285 square miles and over 4 million visitors this year. Zion is certainly one of the “diamonds” of the National Park system. Before I write about my awesome hikes in Zion I wanted to muse a bit about the very real idea of “loving a park to death”. This is not a new idea, a number of National Parks that I have visited have this same issue and in the California State Park System Point Lobos is a poster child for this problem. You may argue that having all that “love” is good for a park as it means the public cares enough to visit. On the other hand, parking lots overflow, facilities overrun and exceed capacity, volunteer trails mar the landscape and destroy important resources and the experience is diminished due to the shear numbers of people that are trying to share the same outdoor experience. Zion is showing it’s wear and those “shoulder seasons” when visitation slowed down and gave the park staff time to do the important work to care for the park and the facilities are now still packed with visitors. There are many “ideas” for resolving these overcrowding issues but none seem to be popular with the current and future park visitors. Things like advance reservations and limiting the number of visitors per day make folks worry that we will restrict access to those visitors that we should be attracting. Certainly not a problem that will be solved overnight but something that park managers will grapple with in the coming years and probably decades as the number of visitors continues to grow.
The campground in the park has sites with electric hookups and great views of the parks colorful cliffs. With just three full days in Zion my time was spent in and around the main part of the park. Next visit I will be sure to see the outlying areas and check out some of the great hikes in those locations. There are also a number of hikes that I still want to try here in the main park area – there is always next time!
Emerald Pools Loop
This trail leaves from the same parking lot as the Angels Landing trail and even in the morning before the bulk of the crowds arrived the lot was packed. Fortunately for me my plan was not to try the Angels Landing (not a good trail for those with height issues) but instead to visit the Emerald Pools via the Kayenta Trail. The trail takes the back way to the pools and climbed along the canyon with great views and not as many hikers. The fall colors have followed me south and were evident along this trail.
Water in the desert is always a welcome sight and the Emerald Pools were no exception. A hike I highly recommend if you visit Zion.
“Water is the driving force of all nature.” Leonardo da Vinci
National Geographic rated hiking the Narrows #5 of America’s Best 100 Adventures. The most popular hike in Zion and arguably one of the world’s best slot canyons. Starting at the Temple of Sinawava at end of the park road, the first mile is paved trail along the Virgin River where you share the experience with lots of other park visitors.
At the end of the paved trail you enter the river where you pretty much stay for the remainder of the hike. The majority of the hike was in knee to waist deep water over sandy and rocky river bottom. The current makes it even more challenging as it tests your balance as you navigate the rocky and sometimes slippery footing.
Fortunately following the advice of the friendly Ranger at the Visitor Center I had rented canyoneering water shoes, socks, dry pants and hiking stick.
As you enter the narrow section known as Wall Street the canyon walls rise 1,500 feet above your head and narrow leaving the river to run wall to canyon wall. It is an awesome hike that tests your endurance.
Travel is slow due to the navigating of the rocks and river and most (this hiker included) average about one mile per hour. I hiked about 4 miles up the canyon to an area called the Boulders. It seemed that most turned back before this point as I saw no other hikers this far up the canyon while enjoying a snack before heading back.
The light on the canyon walls was beautiful and the scenery was better around each bend of the river. Properly equipped this is a great hike and one for your bucket list.
“Come forth into the light of things, let nature be your teacher.”
Eagle Crags Trail
Just outside the Zion National Park boundary the trail to Eagle Crags is on BLM land and that means Cory can accompany me on this hike.
A great hike passing through the pines and junipers with views of the southern parts of Zion in the distance and without the crowds of the Zion trails.
The weather was just starting to change as I was leaving Zion. Daytime temps dropped 20 degrees on my last day in the park and at night it started to go below freezing. Time to continue my trek south and head for Arizona!