Visit UTAH: The Details of our trip to Zion and Bryce National Parks
So it's September 1st... and if you're a teacher like me, that not only means I'm back to work in just a few days, but the countdowns to vacation times automatically begin again.
I feel like my life is just a big series of countdowns... countdown to the end of the class period, to the weekend, to Columbus Day weekend, Veteran's Day weekend, Thanksgiving break, Christmas break... spring break... Memorial Day Weekend... and the list goes on and on. The only event I don't count down to is that start of school. In fact whenever someone mentions "just two more weeks until school starts" my response is always "Shhh...." because if we don't talk about it... maybe it won't happen... except it will.
Shad and I usually only do our vacations in the summer because most breaks are short and super expensive to fly during. We've been on a big "Tour the US through National Parks" kick for about a year now- and the great old US of A has not disappointed us one bit. There are SO many beautiful places to see within our country and with each trip I've been more and more amazed that these places actually exist within our country.
And while my blog is really geared towards decorating- I feel there's no better way to decorate your home than with pieces and photos you've collected from your travels, and I now strongly feel that there's no better way to fill your soul than to see the beautiful places that this world has to offer.
Enter... Zion National Park in Springdale, UT.
How did I hear about it? Shad and I were about a year and a half into the doldrums of a dark and emotional infertility journey and of course we couldn't really travel during this time. I was on social media watching all the great vacations my friends were taking- when I came across my friend Megan's breathtaking photos of herself hiking in Zion National Park. While I would never peg myself an "outdoorsy" type of person- I just couldn't believe this place was in the United States, and it was then that we decided that we had to see this place for ourselves.
Cost of the trip: The best part about trips like these is that they're relatively inexpensive. Once you pay for your airfare and hotel, most of your day is spent in nature which is Free! $1700 for the two of us through expedia which included: Airfare to Las Vegas, a rental car for 6 days, hotel for 5 nights, and travel insurance (because in my mind- as soon as I booked this trip I'd learn I was pregnant, but that's the funny thing about travel insurance, you buy it so you don't have to use it, and when you don't that's when s*** happens.)
Not included in that cost: the cost to enter the park, which I"ll get into later, and the cost of lunch and dinners (breakfast was included at our hotel stay, and lunch/dinner never exceeded $45 in the town of Springdale).
So this post will break down the specifics of our stay including:
Planning Information+ General Information about the Parks+ Hotel Details+ Hikes+ Places to Eat + Example Itineraries+ and other things to consider while planning
General Information about the Parks
Where is Zion and Bryce National Park ?
Zion and Bryce National Park are part of the Colorado Plateau and are located in Southern Utah, not far from Arizona. It’s a 2 ½ hour drive from Las Vegas, Nevada making McCarren National Airport an option to fly in to when traveling to Zion. Zion is located specifically in Springdale, Utah, and Bryce is an hour and 45 minute drive to the Northeast of Zion, located in Bryce City, Utah. Both parks give you the best of both worlds- in Zion you are down in the Canyon and you hike to trails that lead to the top. By comparison in Bryce, you are above the Canyon (just like the Grand Canyon) and can drive to different view points as well as hike down into the canyon. You can combine this trip with points of interest in Northern Arizona such as the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon (which I’ll talk about in another post), or more sites to the far east of Utah like the Arches or Grand Escalante (which we haven’t seen yet). On our first trip to Zion, I didn't realize how close Zion and Bryce were (remember I had never taken a trip like this before), so we spent our entire time in Zion. On our second trip to Utah, we added in a day at Bryce.
What to know before planning:
1. Consider the season. Winter snow and runoff in Zion and Bryce in the early spring can cause many trails to be closed. Summer is the most popular time to visit and temperatures can rise above 100 degrees. We visited both times in the summer due to our school schedule, and hiked early to not only avoid the heat, but also the crowds. Be sure to check both park's websites and social media to see if weather has caused any trail closures so you can adjust your itinerary prior to going.
2. Time Zone: If you fly in to Las Vegas it is in the Pacific Time Zone. Zion and Bryce are located in Mountain Time Zone- so although it’s a 2.5 hour drive, your clock will jump ahead an hour on your way to Zion and Bryce, and back an hour on your way back to Las Vegas. For example- we left Las Vegas at 6:30pm and arrived at 10pm. On the way back during our 4 hour drive, we left at 12pm and arrived at 3pm Las Vegas time.
