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Zion & Bryce Canyon National Parks

Posted in United States, Utah

Brendan and I had such a great time at Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, hiking and enjoying the beautiful weather during our February school break that it was hard to go home to the cold. We flew from Portland to Las Vegas (via Detroit) and since it was a long day of travel we spent our first night in North Las Vegas. The next morning we drove the 2.5 hours to Zion, losing an hour because of the time zone change. We decided to go straight to the park since it was too early to check in and were greeted with a very long line of cars waiting to get in. Because it was President’s Day weekend and the weather was so beautiful, it seemed like everyone in Utah was going to Zion. It took us 45 minutes, sitting in a mile of bumper to bumper traffic before we finally entered the park. The park was so crowded that the Zion Canyon Road was closed (they limit the number of visitors on this road and in the summer you can only access this part of the park by a shuttle bus).


When we finally entered the park we went straight to the visitor’s center to plan our hiking for the week. We figured the visitor’s center would be very busy, but it was oddly quiet and a ranger was able to quickly give us an overview of the park and some ideas for hiking. We wanted to do a short hike that afternoon and she suggested the Canyon Overlook Trail which is a short 1 mile (roundtrip) hike, but very steep. It was also extremely crowded! But the view was worth it!

After our hike we went and checked in at the Hampton Inn in Springdale, the town just outside the park. The hotel felt like upscale, not the typical Hampton Inn and the customer service was excellent; we would highly recommend staying here.

We had amazing weather almost the entire trip. We did have one day where it rained during the night and was overcast the next day, but the rain was fortuitous since we were hiking to waterfalls the next day, which made them that more impressive. We did quite a bit of hiking and the trails we hiked are listed below with descriptions.

On Wednesday we drove 2 hours to Bryce Canyon National Park. The drive starts out through Zion on the Zion-Mt. Carmel highway, which takes you through a very narrow, mile-long tunnel. It’s so narrow that if you have an RV or a wide vehicle you have to make a reservation and pay an extra fee (they have to stop traffic from the other end). I don’t think this side of the park gets much use as there aren’t a lot of hiking trails, but we were treated to seeing a family of Bighorn Sheep along the side of the road. When we arrived at Bryce we were blown away at how beautiful it was, especially in the snow. Bryce Canyon is at a much high elevation 8-9,000′ compared to Zion, 3-4,000′ so there was a lot more snow and we didn’t do as much hiking. The park is also much smaller than Zion and a 1-2 day visit is the perfect amount of time to see the park.

Zion National Park Hiking Trails:

Canyon Overlook Trail: This hike is off the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway and the parking area is right after you exit the tunnel. Parking is limited so on busy days it may be difficult to get a spot. The hike is short, and steep but well worth the views. (1 mile roundtrip)

Taylor Creek Trail: This is in a more remote section of the park called Kolob Canyons and is at a much high elevation. We went there on Monday to escape the holiday crowds and started the snow covered trail, but quickly abandoned it. The trail was steep, snow and ice covered and just seemed too dangerous for us without the right equipment. (5 miles roundtrip)

Timber Creek Overlook Trail: After abandoning the Taylor Creek Trail, we drove to the end of the road and hiked this trail. This trail was also mostly snow covered, but it was flat so much easier to navigate. Amazing views! (1  mile roundtrip)

Riverside Walk: This is a wonderful, easy hike along the Virgin River at the end of the Zion Canyon Drive. If you want some solitude look for the path closer to the river instead of taking the paved path. At the end of the trail some hikers venture up the canyon by wading or swimming up the river, which is probably awesome in the hot summer months, but was a little too chilly in the winter. (2.2 miles roundtrip)

Angels Landing: This is an extremely difficult trail and not one for the faint of heart. Outside Magazine has named it one of the twenty most dangerous hikes in the world. The first 2 miles on the West Rim Trail have stunning views of the valley, a series of 21 short switchbacks called Walters Wiggles (love that name!) and a steep elevation gain, but it’s the last .5 mile that is the most dangerous. An extremely steep, narrow, knife edge trail that has chains to hold onto will lead you to supposedly amazing views, but Brendan and I did not do this section of the trail. We started it so that we could see what it was like, basically scary, so we turned around. Instead we continued on the West Rim Trail which also offered amazing views, especially of Angels Landing and we could watch other hikers attempt the climb. Bring plenty of water! (5.5 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 1,500′)

Emerald Pools: This is an easy trail that will take you to three pools and waterfalls with views of Zion Canyon. We were lucky that it had rained the night before, which made the waterfalls more spectacular. This is a very popular hike so be prepared for crowds. (3 miles roundtrip if you go all the way to Upper Emerald Pool)

Watchman Trail: This hike begins at the visitor center and has great views of the canyon. The only downfall to this hike is that you can also see all the visitor center and national park buildings. We were lucky and saw a herd of deer making their way down the mountain. (2.7 miles roundtrip)

Restaurants in Springdale:

Zion Pizza & Noodle: We had an excellent BBQ chicken pizza. Very casual dining, order at the counter and they bring it to your table.

Wildcat Willies: This was my birthday dinner. Variety of choices on the menu, we both had very good dinners and our waiter was very knowledgeable about the area and hiking and we chatted with him for awhile and he was happy to provide hiking recommendations.

The Flying Monkey: Great brick oven, thin crust pizza, very european feel. Service was a little slow.

The Brew Pub: This restaurant is located right outside the park entrance next the the Zion Theater. We went to see the new National Parks Adventure movie on a huge IMAX screen in 3D and then had dinner here. The food was average.


This was a great adventure and a much needed relaxing vacation!

Jen & Brendan {February 2016}