beginner's guide to zion national park

Skinny Traveler: A Beginner’s Guide to Zion National Park

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I recently visited Zion National Park as a sort of spur of the moment, completely unplanned, breathtaking, potentially life changing, all-in-all amazing girl-powered-road trip.

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I learned a lot about the park¬†in a very short period of time. Because I was so awe inspired by it all, I wanted to pass these learnings onto you in this Beginner’s Guide to Zion National Park with the hopes you add this park to your bucket list. It will forever hold a special place in my heart. Here’s a quick 2:34 video pictorial of it all…set to the theme song of our road trip.

Where is Zion/How to Get There

Zion is in Southern Utah, just about 40 miles, almost an hour from St. George. The town at the base of the park is Springdale, UT. Depending on where you live in the world, you can easily fly into Las Vegas and make the beautiful drive up to the park, which is about 2-2.5 hours and you’re not likely to hit any traffic. Or, if you’re from nearby, you can drive the whole way. It took us about 9 hours from San Diego with a few stops and a 90 minute, inevitable I15 delay from a car that caught on fire at 2:30am and somehow managed to back up traffic 10 hours later.

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Turning dead stop traffic into Thanksgiving FEAST! Thank goodness for leftovers ūüôā

Where to Stay

Well this turned out to be a real treat for us! I had thought Zion was much closer to St. George originally, which I knew was a good sized town with plenty of hotels. I was wrong. Springdale is much smaller and with the holiday weekend, we were left with very limited options as we scrambled to book a hotel on the drive up. We were about to fork over $300 per night to stay at the Hampton Inn. But the universe had our back on this entire voyage.

We found the Bumble Berry Inn on Hotels Tonight* and even though it was fully booked Friday night, somehow Julie¬†squeezed us in at their premium “holiday rate” of about $110 per night. It’s just a mile outside the park, has a hot tub, free cook-to-order breakfast at Wild Cat Willies (for real!) everyday and beautiful patio views. We were in heaven!

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The view from our patio. No filter here kids.

You can also stay at the lodge in the park, which would be nice for hiking, but not ideal as you’d probably want to leave the lodge at night for dinners as it only looked like there was one restaurant at the lodge. You can also camp at the base of the park and up in the mountains and that seems like a pretty fun idea too! But I won’t lie, I was really happy to come home to a bed, shower and yummy food and wine after each long day of hiking.

What to Eat

In Town: Clearly we were fans of Wild Cat Willies for breakfast as it was included in our rate from the Bumbleberry Inn! It did not open until 7, but since the sun was coming up after 7 and it was low 40s in the morning, it was ok by us. But I would imagine in the Summer when the days are longer and the weather is warmer this might be a problem. We had dinner at the Bit n’ Spur, a southwestern bar/restaurant on Friday night and Jacks, a sports bar on Saturday night. Sunday, we drove back to Vegas to break up our long drive home.

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You have to order food with alcohol in Utah. With 30 miles of trails covered, we were ok with that ūüôā

On The Trail: The days are pretty short this time of year with the sun rising after 7 and setting just after 5. So we stuffed our bellies at Wild Cat Willies in the am (I had the hikers granola and yogurt – perfect! It’s¬†a huge portion and¬†you can pack the extra and take it on the trail with you). We loaded¬†our packs with snacks, including Quest Bars, Lara Bars, trail mix, and my favorite cranberry mini-muffins I had leftover from Thanksgiving. Because we had such a go-go-go hiker mission and short days, we didn’t stop to picnic and just snacked as we went.

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The perfect trail treat! I’ll be updating the recipe a bit and will post next week!

What to Pack

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All fun and games until 2 of the only 5 people you see on the entire 10 miles of trail strolls up.

They say you should be prepared for anything and everything and in our case, that is pretty much on target. We went from beanies, gloves, layers of long sleeves, and puffy vests to tank tops and sports bras. Or in this case…topless. LOL ¬†Layers went on and came off as we hiked. Saturday¬†it was sunshine and blue skies and¬†Sunday it snowed. I’m not actually much of a hiker so I was wildly unprepared. I borrowed Katie’s vest and one of her long layers. I invested at the Zion Outfitter at the end of the day Saturday in some tougher pants and bad ass hiker socks for the Sunday weather we were expecting. I was forever grateful for my Tasc Performance¬†long blue layer and practically lived it knowing no matter how far I hiked, it would never smell. LOL

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Sunshine to snow covered shoes — you never know what to expect in Zion!

