I was lucky to spend 1.5 days in Zion National Park with B + M in September. I had driven through Zion a couple of times before and can’t really say why we had never made time to spend a day or two at the park itself. I guess we were always ‘squeezed for time’ and prioritized other destinations. But what a mistake!
Come to find out: Zion is an amazing park! Duh!
There is lodging in Springdale, right outside the southern entrance of the park, but as you can guess: it’s expensive. At least for students on a tight budget. There is also a lodge inside the park, but again, out of our price range. The cheapest option we could find was an AirBnB in Kanab, which is about an hour east outside of the park. It wasn’t ideal (especially since we were coming back to the park the next day), but it was also not completely terrible. After all, the drive was scenic and relatively uncrowded.
If you want to ask why we didn’t stay at one of the campgrounds in the park and its vicinity, the easy answer is: I am not an experienced camper (especially not with the wildlife that is present in the Southwestern US) and we weren’t equipped for it. I also suspect (although I didn’t check because of the above reasons) that it would have been difficult to find a campsite on relatively short notice (at least in Yosemite NP, campgrounds are booked months in advance).
Either way, the AirBnb worked out just fine and I would recommend it. (See more travel tips below.)
We had 1.5 days in the park and had to decide which hikes we wanted to do. We settled on the Upper and Lower Emerald Pools for the first half day and Angel’s Landing for the full day.
We parked our car near the Visitor’s Center and hopped on the shuttle bus that loops through the park.
We got off the bus at “Zion Lodge ” and entered the trailhead to the Emerald Pools Loop Trail. It’s a 2.5 mile round-trip hike to all three – upper, middle, and lower pools.
Zion Lodge Trailhead
The trail was partially paved and only the trail part to the upper pool had a bit of a steeper part. It was the perfect hike for the first day. The views were gorgeous and the waterfalls and pools almost a bit of a surprise in the otherwise arid climate.
Upper Emerald Pools
Lower Emerald Pools
Before we left the park to head to our lodging in Kanab, we stopped to hike the Canyon Overlook Trail. We had a bit of time to spare and it’s a 1-mile round trip (moderate) hike to an overlook of lower Zion Canyon.
We almost turned around after a close encounter with some wildlife. I had just told M that yes, there were some unusual (for German standards) animals in the southwest but that I had never ecountered any in all the years that I lived here, when M stopped dead in her tracks and pointed at the trail ahead of us: a tarantula.
I know, I know, the tarantula was probably more scared of us than we were of her, but it definitely took us a minute to ‘squeeze’ by her. (I know, I am a wuss.) I can now appreciate the experience of seeing a tarantula in the wild, especially because one is apparently quite lucky to see them out during the day.
The Canyon Overlook is the only trail I had previously hiked with my parents and we arrived at the perfect time to enjoy a beautiful sunset.
This was the road out of the park to Kanab. Not a bad view, right?
Some travel tips:
+ If you’re looking for cheaper lodging, stay in Kanab. It’s about an hour outside of Zion National Park, but it’s definitely not too bad of a drive, even if you’re looking to spend multiple days in the park.
+ Kanab has a supermarket where we stocked up on water, snacks, breakfast, and lunch food. As I mentioned, B + M are students and were on the budget, so we tried to keep the cost for eating out as low as possible.
+ Bring water bottles. You can refill your water bottles in the park for free, but food is expensive.
+ If you plan to visit more than 2 National Parks on your trip, consider getting the annual National Park Pass. Entry for each park (per car) is around $30-40, but the National Park Pass grants you entry to all parks and only costs $80. You can save quite a bit if you’re visiting multiple parks on your trip.
Make sure to check back for the recap of our hike of Angel’s Landing.