This June found us on the road headed to ZION NATIONAL PARK. A tour of the Utah parks was a bucket list item that finally bubbled to the top of the bucket so we packed the Jeep, booked the essentials and set off. Zion in the summer is a popular choice, even with the scorching temperatures. Brent and I agreed that for a romantic three-day getaway, Zion was perfection.
How To Get The Most Out Of Three Romantic Days In Zion National Park
You may remember our HALF DOME ADVENTURE in Yosemite a few years back. It had been awhile since we embarked on a hiking adventure such as Zion could provide. The experience so far outran expectation I have to share it with you immediately!
Below is a step-by-step on how to get the most out of your Zion adventure.
WHERE TO STAY – Of course, the first thing you are going to have to do is find a place to lay your weary hiking body at the end of the day. SPRINGDALE, a town that hugs up against the entrance to the park, is the obvious choice. Its location is attractive, and its rating on my “adorable meter” is exceptionally high. There are plenty of hotels to choose from that are the traditional, family style, pee in the pool, kind of places. They are suitable for sure. But Brent and I wanted something a little more private. We chose the WATCHMAN VILLAS for one reason, (other than we booked late and most places were sold out), they looked roomy. If you have traveled with me, you know my crap starts as a tight self-sufficient ball of gear and as the week goes on it expands like a virus infecting the entire confines of whatever space I inhabit. The Watchman Villas looked roomy and new (another thing that is hard to find in National Park focused hotel. They tend to be all “Smoky the Bear and lumberjack-ish” Not the villas. Tucked behind the visitor’s center, the Watchman Villas are not a hotel at all but a series of apartments, with full kitchens, access to laundry and lovely little decks. They are quiet and spacious, and Brent and I were ecstatic the moment we opened the door. If you are looking for a pool, sadly there is not one although you have access to use the one at the hotel about a mile down the road.
Who needed a pool when the tub was the most wonderful, long and roomy bath experience I had ever had the pleasure of enjoying in a rental. This felt a lot more like a well-appointed VRBO with care and attention to every detail.
After staying for the week, there is one other hotel that caught my attention. A little closer to the action, right near the entrance to the park is the DESERT PEARL HOTEL, a newly renovated motel that had the most adorable lobby (had to use the bathroom) with cookies, and water and lovely little retro touches. It looked like a hip family place but would also serve well for a couple. They have a wonderful pool, and they are connected to MOKI restaurant, one of the fabulous spots I will mention in the eating section below.
SHUTTLE SERVICE – Zion has it going on. During the high season, from March to November. There is a shuttle that runs every fifteen minutes or so. There are nine stops, and you easily topple out to whatever trailhead you are hoping to navigate that day. For added convenience, Springdale has a coordinating free shuttle that takes you from anywhere in Springdale to the Zion Visitors Center just inside the park where the park shuttle has its first stop. The convenience of the shuttle makes the trip! The downside is that if you don’t land at the ZION VISITOR CENTER early, prepare to stand in line. Sometimes upwards of two hours!
With the exception of the first day (newbies), we were there no later than 7:30 and waited only 10-30 minutes. When we returned from our hikes around eleven, the line was at least 90 minutes. It is worth so much to get up at the crack of dawn (lots of nap time available in the heat of the day) and get underway. Also, the earlier you get started, the less crowded the trails and with our first hike, you are going to want to minimize traffic.
HIKING YOUR HEART OUT
DAY ONE – ANGELS LANDING
Starting from the Zion Visitor’s Center in the park we waited in the line-up for the shuttle for approximately 45 minutes (This was at 8:00 AM, we learned our lesson and showed up earlier the next morning) There are nine stops on the shuttle and ANGELS LANDING is shuttle stop six. The trailhead is well-marked; Just walk the bridge across the road from the shuttle stop and bathrooms.
One of the most popular hikes in Zion, the crowds at Angel’s Landing can be like Walmart on a Saturday. The problem with this hike being heavily trafficked is that the pinnacle section of the hike is a series of chains that “cresters” and “decenders” must climb past each other to navigate. Having conquered the cables at Half Dome, I was surprised to find that this freaked even me out. That is the bad news. The good news is the hike is a wonderful variety of switchbacks and straights, and the views are nothing short of breathtaking.
