the Upper Emerald Pools and back down again via the Kayenta trail, are spectacular.
Having travelled Asia last year I can’t say the pools or waterfalls were that magnificent during the summer (they're a lot more spectacular in the Spring), but the views along the series of hikes were stunning. 

Weeping Rock

Though this trail is described as an easy trail, it more like a landmark up a steep (paved) path, just a few minutes from the shuttle stop. Yes its steep but it’s not very long at all (30 minute round trip).

Given how long it takes to walk up to the Weeping Rock (not long at all) I would say it is most definitely worth including, especially given the views from the alcove underneath the weeping rock.

Riverside Walk & The Narrows

We finished our day with the Riverside Walk, which only took us around 30-45mins each way. At the end of this flat, easy paved walk you reach the river. All along this trail there are opportunities to get to the banks of the river.
I hadn’t come across a single person who recommended taking a bikini and chilling out here, but that’s exactly what many families were doing.
When you reach the end most people don their water shoes, spare pair of trainers or hired canyoneering shoes, as well as wooden sticks or walking poles. Us? We didn’t really plan to go up the river - also known as ‘the narrows’ – so we had to go in with our trainers (minus socks) and just walked straight in.
I was surprised just how many children were heading up the narrows. On the park guide it is marked as a strenuous 8 hour hike which would be why we hadn’t originally considered the hike at all, however the ranger recommended we checked out, as you can go as far as you are comfortable.

We figured if we went at the end of the day all we had to do was walk the last half an hour in wet shoes and get the shuttle to our car.  Wearing trainers worked fine, but I would have felt much more comfortable with a stick for extra balance and a dry bag for our valuables.
Having originally said we would only travel down for 5 minutes, it was quite addictive to go round ‘just one more corner’.
By the end of the day we worked out we had walked around 10 miles at high altitudes, steep gradients and through water – we definitely deserved the wood-fired pizza (which we wolfed down before I even thought about a photograph). 

If you’re planning a trip to Zion I would say that the hikes we did gave you a good selection across the park – the pools, the views, and the narrows. If we had longer we both agreed we could have allowed a day to do the Narrows, a day to explore Kolob Canyon at the North of Zion Park and a day to attempt a strenuous hike like Angels Landing or Observation point and then chill out by the river!

Ps. Want to more about our road trip through the USA? Here's the post showing our route.
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