Where to Hike

There are trails for all levels here! There are short flat trails along the base and long tough climbs with breathtaking views throughout both sides of the canyon. It does not matter where you are, below looking up or up looking down — it is all awe inspiring and breathtaking. We only had 1.5 days to see as much as we could, so we charged on…here’s what we covered.

Saturday – Blue Skies and Sunshine!

Everybody will tell you that you must hike Angels Landing, and you must. But beware of the crowds. It’s a narrow/single track trail along the final .5 mile summit and there is quite a bit of waiting involved for the chains and some scrambling is require. But it is worth it.

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We tackled that one first and then about half way up the trail splits to the West Rim Trail at Scout’s Landing so we took off on that route and were super stoked to have wide open space to roam.

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This trail goes for like another 14 miles and is better for longer days or camping out there as a multi-day hike. We made it about 5 miles in…simply stunning and we saw only 5 people the entire time we were on the trail. If you ever want to feel very small, and a part of something very ¬†big, visit this park.

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We finished at the Grotto base and saw that the Emerald Pools were just one mile up the trail so we took that route, climbed all three levels and ended at the Lodge stop and caught the shuttle back to our car feeling very pleased with the 18 miles we had covered in a fairly short day.

Sunday was a totally different experience!

For starters, the shuttle stopped running for the season. Which was kind of cool because we got to drive through the park which I’m pretty sure you can’t normally do. And there really are only like 2 roads, and somehow we managed to find ourselves on the wrong one.

Which was ok, we got to see more of the park, including the mile long tunnel (that’s when we knew we were off course!) This was of course also the perfect time to stop and take a few jumpy pics.

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We parked ourselves at the base of Observation Point with is must do #2 when you ask people. And for good reason. It’s STUNNING!¬†To get to the top, you get to hike through Echo Canyon which quite literally looks like a painting.

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Echo Canyon will stop you in your tracks it’s so picturesque

We were dusted with soft Utah snow as we climbed. It was like wonderland. We had no wind and the life of the mountain kept us warm as we climbed. Miraculously my feet stayed warm and dry in my New Balance trail shoes which doesn’t even really make sense to me now. It’s a solid climb up about 4 miles. But when you reach the top, the view of the canyon will take your breath away.

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Somewhere up here, you can skirt off to the East Rim and East Mesa Rim trails which, similar to the West Rim go for miles and miles and have camp sites for multi-day hiking. It was actually quite chilly at the top so we headed down. You can also easily split off to Hidden Canyon which is short and fun. You can go beyond the trail a bit where “scrambling is required” and then also pop up to Weeping Rock at the very end of the day. We ended our second day just shy of 12 miles and were happy with that.

I will go back to hike The Narrows

That is the #3 hike everybody will tell you about and you must rent water proof shoes and pants as you hike straight through the water for as much as 16 miles one way. It’s a temperamental trail due to flash flooding and with the chill in the November air, we decided to table this for a Spring or Summer visit.

Trail Summary & Cheat Sheets

They gave us this little map at the hotel and it was what we used each morning at Wild Cat Willies to plan our trial attack. This summary grid is awesome! I’m not sure I would have planned more had I had this ahead of time, but it might help you as you plan now.

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And to give you a little park perspective, here’s the whole sha-bang! We covered 30 miles in 1.5 days and as you can see, there is SO MUCH MORE!

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We were left wanting more…

And I think that has to be a good thing. I’m always ¬†nervous to go back to places I love for fear that expectations will steal the beauty of the voyage. But I feel like Zion is a safe bet. It’s full of beauty, kind people, a small town and a huge adventure.

Have you been to Zion? What are some of your favorite adventure trails? 

*That is my link, if you’re new to Hotels Tonight and you use it, you will save $25 off your first booking!

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Teresa Marie Howes, BS, CPT, HHP
Teresa Marie is a nutrition expert, fitness enthusiast and health coach. She is backed with a BS in Nutrition, an MBA, a CPT from ACE and 16+ years of experience in the weight loss and wellness space. She is the founder and lead contributor of this site and coaches clients across the globe on how to achieve better health and more happiness by implementing the 4 Universal Diet Truths of her Clean & Colorful Concept.

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