Wingin’ it in Zion

In 2016 I drove from Denver to Los Angeles enjoying one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever experienced. I had no idea how gorgeous Utah was. As I cruised South down Interstate 15, passing Zion National Park and into the canyons of Arizona I made a mental note that I NEEDED to make my way back to this majestic land someday. Honestly, I’m not sure why it took us three years to actually plan a trip to Utah’s first National Park, but I’m so happy we did. Perhaps we were subconsciously waiting for the intense rainfall of this winter to see the park greener than it has been in years. Thanks, Universe, for having my back on that one.

IMG_1298Took this on that 2016 drive

Going into the trip I had an idea of what I’d like to do but no real set plans. Angles Landing was obviously non-negotiable. I had a read up on a couple other hikes I wanted to do including the Narrows and Observation point, but when we got to the park we were told both were closed due to flash flooding from the snow melt. Total bummer, but I’m more grateful to see water rushing through this mountain desert, especially after how dry it’s been the years pervious.

We had planned our trip only a few months in advanced so all the camp sites we could book, were already full. (Apparently, they open this up 6 months prior, good to know for next year.) Regardless, we were prepared to have multiple plans when it came to finding a site. I had a general idea of the campsites that were available in the park, as well as the BPL (public land camping) possibilities up near Kolob Canyon.

We finally got to the park around 3pm Wednesday June 12th. The ranger told us to check in with the first campsite in the park to see if there were any walk up’s or cancellations available. When we got to the site, they informed us that they did not have any sites available but handed us a list of campsites nearby. We called a couple that were just a half to a couple miles outside of the east entrance to the park. Lucky for us they did have tent camping space available. We took the scenic route 9 through the park, enjoying the park’s splendor, to a little camp called Zion Ponderosa.

To note this reminded me more of a summer retreat, only we were staying in the tent camping. The property was huge and had all kinds of amenities. There were cabins, canvas tents, and covered wagons you could sleep in. There was paintball and mini golf, Jeep tours and Canyoneering trips. The tent camping side had a really nice bathhouse, real toilets, and a little camp store where yes, I bought a Kombucha. The best part was it was more secluded and spacious than the sites in the park, and it was $10 less a night. Yep, $30 to stay in luxury camping accommodations, instead of $40 to stay crammed in between other park going tourists. This was a MAJOR win in my book.

IMG_8682Our campsite at Zion Ponderosa

We woke up early the next morning to do Angel’s Landing. I was surprised at how much commotion was going on in the camp around us at 4am. Walking to the restroom I found out a good amount of our neighbors were also getting ready to catch the 6am shuttle to The Grotto to hit the Landing. Everything I had read recommended going as early as possible because, especially in the busy summer months, it gets really crowded and really hot. We got to the visitor’s center around 6:30am, a bit later than I had wanted, but still made good time. There was still parking available in the lot and the shuttles were running every 15 minutes. We were officially on the trail by 7am, a bit late for me as it was already getting busy, which was fine on the way up, I was just nervous for the amateurs in the tricky parts coming back down.

IMG_8456.jpgAngels Landing Summit

This hike was HANDS DOWN, one of the coolest hikes I’ve ever done. The first half of switchbacks were a breeze, but the second half, with tiny trails scaling slippery sandstone and chains drilled into the rock to hold on to, really threw me. I had to pause and steady my breath a few times as looking down was a doozy.  The views were unreal. No matter how many photos or videos I post it will never do it justice. If you have the opportunity, do this trail. You will never regret it. I’m filled with joy as I write this, thinking back to the feels from the summit.

IMG_8442.jpgLiterally the best photo Jayse has ever taken.

After, we hung near the Virgin River, splashing around and cooling off our feet in the ice cold water. We finally made our way around the park and back to town to have a real hot meal. We stopped at Café Soleil (thank you Katie Carter) for the best wraps of all time. Complete with a frozen coconut lemonade and an iced latte. Such a treat after a long hike in 90 degree weather. Because the park was already so crowded, and the temperatures rising, we decided it would be a good time to head back to camp to relax before our sunset Jeep Tour.

IMG_8562Jayse eating a PB&J next to the Virgin River

To celebrate our four year wedding anniversary we scheduled a sunset Jeep tour with the property we were staying at. We took the dirt roads back into the woods of Zion Ponderosa Ranch and up to the pine knoll to watch the sun drop over the park. It was so beautiful to see the colors change in the sky over the ponderosa pines and rolling green hills of sage and brush. We finished the night with snacks by the campfire before calling it a day. Truly the perfect end to a perfect day.

IMG_8631.jpgEast Zion Adventures Sunset Jeep Tour

The next morning we packed up and headed towards Bryce Canyon. Since the other hikes we wanted to do in Zion were closed we decided to hit the road exploring. We spent all day driving around the canyon in Bryce. Unfortunately my quads were killing from the day before so we opted out of any real hikes and drove the perimeter instead, walking around the overlook paths. The rock formations were insane. It reminded me a bit of the Badlands in South Dakota. Again, the pictures don’t even do this vast canyon filled with natural Hoodoo’s any justice. Every corner we turned was another spectacular outcropping of misshaped rocks. I just couldn’t stop using the word “unreal” to describe it all.

