When I was in Zion for the summer I was there for just 2 days on my grand road trip at the height of summer. While I had an amazing time there and the park blew me away, it was nothing compared to going there for a 4 day weekend in March. I will go so far as to say we planned and executed the perfect long weekend in Zion.
Matt and I flew into the Las Vegas Airport on Friday night, arriving around 7, and were picked up by our friend Eric who was driving from Los Angeles. It was very easy, and renting a car would also have been pretty easy. It was at the airport that I found the saddest place in the world. If you’ve ever driven by a Denny’s and seen the advertisements for Thanksgiving Dinner there and thought “is there anything sadder than that?” The answer is yes. It’s the smoking room at the Las Vegas Airport. In additional to the normal sadness of these rooms at other airports, which I always try to walk by quickly in case the door opens and a cloud of smoke hits me, in Vegas it’s full of slot machines. When I walked by there was a man trying to get in that couldn’t figure out how to open the door and 5 people sitting at the machines smoking and mechanically pulling levers. Saddest place in the world. The airport itself though was efficient and easy, and in no time we were on the road to Zion.
The first night we camped on BLM land (4 wheel drive would have been helpful but since the road was dry, not necessary) and got up early to head into the park and get our permits for backcountry camping. We had to wait in a bit of a line but there was no problem getting the permits we wanted, 3 nights in the East Rim camping area. Before we headed out on the East Rim Trail we did Angel’s Landing.
Always a fun trail, but unbelievably crowded, even more than when I was there over the summer. The top was packed with people and selfie sticks, and there was a double engagement while we were there, but we tucked off into a shady spot for lunch. After Angel’s Landing we headed off with our packs to find campsite. The beginning of the trail overlaps with the trail to Observation Point which as far as I can tell is just switchbacks until you get to around 6800 feet. Every single person we passed on the trail was incredulous that we were going to camp. Some were interested and impressed, one was downright pessimistic and unhelpful. He told us that there was nowhere up there to camp and that he and his kids had turned back because of a spot with boulders and trees that he couldn’t get past and that there was “no way we could fit the packs through.” He was on the larger side and I should say that to this day we have no idea what part of the trail he was referring to. After the switchbacks we cut back into slot canyons which were amazing, saw a group of three bighorn sheep running down the side of the canyon, and eventually set up at one of the first good campsites we saw. It was on sand, well off the trail, and with a bit of a scramble down into a slot canyon below us, it had water access (we did camp the appropriate distance from water and trail).
Above: The campsite, Below: The coolest water source ever
Matt and I slept in the tent, and Eric experimented with a couple of different hammock locations over the weekend. Almost every morning we were woken up by a woodpecker. The one thing I will say is that it was cold. It was colder than Alaska. We didn’t have a thermometer but later that week when we were in the Grand Canyon it was significantly warmer and my handy dandy weather app said it was 29. If you do this you need a good sleeping bag. Mine is rated to 32 and I was wearing at least 3 layers plus hat and gloves. We split up the food for the week, dehydrated dinners (here), oatmeal and coffee for breakfast (thank you Eric), and tortillas, peanut butter and nutella for lunch (no matter what that snooty British hiker says, tortillas are not the blandest food in the world they’re delicious).
On day two we continued on the East Rim Trail to Stave Spring and then onward to Cable Mountain. The transitions we went through were amazing as we started in the middle of the canyon (vertically) and then gradually climbed first into scrubby forests, then open fields of sagebrush and finally into real coniferous forests, aways in more and more snow. We only saw one other hiker on the Cable Mountain trail and it took us to an overlook named for the cable and winch used there to lower lumber from Kaibab Forest to the floor of the canyon. It had an amazing view looking down on Angel’s Landing and across to Observation Point, the more accessible and therefore crowded hike to the rim. Total mileage for the day was 13.
Day three we did the Observation Point Trail as our easy day, with a total of around 4 miles round trip. We brought lunch and a deck of cards up and hung out all afternoon. Apparently Observation Point has the best reception in the park because there was a constant barrage of people Facetiming their parents and their girlfriends to tell them about their trip. I was glad we had done Cable Mountain and were camping in the backcountry because just the few hours of hearing that annoying ringtone and being around so many people was too much. It was a lovely afternoon and a great view but if you’re up for the miles I would definitely recommend Cable Mountain over Observation Point. Also after getting my hiking shoes soaked in the snow the day before I was happy to be on a graded cement trail (basically a sidewalk) because I could wear my Tevas instead.
Day 4 we had to get Matt to the airport for a 4:30 PM flight. There was significant confusion as to time in general. Daylight savings was the night before, Vegas was in a different time zone, and then Eric and I were driving to the Grand Canyon. So from DST Mountain Time to DST Pacific Time to non-DST Mountain Time because Arizona is ridiculous. The end result was that we had a decent amount of time for activities before leaving for the airport. We hiked out of camp early, dropped off our stuff and had breakfast by the car then set out to do some of the short hikes off the main road.
The hike out of the campsite
We were hoping to do the Narrows and the thought was that we should do it when we could change clothes and get into a heated car because the temperature of the Virgin River was around 39. When we first arrived it was flowing at an acceptable 80 cubic feet per second. When we were planning on hiking it (3 days later with no rain just snow melt) it had gone up to an unacceptable 204 cfs. So we did the River Walk! Also lovely. We rushed through the Emerald Pools, where Eric was crazy and actually swam, and then we were off to the airport (with a necessary stop at In-n-Out). All in all the perfect long weekend.