Thursday 4 July 2024

The Mighty 5 Road Trip: Zion

Want to visit the Mighty 5 in FOUR days? It's possible - keep reading!

Backstory: My friend and I had been talking about a hiking trip for a while. Six years ago, we went to Arizona together. We flew into Phoenix, drove to Sedona, and we visited Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and the Grand Canyon. It was a surreal trip - but it was also a whirlwind, we were there for three days. On our busiest day, we watched the sunrise at Horseshoe Bend, joined a guided tour at the Antelope Canyon (that's the only way in), and watched the sunset at the Grand Canyon. Ever since that trip, I was hooked. I wanted to visit as many US National Parks as possible.

This is the trip that made it out of the chat.

We flew into Vegas late Wednesday night and picked up our rental car (an AWD SUV). We picked up some groceries from Walmart and stayed overnight at the Luxor. I am a MGM Rewards member, which allows me to stay at select hotels for free. Luxor was one of the few select hotels. I'll admit if I had other choices, I would not choose to stay there. Our door had no lock and our bathroom door did not close. BUT we literally just needed a bed to sleep in so it was fine for the night.

The next morning, we made our way northeast into Utah. It took us about two and a half hours to get to Springdale. We had lunch, and picked up some snacks for the evening before heading into Zion. Entrance was a breeze as we had pre-purchased the America the Beautiful National Park Pass.

Our first trail was the Canyon Overlook. The trail is at the end of the tunnel when you're leaving Zion and it begins with a steep sandstone staircase. We didn't have any luck with any of the two parking lots nearby, they only had about six parking spots. We parked down the road and had to walk about ten minutes to the beginning of the trail. It was a humid day so it did get toasty during the hike. The views though were absolutely worth it. 

Canyon Overlook Trail from National Park Service
Shuttle Location: N/A, requires personal transportation.
Trailhead Location: Located near the east entrance of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.
Distance (roundtrip): 1.0 mi / 1.6 km
Elevation Change: 163 ft / 50 m
Estimated Hiking Time: 1 hour
Description: Long drop-offs, mostly fenced. Rocky and uneven trail ends at a viewpoint for Pine Creek Canyon and lower Zion Canyon. To enter or exit the parking area just east of the tunnel, you must turn right. Parking is extremely limited, be prepared to try multiple times. There are pit toilets in a parking lot about 400 yards (a quarter mile) east of the trailhead.

Zion offers a shuttle bus that takes you along a scenic route. We hadn't paid too much attention to the schedule. After returning to our car, we drove shuttle stop #2 and hopped on a shuttle bus just after 5 PM. We had planned to take the shuttle back up the scenic route. Unbeknownst to us, the last shuttle up was at 5 PM, so we were stuck at shuttle stop #1. Luckily, an empathetic driver who was heading back to the scenic route was able to take us back. He dropped us off at shuttle stop #4 so we had a short glimpse of the scenic drive. 

Our plan was to hike the Watchman trail at sunset as I had read a few reviews that recommended it. We drove back to shuttle stop #1, where the start of the trail is. The weather had cooled down at this point, so I needed a light windbreaker. We reached the top of the trail too early, but the thing is you can't really see the sunset from that angle. The sunlight reflects on the Watchman but sadly, not that evening. So we enjoyed the scenery and tranquility for a little while before heading back down ten minutes before the sunset. There were a few drop-offs and we didn't feel safe hiking back down in the dark. On our way down, we encountered our first rattlesnake. We were also surprised to see people still making their way up as we came down after the sun had set. 

Watchman Trail
 from National Park Service
Shuttle Stop to Start from: #1 Visitor Center
Trailhead Location: Up canyon and across the road. Stay along the river to begin the trail.
Distance (roundtrip): 3.3 mi / 5.3 km
Elevation Change: 368 ft / 112 m
Estimated Hiking Time: 2 hours
Description: Moderate drop-offs. Ends at viewpoint of the Temples and Towers, lower Zion Canyon, Watchman Peak, and Springdale. Trail can be muddy when wet. Restrooms and water filling stations are available at the Visitor Center.

We drove to Kanab that evening and arrived around 10 PM. Not much was opened by the time we drove into town - even McDonald's was closed! But I managed to grab a pizza at Pizza Hut for dinner. Keep that in mind when you're staying at small towns in the area, and be sure to pick up extra food or snacks!

We stayed at La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Kanab for the night, and we were off again early the next morning!