We saw all levels and ages making their way up and enjoyed overhearing dozens of different languages. After the first set of chains, which are not bad at all, we paused on a pre-landing of sorts where you can catch your breath before taking the last set of chains to the top. We considered going further, but when we saw hundreds of people trying to work their way up and down on the precarious chains, we decided the first landing was enough for us.
The shuttle driver actually says as you disembark “People have died on Angel’s Landing, watch your step.” Had we got an earlier start it would not have been a problem but knowing when to say “Nope, this is good enough for today” is key for safety.
ADD-ON- WEST RIM – As we turned to go down from the first landing we saw a trail off to the right. I felt like I wanted a little more mileage (I like to earn my nap) and Brent followed. Apparently, we were on the WEST RIM TRAIL, an 18 miler that backpackers take 1-2 days to complete. We could have continued for many miles but we enjoyed it for just two miles and turned around to make our we back down the way we had come up. We, ready for an early lunch, shuttled back to the Visitors Center and made our way past the shocking line.
FEED THE HUNGER DAY ONE – MOKI RESTAURANT – After Angel’s landing, some wine and crackers and cheese on our deck, a quick nap and short perusal of the shops, we were ready for an early dinner. When we passed MOKI on the way into the park that morning, the restaurant looked contemporary and had outdoor seating. Right up my alley. They welcomed us in, and we were seated in a perfect spot on the patio. We received the tiniest martinis known to man, but I did not complain, it is a “dry state” after all. The menu was local and varied and delicious. Although the service sucked, I blame that on the fact I think they are newly opened. The food was well worth waiting for the bill for twenty minutes.
DAY TWO – OBSERVATION POINT
Up earlier today, we hit the shuttle stop at seven. A much more appealing fifteen- minute wait and we were on our way. OBSERVATION POINT is stop seven, one more stop past Angel’s Landing. After a quick trip to the bathrooms well situated at the head of the trail, we were on our way. To the left, you could take the short trip to see WEEPING ROCK, but we kept our eye on the prize. The nine-mile loop of Observation point was my margarita-earning adventure for the day. Observation point is a strenuous and long hike that starts with some killer switchbacks. You round a corner and are rewarded with some gorgeous slot canyon action. Incredible views all the way up. This hike is one the most beautiful I have ever been on. Warning! You climb, climb, climb, and you think you are nearly there but then there are twenty minutes of heading down before you get to the actual point. Don’t dismay, you are on the right track and will be gifted with one of the most spectacular vistas on the planet. Beware, the squirrels are bold and will literally unzip your pack for a snack. Someone reported a Snickers bar being dragged across their view while taking a photo.
ADD-ON – EMERALD POOLS/ WEEPING ROCK – From this hike I recommend either taking a right at the bottom to get a direct view of the Weeping Rock, or you could hop the shuttle to stop 4 and do LOWER EMERALD POOL (1.5 loop), an easy but very crowded hike with a beautiful waterfall as a reward.
FEED THE HUNGER DAY TWO – I mentioned a margarita above and CASA DE AMIGOS did not disappoint. Freshly and traditionally made margaritas! I felt rejuvenated within one sip. The food at this restaurant was less than impressive. There is a competing Mexican restaurant across the street, DON PEDROS FAMILY MEXICAN RESTAURANT that I would have tried next, but for margaritas and chips, Casa De Amigos is your place.
Now for dinner, I did my research. THE SWITCHBACK GRILLE RESTAURANT was reputed to have a great steak. More about that later. We arrived before they opened and so took a look around the large SWITCHBACK TRADING COMPANY in between the Switchback Grille and the bar next door – Copious amount of tourist gifts and tchotchkes. Once our table was ready next door, we headed over and were seated in outrageous highback chairs. The service was exceptional and the drinks delicious. My filet was one of the best I have ever had, and Brent’s Caesar salad was the size of his head. The ambiance was a little dated and the vibe a little stale, but the Switchback Grille service and food were absolutely worth one of your three nights of dinner reservations.
