Zion National Park is an actual oasis in the red rocks that make up most of southern Utah. Distinguished by steep red cliffs carved by the Virgin River, Zion National Park is small (compared to other National Parks we’ve visited) but it feels massive. Trailheads like Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, Angels Landing, and The Narrows can be found on the two-lane Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This road is only accessible by park shuttle from the Visitor’s Center (if you’re lucky enough to find parking there).
Emerald Pools Hike
Our first day in Zion National Park, we camped at the Zion River Resort about 20 minutes from the entrance. Unfortunately, we picked a very busy weekend to visit and waited until the last minute to book our reservation. They only had room for us for 1 night! Chris had received a coveted permit to hike “The Subway”, a technical slot canyon in Zion that is not accessed on the main road. Unfortunately, our camping reservations made this hike impossible. (Disappointing.) However, as a family, we were able to go into the park and hike together.
We got up early and found one of the few parking spots left at the visitor’s center. We got in the theme park length line for the shuttle and took the short trip (maybe 15 minutes) to the “Zion Lodge” stop. From there, we started up the Emerald Pools trail to the Lower Emerald Pool (1.2 miles round trip). I would describe this hike as an easy, paved trail with some elevation gain and epic views around every corner. There were mule deer less than 5 feet off the path grazing. At the “end” of the trail, you can hike under a small misty waterfall that creates gorgeous emerald pools. Honestly, the photos just don’t do it justice. (The hike to the Upper Emerald Falls is closed in the fall and winter.)
Angels Landing, known previously as the Temple of Aeolus, is a rock formation in Zion National Park. It starts at the Grotto trailhead, and it is the stuff of dreams/bucket lists/nightmares. This renowned trail is only 5 miles long, but it is 1,488 of elevation gain full of steep switchbacks and sheer drop-offs. In fact, there’s a section called “Walter’s Wiggles” featuring 21 sharp switchbacks. After the switchbacks, you have to climb the ridiculously steep, narrow, and exposed “Hogsback” cliff face using the chains that are bolted into the rock to keep from slipping over the edge. Yet, my Acrophobic (afraid of heights) husband did it anyway… and said it was the adventure of a lifetime.
Weeping Rock & Zion Human History Museum
While Chris hiked Angel’s Landing, Calvin and I took the shuttle to the Zion Human History Museum to complete the Junior Ranger Program. After a jaunt through the small museum and a short video, Calvin was sworn in as a Junior Ranger. We waited outside to catch the bus up to Weeping Rock. (I wouldn’t suggest this in the early or mid-morning, as the bus coming from the Visitor’s Center will be completely full. We did this in the late afternoon, and the bus was empty.)
Weeping Rock is one of the shortest trails in the park at .4 miles round trip. It’s paved, but you’ll find yourself going uphill the entire .2 miles up to a rock alcove with small dripping ‘waterfalls’. It was wet everywhere when we got to the top and a bit misty from the springs. Since the trail is called Weeping Rock, I told Calvin that the rock was crying. He got a real kick out of trying to ‘cheer up’ the rock. It was really an awesome hike for the two of us.
We took the bus back down to the Visitor’s Center and met Chris there shortly after. (Pro Tip: There is cell reception at the Visitor’s Center and Museum.)