I recently returned from a week in the Zion Canyon, Utah area, photographing one of my favorite places in the world. You can see the results in my latest Photowalks episode, S2:E4, from Zion.
Meanwhile, if you’re not up on Zion, let me fill you in a bit. It is one of the great national parks, a 7-hour drive from Los Angeles, 2.5 hours from Las Vegas, 6 hours from Phoenix, 9 hours from Denver.
Zion’s NP neighbors are Bryce Canyon (70 minutes north), Grand Canyon (4 hour drive) and Arches in Moab (5 hours away.)
Yeah, the Southwest is just one awesome place to visit (and photograph!)
Zion’s calling card are these huge, red rocks that dominate the landscape. It’s just over the border in Southern Utah, on the edge of a tiny town, Springdale, with less than 600 residents, yet sees more than 5 million visitors yearly. The two big attractions for Zion are the mega-hikes, the Narrows and Angel’s Landing.
The Narrows is the canyon hike that you do in the water. Every inch you make, there’s always something incredibly more stunning just around the corner.
There are several companies in town itching to make the hike a little more comfortable for you, by renting you protective gear and boots. I’ve done it both ways, and take it from me: the $50 investment at Zion Guru made for a more enjoyable outing. The water was around 40 degrees.
Angel’s Landing isn’t for the faint of heart. The sign below hasn’t been updated, but 17 people have died on the hike, with 2 so far in 2021. This is one steep, steep hike that culminates with holding onto chains for your balance.
The good news is that you can hike to the top, see the awesome view, and not have to go that bone-chilling final .5 mile. Which is how we played it. We still got 5 hours of climbing and some of my favorite sites along the way.
The parks have become more popular than officials can handle. The only way to get in to see it is by reserving a space on a shuttle. The park shuttle sells for $1 a ticket, and they go on sale at 5 p.m. for the next day. Tickets sell out in a minute or so.
The alternative is signing up for a private shuttle, and paying $20 or so a ticket. They sell out quickly too.
So what to do if you can’t get into the park? Realize that Zion is more than just a national park. It’s the entire area. There are cool small towns (Rockville, La Verkin, Hurricane, Virgin) that surround her, full of great back roads, views and exploring.
The little bakery that specializes in toast and used books. The one-bridge in Rockville that leads to Gooseberry Mesa. another epic Zion view. And on and on it goes.
Our favorite restaurant in Zion has been and always will be the Bit & Spur, a funky saloon with great Southwest art and Mexican fare. The best place to stay: the Cliffrose Lodge, but prices have spiked to the $400 and $500 range, due to the popularity of the area. (They say rates come back down to earth in the winter.)
We roughed it at the funky Pioneer Lodge, which has seen better days, and then moved to the swanky Holiday Inn Express, which happens to have a killer view, a great breakfast and wonderful grounds leading to the Virgin River.
We’ve visited Zion at least 20 times over the years and this won’t be the last.