A week in the Canyons: Zion & Bryce National Parks

For our second stop in the USA we decided to take a trip around the canyons in the sparse Southwest; passing through Utah and Arizona.

We’ve decided to go through a tour this time as we wanted to camp, and since we’ve never camped before (well, Nick has but many moons ago), we thought it would be easier to do so with a tour. The desert probably isn’t a great place for novices either! It’s also good to meet other people and to keep costs down.

So after flying to Las Vegas and an overnight stay in a hotel near the strip (though we didn’t even walk it, we had pre-tour shopping to do), we joined the group we’d spend the coming week with. The hotel was no frills, but close to our early morning pick up location.

There were 15 of us in the group including our guide Joel, all different nationalities and age groups. German, Polish, Spanish, Dutch, and of course some Americans.

Our first stop was Zion National Park, where we would spend our first night.

After getting to the camp-site site, we had to put our tent up after receiving a short tutorial from our guide. Our tent was a big double one, super easy to put up thanks to clips you latch onto the frame. It took us less than 10 minutes to set up. Not bad for a first time.

We then ate a very decent lunch before making our way to Zion National Park for the day. We decided to do 2 hikes that day, the Emerald Pools loop and The Narrows.

Unfortunately the middle and upper Emerald Pools trails were closed due to rocks falling, so we weren’t able to do the full loop and just saw the lower pools. It was nice to see by itself regardless, and only a short walk up there.

Afterwards we ventured further into the national park to the last shuttle stop, which dropped us off near The Narrows.

The Narrows is a full 18 mile hike that you can do in the canyon, and gets its name from the small path that snakes through the canyon. You’re wading in water for the majority of the walk, with 50ft+ sheer walls either side.

The part we did was quite busy as everyone goes to the same spot, you start on a walking path that takes you through the canyon and stops where the canyon narrows in to the river flow. You then have to walk in the water to go further.

We did so for a while until the water was getting deeper, and then headed back. Some hikers do the full hike all the way which is supposedly amazing, but it is also cold and some areas are very deap so you need to carry your bag over your head if you don’t want it to get wet. That’s not something we could or wanted to do at this point.

You also have to be very careful for flash floods, especially in monsoon season (now). There’s nowhere to run if you’re caught in the narrows!

We then headed back to the camp-site for our first camping dinner and my first tent sleep, which ended up being pretty good.

Our second day started with a very early morning, a 5.30am alarm in order to take us up to the national park for the first shuttle of the day.

We woke up this early to walk the Angel’s Landing hike, a strenuous hike up one of the park’s mountains.

The beginning of the hike wasn’t too bad, a fairly steady incline on a paved path.

It then becomes a succession of steep switch backs until you reach Scout’s Lookout. From there you have a very beautiful view over the valley; this is where a lot of people conclude the hike and descend back down.

Then it becomes messy. To reach the top of the mountain, you need to go through a very steep and frightening walk up rocks, using your hands and chains. At times the path is very thin, with 1000ft drops each side.

For anyone scared of heights, it is a terrifying experience. You kind of need to stop from time to time to put your thoughts together, but with the path being so narrow, people are waiting behind which kind of forces you to push on. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do.

After again wanting to quit 2 or 3 times, we finally made it to the top, scared but proud of ourselves!

The view from up there was incredible! You are rewarded by a 360 degree view over the valley and the canyons. Truly breathtaking, and again well worth the hell walk.

The way down wasn’t a piece of cake either. By that point, dozens of tourists had made their way to the strenuous section, which made the chains harder to get to and the walk down even more dangerous. We were glad we didn’t do the hike at peak time, it would have been a nightmare.

After our hike, we headed back to the campsite to take our tent down and made our way to Bryce National Park.

The camp-site there was big and shadey, which allowed us to have a bit more privacy and space around the tent, compared to the night before. We put our tent up in record time.

After setting up, we headed to the National Park for an afternoon hike.

Bryce canyon is WOW! The view from the rim was absolutely jaw dropping, with its succession of red, orange and yellow rocks. It is just impossible to take a reasonable amount of pictures as every step you take, a new beautiful sight seems to appear. We were truly impressed.

We decided to keep our afternoon hike fairly short by opting for the Queen’s Garden trail, a 3 mile loop taking you around the canyon from top to bottom.

After such a busy day, we decided to call it a day after that hike and made it back to the camp-site around 4.30pm to enjoy some time before dinner.

Tomorrow, we’re heading 5hrs North West to Moab, where we will be spending the next couple of (hot!) days.

#TheDexplorers

TIPS

  • Don’t attempt Angel’s landing if you are scared of heights. It is really scary up there and busy. Plus once you’re on it, it’s hard to backtrack and decide to go back. Make sure you know what you’re doing.

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