Fair warning-this is very rambling!
I chose Zion as the main destination for my holiday present-a trip without husband and kids! I have been there once before on my own, and then last year spring break, the whole family spent part of a day there on the way back to Vegas from Bryce. This trip was for decompression.
It worked! I flew into Vegas, and drove directly to Springdale, with a quick sandwich at Jimmy Johns in St George for lunch. I checked into the Harvest House B&B, which was great (see separate review). I headed to the park at about 4:30. As I was waiting for the shuttle to the park, a ranger came and took down the 'Zion Parking Full-Take Shuttle' signs, so I hopped in the car and was indeed able to get a spot. I was so excited to be there that I hopped out of the care without paying any attention to where I parked. Since it was a first day rental, I didn't really even remember the color. Luckily, I remembered it was a toyota, and left the park fairly late when the parking lot was pretty emptied! I spent a short time at the Visitor Center gathering info on Ranger Programs, trails, etc...
I had not planned on hiking, but once I was there, I just had to. Unfortunately, I was still in my 'super-comfy for a 6am flight' attire, and didn't realize this would cause some chafing issues! sorry-tmi? I chose the Watchman Trail, as I'd never done it and it was listed as a couple hours. This was really great. There is a small elevation gain, but never any real steep parts. The moon was rising in the East, while the sun was setting across the sky, and the lighting was just cool. Once the sun was behind the mountains, and I removed my sunglasses, everything came even more to life. I highly suggest trying to see the most in low lights-the high sun can wash out much of the beauty, not to mention its heat.
On the suggestion of the innkeeper, I had dinner at the Whiptail Grill. This place looks like nothing-is, along with a gift shop, in an old gas station. Most tables are outdoors, which I love, since Spring hasnt really hit Wisconsin yet. The local beer was just what the doctor ordered. The food is upscale southwest. I had the prawn tacos, which were amazing. For dessert, I had the chocolate cake, which was obscenely large, and just ok.
After a great night's sleep and breakfast, I drove back into the park a bit before 9am on Friday. I took the shuttle right to Zion Lodge and started on the Emerald Pools trails. Having not done the Middle trail, I had planned to use this route, but it was closed due to damage from the winter. I think because of this, lots of hikers were missing the part of Middle pools that's the top of the waterfalls to the Lower. I didn't get all the way to Upper pools last time, and I can't remember why, as the hike is pretty easy, and the spectacular scenery is totally worth it! I spent quite a while sitting on the rocks, watching the waterfall, and listening to other people-heard some great stories of Zion's constantly changing landscape from some people who'd been there last in the 70s, and some who come every year. Then I took the Kayenta trail down from the pools and over to the Grotto. This is one of my favorite trails. Great views in every direction, great biodiversity and the sound of the Virgin River. After crossing the little bridge over the river at the end of the trail, I went down to the trail that follows the river, instead of going to the shuttle stop. I followed this all along back to the Lodge. At one point, I watched a whirlpool area for probably 20 minutes, following a piece of driftwood taking not at all the route one would think all around. This is when I realized how good it was that I was by myself. Otherwise, I'd have heard, 'cmon, youre watching a stick' after about 20 seconds! But I just love the river, and wondering how long that driftwood had been stuck there.
Then I went to the Lodge for lunch. There is a grill (burgers, fries, etc...) with lots of outside seating. But on my last trip, I'd found the 'real' restaurant (upstairs) to be a gem. I sat in a beautiful, shaded spot outside. Views all around. It may not be practical, $-wise, for a large group, but I had a great salmon burger, bottomless soda and water, and a very restful chair in a beautiful spot for well less than $20, including tip. Our family spent spring break in DC, paying outrageous prices for crappy food at various Smithsonians, so it's all relative.
I finally got up and took the shuttle down to the Human History Museum. The exhibits and movie are very well-done, and a great introduction to the Park (stuff you usually get at park visitor centers). I attended a ranger program, which was ok.
Then I took the shuttle up to Big Bend, and got off, just cause I never had before. I was finally starting to realize that there are a lot more trails at Zion than just those dozen listed in the brochure! I walked down to the river and found a great spot to sit and read. It was difficult to pull myself away, but I scrambled back up and caught a shuttle to Weeping Rock in just enough time to catch the Ranger Walk that met there at 5pm. Im so glad I did. This was a fantastic program ('Rock and Stroll'). The ranger was new to Zion, but not to parks and nature preserves-had a fascinating chat with him after the program. We walked along the river, stopping at various spots, and ended up (after an hour?) at the spot under BigBend that I hadn't wanted to leave! BigBend is best in the evening. The Great White Throne is bathed in sunlight between the darkened Organ and Angels' Landing. Spectacular. It's also cooler, and there are many climbers out, both up and down canyon from the big bend stop. I walked along the road back to Weeping Rock to get a closer look at some of the climbers. Finally, took the shuttle down to my car.
I had dinner Friday night at the Flying Monkey. I ate outside-beautiful setting and wonderful meal of caprese salad and wood-fired margherita pizza.
