This is our second time visiting Zion (our first being in 2017) but visitation was a bit different this time due to COVID. We thought we could roll up and take the Zion shuttle to get to the different trailheads like we did last time. NOPE. You need to have a shuttle ticket in order to board, and the number of tickets are limited.
They open up reservations for the next day’s shuttle at 5pm and you have to be at your computer ready to reserve one because they are gone within 5 min. Somehow I didn’t see ANY info about this when I looked up the shuttle, just that they resumed running it in mid-March. So we were in for a pleasant surprise when we arrived! However, we still completed two hikes without needing the shuttle, and here’s how we did it:
This was a hike up a mountain overlooking beautiful views of the park and even bits of Springdale. I guess I should have known that it meant we would be climbing up a mountain in order to get those views, but it didn’t occur to me that I’d be climbing the entire time! It’s a 2.5 hour hike round trip. My poor legs weren’t ready for it after our 8 mi hike in Bryce the day before. But do it for the gram, right?
The trailhead starts at the Visitor Center, so no shuttle needed! We walked right on in (we flashed our National Parks pass ) and just followed the signs that directed us to the Watchman trail. It actually splits off the Parus Trail, so you can at the last minute decide to do either hike. They both take about the same amount of time, but the Watchman is more strenuous because of all the climbing.
I was ready to do this hike during dusk to get some beautiful sunset shots, but it was cloudy the day we went…so no sunset.
Enjoying the view from the top
But! There is an additional little Loop Trail at the very top where you can get even better views of the park from all angles. I was surprised that nobody was on it. We got the entire trail to ourselves. Maybe people made it to the top and were too tired to go on? But it was my favorite part of the entire hike, so make sure you don’t miss it!
On the Loop Trail
You can see the rest of the park from this view
Coming down we saw a surprise. I saw a flash of white in front of me and realized it was a MOUNTAIN GOAT on the trail! Our excited exclamations scared it off because it quickly leaped up into the cliffs, never to be seen again. But I was astounded by how large it was. It was probably chest height. It’s horns probably made it look even taller. Don’t mess with a mountain goat!
The Narrows is an incredible hike where you are walking up the Virgin River. It is possible to go from top down, but that requires a license. So most people hike from bottom up, and that’s what we did. Either way, yes, you will get wet!
We actually attempted the Narrows the last time we came in July 2017. Right after we entered the water, it started to rain. The chance of a flash flood was very high because of the thunderstorm, so we got out as soon as possible. But there was still a 1 mile Riverwalk Trail to get to the shuttle! We hightailed it out of there but still got soaked!
As a result, I entertained the idea of hiking the Narrows again, properly this time. Our friend also influenced us a bit because of his own incredible experience hiking it during the winter! Even though we were here in early April, the water was still incredibly cold…42 degrees! So a dry suit was absolutely necessary, as well as proper footgear. We rented dry pants, neoprene socks, boots, and a hiking stick from Zion Adventure Co, as advised by my friend. There are many other gear rental companies in Springdale, though, so you can take your pick.
We ended up also booking a shuttle ride with the company to guarantee a ride up to the Temple of Sinawava and back. After seeing the sheer number of people (still!) waiting for the shuttle to get back, I am glad we did this despite the price ($40/person). This is how we were able to hike in Zion without needing to ride the shuttle.
I saw young kids all suited up and ready to hike the Narrows despite the cold, rushing water. As a result, I hyped myself up by thinking that if a 5 yr old can do it, surely can I! I was so grateful for my two pairs of neoprene socks and two pairs of pants under my dry suit. The water was cold but it hardly bothered me at all. On the other hand, I was terrified of falling in and ruining my camera gear when crossing the rapid waters over slippery rocks!
I had to tell myself to take it slow and to have sure footing before taking another step. The hiking sticks were also SUPER helpful. I probably would’ve fallen if I didn’t have one. It was a mentally and physically taxing hike because of this. But not so for HB! He told me he felt pretty relaxed and peaceful while doing the hike. Oh, if only we can all keep calm and carry on like him!
I originally thought the entire hike would be in the water only. That was not completely true; there were parts of the hike where we could go up on land too. But it is what you make it; if you want to hike those parts in the water, you can do so!
So the scene that HB was trying to recreate here was this one from LOTR but he told me the wrong pose
The highest the water ever got for us was up to our crotch! Talk about a cold shock! I am very impressed by little kids who do this hike. They are practically swimming in some parts!
We ended up going all the way down past Wall Street to Floating Rock before turning back. Any further and the water would’ve reached our chest, and I’m not interested in swimming in the cold!
It took us 2.5 hrs to get up there, with a little detour down the right side of the junction. It was a narrower canyon, Orderville Canyon. The water was also much more shallow, perhaps only ankle deep. This turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the hike because it was easy (ha) and it was nice and quiet. Few people chose to go down there.
Going back was definitely easier. We were going with the flow of the river, so it only took us about 2 hrs to get back. The sun was also out by this time, so I was glad that we started the hike in the morning around 9am where there were fewer people and no sun beating down my back.
Compared to our last attempt in the summer, there were far fewer people on this hike in April. In the summer, you don’t need all the gear (though sturdy boots are a good idea to avoid twisted ankles) but you’ll have crowds. I’m pretty happy with my Narrows experience where even though it was costly to rent the gear and shuttle, it was worth having fewer people in the river with me. There’s stretches of land where it can get pretty congested. Also, the biggest perk - no people in the background of my pics!
Once we made it back to the mouth of the river, I was very relieved and proud that I did not fall in the river! There were a few times where my hiking stick saved me. Crossing the river where the water reached my thigh and pushed against me proved a little tricky. Once again, don’t overlook having a stick!
It seems that every time we come to Zion we do a hike marked “strenuous” - last time it was Angel’s Landing and now The Narrows! I’m proud of myself for having done both. And now we can just sit back, relax, and not do another hike again for a year (lol).
Below are the places that we really liked and would recommend.
We tried two different restaurants in Springdale and there was a clear winner. Oscar’s Cafe was our favorite. They had a good selection of burgers and Mexican food. Their service was also friendly and speedy. We also didn’t have to wait very long for a table despite coming during the lunch rush. We didn’t realize how important speed was to us until we waited for AN HOUR to be seated at the other restaurant when the estimated wait time was 30 min. Then we waited another 30 min for our food. Nah, just stick with Oscar’s and you’ll have a good, ½ lb burger in your belly in no time.
A little birdie told us that Springdale Candy Company had the best ice cream in town. We tried it and it is indeed good. They have your classic ice cream flavors and then some. I tried strawberry + huckleberry but preferred strawberry a little more. But it was my first time trying huckleberry, which was like a mix of blue and raspberry, so if you like berry-heavy flavors, you might enjoy it!
Souvenirs + essentials
I picked up my souvenir t-shirt from Hoodoos General Store. But the store also sold a bunch of other stuff such as snacks/quick meals, a deli, and camping essentials.
Have you been to Zion National Park? What would you recommend to see/do around there?