Exploring Zion National Park

posted in: Utah, Van Life | 1
Yes, I’m a dork. A very happy dork!


To say that I love Zion National Park is an understatement. It is one of my favorite places on this planet (so far). Me and 4.3 million other people each year—Its only drawback. But if you time it right, you only have to deal with hundreds of people instead of thousands! Of course, this also means that you have temperatures between 12-45 degrees. In my book, it was worth it for some minute sense of solitude, brief as it was.

A pretty sweet spot!

When I arrived, the campground was practically empty. I came to learn why that could actually be bad (more on that later). I was fortunate to get 3 nights here, though 2 of those 3 nights turned out to be a bit tortuous (in a water dripping on your forehead for hours on end in a musty basement prison camp kind of way). Again, more on that later. You know, I just enjoy the anticipation of a story to come, so you must too!


Eric and I first visited the park for only 1 day back in March of 2017. It was a glorious day as we opted to shuttle our bikes up and ride down. Looking back, I suppose I was super out of shape because entertaining the idea of riding up and back down never crossed my mind—A lot has changed in 2 years!

Screenshot from a video from 2017
Only 2 things missing in this photo.

The only things missing in the photo above is about 50 pounds and an Eric. Only one of those things I miss dearly.

Although I was flying solo on this trip, it didn’t stop me from having a fantastic time! What’s the point in sulking in this paradise?!? So, I kept physically stimulated anywhere from 6-8 hours a day while tucking my emotional dragon deep within the shadows. I hiked almost every open trail, rode my bike UP and DOWN Zion Canyon, and even made time for a Ranger led discussion about Ravens.

Without further ado, here is a breakdown of my trip. Cheers to making new memories!

Day 1

Due to some issues with setting up my new phone service, I arrived at the South Campground about 2 hours later than planned. Initially the mood was foul. I’d just spent over 2 hours texting a company that only communicates via text, Facebook, or Twitter—What the hell? I officially feel old for not thinking that’s “cool”. What I won’t do to save $40/month. If it wasn’t for that, I’d say forget it—But money talks.

Once I was about 15-17 miles out, I pretty much forgot about my entire morning and became captivated by the vast beauty of the canyons. Once I arrived, I made camp which took all of 5 minutes, took a few teaser photos of Me and the Van at Zion (for Eric) and then off I went.

Riverside Walk

As I mentioned, I got a late start so I decided to take the shuttle up to Temple of Sinawava (the last stop) and meander along the Riverside Walk. This “trail” offers a nice paved (but overly crowded) or sandy, unpaved (less traveled) path to the start of the Narrows (an epic bucket list hike of mine). It’s an easy, 2.2 miles round trip—more of a leisurely walk than a hike which is why I use the word “trail” lightly.

I lucked out with this pic because it was packed!

Activities don’t always have to be tough to be rewarding! The fall colors were magnificent! I promise these photos were not enhanced. Well, technically they were—By the sun! It was absolutely stunning!

Wanting to get away from the hordes, I fled this area in search of a hint of peacefulness.

While on a short little walk about, I snapped this one in completely solitude near Big Bend.

<3 Zion

I cautiously climbed down the steep stairway etched in stone, and before I knew it, I was standing among the colorful trees that freckled at the bottom of the picture above.

Not my best pic, but it was a rear cam selfie, so what did I expect?!? The sky was bright but the towering rock casts massive shadows making real photographers of this area true masters.

After about 15 minutes, the crowds came and I left. It was like a race to find the next quiet corner to hide in. Minutes alone in a place like this are more precious than gold!

Upper Emerald Pool Trail

Now this was a hike! Rated as moderate, I would have to agree. It wasn’t hard, but it required a few rest breaks along the way as I climbed roughly 325 ft (in only 1.2 miles). Basically, that means it is straight up. A challenge with fantastic views and loads of traffic (as I expected). People are really annoying and talk about the weirdest things while hiking in paradise. What is wrong with shutting up and enjoying the moment? Thankfully, if you find yourself in a herd, earbuds can help to achieve that John Muir moment despite the crowd.

About 5-10 minutes into the trail, the expansive views begin to emerge.
You can see the trail wrap around from left to right a bit like a horseshoe.
Impressive views at every turn!
Pool #1 is small but more fun because of the opportunity for that reflection pic.

Pool #2 is less impressive despite being significantly larger. I do believe that when the water is heavily flowing there is a waterfall and it’s more of a sight to see. The area itself is awesome though with towering, multi-colored red rock that looks jagged yet smooth all at the same time.

The area that features pool #2
Another pic of some colorful rock that towers over pool 2

Time to head back down.

The lighting was pleasing to the eye, difficult to capture though.

Pa’rus Trail

It was a bitter cold walk back to camp and the wind gusts of 20+ MPH didn’t help. I’m cold just thinking about it. I had my gloves on, but would take them off every 10-20 seconds to take a photo. Eventually, I gave up and just went without. It was just too beautiful to pass up the photo ops. In an effort to beat the setting sun, I walked briskly along this 3.5 mile path. Here are some photos from that section.