Another great sleep, and awoke at 6am to catch early morning light. On the shuttle, they tell you that the back patio of the History Museum is a great place to watch the sunrise. Except, of course, that you CANT! There is no way to get to that patio when the museum is closed. But I asked the innkeeper, who suggested the softball fields behind the town library (this is up the side street from Zion Adventure). This was indeed a great view. I then went to Cafe Soleil to get a sandwich to take hiking (as they advertise they do). Unfortunately, they told me they were too busy to make me a sandwich. This was particularly irksome since I'd stopped by the evening before to get one, and they told me to come back in the morning. I drove around till I ended up at the Sol Foods grocery in town, which had some pre-made sandwiches in the deli. I had to be at Zion Adventure by 7:20 to catch a trailhead shuttle. I had arranged this on Thursday when I got to town. There was much activity, but I was the only hiker being shuttled to the east side. I was going to the East Mesa trail, which takes one 'downhill' to Observation Point. This was $24 (plus tip) VERY well-spent, as I discovered on the way out!! The East Mesa trail itself was very easy-flat walking in forested area. There were probably 15 or more types of wildflowers in bloom. I had to stop and turn around many times-the views were so different in every direction. When I had started hiking (about 830), there were just a few wispy clouds in the sky. Within the hour, I could see dark clouds letting loose in the North. More and more clouds gathered to the West until by 10am it was entirely cloudy and sprinkled a tiny bit on me! Gave me a new appreciation for the danger of flash floods, watching how quickly and drastically the weather can change. I was alone the entire time on East Mesa-SO beautiful and peaceful. And easier to take a bathroom break, since I was hours from an actual toilet. For those who, like me, dont often hike 'backcountry,' it's important to know to take TP and plastic bags with you. Luckily, I had paper towels in my backpack, and used the bag my sunscreen was in to pack it out. The ground was soft, and a pointy rock helped me easily dig a hole for my waste.
Once Zion Canyon opens up in front of you, it's an awesome site. I sat down to take it in and was dismayed to hear voices. I thought, 'hey, this is my trail.' Turns out i was quite near to meeting the Observation Point trail! That hadn't even occurred to me when I asked a couple where they came from! I guess I was truly transported. Anyway, I headed the last easy bit to Observation Point.
WOW-JUST WOW. The whole canyon lies before you. If you walk to one side, you can see the waterfall at Temple of Sinawava. To the other direction, you can see slickrock. Angels' Landing is below you, and you can see tiny people on the ridge. As I walked over to one spot, a woman warned me of a rattlesnake in the bush on the rim. At first, I backed up. But I inched over there to get a glimpse. Another hiker was trying to get a photo, and the snake actually rattled! It then retreated even more behind the little bush-truly not looking for trouble. A little chipmunk was nearby, and we wondered if we would get to see a Mutual of Omaha moment (nope). I would recommend doing this trail as early as possible to avoid a crowd. I sat there a good long while, but judging by the amount of people I passed heading up there, it was gonna get busy. There were great views all the way down, and down, and down. The whole hike was tremendous, but I am SO glad I came in from the East!! I was blessed with great weather. The threatening sky was spectacular, but there was never any thunder, so I didn't worry. The sun came back out later on. I think i was back at Weeping Rock after 1230. I definitely took my time, but I also skipped Hidden Canyon. Next time, I will plan to do that. Another benefit of this hike is it cured me of my desire to overcome my fear to hike Angels' Landing. I realized I already got the view, so why put myself thru the fear on a scarier and more crowded trail?
I went back into town for lunch and ended up at Oscar's around 2. It was crowded, but I got a table fairly quickly and was able to eat outdoors. It looked like the burgers were the thing to try, but wasn't in the mood, and had a great turkey and avocado sandwich on marble rye. The service here was a bit more matter of fact and less friendly, but it was very busy.
I went back to the BB and sat in the shade for a while, resting. There was a native flute festival in town at the ballfields. I walked over there. Turned out they were finishing up at 6, so i drove back into the park. I was drawn back to my new favorite spot, the riverside under Big Bend. Sat and read for a while. Later, back into town for a pleasant, but not spectacular, dinner outside at the Spotted Dog.
On Sunday, I stayed at breakfast for some time, with the owners, as well as a couple who's come to Zion from CA scores of times over the years. I checked out and got such a late start that I had to take the town shuttle into the park for the first time. I love Springdale-a little town with great public transportation!
I was a bit sore from the previous days' hikes, so decided to do easy stuff. But the hikes were still spectacular. I took the Paarus trail from the visitor center to Canyon Overlook. There are so many places to sit next to the river-completely alone, tho you will see other people and bikes one the trail. I then took the park shuttle straight to the top and walked the Riverside trail, which never disappoints. I took the shuttle back to Canyon Overlook to walk the Paarus trail in the other direction. It is really spectacular to have Watchman, et al to your left, and West Temple, et al to your right. I decided to savor my last minutes of this trip, sitting on the rocks by the river yet again.
Zion is the best de-stresser!