In the southwest corner of Utah is an unexpected treasure trove of national parks and monuments that will take your breath away. Literally.
At these higher altitudes, flatlanders may have a little difficulty breathing and hiking.
But once you get acclimated (plan for a couple of days), head out to enjoy the parks gracing this wild and wonderful land. The two featured in this post are Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.
Each is beautiful in unique ways as the terrain varies from one to another. Here are 3 things to know about each — before you go.
Bryce Canyon hoodoos
1. Take a hike.
Bryce hikes are ethereal with their red rock spires and sprawling canyon bottom.
You can view the hoodoos from below or above. Just know that it’s a long ways down, and seemingly longer way back up (with no elevator). Take your time and take plenty of water.
If you suffer from altitude sickness, this might be your best bet of where to start your trek as it’s at a lower altitude.
2. The weather can change rapidly.
You could start out cold with hats and gloves on and then peel of the layers as it heats up.
Take at least a small backpack to gather all your belongings (and carry plenty of water and snacks) as you will need your hands free for hiking (preferably with sturdy shoes and hiking sticks). Stay on the trail and time your hike so you’re out well before dark.
3. Stay overnight then start early.
Stay here for at least a night to capture sunset over the hoodoos and then get an early start on the round-trip loop to the bottom of the canyon. One, maybe two, day would suffice here as it is a relatively small park.
One of the best hikes starts from the lodge and proceeds southwest toward Sunset Point to take the switchbacks down through Wall Street. The crack through this towering cliff forms an entrance to this other world of red rock. Then take the Navajo Loop Trail your way along the creek bed and up through the Queen’s Garden and back to the visitor center. It’s a few-mile hike and, other than the trek up to the Queen’s Garden and out, it’s fairly level along the canyon floor.
That slog up the cliff is a bit grueling, but there are plenty of benches to sit, catch your breath and look out at the hoodoo formations.
1. Stay at the lodge.
The logistics of Zion are wide open to those who sleep at one of the cabins or the lodge rooms.
The shuttle bus stops right out front, taking you deeper into the park. Plus, you’ll get the red pass that allows you to drive into the park to the lodge (others will be stopped at the visitor’s center and required to take a shuttle). Plus, the lodge is old school awesome with rooms nicely appointed.
You can rest during the heat of the day and go back out for mornings and sunsets.
2. Plan for at least two or three days here.
There are a lot of hikes through the park, and they take quite a bit of time.
If you only do a day, you’ll be scrambling to fit in just a small fraction of what the park offers. You can drive just outside of the park for restaurants, or eat at the lodge. There are even rentable bikes and racks so you can take your bike back into the park and explore if you want to avoid the shuttles.
Plenty of options abound to enjoy a few days in this peaceful place.
3. Take heed of these don’t miss spots.
The lower, middle and upper Emerald Pools hike takes you up high enough for iconic views of the cliff walls of Zion and the river that runs through it. If you go in the spring or early summer, you’re more likely to have super photogenic falls, whereas in the fall, it might be more of a trickle.
Here’s what you need to know: It’s worth it.
Make sure to pack plenty of water, have layers (weather can also change rapidly here), a shady hat, sturdy hiking boots, a map, and hiking sticks.
Once you leave Zion, go the back way through the tunnel and south. The views are spectacular as you exit Zion this way.
NOTE: Both of these national parks are phenomenal, making for great photos and a whole lot of peace and serenity once you get on the trails. For those with mobility issues, there are plenty of paved paths around Bryce’s canyon rim, and Zion has bike and walking paths all along the canyon bottom for glorious heavenward view.