Made it JUST in time! Yay. No tarantulas!

Day 2

This is the day I ramped it up a bit in the activity department as I was trying to prepare for some upcoming hikes. Day two includes a hike and the “Epic as Always” bike ride through the heart of Zion National Park. This was absolutely the best day. The night…not so much (stay tuned for more!)

The Watchman Trail

A screenshot of a photosphere I did with my phone.

The Watchman Trail was an unexpected surprise. I had initially picked this trail as a warm up for some harder trails I planned to do later in the week. This one fell somewhere on the moderate list at 3.3 miles with 358ft of elevation gain. It was actually pretty easy and wonderfully quiet compared to the other trails. It was also beautiful and offered some nice views.

A nice, steady climb
Interesting rock formations
Loved this one!
Haha. This was an oops, but this is what is behind all of the photographs—A Jenni setting up the “perfect” shot.
A narrow trail

I enjoy the cactus because I see shapes and figures in them. In the photo above, I see a human adventurer holding a walking stick as they march onward in the name of exploration.

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

This is one of my favorite rides in the world. Due to the fact that private vehicles are not allowed April-October, this route is the perfect escape for those who want to experience Zion as privately as possible! Of course, you do have to deal with a shuttle buses every 7-9 minutes—A small price to pay for freedom and solitude among the towering giants.

This year I rode the full 19 miles and it was pure BLISS.

This is what bliss looks like!

In 3.5 hours of total immersion, I only encountered one other soul. Initially, our communication was a joyous expression in the form of a smile which spoke a thousand words. Sometimes vocalizations get in the way of true understanding and connection.

Sometimes, words are the cause of a smile. After stopping to don an additional layer and grab my camera, my friend yelled, “PHOTO BOMB” as he zipped past with laughter in his voice and a smile in his heart. It was the second and final encounter we had. A man in his mid to upper 60’s living out the motto, “Carpe Diem”, Seize the Day. I never want to loose that kind of zest for life.

Here are a few more photos from my ride.

If you ever have the chance to visit this National Park, I highly recommend the bike ride. If you do not feel you could make the entire 19 mile trek (it’s about 1400 ft of elevation gain), you could always shuttle your bike up and then ride down (9.5 miles).

This is what a sleepless, angry Jenni looks like.

The unfortunate part of this day came around 1 am when I discovered that I had another mouse.

It was not an ordinary mouse like Melvin, Mary, or Max. No, this mouse (Chunk), was a morbidly obese rock grinder. I say this because I could hear him crunching away as he squeezed his furry little fat rolls between the secret corridors built before him (RIP to the 3 M’s). All the while, he would send his nibbled bits plummeting to the metal floor below—Ting, ting, ting went the echo until it reached the bottom. It was impossible to sleep, as I lay helplessly awake, imagining the destruction being done only millimeters away from my weary head.

Day 3

Rise and shine didn’t happen for my heavy lids until roughly 10am. It was cold. It was late. I almost canceled my planned hike for the day. Technically I had to as it was a 12 mile trek up the West Rim Trail and there was no way I could make it in my given time frame. The booklet recommended 8-10 hours to do the hike. The prior day, I had prepared everything in order to roll out of bed around 6 and be hiking by 7-730. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Oh well, van duties come first. So, I made sure there was no food access, set 6 glue traps, THEN headed out to hike.

I’m so glad that I didn’t cancel. I ended up hiking up Scout’s Lookout which is the point where it branches off toward Angle’s Landing. Despite the crowds, I had a great time. The funny thing is, it was the small stuff that made this hike so special.

Yes, of course there were grand sights to be seen like in the photo above. But my favorite part was the story told by the walls of the canyon itself (see photos below).

The floor of this particular canyon was rather inviting. I had lost much of the crowd who stopped to take photographs of the grand views which offered me some much appreciated alone time. After a long climb, the elevation tapered off and a dry creek bed was filled with the colors of fall from the trees high above. I stopped to admire the rock formations and relish in the silence.

No, this is not Photoshop.

Despite the fact that the sun was out in full force, it only reached a portion of the life surrounding the canyon floor. The result was dramatically bright colors mixed with dark shadows (which actually makes photographing the area extremely difficult). It was stunningly beautiful and my favorite section of the hike as this is where many of the rock formations (shown in the series above) were located.

The photograph above is a great example of the colorful trees (though now in the shade) to the left and the layered rock of the canyon to the right.

After about a 1/2 mile, the path opened up to jagged, multi-angled canyon walls which I only saw in this section of the park.


The lines of rock almost looked like an animal trail typical of any mountainside, but don’t be fooled! They appeared much steeper and more treacherous for most—unless perhaps you’re a mountain goat!

After conquering more of “Walters Wiggles” (those long, steep switchbacks) I lost track of all time. Before I knew it, I looked up and there I was.

While the views were nice, I have to admit, I much preferred the solitude of the canyon below. I ate a Cliff bar and then immediately headed back down the trail.

