How to spend a day in Zion National Park

This November I went on an absurd road trip starting in Las Vegas, all the way around Utah, through Arizona and ending at the Grand Canyon. It was exhausting, it was glorious, and it was everything in between. Our first stop after Las Vegas was Zion National Park, two and a half hours from the city it would make a great side trip from Vegas, and quite a peaceful drive.

zion_national_park_We left sin city early in the morning and were surprised when we realized we traveled through a time zone. What I thought would be breakfast at Deep Creek Coffee Co [932 Zion Park Blvd, Springdale, UT 84767] turned into an early lunch. Either way, this is an awesome spot to start your day in the park, just a few minutes from the entrance. Springdale is a kitschy little tourist town, there are some gems and this is certainly one. The sky blue building is home to some relaxed workers who will fix you up some honest food. I really liked the natural scenes in the artwork on the walls, and the air plants strung about. We put our order in for sandwiches and fresh made juices and waited a while for them to finish. First perusing the adjacent store with some cool doodads, then in the sunshine till our order appeared.

deep_creek-Coffee_co_2There are tables inside, outside, and a cool little balcony to sit and eat. The juice tasted just right and I enjoyed getting those fruits and veggies in. The sandwich was simple and downright delicious.

deep_creek_coffee_co_1The bread was soft and fresh, greens were plentiful, nice amount of good quality turkey, a bit of red onion for acidity, and a healthy slathering of chipotle aioli finished things right. We even got a scone to go for an afternoon snack on the trails.

deep_creek_coffee_co_5This power food would bring us through a serious day of hiking totaling 9.5 miles. We continued down the road from the restaurant and in just a few minutes we were in the park. Zion is so different from all of the National Parks in Utah. There is so much color! And trees! And a flowing river! It’s a truly majestic place to behold and you can enjoy it through driving the scenic road, stopping off at viewpoints, or picking any array of hikes. We loved our November visit, we were lucky to catch a warm sunny day…there weren’t too many people…and we were able to drive our own car instead of taking the shuttle. As long as you are lucky enough and have good weather, this is the perfect time of year to visit. Here are the trails, roads, and sights we chose for our day in Zion:

We drove the entire length of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, seven miles and our first stop was Angels Landing. This is one of the signature Zion hikes, five miles round trip out and back, and a whole lot to see. Things start off pretty mild. You cross and then follow the Virgin River, things are relatively flat, and stunningly gorgeous.

angels_landing_zion_Jeff spotted this adorably ugly Jerusalem cricket.

angels_landing_zion_1Upon further research we found that these critters can be kept as pets! While they can give a painful bite, they normally won’t hurt you if they are comfortable and fed. The trail begins to pick up pace with a series of switchbacks. In between huffing and puffing take in that view, my oh my.

angels_landing_zion_8Be comforted in the fact that this is a paved trail, it makes the hike so much easier than gritting over rough terrain. You will find yourself between a rock and a…forested area.

angels_landing_zion_3It’s very pretty. The rocks are all so interesting on account of wind erosion.

angels_landing_zion_2Keep heading up, up, up and you will find yourself at a scenic outlook high above most. Many people seemed to be picnicking here, or stopping here because what’s next…well, it may freak some people out. A razor sharp edge where you must pull yourself along with the help of some chains bolted into the rock.

angels_landing_zion_4Really, it’s not so bad! Steel your nerves and go for it. You may be lucky enough to spot a California Condor on top, and you’ll feel on top of the world!

angels_landing_zion_6 angels_landing_zion_5 angels_landing_zion_7We made a speedy descent, running at some times, down to enjoy the rest of the day. We made a pit stop to check out Weeping Rock next. It was just a .5 mile round trip out and back trail. I enjoyed this little sight which may be the perfect length for those who are not hiking enthusiasts, but I wouldn’t classify it as a ‘must see’ for those who are short on time. The steep little trail was colorful in the fall, really beautiful as you gain a bit of elevation.

weeping_rock_zion_1 weeping_rock_zion_2When you get to the rock sprinkles of water feel great, but don’t drink from it! There may be harmful bacteria in the water.

weeping_rock_zion_So we made our way down and headed to the end of the scenic road where the Riverside Walk begins. This is another quintessential Zion hike, and the two-mile round trip out and back stroll is ever so lovely. With little elevation gain and a paved trail, anyone who enjoys a good walk should try it out. You walk alongside the picturesque green Virgin River with vibrant red rocks for an impeccable contrast.

riverside_walk_zion_The water is so pure, this is also the start of a hike called the Narrows which we did not do.

