Grand Canyon and Zion
One park that you’ve definitely heard of and one that you maybe haven’t. Everybody knows about the Grand Canyon, carved through years of erosion into an insanely deep cut in the Earth that doesn’t seem possible. You’ve seen pictures and heard stories from everyone who’s been there. But what I’m here to tell you is that all of what you’ve heard is true. It’s a sight that you can’t really comprehend or appreciate through images alone. You have to be there to really feel the depth of the canyon, the extent of the cuts, and the vast area the canyon takes up.
I went to the North side of The Grand Canyon, which is actually the less popular side. The way I understand it, the South side let’s you drive along the Canyon’s edge and see it from multiple vantage points, while the North was much more of a single, central point where you park and walk around. And if there’s one drawback to the Grand Canyon it’s definitely the lack of things to do. You can soak in the enormity of the canyon for only so long before you want to do something more or see something else, but there isn’t much offered in that regard (at least not on the North side). There are a few hikes, but they mostly just give you a workout and present a slightly different version of what you’ve already seen. There were offers of donkey rides down to the canyon bottom, but they were $60 for a half day, and I had neither the time nor the spare cash to partake. It’s absolutely worth it to just sit/walk around and eventually watch the Sun set beyond the canyon, but it isn’t one of those parks where you could imagine finding enough things to do for more than a couple days.
If you ever go to Grand Canyon North, I’d have to suggest following my itinerary. I’m not trying to brag because there are countless things that I missed out on or didn’t do exactly as I should have during my trip—but I absolutely nailed these two days. I arrived at the canyon in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day drooling over myself and trying to comprehend that nature actually created the thing sitting in front of me. I went on a couple hikes and then came back to the main lodge, picked out a spot near one of the overhangs and watched the Sun set, flinging colors softly onto the canyon’s cliffs. When all was dark I set up camp, made dinner as quickly as possible, and went to bed early with plans to get moving at first light.
And when that light came around I was off to do one of Grand Canyon North’s few offerings, a drive to the Angel’s Window. Along the drive there are two or three places to stop and a slightly different view of the Canyon itself, but the main attraction is definitely the short hike when you get to the road’s end. At the Angel’s Window you walk on a thin formation of rock that juts ludicrously out into the canyon. Making things feel even more precarious is the giant hole in the formation that you can see about ten feet beneath the ground you’re walking on. It’s a little sketchy for someone who is afraid of heights, but when you’re at the edge surrounded only by air 270° around you, it’s a pretty unbelievable feeling.
Once you’ve soaked that feeling in, it’s time to get on the move again. Hop in the car because a mere two and a half hours away is Zion National Park. I didn’t know too much about Zion before I got there, but I have to say it is the superior park to the Grand Canyon. It doesn’t have that single, explosive, mind-shattering view, but it serves up beauty after beauty and has a multitude of hikes that keep you busy. As you’re nearing the park entrance from the East side you will be thoroughly unimpressed. Everything will look like a desert, which is completely the same as it’s looked for the entirety of your drive. But when you enter the park, things change rapidly. You’ll be confronted with sharp reds and smoothed whites that easily surpass the dulled orange clay that you’ve been surrounded by. Strange rock formations will rise out of seemingly nothing and invite you to pull off to the side and take a climb. And that’s not even the main attraction.
While I took plenty of time stopping to click photos and create my own impromptu climbs, your time is best served by getting to the meat of Zion. Once you get through the winding roads you’ll end up at the South Entrance where you can park and take a free shuttle along a road that is cut off from personal vehicles. This shuttle stops at five or six unbelievable places, each of which requires a short to moderate hike to see, but is about 1000% worth it. The shortest and simplest hike is at Weeping Rock, which is only a quarter mile and brings you to the most perfectly excavated natural overhang you’ll ever see. Large enough to walk up and down, rock covers your head and the water dripping off the plants above make the formation “weep” all around you.
The Grotto requires a much more serious hike, but it also pays off in a series of fantastic emerald pools. You’ll have to do a bit of climbing but each of the pools provides such a sense of calm serenity that you can easily forget any hardship involved in bringing you there. I was in quite a rush to see as much of Zion as I could in as short a time as possible, but if you are thinking of pausing for a light lunch somewhere in the park, the emerald pools are hard to beat. Finally, the Temple of Sinawava offers a longer but much less laborious hike along the Virgin River. The juxtaposition of plant growth along this shallow but vibrant river with the towering canyon overhead is worth the price of admission in itself. While I wasn’t able to go all the way to the end, there is a longer trail that takes you all the way to the Narrows, and from what I heard this is yet another dynamite view.
There are other trails and other options available at Zion, but I had prior plans to meet a friend in Vegas at the end of the night, so those were the only trails I had time to explore. But, depending on your inclinations, I would suggest at least a two day trip to Zion so you can hit all the trails. Even the shuttle stops that I skipped (Court of the Patriarchs and Big Bend) seemed like they would be great hikes with even better views. However, if you prefer to spend the day hiking and the night drinking, Las Vegas is only two more hours away and the drive is completely doable (and a welcome respite) after the intense adventures of Zion. Even if you happen to be stuck in traffic because an 18 wheeler exploded a few miles ahead of you, leaving you to drive past its apocalyptic-like charred skeletal remains, the drive is entirely doable.