Friday, October 26, 2012

Zion National Park - Main Canyon

We've relocated to Hurricane, UT. It's a great central location for exploring Zion National Park and the many, many hiking and biking trails in Hurricane and St George area.

The main canyon of Zion National Park utilizes a shuttle system from April through October in order to control the chaos and possible destruction of natural resources that could otherwise result from the amount of visitors this popular National Park receives. We knew we'd be among crowds in the park, but were happy we'd arrived in fall, when the crowds would be fewer than in the summer months.

Shuttles run continuously and frequently all day long making it an easy system to use. We never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a shuttle.

We started off our day at the park by taking the shuttle all the way to the last stop: Temple of Sinawava. This stop has a short riverside trail that leads to the famous Narrows hike, where you can hike in the river into slot canyons...not on our list of things to do right now!

You can see two people in wetsuits walking upriver to hike The Narrows.
It takes a while for the sun to reach the canyon floor among these giant rock walls!

The Virgin River has cut this canyon. Cottonwoods thrive from its waters and 250 million years of rock soar above as
the morning light cuts in between these walls of rock.

After the short warm up hike (it was 37 degrees at 9am in the canyon...we needed to warm up!) we hopped back on the shuttle and headed back to The Grotto stop.

Our chosen hike for the day, the Angels Landing hike, had been recommended to us by two different chance meetings with hikers over the past week. It was hailed as an amazing perspective on the canyon, challenging but worth it! We were told there are some sections with chain to hang on to near the top. We were forewarned!

Angel's Landing trail takes you to the top of one of the giants towering above us. According to the sign at the trail head, six people have fallen to their deaths since 2004. A rather ominous start.

Angel's Landing is on top of the peak at center left.

The trail gains 1,488 feet in 2.4 miles over numerous switchbacks. The thing that surprised me most was the trail was paved most of the way! Surprising, but understandable due to the potential for erosion and the hoards of people that travel it each day...but kind of disappointing too. Kinda takes away from the whole nature thing that really appeals to me, though it certainly made the steeper sections easier.

As we got closer we could see tiny specks of people crossing the chiseled out section
near the top of that rock! Then we also saw people zig-zagging across the left side of that same rock!
This is the "short" rock to the left of Angel's Landing in the picture above.

Looking back at the switchbacks we just ascended. These were on the side of the rock in the picture above.
You can see tiny people about halfway down.

Looking back down the valley we've left behind. The trail began at the river at the far edge of the sunlight.

The trail continues between two giant fingers for a good quarter mile, with the one on our right being our final destination:

Some neat sandstone formations along the way...most of the stone we are traveling through
was once sand dunes, petrified over millenia.

Arriving at the backside of the rock we were attempting to conquer, we discovered another set of switchbacks:

Looking down on another set of switchbacks we just ascended, up the backside of the Angel's Landing rock.

We arrived on a large boulder strewn plateau. The views into the valley below were stunning. Ahead of us we could see people crawling up the side of the next rock hanging on to chains:

Angel's Landing is still ahead of us. Many folks stop here to decide if they really want to continue on those chains up the side of the rock.

We decided stop and catch our breath from the climb and eat lunch, fortifying ourselves for the craziness ahead.

We'd made it to Angel's Landing...or so we thought!

Sitting on top of the world (he believes)!

Turns out, there was still almost half a mile to go:

To reach Angel's Landing you must traverse the narrow ribbon of rock!

Here you can see the hardy souls clambering up the side of the rock and walking on top of the world:

See the tiny people going up the side and on the top?

We decided the thrill of continuing was actually more akin to severe anxiety and decided we'd gone far enough! So we just enjoyed the view for a bit longer before attempting the return down the chains.

Close enough to the top  of the world!

Yeah, there's a bit of a drop...
We made it back to the canyon floor (obviously!) and enjoyed a long walk along the river. Zion is a spectacular place and I'm very happy it has been protected by the park service; I'd love to see it when there are fewer people around...I'm spoiled by the equally picturesque non-park trails that can be found nearby. We'll be seeking some of those out in the days to come.


  1. You are brave! I'm afraid of steep drop offs. But the hike looks beautiful. We may have to try it next time we're there.

    We were there early around July or August a few years ago and did the hike into the water in The Narrows. That was awesome. The water never got over the tops of our thighs and averaged between ankle and knee depth. We spent three hours hiking out and back. Very memorable.

    1. What was the water temp like? Sounds like an awesome experience. Right now the water is pretty darn cold!

  2. Thanks for sharing your trip and photos. It reminded us we definitely need to revisit and spend more time exploring Zion. I'm with you...that's as far as I would've gone on that hike!

    1. Yep! There was no need to test ourselves any further, it had been plenty exciting to that point!

      Thanks for reading!