The spontaneous, ADD side of me decided on a Thursday afternoon in December, to drive from Portland, Oregon to Zion National Park for the weekend. So, I packed everything in the car, including my dog, and hit the road that Thursday evening. Including a short car nap into my drive, I knew that I would not arrive until Friday afternoon and would only have one full day to explore the park. Although I highly recommend spending more time than just one day, here is how I explored Zion National Park in a day.
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible by shuttle from mid March until late October. I highly recommend going to Zion after the tourist season is over, so you can self-drive through the park.
Kolob Canyon Overlook (Timber Creek Overlook Trail)
Distance: 1 mile RT
Elevation Gain: 150 feet
I arrived just in time for the sunset at Kolob Canyon. A short hike lead me to Kolob Canyon Viewpoint, which was absolutely breathtaking. The panoramic views of Zion with the pink and purple hues of the sun disappearing into the horizon, were simply surreal. I could have stayed there all evening, had my hands not been screaming out in pain from the unfamiliar coldness surrounding them.
I would definitely recommend this viewpoint at sunset.
My dog and I drove to Watchman Campground shortly after the sun set, and luckily, a campsite was open. I had put several down pillows across my trunk, put the back seats down; dog and I were able to comfortably sleep, half in the trunk and half across the back seats. Why had I never thought of this before!?
Distance: 2.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1488 feet
Peak Elevation: 5785 feet
Waking up nice and refreshed before the sunrise, was a wonderful way to start the day. I headed to the Grotto parking area, where the Angel’s Landing trail head is. According to zionnational-park.com, the Angel’s Landing Hike is one of the “most famous and thrilling hikes in the national park system”. The hike is 2.5 miles, gaining 1,488 feet in those 2.5 miles. The last half mile of the hike is along a ridge, where chains are in place for you to grab onto to reach the peak at 5,785 feet.
I put on my new pack, as I am wearing it on all hikes to prepare for the PCT now, and turned on my headlight and started the short, very steep hike up to Angel’s Landing. Although I was not able to see much of the sunrise wandering up the canyon, it was still a perfect morning with no one else on the trail. As I reached mile 2, I came upon a sign, stating the danger of the last half mile; including, 6 people had fallen to their death on Angel’s Landing. Mind you, I am rather scared of heights, but I couldn’t let this scare me away now; I am too stubborn.
I carefully placed one foot in front of the other, holding onto the chains for fear of my life. I thought that my fear of heights had possible gone away with age, but I was rudely proven otherwise. My heart felt as if it was going to beat right out of my chest.
The “what ifs” were haunting me the entire half of a mile. As I slowly reached the top, I took a few pictures, smiled through the fear for selfie or two, but couldn’t wait to get back down to solid ground, past the chains. As you can probably guess at this point, I did not die, thankfully!
Was the view worth the anxiety and fear of heights? No, but I think it would definitely be worth it for those who are not frightened by heights.
Distance: 2 miles RT from the Grotto (Kayenta Trail)
Elevation Gain: 150 feet along the Kayenta Trail to Middle Emerald Pool.
Elevation Gain of the Emerald Pools: Lower 69 feet; Middle 150 feet; Upper 350 feet.
I was a little bit exhausted from the hike and anxiety, but continued trekking until I reached the Emerald Pools, 1.5 miles away. I might be spoiled by all the beauty that I have encountered over the past year, but I was not that impressed with the Emerald Pools. It also could have been the time of day, that I went, but either way, I am not sure that I would suggest going out of your way to visit these, if you only have a day in the park. I hiked back to my car at the Grotto, had a quick lunch (canned black beans and canned mandarin oranges), walked my dog and fed him, and set out to the Narrows (although I had no idea where they were, nor are signs posted regarding the location of the Narrows).
Zion Canyon Road Scenic Drive
This 6.5 mile drive is the reason I suggest to go after tourist season; so you can go as fast or slow as you would like, stopping to take pictures of the various red rock structures. A lot of the famous hikes such as Angel’s Landing, Zion Narrows, and Emerald Pools. The structures change color throughout the day, depending on where and when the sun is hitting them. It is an indescribeably spectacular drive.
The Zion Narrows
Trail Head: Take the Riverside Walk Trail until it ends and keep going!
Distance: From Riverside Walk to the Narrows 6 miles RT
Wall Street: 2 miles of narrow canyon walls – most photographs are taken here.
After doing a few U-turns to get back into cell phone reception areas to google where the Narrows were (because the trail head, like Angel’s Landing, is not marked or visible from the road), I discovered the Zion Narrows hike actually starts at the Temple of Sinawava. Take the Riverside Walk Trail until it comes to an end… Then, be prepared to get wet, very wet.
I read a few small comments about hiking the Narrows and I knew I would get a little wet, but I wasn’t prepared to be walking in water for over an hour to the Narrows and over an hour back… in thigh deep water at times. Like I said, I was not prepared; I was wearing yoga pants and waterproof hiking shoes (not boots). After about 10 minutes in ice cold water, my feet and calves went numb, which I suppose is better than them hurting the entire hike! Although it was slightly painful and a little miserable without the proper gear (which I do not recommend!), it was totally worth it.
It was so gorgeous. I definitely plan on going back to do the top down hike!
After the Narrows, I headed to Bryce Canyon for the sunset, but was very happy with my hiking and sightseeing choices with only a day spent in Zion National Park!
Websites with additional Information regarding Zion National Park that I used for some of my information. Visit these sites for additional trip planning and maps: