When our companions to our Vegas January trip couldn't go; so we were left trying to decide what to do with our time. We had been to Vegas a few times, and wanted to mix in something new, away from the Vegas Strip. We decided to take a day trip to Zion National Park.
The drive from Vegas is roughly a 3 hour drive; so it does make for longer day. It is well worth the long day though! A few things to note on this drive. First its not very exciting. There is a lot of desert and nothingness for a good chunk. One big highlight though is the Virgin River Gorge in Arizona. Its a beautiful stretch of road. Had I known about it ahead of time, we may have left earlier and stopped here for a brief visit. You will know when you are about to enter this part of the highway as it will look like the road is about to drive into the side of a mountain.
Next, make sure to fill your gas tank in the Vegas area. There are some stops outside the city, but there is a nice stretch in Nevada of no options for anything until you get closer to the Arizona border. Finally, note that Zion is in a different time zone then Vegas. You will loose an hour going there, but gain it on your return.
Zion National Park is absolutely stunning and its easy to see why its so popular. Normally to get around the park, you have to park at the visitor's center area and take a shuttle around; getting on and off the various stops. You cannot drive yourself unless you are staying at the lodge in the park. This is not true during the winter months when the shuttle service is not running. Since we were visiting the end of January, we were able to drive along the road ourselves. This allowed us to do the park at our own pace and stop where we wanted.
Our first stop was the visitor's center. We had encountered snow that day on the drive and could some in the area. Talking with the staff there we got an idea of what areas were closed or may have been affected by the weather. They also gave us a recommendations on what we should do since we only had a day. Please note there is a popular hiking trail called Angel's Landing, but advance reservations to are required. We had no desire to hike this trail, but I wanted to mention it for those interested.
The park was pretty empty that day. Yes there were people there, but we still had most spots to ourselves or enough distance from others that you felt alone. Though it had snowed that morning, the sun was out. The road through the park was just wet, and the valleys and mountains had a light dusting of snow. Trees were covered with ice and a winter silence enveloped the area. It felt like we stepped into a Robert Frost poem. Here is just a sampling of some of the sites we were able to see just along the main road that we stopped to admire.
We did hike a few small trails. The first trail we did was the Narrows Trail. Luckily we packed our waterproof hiking shoes. The trail is pretty flat but that day it was muddy, wet, with icy spots. This trial is at the end of the park road and it follows the river to the narrowest section of the gorge. You can continue further in if you want to wade through the river. Something best done in the summer or in a wet suit in the winter. We did not have such suits, and wouldn't have with our limited time. Still an easy trail to hike with amazing scenery.
Part of the narrows trail.
We made a brief stop and hiked the very short (mostly uphill but still easy) trail to the weeping rock. It is a hanging rock garden that constantly has water flowing over it. While there we started to hear a loud noise that was clearly either a rock or patch of ice breaking loose about to fall. After making sure we were safe we noticed it was the tree below us. The weight of the ice weighing it down broke loose and cascaded into gorge below.
View from under the weeping rock (notice the spec's of water on the pic that almost looks like snow) and you can see the tree of ice at the bottom.
Finally we did the canyon overlook trail. This trail is on a different part of the park. You have to leave the main park road, go up the mountain pass, and through a tunnel. When you come out the other side of the tunnel, there is a very small parking immediately on the right. Park there if you can, as the trail head is directly across. The trail does have some stairs and is a little steep on the initial ascent, and contains some narrower areas; but overall is easy. Its about a mile long and the views are stunning. When we stopped at the visitor center, they said this trial may have been covered with snow and exercised us to use caution. This was our last stop and we almost didn't go because of their warning. I am glad we did; as there was no snow on the trail .The scenery getting there and the view from the top was worth it.
The first pic below is the view from the top, the second is part of the trail.
In conclusion, if you ever have a chance to visit Zion National Park; do it. Even though I am so glad our first trip was in winter away from the crowds; I hear its just as awesome even when its busier. Anyone I know who has ever been always ranks as one of their top 3 National Parks, and I can see why. Its one of those places you can connect with nature and see how truly majestic it can be.
Published: 6/15/23 and all pics taken by me on my iphone.