3. How far apart of the parks? Zion is 2.5 hours from Las Vegas. Bryce is about an hour and 45 minutes from Zion. We chose to stay in Zion first and then travel to Bryce. It’s a 4 hour drive back to Las Vegas. Some people choose to do Bryce Canyon first and make their way back to Zion- it’s all up to your personal preference.
4. How much time should I plan for both parks? Zion is a much larger park and there’s more to see, 2-3 days in Zion will give you enough time to see the highlights. You could spend a week in Zion if you wanted to- 2 days will give you the best of Zion, three days would be ideal to give you the time to see the best of Zion with some downtime scheduled in there. Bryce is small in comparison to Zion and 1 day is all you would need to see the best of Bryce.
Zion National Park
Cost to get into the park:
The cost is $7 a person/day if you enter the park by Zion Outfitters, $35 a car for the week, or you can buy a National Park pass for $80. This covers all National Parks in the United States and a number of historical sites like the Statue of Liberty and Presidential Libraries for an entire year. Your national park pass also covers you and anyone you are with- so one person can buy the pass and all those with them can enter the park. You can even share the pass with one other person, and they can use it without you- as long as they sign the back of it. We bought the pass and not only used it for Bryce Canyon, but earlier trips in the summer to the Grand Canyon and Antelope Canyon. Note: if you have a 4th grader in your home- the National Park pass is free for them and covers your entire family as well. If you are 62 and over it’s also free, and I believe members of the military either get a discounted or a free pass.
Accommodations: Where did you stay?
There's actually quite a few options in the town of Springdale including camping within the park itself. But I myself am more of a "Glamp-er", which means I enjoy hiking and getting sweaty, but at the end of the day I want room service and a hot non-community shower.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Springdale, Utah, which is less than a mile from the entrance to Zion National Park . This hotel is brand new, and has the asethic of a beautiful lodge. There’s many options to stay in the town of Springdale, but what was a no-brainer for us because of reasonable price, proximity to the park, and free breakfast every morning from 6am-10am. (The breakfast has tons of options and is quite the spread). We packed our backpacks with muffins and fruit from the breakfast to eat while we were out hiking for the day and filled our camelbak’s with water from the water fountain in the dining area. In addition there’s a wine, liquor, and beer store in the parking lot at place called The Switchback. We bought wine here each afternoon and drank it by the firepit at night. Lastly, it’s located right in front of stop 6 on the free Springdale town shuttle, which can bring you into the park and to any of the restaurants and stores in town. The first shuttle pickup is 7:05am in front of the hotel during the summer months.
If you travel to Zion during the summer months, you cannot drive within the actual park itself, unless you are staying at the Zion Lodge (which is the only hotel located within the park itself.) We didn’t stay here because it was more expensive, didn’t include breakfast, and though historic, wasn’t as nice in our eyes as staying at the HIE. There are two shuttle bus systems within the town of Springdale: one is the free town shuttle which has 7 stops starting at the top of town, the last stop being at the entrance of the park; and the second is run by the National Park itself and also has 7 stops to take you to different areas within the park where you can begin different hikes. So essentially you could leave your car at the hotel for your entire stay (which we did on our first trip), and ride a combination of both shuttles. The town shuttle starts at 7am, the National Park Shuttle starts at 6am, both run every 10 minutes. On our second trip to Zion, we chose to drive the mile down to the park and parked within the parking lot so that we were able to get into the park a little earlier than 7am.
Seeing the Best of Zion: Top Hikes and Sites
1. Angel’s Landing (Park Shuttle Stop 6: The Grotto): Not for the faint of heart, this roughly 5-mile (round trip) hike was listed as one of the most dangerous hikes in the United States. The last quarter mile of this hike has 1000ft drop offs, but don't worry, only 6 people have died in the last decade or so since the park installed chains within the rock to assist you. (You can turn around before heading up to Angel's Landing in case you decide it's not for you.) Check the NPS's twitter before planning your hike here- an early July storm took out parts of this trail and it remained closed when we went on our second trip to Zion this summer in August- so we decided to hike to Observation Point instead.
