We’ve gotten what we think is an early start from Bryce and we arrive at the east entrance to Zion National Park at 9:30 a.m. We are hoping that we can get a first-come, first-serve campsite but no luck. The ranger tells us everything filled up “earlier this morning.” The main canyon, where all the sites and hiking are, is located on the south side of the park, as is the town of Springdale, which is our best shot for someplace to stay.
The drive through this side of the park is gorgeous, of course. Just huge towering rocks, several tunnels and, oddly, a big-horn sheep standing at the edge of the road, looking more like yard art than a wild animal. He’s oblivious both to stopped and passing cars. It occurs to us that we have seen most wildlife – toads, chipmunks and squirrels excluded – from our car.
We drive down to the south entrance, where the campgrounds are, and decide to take a swing through, just in case. As we enter, we see that other people have had the same idea and there are several cars waiting. OK. Time for Plan B.
Out the park we go and find a parking lot to reassess our options. The ranger has given us a list of campgrounds but we have neither cell service nor wi-fi. We decide just to drive to some places to see if we can get a campsite. As we pull into the side street, we notice a Quality Inn and RV/Campground across the street. We’ve located our first stop.
There are no campsites but they do have a room. We don’t hesitate before taking it for two nights. Looking at the campground – just bare, open spots all crammed together with very little shade, we are happy to have a hotel room. Later, after we’ve hiked in 104-degree sunny weather, we count ourselves among the very lucky that we have a shower, air conditioning and a bed.
We decide to scope out the park a little and take a short hike up to the Emerald Pools, despite the heat. The first pool is barely a puddle. The second pool is a little bit bigger but the third pool, a very hot three-tenths of a mile up from the second, is worth the trip. There’s no waterfall at this time of year but it’s shady and pretty and definitely cooler out of the sun.
We had back and then over the Grotto Trail, adding another mile to our day before catching the shuttle back out of the park.
After dinner – tacos at the Whiptail Grill – we plot our course for the next morning. The classic “must-do” trail in Zion is the Narrows. While we’re sure it would be interesting to walk in the 20-foot wide canyon and there’s a low chance of thunderstorms and flash flooding, we just don’t want to do it. For one thing, it requires walking in ankle-deep water for a good portion of the hike. For another, “must-do” hikes are often filled with people who really have no business hiking. I lose patience with people who don’t know how to go over rocks or who get scared when they have to descend a steep slope. It’s not a big deal to run into one or two people but this is Zion, we’re likely to run into hundreds of people with these types of problems.
We want to do a significant hike and decide Angel’s Landing would be a good choice. It was recommended to us by a guy we met hiking in The Arches. The hike is an out-and-back, not Walt’s favorite, but it’s supposed to have some narrow cliffs and steep drop-offs as well as phenomenal views.
Again we start early and we’re at the line for the shuttle by 8 or so but judging by the 150+ people ahead of us, we’re not as early as we thought. A ranger comes out, reminding people that the park is busy this weekend, the weather is hot, bring plenty of water, etc. He also says that the crowds will only get worse as the day goes on, that people later in the day will wait 2 hours just to get on the shuttle bus into the canyon. We find this hard to believe. The buses are all doubles and hold 100 people or so. We only have to wait until the second bus, a whole 10 minutes of waiting, before we’re on board.
We’re hoping that all these people – many with rental boots and neoprene socks – are headed for the Narrows, which is the last stop. When we reach our stop, three-quarters of our bus gets off. Uh-oh. There’s no other hike from this stop except Angel’s Landing.
Walt and I look at each and decide it’s not worth it (see “I lose patience” above). Walt consults the map and suggests we go up to the Narrows, not to hike it, but to take the 1-mile walk along the river to the spot where you have to get in the river to see what we can see.
It’s a nice walk but we really can’t see the Narrows, just people walking in the river. We turn back and get back on the shuttle. Now what?
Walt consults the map again. Under “day hikes” there’s a Hidden Canyon listed. There’s no description, just a note that says it’s closed until Sept. 1, 2017. Today is Sept. 2. Walt asks the shuttle driver if Hidden Canyon is open. Affirmative.
Excellent. Maybe there won’t be as many people on the trail.
At the foot of the trail, we see a sign that says it’s 1 mile and 850 feet of elevation to the top. Sounds like fun to us. Also, we note that we are on the east side of the canyon and it is still shady and likely to be for our entire hike. We couldn’t be happier if we’d just scored a hotel room instead of a campsite.
Our hike is very pretty, with very few people. There’s a few spots jutting out along a cliff where the park has affixed chains to hold onto. They’re not really necessary but they’re nice. At the top we can see down to the parking lot.
We hike back down; still in the shade and catch the shuttle back to the visitors’ center, where we are astonished at the huge line of people waiting to board a bus. The ranger wasn’t kidding. It’s going to take at least an hour for people coming now (at noon) to get on a bus.
Walt takes copious pictures, muttering “unbelievable” and we walk out of the park to the brew pub right next door. We’ve probably not earned our snack of beer, hummus and veggies, and ice cream but we enjoy it anyway, congratulating ourselves for having gotten in and out of the park with an enjoyable day.