Spend the day hiking and taking in the various views at Zion National Park in Utah.
With each new day of this journey, I think more and more that every setback and situation is happening exactly as it is meant to be and every person that meets me along the way is there at just the right moment. My day at Zion National Park, Utah was no exception.
I left Arches National Park and drove across the state from morning to early afternoon. I thought I might not make it having been so exhausted from hiking the day before, but I stopped in a town called Beaver and chose the “extreme caffeine” coffee brew and suddenly had miles of energy.
I checked into a motel at Zion and the kind front desk worker informed me that I could catch a shuttle across the street into the park so that I didn’t have to pay the additional vehicle parking charge. The shuttle was free and ran every seven minutes so it was well worth the wait. If you’re heading out to the park and staying along Zion National Park Road, make sure you take advantage of this free service.
The woman working in the motel also gave me a free trail map of Zion. While waiting for the shuttle bus I glanced through the descriptions of the trails. Before Utah I’d already planned to hike Angels Landing, the most popular, and one of the most challenging, trails in the park. Since my ego had already taken a blow the day before, I wasn’t so sure about the hike anymore. I looked over the others and decided on Emerald Pools instead.
Something shifted when I was on the shuttle bus though and I decided that I had to at least attempt Angels Landing. I could always turn back if I had to, I reasoned. I had no intentions, however, of doing so.
At the foot of the Angels Landing trail is a sign that warns the trail can be very dangerous and that six people have died making the final ascent. I promised myself that I would not be number seven.
The trail begins as a winding paved pathway that climbs higher and higher up the side of a mountain. Although there are steep drops the higher you go, the path is wide and bordered in most places by large rocks. The view is beautiful from the start and stopping to take pictures is the perfect excuse to catch your breath.
After plateauing for a short while, the trail begins to climb again, leading eventually to a point where the paved trail turns into the smoothed edges of a mountain, just wide enough for a foot. The latter half of the trail features bolts and chains to hold to as you make the climb. I resolved not to look down over the edge until I was safely standing on flat ground.
I was thinking that compared to Devil’s Garden, Angel’s Landing wasn’t so bad. Then I got to this point and realized what the final portion of the trail entailed:
If you look closely you may be able to see small splotches of color– the t-shirts of people slowly making their way straight up the right side of the mountain by the trees. I stood there for too long, wondering how it could be possible, all the while watching people make their way up and others returning on the trail. I smiled at a man as he approached the point where I was standing and he stopped to talk. He explained that he’d stood where I was, staring ahead at the mountain, not sure if he could do it, but he had and he not only survived but he was smiling. It was a boost of confidence for sure, but I still wasn’t convinced. He offered to hike the trail a second time so that I wouldn’t be alone. I declined, wondering silently how anyone could be so nice. He continued on and I sat down by a nearby tree and continued to watch the climbers, trying to muster up the courage to continue on.
No matter how long I sat and stared, I knew I wasn’t ready to finish the trail. I stood to leave giving it one last glance and as I turned away I knew that it was the right decision. A little ways down the trail, I ran into the man who had offered to climb up with me. I found out later that he’d waited for me there, knowing I wasn’t going to make the final ascent and thinking I might want the company on the way back down. Though I was short in my speech with him, I was secretly thankful that he was there as I clung to the chains and tried not to look at the ground below on the way back down. Once we got back to the paved pathway I could breath a little easier and we both started talking more.
At some point on the trail, we realized that our stories and what had brought us to Angels Landing had so many similarities that our meeting each other seemed perfectly predestined, serendipity under the hot sun. I remember on the way up I was worried about making the return trip since going downhill is always harder, but I barely noticed the effort and enjoyed the descent because conversation came so easily for us both.
It was still early enough when we reached the end of the trail that we decided to hike the Emerald Pools Trail– the one I’d planned on taking before boarding the shuttle bus to the park. The Emerald Pools Trail is much more accessible and offers beautiful views of the canyon above, as well as several pure pools of water surrounded by the canyon walls. The first pool had a gently falling waterfall that sheds a light mist along part of the trail. Although the trail gets steeper at this point, it’s well worth the climb up the man-made stairs to reach the second pool– a beautiful oasis surrounded by the canyon walls. You’ll hardly remember you’re in Zion as you sit and watch tadpoles dart around in the shallow waters. The trail is a popular one for families and visitors alike, but if you go later in the day toward sunset you’ll enjoy some solitude and really be able to take in the beauty around you.
Zion, like most national parks, provides you with a one week pass for the entrance fee. I was only able to spend the afternoon and evening at Zion, and so there is much of the park that I didn’t get to explore though I’m certain that my timing was meant perfectly so I’d meet a fellow traveler. With hikes at varying ability levels, beautiful steep peaks, and a river running along the base of the park, it’s well worth the visit, even in the sweltering heat at the height of tourist season.