A HIKER’S PARADISE
Utah’s Zion National Park lives up to its name when it comes to great mountain walks
At the end of Canyon Overlook Trail is a spectacular view of the red and white Navajo sandstone cliffs surrounding the main canyon of Utah’s Zion National Park. It’s one of the prettiest viewpoints in the park, and you don’t have to look long to realize why the canyon was so named. Isaac Behunin, the first Mormon pioneer to homestead inside the gorge, called it Zion in 1870, a biblical name for a sacred place of refuge. In today’s hectic world, the name seems more appropriate than ever.
In the southwestern corner of Utah, Zion National Park is a hiker’s paradise. Angel’s Landing, The Narrows and Observation Point are the three most famous hikes in the park, but during a recent short visit my husband and I decided to tackle some of the lesser known trails that are no less spectacular.
As we made our way up Hidden Canyon Trail, we were awestruck by the incredible rock formations and the beautiful colours in the sheer sandstone walls of the ravine. There are several places along the trail where you have to grasp a chain that is secured to the canyon wall to prevent yourself from slipping off a narrow ledge, and even in those spots it was hard not to be distracted by the beauty of the canyon.
As we rounded a corner near a steep drop-off, we couldn’t resist grasping the chain and pausing for a selfie. The narrow ledge was barely wide enough to accommodate the two of us, and as we stood there another young man was patiently waiting for us to pass. “Can you take a picture of me standing on this ledge?” he asked. “My mom is afraid of heights and this will drive her crazy.”
Further up the trail, there is a sixmetre high natural rock arch that we decided to call the end point of our hike. The only problem was we couldn’t find it. We hiked well past the spot where we thought the arch should have been and then got directions from some fellow hikers, who said we had already passed it. Doubling back, we had them take pictures of us inside the arch before heading back down the trail.
After the spectacular Hidden Canyon hike, we did several shorter hikes including the Weeping Rock Trail, which leads to a rock alcove with dripping springs. Just before sunset, we found ourselves sitting at the viewpoint of Canyon Overlook with about a half-dozen other hikers. Although the spot is better known for its sunrise views, watching the sun go down on the main canyon is also magical. As if on cue, two endangered California Condors soared overhead — their wings bathed in light high above the shadowy canyon walls. It seemed to be another confirmation that the canyon is appropriately named.
IF YOU GO:
Zion National Park is in southern Utah. The closest international airport is McCarran in Las Vegas, Nevada — about 274 kilometres away. It’s easy to combine a visit to Zion and nearby Bryce Canyon with a Las Vegas vacation.
We stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Springdale, Utah ( hamptininn3.hilton.com). Located just outside the park gates, the hotel has a free hot breakfast, free Wi-Fi and a free shuttle into the park. Rates start at about US$230 per night during peak season. During the peak spring and summer months, you must use the park’s free shuttle service to access hiking trails. There are also plenty of camping sites inside the park.
Zion National Park was Utah’s first national park. For more information, visit the official website for the park at: nps.gov/zion.
For more information on visiting Utah, check out the official tourism site: visitutah.com.
On Aug. 25, 2016, the U.S. National Park Service will celebrate its centennial, but special events will be happening all year long. There are 411 protected areas in the U.S. national parks system covering about 34 million hectares of land. As part of the celebrations, visitors are encouraged to use #FindYourPark on social media posts. There’s also a new IMAX film, commemorative stamps and a new exhibit at the U.S. Botanical Garden showcasing plant species from national parks. Entrance fees for all national parks will be waived April 15-24, Aug 25-28, Sept 24 and Nov 11.
Visit parks100.com to find out what’s happening in Arizona, Nevada and Utah. For the other national parks, visit nationalparks. org/centennial.