2. The Narrows ( Stop 8: Temple of Sinawae): While Angel's Landing gives you sweeping views of the park from high up, the Narrows is a river hike down in the canyon. This hike can be up to 10 miles within the Virgin River, but we've only ever hiked to the 3-mile point that's called "Wall Street", then we've turned around to come back. The key to this hike is to watch the weather report prior to starting the hike. In the summer- thunderstorms can cause flash floods that swell the river up to 20 times what it normally is, in seconds. Each time we've hiked the Narrows the flash flood risk was deemed "Probable", but we headed out early in the morning and were out way before a thunderstorm hit. Start this hike as early as you can to avoid the crowds- we headed in around 7:20 in the morning- and it looked like Disney World when we were hiking our way out around 11am. Definitely rent the water shoes and hiking stick at Zion Outfitters at the entrance of the park. For a $25 rental you'll get water sneakers, socks, and a walking stick which is a life saver on slippery rocks.
3. Emerald Pools (Stop 6: The Grotto or Stop 5: Zion Lodge): This "hike" is more of a walk most of the way. You can start at the Zion Lodge (Stop 5) and head from the lower Emerald Pools up to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools. However, a worker at our hotel gave us the tip of getting off at Stop 6: The Grotto instead, and heading left on the Kayenta Trail. This way was so much better and we only saw 1 family our entire time. It brings you from the Upper Emerald Pool down to the Lower Emerald Pool and you end up at the Zion Lodge. (Definitely check out the Lodge and gift shop, very beautiful and historic.)
4. Weeping Rock and Observation Point (Stop 7: Weeping Rock): Weeping Rock is a very short 15 minute one way hike at Stop 7 that gives you beautiful views of a huge rock shelf that has spring and rain run off. Observation Point is a 8-mile round trip strenuous hike to the top of Zion National Park. The 4 miles to the top are straight up and a definite butt-burner. We found this hike way more strenuous than Angel's Landing due to the length of the hike in comparison to Angel's Landing. At Observation Point you will be looking down at Angel's Landing below and see the best views of the park. Bring lots of water- my mom thought her camelbak stopped working- but it turns out she drank of a liter of water just on the way up. Start out early with this hike as well- so the canyon walls will provide you with areas of shade for rest.
What else to see while there:
1. Zion Lodge (Stop 5): There's a gift shop and restaurant here. You can stay here to be within the park itself- if the free breakfast and parking lot wine store doesn't tickle your fancy at the Holiday Inn Express.
2. Human History Museum (Stop 2): will provide you with history of the park and a free 22 minute video on the founding of the park (played on the hour and half hour). See this video the night before or on your way back from a hike on Day 1- otherwise you'll have a hard time finding a seat on the shuttle bus ride back up the park.
3. Scenic Drive via Mt. Carmel Highway: If you drive through the gates of Zion National Park and head to the right following the highway to the east it will bring you up to a series of switchbacks which will give you beautiful views of the park. You will eventually come to a one-way tunnel, built through the rock in the late 1920's. After passing through this tunnel you can turn around at any point and come back down (giving you a different view of the drive), or you can stop off and do the short Overlook Trail hike, which will give you beautiful views of the park as well.
4. Grafton Ghost Town (Bridge Road in Rockville, UT): Located in the opposite direction of Zion National Park, turning left off Mt. Carmel Hwy onto Bridge Road. Go over the small historic bridge and take a right onto Grafton Road. Stay to the right on this road and take it all the way to the end. You'll end up in this ghost town that dates back to 1859. Stop at the cemetery on your way out to learn about why this town didn't last.
Places to eat:
Coffee: There's a coffee shop right at the entrance of the park called Perks at Zion. It's perfect for getting a coffee when you've finished a hike at the end of the day. Try the German Chocolate Blended Coffee: AMAZING.
Wine and Groceries: There's a small market in town if you wish to get snacks or groceries to make your own meals. There's a wine/beer/liquor store at the Switchback Grille which is in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn Express.
Lunch and Dinner: The best part about Zion is that it wasn't expensive to eat in town. I don't think we spent over $45 on a meal for two the entire week. Most times we ended up skipping lunch and just having an early dinner. We then bought wine and cheese and hung out by the fire pit or balcony rocking chairs at our hotel. The following were my favorites: Whiptail Grill (Mexican, Tacos) , Oscar’s Café (Everything) , Meme’s Café (Everything) , and the Spotted Dog Café (if you're looking for a fancier more expensive meal).