riverside_walk_zion_4You actually hike in the river…a tad bit too cold for me in November for that business. Back to the riverside though, I loved seeing this calm dragonfly who didn’t mind posing for a picture along the path.

riverside_walk_zion_1The ferns hanging from the cliffs were particularly delicate and attractive.

riverside_walk_zion_3After we made our way back to the car we started heading back where we came to pick up our last hike of the day. We still had a little bit of spunk left, just enough to do the Emerald Pools Trail. The two-mile round trip loop was full of unique sights, including a waterfall!

emerald_pools_trail_zion_You start off once again following the river and make your way to each pool.

emerald_pools_trail_zion_3 emerald_pools_trail_zion_4 emerald_pools_trail_zion_2To me it was most interesting to see the stains on the cliffs made by the water, very striking.

emerald_pools_trail_zion_1We were sufficiently hiked out for the day, but not ready to quit the park just yet. At the top of Angels Landing we talked to a man who insisted we check out the Zion-Mount Carmel Road, dubbing it as another stratosphere. We were intrigued. So on the road we went. I was just commenting how the road in Zion was so nice and flat, a relaxing drive compared to Kings Canyon or Yosemite. I was eating my words on this road! Switchbacks, hairpin turns, but the views! Oh the views are absolutely worth it. Once you make it through the tunnel the world is truly transformed in the words of that man, to another stratosphere. The rocks change into the strangest strawberry and cream formations.

zion_national_park_1 zion_national_park_2 zion_national_park_4 zion_national_park_8If you have the energy you may want to check out the Canyon Overlook Trail in this area, we didn’t so it’ll be on the top of our list for next time. Eventually driving down the road you will get to Checkerboard Mesa and think, how the…

zion_national_park_3Seriously though, how on earth was this strange rock formed?! I’ve never seen anything like it. We caught the sunset from the viewpoint there, and headed back into Springdale for dinner. On our way back I was still in total awe of the rock formations and then all the sudden we were at a standstill. I had the initial agitation of hitting traffic before I realized – big horned sheep! People were stopping to observe them, and they didn’t seem to mind at all.

zion_national_park_5 zion_national_park_7Our first serious wildlife sighting and we were so ecstatic. We even saw two youngsters butting heads.

zion_national_park_6So cool. We winded our way back down and ended up at dinner in the Spotted Dog Café [428 Zion Park Blvd, Springdale, UT 84767]. The place was pretty crowded, but after just a few minutes of waiting we were seated with no reservations. However, I would imagine it would be really important to have reservations during the high season. Dinner here was very agreeable after our long day. There were high ceilings, great art, and a lot of succulent plants inside. The complimentary bread was a bit unusual, but welcomed. It was thin and pita-like accompanied by a barbeque-ish dipping sauce. Jeff dug into a wild game meatloaf with mashed potatoes and veggies, he loved this comforting meal.

spotted_dog_cafe_springdale_I went for a rocky mountain red trout on a bed of rice, and even though it was a huge portion I finished every last bite, I could hardly get enough of it!

spotted_dog_cafe_springdale_1The fish was perfectly flaky and I loved the pepita, or pumpkin seed seasoning. The the rice was awesome, and the veggies were so tender. It wasn’t just because I was famished, this was a seriously splendid meal. Even though we were stuffed we decided to split a dessert. I let Jeff choose and he went for the pancetta. It was probably the last thing on the list I would have chosen, but I’m really glad he wanted it because it was heavenly! The sweetness of the cream was offset by balsamic vinegar which sounded strange to me but worked. It was topped with fresh strawberries and coconut shavings, a wonderful combination. The day was long, the day was good, the only thing was…we had to drive over that crazy road again to get to Mount Carmel where our accommodations were for the night. It was pitch black out, we just took it slow and even stopped off to stargaze for a little while. The sky was so astoundingly clear, you could see the milky way. We made it safely to the Zion Ponderosa Ranch [Zion Ponderosa Twin Knolls Road, Mt Carmel, UT 84755] where we would stay for the night. Since we are out and about almost all day when we travel, I don’t care where we stay. Whatever is affordable and convenient. The ranch happened to be both, and pretty need besides. We got our own little ‘cowboy cabin’ with comfy queen sized bunk beds, a big leather couch, and it had electricity. The only catch was no bathroom, you must take a short walk to the comfort station which was very nice. In November it was cold, and I didn’t want to leave the comfortable cabin in the middle of the night! Next morning we woke up to a snowstorm.

zion_ponderosa_ranchWe ate a great complimentary breakfast and left Zion to head for Bryce – where the adventure continued! We had a crazy, amazing, unforgettable time in Zion National Park.

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