National Parks Counter: 16
2021 LETS GO! I am going to start this blog off with something surely controversial to National Parks people. Zion is gorgeous, a wonder, and a must see. It is also underwhelming to its reputation and to put on top of a national parks list is silly to me. As of the writing of this post I have been to 18 of the 63 current national parks. And granted, Denali, Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon are among those 18 I am not sure I would even have Zion it in my top 5 right now!
I took this trip with my Sidekick. It was a short weekend trip with a non stop to Vegas (shit hole) and then zipping it out to Hurricane, Utah (pronounced hurra-kin) for the evening. It was too late to go into the park at this point so we found about the only good outdoor option for food and that was at River Rock Roasting Company a short drive away in La Verkin. We would end up visiting this place twice! They have great pizzas, good beer, and unbeknownst to us at first (it was dark) great views, being kind of perched on top of a cliff looking over a river in a small gorge. The first morning was an early rise. Zion is very, very packed and at times they only allow visitors to travel the park in shuttle buses. This particular time of the year was not one of those times, but as is the case with almost every national park, parking is at a premium and very limited. Early starts to a visit is a must!
We got in pretty early and drove straight for Angels Landing. The parking lot was already pretty packed at 7 AM but we got a spot and started the hike. I had a basic sense of this hike from following others’ posts and doing my own research, but I was a bit surprised. It’s 4.4 miles out and back with 1600 feet of elevation gain. It does follow another trail called the West Rim. I did not expect the hike to start with a pretty steep series of switchbacks. That just gets up to the canyon which eventually leads to Walter’s Wiggles, a set of 20 some really tight switchbacks which leads up to the start of the final ascent up the landing. Good to know fact, there is a composting bathroom up there, very important since there are no private spots to be found on this trail and there are many people. No trail pissing here! Anyway, the SIdekick took about one step of the next part of the hike. I think when she grabbed the chain she called it a hike! I decided I was going to go for it. Spoiler alert: I only made if about a third of the way maybe? I was very unnerved, not by the heights or even the chains, I was unnerved by the sheer number of people coming and going as it was a one way trail and someone would have to let go of the chain. It was happening way too much for my liking, so I found a shady spot to sit and take in some views and worked my way back.
My Sidekick saddled up near a ranger who was monitoring condors and we got to watch some live condor action! SUPER cool. Unexpected treats like this are always great in the parks. The ranger was pretty disdainful of hiking the landing and told us a better place to go along the trail we got off of to go to the landing. So we took his advice and followed around that trail a bit, this was actually the West Rim Trail that I mentioned in the previously. We found a great open and sandy area to sit down and have a beer and lunch 1 or breakfast 2, however you look at it!
After coming down from the hike and some more minor exploring of the park road we stopped at the Zion Brewing Company for some snacks and beer! The place is literally maybe 100 feet from the entrance to the park, so definitely the closest spot to grab grub and a brew! Being February, it was still chilly but they were kind enough to accommodate with heaters outside. At some point during this day we also stopped a nice little spot with good food and outdoor seating called Me Me’s Cafe.
The next day was the Narrows! We weren’t even entirely sure about doing it until the evening before when it was time to rent the gear, due to cooooold mornings. The following morning we got into the park early and it was pretty cold…like sub 30, so we decided to risk an annoying parking situation and just drive the other part of the road to the east and through this old tunnel. Right on the other side of that tunnel we found a new impromptu hiking opportunity: The Canyon Overlook Trail, a short 1 mile out and back with about 300 feet of elevation change. Not hard, but a very satisfying hike!
Then it was time to tackle the Narrows! If you are unfamiliar with this hike it is a hike that is almost exclusively in the water as you hike up the Virgin River that runs through the park. The temp had reached somewhere in the 40s or maybe even lower 50s, so it seemed like a good time! We actually happened to LUCK into a parking spot at the trailhead (remember all the times I mention this National Park parking situation? This is actually probably one of the bigger parking lots I have seen and it had maybe 50 spots. And roadside parkers were walking a long way to get there. Anyway, we suited up in our sexy suits and off we went. This hike is not that fun. Like Angel’s Landing it is probably known everywhere as this amazing must do! However, the rocks are VERY slippery and the risk of slipping into a bad spot seems very high. You must use something more sturdy than regular ole hiking poles for this one. The gear we rented included those with the suits and shoes so we were properly geared up! This hike can be forever long or just a little as you deem worthwhile. We did probably 3 or 4 hours of it, so make sure to bring food and drink and a back that is ok in the water!
After we finished this it was time to depart Zion. We did stop again in the town of Springhaven, which is the entrance town. It seemed like a cool park town, but most of it was closed for the season. Except that we found that one of the recommended restaurants literally reopened THAT DAY. Zion Pizza and Noodle was a bit of a wait, but they legit had spaced tables out really well, including on the outdoor balcony where we requested seats. We caught the sunrise and then hightailed it back to the hotel.
The next morning we had to be back at the airport for our flight out from Vegas, but not too far out of the way was The Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, near the Lake Mead Recreation Area. We took a side jaunt there and what a beautiful treat! My cover photo of The Parks Adventurer site is a stellar picture the Sidekick took of me at sunrise in that park! We sat in that same spot, had some homemade Bloody Marys, and watched the sun come up! Now this is a gorgeous place and sunrise was spectacular! And there was no one here. And it was a Sunday morning. A great treasure.
Overall impressions: Pros: Good hiking and stellar views in both spots. Valley of Fire is super empty of people. Cons: Too many people in too small of a park at Zion. And to be honest, it wasn’t that crowded but it was a weekday and a weekend day of the same weekend as the big game. And it was still a pain to find parking, even with coming into the park super early. Valley of Fire presented me with 0 cons.
The Adventurer Final Word:
4.5 Stars! Zion is great, and absolutely worth your while, but the size and difficulty of doing anything because of parking and people is a definite drawback. If you are in Vegas and want a quick escape to someplace pretty and devoid of people, Valley of Fire might be your spot!
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