Zion National Park
Nine times out of ten, Mark and I are "plan head" travelers. We do things like book campsites months in advance, or set flight alerts to locations that we might want to go to. But last Tuesday we made a fairly spur of the moment decision to drive from LA to Zion National Park. Neither of us could take Friday off, so it was really going to be a get up and grind kind of day; leave at 4 am on Saturday morning, drive back Sunday night. It's about a six and a half hour drive from LA if you get up early and beat the traffic, so that's what we did.
Zion is set up with the majority of parking and camping outside the park; in order to protect the park there is a shuttle system that runs from Springdale into nine stops within the park every 15 minutes. The shuttle at the entrance to the park can get to have pretty long lines, so I'd recommend getting up early, or hiking into the second stop to pick up with a shorter line.
Hike Day One: Watchman Trail + Pa'rus Trail
Since Saturday was hot, we decided to avoid the more popular hikes and do the two on the outskirts; Watchman Trail and Pa'rus trail. They are both in pretty direct sun, so sunscreen and water were a must. My personal favorite was Watchman Trail, as it had a great climb, and incredible views of the Zion Canyon and the town of Springdale right next door.
We arrived in Zion around 12:30 pm (we forgot about the time change) to a lot of traffic into the park and no spots in the parking lots. Pro-tip; the campgrounds inside the park have check out at 11:30-- if you are planning on trying to grab a camping spot without a reservation, aim to get there right at 11:30 to get any that aren't reserved. Or, you can do what we did which was to pay to park outside the park, go on a hike and then check to see if there were any cancellations around 4:30 pm. We were able to snag a great spot in the Watchman Campground.
Mark and I are pretty seasoned car campers- We can set up and break down our tent sent up in under half and hour, and have camping food down to a pretty precise science. We tend to pack one large cooler with everything as well as one bag of snackies and assorted things you need.
Packing/ Cooler List:
- pre-cooked taco meet + onions and peppers frozen in a tupperware
- pre-made guac, tortilla chips, tortillas, cheese, mixed greens
- pre-cooked sweet potatoes wrapped in tinfoil
- 3-4 reusable water bottles, gatorade, other liquids.
- bring some kind of fruit!
- 1-2 beers / dranks / etc (obviously options 😂)
- dessert; we love s'mores, but P.S. Snacks cookie dough is also a winner.
- breakfast; I tend to do some kind of bar and coffee, Mark is more of a Cherry poptart kind of guy.
- camping snacks; we love beef jerky, bare snacks apple chips, lara or rx bars, and WATER.
- other necessities; reusable utensils, paper towels, trash bag, etc.
- Obviously bring your tent, sleeping back, and warm clothes for the night/ early mornings! I always bring a hat, a thermal base layer and wool socks, sunscreen, face wipes and a change of clothes for the drive home.
The taco meat reheats easily and quickly in a pot over a fire or propane stove, and sweet potatoes can be wrapped in tinfoil and popped into the fire. Quick and easy energy after a long day of activities! Whatever you decide to bring, please pack out all of your trash and *don't feed the animals*.
Hiking Day Two; Angel's Landing + Riverside Walk
Angel's Landing is one of the most popular hikes in Zion, and it's also one of the most dangerous. I had read a lot of reviews online of experienced hikers and climbers who were frustrated by the crowds of less experienced hikers making the last half mile to the summit overcrowded, dangerous, and downright scary. So, in order to avoid that, we decided to get there as soon as possible. We woke up at 6:00 am before the sunrise, broke down the campsite, and hopped on the 7:15 am shuttle into the park to The Grotto. While other hikers on the shuttle meandered around stopping for the bathroom, we booked it out of there with the plan to get up the 1.75 miles of trail and switch backs as soon as possible in order to reach the last .5 mile spine out to the summit before everyone else. This ended up being a great plan, and if you and your quads can handle it, I would definitely recommend it.
To be completely honest, I felt VERY uncomfortable on the way up; there was a hiker behind me who was going faster than I felt comfortable with, but wouldn't pass us even when pulled off to the side to let her through. This is shitty; please don't do this if you do this hike! Other important reminders; ascending hikers have the right of way. If you are on the way down, it's your responsibility to be aware of people coming up the trail and to allow them to pass safely and responsibly.
We made it to the summit in under ninety minutes, and spent about an hour eating our breakfast, enjoying the views and eventually taking some photos. It was truly one of the most breathtaking experiences I have ever had, and while I took a lot of photos I tried to actually just experience it. Would recommend 😘
By the end of the hour the summit was getting crowded, and we felt re-affirmed in our decision to get up there early. We decided to climb down and head to the Riverside Walk (the entrance to the Narrows) before heading home. It was really crowded, and I was struck by how desensitized to people the squirrels were; seems like they are used to being fed by hikers and now are actively willing to come get food from people. I think going up the Narrows would be the next experience for us at Zion, but I didn't like how crowded and busy this walk to the start was.
I absolutely loved my trip to Zion, and I hope my experiences help you out if you want to go visit! Let me know if you make it out there.