Heading back down Walter’s Wiggles
Here is a bit of some scale of each wiggle. There are 27 in total.
And another angle to help you get the idea!

Despite my short stay at the top, the sun had drastically changed positions as I was making my way back down. It may seem like a “duh” moment as the earth does move somewhere upwards to 70,000 MPH around the sun—We just don’t typically notice. I think about these types of things a lot more when I’m in nature. Imagine what it was like 5-10,000+ years ago BEFORE the internet!

The new lighting made for some great photographs though!

Do you ever feel like this lone tree?
I couldn’t decide how to shoot it, so I opted for a few different ways. 🙂

Here are a few more shots from the hike.

<3 One of my favorite shots of the day. It really encompasses the feel of this hike.
I love the shadows
Only about 1/2 way up! The squiggles is where I started!
Did I mention the GRAND views?
And just like that…back to the bottom!

As I got closer to the end, the crowd was fewer and farther between. It was here, among the reflection of the red rock in the stream, that I stood and watched a large 10+ point buck eat his evening meal. It was peaceful. What a wonderful day indeed!

Now, back to reality.

I needed to see if Chunk was no more. After all, I devilishly lured him in with something extra special before leaving, so I was eager to see the results of my morning efforts.

Upon returning to the van, I was sorely disappointed that Chunk was nowhere to be found—Until 11pm that is. I was fast asleep when I heard his belly smoosh in between the crevices which I suppose his way of “punching the clock”. Yep, it was time for him to get busy being a nuisance. Let’s just say Chunk is a true professional—A master of his trade. For me, it was just another sleepless night.

The remaining evening and into the early morn I lay in bed and thought about Eric with a heavy heart. Despite living the silly adventure I’d dreamed of, I missed him terribly. In the moment, everything I wanted and worked so hard to get meant nothing. Tired and emotionally drained, I sat in the darkness listing to that little bastard Chunk, and cried. Sometimes, you just have to let it out.

Day 4

This is the day I moved from the South Campground to my new home at Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. Trust me, it was not as fancy as it sounded. Just a basic campground, but they did have solo shower rooms which felt like a treat after 4 days without a wash. Yeah, I’m a true dirt bag and I love it! Well, until I don’t. It’s a small van and foot stank can only be tolerated so long before my nostrils send me marching to the shower room (willing or not!).

It does help that it’s been freezing cold. I wasn’t as ripe as I could have been 🙂

This ended up being a self care day and a break from all of the noise in and outside of my own head. It is also the day that Chunk disappeared. Perhaps I lost him in the move? I didn’t care, he was gone. While it wasn’t the best night’s sleep, it was better than it had been.

Day 5

Time to get dirty again!

After a rest day, I was rearing to go. I planned a ride to the Observation Point Trailhead (3.5 miles), hike to the end (3.7 miles) and then return to camp for a total of 12+ miles for the day. It was a bit challenging as the hills (for each activity) were unrelenting but equally rewarding. Perhaps my fighting spirit enjoys that physical exertion as I try to push myself beyond what my mind feels I am capable of.

Surrounded by trees, this hike had a much different feel than my previous Zion treks.

Overall, it was a nice change. Plus, that smell of warming pine in the mid day sun never gets old. It’s so refreshing.

It was nice to be among the trees once again—Familiar friends they are.

So much character; each with a story to tell.

I know to many, the point of the trail is to get to that epic view at the end. However, for me, it is the path that leads to the epic views I tend to enjoy most.

Eventually, the trail opened up to larger scale views as I neared the canyons edge.

It was here, the trail changed into thick, heavy sand much like that of a beach. The path split patches of short trees mixed with colorful yellow bushes. It went from a soft, luscious forest to all things scratchy.

Then, in the distance, you could see the Zion Valley.

Despite the harshness of the sun, it was all quite beautiful.

More beautiful than I am able to capture for sure!

Saying Goodbye

It’s hard to say goodbye to this special place, but all good things must come to an end. It seems to be the natural progression of life.

I had a fantastic time and was able to explore parts of the park that I didn’t have time to see when Eric and I were here last time. In that respect, it was awesome! Although it is one of my favorite bike rides on this planet, there is so much more to Zion that what you can experience from a bike. I feel fortunate every day to have had this adventure and will remember my time here fondly—with the exception of Chunk of course.

No matter how much fun I have, no matter how grand the adventure, I have to admit—Life feels a little empty without this guy.

Counting the days, weeks, months, or ??? he returns.

Until next time…..

  1. Southern Utah: Trails Galore - AdventureOT

    […] If you are an avid hiker or mountain biker, St. George, Utah and the surrounding area (Hurricane, La Verkin, Washington, Leeds) is paradise. With miles upon miles of BLM land surrounding the second biggest city in Utah, you get the best of both worlds—Adventure and amenities (if you so choose). Additionally, it is in close proximity to Zion National Park which is what I think the idea of Heaven was based on. It is THAT beautiful and if you haven’t been, you really should. See my Zion post by clicking here. […]

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