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  • Allyson Rychlak

The latest adventure: Zion NP

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love the national park system. During the summer of 2020, my closest friends and I drove from Pennsylvania to Montana and crossed 7 parks off our bucket lists over the course of 2.5 weeks. While we don't have the luxury of that time now with 9-5 jobs and adult responsibilities, we've vowed to always make time for a long weekend trip once a year.


Our latest adventure brought us to Zion National Park in Utah. With the 4 of us placed all over the country (Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Arlington, and Boston), we needed somewhere we could all fly into pretty seamlessly while not breaking the bank. Cue the gondolas and neon lights... Las Vegas! Flights, as well as hotels, tend to be pretty cheap in this city, since the goal is to get you there to spend your money - which we certainly did.


Day 1: Friday

Evening flights brought the 4 of us into Las Vegas, where we stayed at the Virgin Hotels, Curio Collection. It was very reasonable, especially split between our group, and certainly met expectations of the Vegas clientele. In biker shorts and hiking boots, we only stuck out a little bit.


Pro tip: Before any hiking day in Zion, I highly recommend applying to the Angel's Landing permit lottery on the NPS site. We got lucky!


Day 2: Saturday

An early morning wakeup allowed for an early start to the day in Zion, which is about a 3-hour drive depending on the time of day you leave. Since we stopped for bathroom breaks and coffee, we got to the park when the lot was full, so we parked in the town outside for $20. Shuttles run along the town, but we ended up walking around a mile to the pedestrian park entrance since patience isn't our forte.



Once past the gate, we rode the in-park shuttle to the Grotto Trailhead for Angel's Landing, permits proudly in hand. The first 2 miles of the trail are paved until a series of 21 switchbacks to climb into the mountains. Beware of falling rock and obese squirrels. Since the trail is open to non-permit holders until the last mile or so that leads to the lookout that bears the Angel's Landing name, it will definitely be crowded if you're visiting during peak season.



The chain is not just for show! While it provides a guide to follow along the many, many steps during last mile of the climb, there are several instances we hoisted ourselves up over the rock using the chain. I understood why we had timed permits; passing can be difficult, so often we hugged the side to let others pass, or they did the same for us. It's quite steep, but leads to some pretty amazing views. If you're afraid of heights, I'd skip this one!


If you secure permits, the loop is just over 7 miles, so bring plenty of water and some snacks. We're an ambitious bunch, and aimed to cross another hike off the list after, but lost contacts and exhaustion led us to the Zion Canyon Brew Pub, just outside the park entrance. We headed back to our AirBnB in nearby Hurricane, Utah, and grabbed salads and sandwiches for dinner at Rock River Roasting Co.


Day 3: Sunday

Another early wakeup call was in store so we could hike The Narrows, one of Zion's most popular hikes. The more adventurous bunch can hike approximately 5 miles there and back along the park's narrowest canyon while wading through the Virgin River, with breathtaking rock walls shooting into the sky on either side.


Pro tip: if you get there early enough, you do not need to purchase/rent the man-made sticks at the visitor center. Hikers will leave real sticks for your choosing at the start of the riverwalk. Also, Tevas, Chacos, or water sandals from Amazon will suffice. About a mile of flat path will bring hikers to the start of the canyon. The water, especially at 6-7am, is cold, but you get used to it quickly! Dress in layers, but be careful - those layers will probably get wet, depending on how deep you plan on hiking.



Real hiking sticks > renting from the visitor center.



After The Narrows, we hiked the three Emerald Pools - Lower, Middle, and Upper, and watched some rock climbers descend into the canyon below. This was a pretty moderate hike and allowed for rest at the pools in between. We finished the day with a drive around the park and a Mexican meal at Casa de Amigos not far from the park entrance.


Day 4: Monday

We intercepted our drive back to the land of slot machines with a state park called Valley of Fire, which was a little under an hour from Las Vegas. The park is incredible, with red Aztec sandstone formations seemingly erupting from the desert.



Due to timing in the middle of the day and sweltering temperatures, we did not do any strenuous hikes in Valley of Fire. We did explore the rock formations and drove the park loop, catching sight of some goats and lizards along the way.




After a drive-thru lunch of Del Taco, we dropped off our rental car and checked into Mandalay Bay in downtown Las Vegas. Just like Friday night's hotel, this was pretty reasonable, but both hotels had resort fees per person. Once we showered off three days of desert, we headed down the strip to gawk at the Vegas folk, have dinner at Spago (overlooking the Bellagio Fountains), and see a comedy show at Laugh Factory. Oh, and hit the slot machines... how could I forget?


Day 5: Tuesday

One-fourth of our squad left early Tuesday morning for her flight back to Indiana, so the rest of us walked around the strip and the Venetian. We smuggled In-N-Out Burger into the Mandalay Bay pool and spent the day soaking in the sun before our red-eye flights that evening back to the east coast.



Overall...

Zion was a beautiful park and perfect for a long weekend trip. We only spent 2 full days in the park, and although I wish we had more time, I didn't feel like we had missed the top hikes or other attractions. The shuttle service, both outside the park and inside along 9 stops, was so convenient and one of the nicest amenities of any park I've been to. Staying in Hurricane made the AirBnB cheaper, while keeping the drive into the park each day under a half hour.


I enjoyed writing about this weekend so much, and can't wait to continue to share my travels and recommendations for trips, both past and future, on this blog. Thanks so much for reading!

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