DAY THREE – HIDDEN CANYON
Day three we searched and searched for the best way to spend our last hike in the park. We looked at The Canyons, going outside the park (see below) and several other options we found on ALLTRAILS (best app ever). We decided to head back to the trailhead of Observation Point hoping to get to ECHO CANYON, but we could not find it. We decided to take the HIDDEN CANYON trail to the right of the Observation Point trail after the switchbacks. Best. Decision. Ever. By far my favorite of all three. Less traveled, mysterious, highly varied and so so beautiful. Once you crest the initial climb, you are rewarded with some cliffside climbing with chains that offers the most spectacular canyon view. Once you are through the chains, you hike along a somewhat unmarked path to the arch – a rock formation in the form of, you guessed it, an arch. There is a bit of bouldering and maneuvering, but this is less strenuous from a cardio standpoint than either Angel’s Landing or Observation Point, a great way to finish the hiking portion of our trip.
ADD-ON – HISTORY OR WALK FROM SHUTTLE STOP 2-1 – There are two “add-ons” I would recommend here. Either stop at the Zion Lodge (stop 5) or the Human History Museum (stop 2) and have a little look around, or you can stop at drop off two and walk the last mile and a half back to the visitor center. The walk is flat and takes you through the campground, so you can get a view of those charmed enough to have secured a site!
FEED THE HUNGER DAY THREE – Have you ever actually slapped yourself. Well, I did. On the third night, we hit THE SPOTTED DOG CAFÉ, and I thought I was in for café food, but I was sorely mistaken. Chencha was a gracious waiter who provided us with delicious, well-made cocktails and a wonderfully diverse menu. I had a mahi-mahi dish and Chencha was more than accommodating for my gluten sensitivities. We sat outside in a cool corner of the patio and had a wonderful dining experience. If I had to pick one dinner restaurant from the three, The Spotted Dog Café would get my vote.
OTHER FOOD OPTIONS
DEEP CREEK COFFEE – Sad to say we only hit this sweet, sweet spot on the way out of town. Had I known I would have headed there every morning for the delicious coconut chai.
OSCARS – we popped our heads in but it was a little too casual for what we were looking for. But I will tell you it is the locals favorite for sure.
BIT AND SPUR– We had a reservation here but never made it in. The rumor is great burgers and fun ambiance.
SOL FOODS– Hit this place up for daily needs. It is one of the best stocked, small-town grocers I have encountered. They had an excellent assortment of snacks and gluten-free offerings.
SHOPS NOT TO MISS
Both days after hiking we perused the shops from the edge of town all the way to the entrance of the park. For such a small town there was a tremendous amount of excellent shopping. Our favorites.
LAFAVE GALLERY – this was all fancy pants with beautiful yard sculptures at the entrance and wide variety of jewelry, painting and sculpture work inside.
TOAQUIM’S VILLAGE – Great T-shirts and excellent variety of hiking gear.
ZION OUTDOOR – Great selection of hiking shoes and sandals.
WORTHINGTON GALLERY – Diverse collection of artists. A nice change from all the stores with us Zion park art!
THE PLACE ACROSS THE STREET – Hidden gym! Bought several pieces here.
HIKES FOR NEXT TIME
THE NARROWS RIVERSIDE WALK – 8-hour hike inside the park with walking sticks and water boots!
WATCHMAN TRAIL – Moderate 2-hour hike in the park
PINK SANDS – 50 minutes outside the park ( I sooo wanted to do this. No time!)
RED CLIFFS RECREATION AREA – 50 minutes from the park
PIPE SPRING NATIONAL MONUMENT – 1-hour drive outside the park
SNOW CANYON – 1-hour drive from the park
GRAND CANYON PRASHANT NATIONAL MONUMENT – 1.5 Hour drive from the park
See how easy? Now you can book your hotel and restaurant reservations with ease. If you have any questions about Zion, email me, and I will be happy to help. Enjoy your trip and until next time, Happy Hiking.
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