We left Denver around 10AM and drove to a BLM campground 5 miles before Springdale Utah. The drive took roughly 12 hours (~650 miles) including stops for lunch and food supplies in Grand Junction and dinner in CedarCity. We ate at a Mexican restaurant that had an all day 5 dollar special, great food and cheep too. Actual driving time was probably less than 10 hours. The BLM campground is short of Rockville, between mile markers 23 and 24 on Hwy 9 (closer to marker 24 on the right side of the road if you're traveling towards Springdale).
Day 2 - 9 Miles
Woke up and drove into Zion National Park to get permits, check conditions and learn about the park. ZionNational Park is a beautiful, very well maintained park. The visitor's center and all facilities are very well kept. It’s obvious that the volume of visitors allows the park service to spend a good deal of money on infrastructure. The first setback of the trip was learning that our main hike, the Zion Virgin Narrows route was closed due to a high volume of water. The park service does not issue permits for the Narrows if the water flow is greater than 120 cubic feet per second and it was at 620 cubic feet per second during our trip. A simple call ahead of time would have alerted us to this and could have made us pause with our trip plans. Its a good thing that we didn't call because we found plenty of other great hikes and now have a good reason to make it back later in the season some time in the future.
We decided to get a permit to hike The Subway. 50 permits are issued per day for The Subway (25 advance, 25 walk-up) so you are by yourself a good portion of the hike. By contrast, Angel's Landing has hundreds of hikers along the entire trail. The Subway is a gorgeous hike that starts high up on the canyon wall accessed by a road on the western side of the park. After hiking through a dry creek bed you travel down steeply into the canyon floor where you reach the main portion of the hike. The rest of the hike is up a creek, scrambling across and wading through it at points you make your way up a series of small waterfalls and pools until you reach the route's namesake. The Subway begins with enormous cliffs on either side with a large circular cutout formed by millions of years of water erosion. As you continue up past the initial cliffs you reach a keyhole shaped entrance with an almost enclosed circular tunnel about 30 feet in diameter (hence the name subway). We were able to work our way to a point that required swimming and dead ended at a 20 foot waterfall. Without ropes this is as far as you can go. Next time we plan to attempt the top route using ropes which allows access to the Upper Subway.
Chris and I both wore Teva Omnium Hiking River Sandals with Seirus NeosockTMTech Neoprene socks. They worked great. Walking in and out of water was surprisingly enjoyable. No blisters or sore feet and the cold water prevented any overheating. This hike was definitely the most novel hike I have experienced to date.
After the hike, we headed west on HW9 to La Verkin, where groceries were much cheaper than inside Springdale.
Day 3 - 9.7 Miles
Friday was spent entirely in the main park. The park service has done a great job of restricting car traffic by setting up a network of shuttles that take visitors throughout the park. Private vehicle travel is prohibited past Canyon Junction unless you have a permit to go as far as Zion Lodge. No private vehicle are permitted past Zion Lodge during the summer season. We parked at a park and ride in Springdale and took a free shuttle to the park entrance. After another trip to the visitor's center and a stop off at the bathrooms (#2 is not allowed on BLM land), we caught another shuttle inside the park to our first hike of the day, Angel's Landing. This hike is pretty crowded but well worth it. Surprisingly, it is paved almost the entire way, something I was not expecting. The hike is 2.5 miles each way and proceeds up a steep set of switchbacks carved out of a cliff wall. The final portion of the hike has chains for hikers to hold on to, At one point the path is 3 or 4 feet wide with drops of 800-1200 feet on both sides. Once on top of the landing you are able to see most of the park as you sit on top of a bluff with big walls of stone leading thousands of feet down on three sides. Beware of the falcons that play around this area. Supposedly they can reach speeds of 200 miles per hour as the fly in the strong wind, often times diving 5 feet or less away from the cliffs. After Angel's Landing, we rode the shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava, the shuttle’s last stop. There, we walked the 1 mile Riverwalk up into the Virgin Narrows. The water was very cold and flowing much faster than would be safe for hiking but we did get a great glimpse into the canyon and our interest in a second trip later in the season was solidified. After peering into the Narrows, we rode the shuttle back to Zion Lodge to grab some ice cream. The Lodge sells all sorts of food – including beer, pizza and burgers – and has spigots for filling water bottles with filtered Virgin River water. We ate the soft-serve underneath what we proclaimed the biggest tree in Zion: it stretched well over 200 feet wide and provided shade for an area as large as a football field. After resting for awhile we completed the day with a short 2.7 mile hike up to the three Emerald Pools. We were surprised, but glad, to see a family with a just turned 4 and 5 year old playing in the upper most pool.