Hoodoos and windblown smiles from Bryce Canyon

From there we took a drive around the park, towards the Grand Staircase monument, stopping to hike to a little waterfall and cave. However it was getting late and we figured we should start to figure out where to stay that night. The clouds were getting dark and lightening was hitting the horizon, so we figured maybe it wasn’t the best night to camp. After a few hours of debate, and driving aimlessly, we finally ended up back in the town of Penguich, just outside Bryce Canyon.

IMG_8757.jpgSo cute and AMAZING BBQ

We found a restaurant in town that was PACKED. I mean, locals lining up out the door. A sure sign of a good place. We grabbed a table at the Cowboy’s Smokehouse and chatted it up with our sweet waitress. As we debated our plans for the next day and contemplated motels, our waitress asked where we were headed next. We told her we weren’t sure, and to be honest, I was almost in tears. Frustrated I had driven us aimlessly for hours, frustrated I may have made the wrong call to leave Zion, and bummed we only had one more day of vacation and we couldn’t make up our damn minds. She suggested we stay in Cedar City and check out a hike on our way towards Vegas called Kanarra Falls, in the town of Kanarraville. Done. Its moments like these where it’s hard for me NOT to believe that some people are divine messengers. We thanked the gal, paid our tab and left. As we got in the car Jayse looked at me and said “that. The drive, the detour, the day was ALL for that. I bet this hike is going to be incredible.” Looking back, he definitely wasn’t wrong. We drove for another hour before checking into a motel in Cedar City.

The next morning we made our way up and out to the falls. When we arrived there was a giant brown sign that read “HIKE PERMITS SOLD OUT.” Confused, I stepped out of the car to talk to the man who appeared to be running the show. “Are we not able to purchase a permit today?” I asked. “No.” he replied, “but I can let you in for free!” It turned out they started limiting the number of permits to 150 a day, however, a youth group that had arrived before us turned in 8 permits they weren’t using so we were able to go! (Again, hello divine intervention.) I had no idea what kind of hike we were really getting in to. In my mind it was going to be just a quick 1.9 mile jaunt to the falls.

IMG_8781Heading up to Kanarra Falls

We started up the trail and after a couple minutes we got to the first stream crossing. We took off our shoes and socks to cross. Figuring the falls weren’t far and that I could just keep my shoes off the whole way, I decided to walk barefoot. It was so grounding to walk down the trail with my feet in the dirt, aside from the occasional sharp rock. A fellow hiker passed us and suggest we just get our sneakers wet because it was going to become more intense, but we laughed them off as we had been barefoot for the last mile already. Almost immediately after, we turned the corner to realize we were going INTO the canyon, much like the narrows in Zion, and walking straight up river. We finally put our sneakers on and continued to stomp up the stream through the canyon to the falls. After climbing a couple rickety bridges and wading through waist deep ice-cold water we made it to the Upper Kanarra Falls. It was incredibly magical. From the cleansing ice cold water, to absorbing the energies of the canyon, to the adventure itself, I walked off the trail feeling my soul so full.

Stomping up the run off/Upper Kanarra Falls

From there we decided to head to Vegas where we were planning to stay as a nice midway stopping point between Zion and LA. We started down the 15 only to see signs for Kolob Canyon at Zion. I realized I had been confused as to where we actually were, and instead of being on the east side of the park we were actually just outside the upper part of Zion. “We can still explore the other half of Zion!” I exclaimed as Jayse took the exit to the entrance. Excited that I wasn’t going to miss out on the other half of Zion, we made a quick lunch in the parking lot and took the scenic 5 mile drive through Kolob. Another breathtaking loop through unreal scenery.

IMG_8873.jpgKolob Canyon overlook

My FOMO and frustration from the night before had completely subsided. Our last day of vacation was a success, I found a hike like the one I thought I was missing out on, I finally felt like I had gotten to explore enough of Zion for this trip, and was ready to relax by the pool in Las Vegas. Overall the weekend ended up being absolute perfection. Everything I didn’t even know I needed. Though, I know I’ve only just touched the surface of places to explore in Southern Utah and am already dreaming up our next adventure. Sedona to the Grand Canyon to Escalante to Arches to Moab? Count me in. Glacier to Banff? Yes please. Yosemite with my husband? Also, a big fat YES. I don’t know where we’re going next, but I know that my soul is desperate for more adventures, and I can’t help but to listen to that calling.

Hope this was helpful for anyone planning their Zion/Bryce trip. THIS blog really helped me figure out a general plan. She also has a few other articles about trips in Utah I can’t wait to reference for our next trip.

Happy trails my friends!



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