Avoid The Crowds At Zion National Park
I was fortunate enough to visit Zion National Park in Utah for 4 days of hiking at the beginning of April. The scenery on the trails definitely lived up to my expectations with the soaring red sandstone cliffs, natural arches, slot canyons, desert landscapes, waterfalls that appear as quickly as they disappear, and animals such as bighorn sheep, mule deer, and wild turkeys.
My only disappointment was the amount of people who had the same ingenious idea as me to visit the park on the same weekend. It was definitely busy!
The park actually installed a shuttle service in an effort to reduce traffic congestion, air pollution, parking conflicts, and noise in the park. In the peak season, cars are not allowed in the Zion Canyon section (south entrance) of the park. The shuttle stops at all the major trailheads and runs every 6-8 minutes or so. You can jump off and on as much as you like.
If you are like me and prefer staying off the beaten track, here are some tips to make your Zion experience that much more unforgettable.
Tips To Enjoy Zion National Park
1) Peak times
The busiest time in the park is from 11am to 3pm. Lots of people only spend one day in Zion either passing through or as a day trip from Las Vegas (the closest airport to Zion). I found the least busy times on the trail were in the early morning or towards dusk.
When in the Zion Canyon section of the park (where the shuttle runs), there are definitely some short hikes not to miss (Emerald pools, Weeping rock, Riverside walk, to name a few). These trails can get really, really busy, so it is better to get up early and beat the crowds to truly enjoy the magic of each place.
2) Kolob Canyon
Visit the Kolob Canyon area of the park. The shuttle does not service this area and few people seem to make the trek to this entrance of the park. The drive is approximately 45 minutes northwest of Zion Canyon. The Taylor Creek Trail was a highlight for me.
The trail meandered along the riverbed of Taylor Creek through a canyon past abandoned homesteads. The effort was well worth it to see Double Arch Alcove, the reward at the end of the trail. The grandeur of it was overwhelming, I can’t even describe its beauty in detail. It took my breath away.
3) Zion-Mount Carmel Highway
Definitely take the time to drive the Zion-Mount Carmel highway. This is a 10-mile road that links the south and east entrances of the park. There are lots of opportunities to pull over and explore on your own. There is a 1-mile tunnel you must past through, and the cool thing is the landscape of the park is different on each side of the tunnel. Heading towards the east entrance the park has plenty of hoodoos, slick rock, desert plants, etc.
4) Zion National Park Trails
You could do some of the trails that I opted to forgo due to the steep cliff warning signs accompanied by a stick figure image of someone tumbling down a cliff face. They are definitely not for anyone with the slightest fear of heights. I started to do one of the trails before turning back and realizing how insane it was. I prefer hiking where I don’t have to watch each step I make. I think these few trails would be less populated due to their crazy drop-offs! The trail names are Angels Landing, Hidden Canyon and Observation Point.
On a side note, if you’re staying in the town of Springdale, stop by Oscar’s Cafe for some well-deserved post hiking grub. I had the best-pulled pork green chile burrito EVER, and washed it down with a beer named “Polygamy Porter”.
Lastly, when hiking in the desert remember to be prepared. Plan your trip, choose trails within your ability, carry lots of water, and wear a hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses. If venturing into the slot canyons, watch the weather and be aware of flash flood warnings.