Day 1: Angel’s Landing (3 hr hike) , Emerald Pools 2 hr hike, Zion Lodge: Human History Museum 22 minute video on history of park : Late Afternoon: Scenic Drive
Day 2: The Narrows, Weeping Rock, Late Afternoon: Grafton Ghost Town
Day 3: Optional: Observation Point (5-6 hour hike) or do the Emerald Pools and see the Zion Lodge this day. If you're seeing Bryce Canyon National Park, drive there in the afternoon and catch the sunset.
Bryce National Park:
Located an hour and 45 minutes from Zion National Park, all you need is a full day within this park (or two half days- the afternoon before and the morning of) to see the best of this park. It's much smaller than Zion and it's also the opposite of Zion- you are above the canyon looking down and you can hike down into the canyon. Unlike Zion, you are allowed to drive within the park itself, although they do offer a park shuttle as well- but there's really no need to ride it.
Where we stayed and ate:
The only place in town is Ruby's Best Western Lodge. Whoever Ruby was- he bought the whole freakin' town- no joke. The gas station, two restaurants (diner and buffet), shops, and all hotel buildings are apart of of Ruby's "compound" monopoly. We ate at our hotel as well- the buffet was great. Breakfast is not included in your stay.
Looking for alternative options for places to stay in Bryce? Check out the link below to be connected to alternative lodging and rental options from AlltheRooms:
We combined a short hike with driving to different scenic spots and getting out to look/take pictures to see the best of Bryce's "Amphitheater".
Hike: We started at Sunset Point (there's a parking lot here) and we walked north to Sunrise Point along Rim Trail (0.5 miles). We then hiked down the Queens Garden Trail to Navajo Loop Trail and came back up the Navajo Loop Trail to the Sunset Point parking lot. We saw Bryce's "Wall Street" and "Thor's Hammer" along the way. *I followed the recommended "clockwise" start of these trails as described within the park's brochure. But I would actually recommend doing the opposite of what we did. If I went again- I would start at Sunset point and hikes down the Navajo Loop Trail and back up Queen's Garden- due to how steep and strenuous the switchbacks were. We saw very little people doing it the way we did- so someone must have read something I didn't (lol).
Peekaboo Loop Trail: is another popular hike that we did not do. It's 4.5 miles round trip. We were all wiped from the previous day's hike to Observation Point in Zion.
Scenic Points to get out and see:
Either walk up from sunset point to Inspiration Point or you can hop back in the car and drive to this point. Drive to Bryce Point, then hop back in car/shuttle for 20 minutes to Rainbow and Yovimpa Point. Stop and see Natural Bridge along the way.
Things to consider when planning your trip:
1. Get into the park early! Start early, avoid the crowds and heat, be out by 12-1pm so youre not hiking in the heat.
2. Bring a light backpack with a water bladder (You can get one from Dick’s Sporting Goods on sale for $25 in the spring time- which makes it much more reasonable than the camelbak brand).
3. Bring a snacks- something sweet and something salty to replenish yourself during hikes.
4. Check the National Park’s website or social media before solidifying your itinerary for the day. Some trails may be closed from storms or for other reasons and you can then adjust your plan. On our second trip it rained for an entire day so we had to adjust our itinerary and days (btw it only rains on average 3 inches a year in Zion and I believe all three inches came on our second day in Zion).
5. The Narrows (in Zion): Rent water shoes and walking sticks from Zion Outfitters at the entrance of the park for $25. They open at 7am, but you can rent them the day before and take them with you starting at 3pm. This will be the best money you spend prior to starting this hike- the stick will act as a third leg and the shoes really grip the wet rocks.
6. If you don't plan on coming back out to this area- consider combining this trip with other popular places like the Arches, Grand Escalante Staircase, or Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ (only and hour and a half from Zion National Park. I"ll include Antelope Canyon in my future "Arizona Trip" blog post.
Lastly, if you’re looking for more planning tips for towns along the way, restaurants to eat at, and maps of trails, be sure to purchase the following book off Amazon. It’s my go-to when planning these trips!!