Zion National Park

Zion is definitely a gem in America’s national park  crown jewels and one that can be had for a lot less than a diamond when you get strategic. In the kingdom of bang for your buck, Zion is ruling quite nicely.

Main trail Zion
Main Trail Zion

This was my second Zion excursion so I came a bit better prepared and am happy to pass along some absolutes. The first requirement is trekking poles if you wish to hike The Narrows, an enchanting slot canyon and river filled with cantankerous rocks: rocks that I am fairly certain house water gremlins bent on toppling Nikon wielding giants. The gremlins were successful on my last visit so I implore you to take trekking poles and score some water shoes also if possible (I borrowed from a generous friend).

The narrows pano
The Narrows Pano

This hike is a blast and worked well as a follow up to Angel’s Landing, an arduous, Jack In The Beanstalk, experience that is not recommended for anyone who breaks out in hives when climbing a ladder. Angel’s Landing’s end elevation is 5,785 but you’ll climb 1,488 to get there and the last quarter of the hike is traversed over narrow rocks with chains attached that act as handholds.  We found the hike a great workout and muscle slayer and the height factor wasn’t an issue. Neither  my guy nor I become terribly unnerved by sheer drops as long as the ground is secure and it was.

After the hike, we headed out of the park and went in search of some free camping we’d sniffed out on the internet (located 2 miles northeast of highway 9 on Kolob Terrace Rd.). *Look for campsites along the creek as there is no sign, the sites were visible if you arrive before dark; we failed the first night when we arrived too late and took a site only a few hundred feet off the road. This was less than ideal but the scenery and gurgling brook made for great ambiance when partnered with our campfire dinner of home made olive hummus, pita chips, cheese, tomatoes, and Kalamata olives. Gourmet food at an On A Dime price and free camping were a stellar combo at the end of the six hour drive.

At this point I want to share that free camping is the bomb but often you have to kick back and be open to what is offered up. As I noted, our first night of freebie sleep was a bit too close to the road but the second spot we found was outrageously perfect, complete with a stone filled creek that we chilled out in while soaking our sore muscles. We simply plopped our chairs into the water, grabbed our books, and cracked open a bottle of Not Your Father’s Root Beer (this beer is unbelievable but beware, it tastes just like root beer so don’t inadvertently go overboard).

River at camp
Camping creekside

After an amazing second night dinner of hamburgers over the grill with sauteed mushrooms, cheese and grilled onions as well as salad with feta and olives, we made a campfire with wood brought from home and kicked it back. A good portion of our food as well as all alcohol and firewood was brought along on this trip and not purchased while traveling. This saved enormous money which we applied to slight splurges here and there like Oscar’s Cafe where we grabbed and split The Green Chili Horseshoe breakfast before returning to Zion. **When splitting, remember to not penalize the waitstaff on tip/double the cost when figuring the tip.

After breakfast we headed for a hike in The Narrows and this proved to be the perfect cold water RX for the muscle shred, courtesy of Angel’s Landing. The Narrows is crowded toward the start of trailhead but the farther one hikes in, the more the crowd diminishes. The only regret on this adventure was that we did not have more time.

***BE CERTAIN TO TAKE TREKKING POLES! I went sans pole a year previous and was pretty miserable as I could not see beneath the churning water and was constantly crashing up against rocks and trying not to fall. This time around I had trek poles and the experience was truly amazing.

Teri Zion

Scott & Teri Narrows
Scott and Teri in The Narrows
Slot canyons provide amazing light at certain times of the day
Slot canyons provide amazing light at certain times of the day

At the end of our day hike, we vacated the shuttle and explored a very simple trail near the Visitors Center. This smooth path offered up wonderful views, river stop offs, and was open to Zion’s main campground. It was friendly to both strollers and wheelchairs for long stretches. **Camping in the actual park must be reserved in advance as it fills early. **FEES – It is a $30 entrance fee (for 7 days) per car if you drive into the park so if you are traveling alone consider parking right out side the park (literally a few blocks from the entrance and there are constant freebie trams) as this will have you pay only $15 for a “walk in” fee.

Leaving Zion was hard but it is my hope to return and trek more of the trails on a future trip.  We followed up Zion with a wonderful stop off on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon where we camped again for free before moving on to the South Rim. All told, for seven nights of camping we spent $60 (Mather Campground in the South Rim is $18 per night with a $6 reservation fee). Four of our seven nights were freebies.

Put Zion on your list and start packing!


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