Day 4 - 14 Miles
On day 4 we drove into the park and out to the East Entrance. A couple businesses offer 20 dollar shuttle rides but we decided to drive to the East Entrance and hitchhike back to our car from within the park. The drive includes a 1.1 mile tunnel completed in the 1930's. The tunnel is so narrow that larger vehicles such as RVs require that the road be closed for 10 minutes or so while they drive down the center of the tunnel occupying both lanes. We waited a few minutes and then drove through with a host of thundering Harleys revving the entire way through the tunnel. Once at the east gate, we dressed our wounds (a couple of lousy blisters and a banged up knee) and set off for a hike into the heart of the park on the East Rim Trail. The trail was different than mostColorado trails in that it remained at a similar elevation most of the hike. After a quick 5.8 miles we reached the half way point and had our lunch of thinly sliced roast beef sandwiches topped with green peppers, spicy horseradish mustard, tomatoes, banana peppers and cheese. The amusing part of lunch was that it was by the only water source on the hike, a "spring" which consisted of a 10 foot section of pipe sticking out of the mountain with a flow of water slightly more than a common house hold faucet trickling out. After lunch we continued on crossing the highest point of the trip at roughly 6700 feet. The scenery was pretty different up that high, even though it was low by most standards. Around mile 7 or 8 we reached the East Rim of Zion Canyon and looked down into the areas we had seen the previous day. As we descended we entered Echo canyon. The hi-light of this portion of the trail was a beautiful slot canyon carved out of the cliffs with rounded rocks and a slowly flowing stream at the base. The hiking trail passes above the slot (but below the rim of the canyon), so you can look down into the beautiful curves and shapes at the water flowing through.
Roughly 1/2 mile from the end of our decent into Zion Canyon we took a side trail leading up into Hidden Canyon. Hidden Canyon was a close second to The Subway for the top spot on hikes. After shedding our packs and trekking poles we scrambled for roughly a mile through a boulder-strewn canyon which at points was less than 10 feet wide. We stopped and looked on as two kids a decade younger than us continued on through a snow field up the canyon speaking something like French and proving that we had more sense than they did (although they probably made it to the canyon rim and laughed at the silly American's giving up so close to the end).
Against my wishes, Chris kept us moving and we walked the shortest quarter mile hike ever created to Weeping Rock, an outcropping of rock with a continual flow of water said to be 800 to 1200 years old by the time the water seeps out of the semi-porous sand stone.
We completed the day with an exhausted ride down the canyon in the Zion shuttle with a bunch of tourists who appeared to have not gotten off the shuttle once in the entire round trip. We exited the shuttle at the Canyon Junction shuttle stop and walked about 1/8 mile on HW9 towards the East Entrance. Uncertain of how we'd fair hitch hiking, we secured a ride on the sixth car that passed and spent the 9 mile hitched ride talking with a man with 5 kids who drives through the park often but has never hiked a single trail in the park. He was a super nice guy but it seemed a shame that something as amazing as Zion National Park could go unused by a Utah native who sped through the park so many times he once lost the right to drive through due to so many speeding tickets.
Day 5 - 2 Miles
Day 5 was mostly spent driving from Zion to Grand Junction, Colorado. We decided to stop in Colorado National Monument for the night and after a long day of driving we hiked several short nature walks. Colorado National Monument was much different than Zion but equally beautiful. The park was almost empty and most of our hiking was alone as it was evening by the time we set out to see Balanced Rock, the Coke Ovens and Window Rock. We also hiked Otto’s Trail, a 1 mile round trip walk to the edge of the rim with good views of the valley below. The night was spent enduring a nasty wind storm that filled the tent with a soft layer of red silt and woke us up a dozen times during the night.
Day 6 - 10 Miles
Our final day consisted of a in and out hike on Colorado National Monument's "Monument Trail". We got an early start (8:30 was early on this trip) and managed to complete half the hike before we reached our normal hiking start time of 11:00 in the morning. Along the path we passed Independence Monument, the Kissing Couple, Window Rock as well as several other CNM land marks. Our return hike was more eventful as we encountered groups hiking as well as two large classes of school kids being led by park rangers. While it was an easy hike, our previous days of hiking had conditioned us to move pretty quickly. The guidebook suggested something like 7 hours for the hike and we completed it in close to 3.
The remainder of the day was spent on I-70, driving home. The drive was followed up with my first shower in 6 days – maybe a record – and a dinner with Carrie and the boys.
Zion was fantastic, I highly recommend it. It worked great for a couple of backpackers and seemed like it would be equally enjoyable for a family with young kids.
This was the first time we established a base (car) camp and completed every hike as a day hike rather than doing overnight backpacking. It ended up being a ton of fun. The days were filled with beautiful hikes and the evenings with good home cooked food, drinks and board games. One night included a shuffle board tournament (on an iPad of course).
Purchasing alcohol in Utah is a pain in the ass so bring more than you think you'll need. Real beer (they call it 'Hard Beer') is sold un-refrigerated and seems to be pretty expensive. There is a great gear shop in Springdale(on the left side of Hwy 9 if you are traveling towards the park) that sells showers, has free internet and has a hose for refilling water reservoirs and cleaning up. The shop is roughly 1 block before the Sol Foods grocery store.
Random factoid about this trip. Carrie and I planned to sell the Honda CRV, which Chris and I drove to Zion, a few weeks after we got back. For some reason the stereo decided to crap out on this trip after 5 years of working perfectly. Alas, we rigged a power inverter, laptop to convert mp3s of the audio book "A Scanner Darkly", iPhone and an iPhone ready alarm clock to play the remaining 4 hours of the book on our drive home.
I haven't checked but it's likely that it was German week in Zion as it seemed like 1 in 5 people in the park were German. Everywhere we went we heard German being spoken by the nicest fellow hikers. A strange side note is that the audio book we listened to on the drive to and from the park was Philip K. Dick's "A Scanner Darkly" which has several German language passages uttered or thought of by the stories protagonist Bob/Fred/Bruce. P.K. Dick proved to be a great choice for a book tape.