After looking closer at the map, we would not be able to get to Zion proper from the entrance closest to us at Kolob Canyons so we took the trek down to Zion proper arriving a little before 10am to find all parking lots full. We knew that Zion was one of the most popular NPs, but didn’t think that it would be that busy this time of year. It is rolling spring break in the middle of March, but still. Zion does not allow private vehicles in Zion Canyon (the most popular part) you have to take a shuttle that makes 9 stops up and down the canyon, but we were out of luck since there was no parking. Some people park at scenic pull outs near the canyon and hike to the shuttle pickup. I am not encouraging this and it is not allowed, but some do it anyway.
We decided to take the scenic drive down Hwy 9 which climbs steeply up the canyon, goes thru a 1.1-mile tunnel, and travels along the upper portion of the park. It is called the Zion – Mt Carmel Highway and was unexpectedly beautiful. The mountains were shorter but the views were spectacular and the tall views (close up) make my neck hurt. We probably spent over 4 hours on a 12-mile road. There are not marked trails, but we made our own. You could explore for hours at each scenic stop. Interesting note the tunnel was built in the 1920s and does not fit many of the larger vehicles we have these days. If your vehicle is 11’4” or taller or over 7’10” wide you have to make special arrangements and go thru the tunnel as a one lane road. Don’t think we will be taking the bus that way. Anyway here are pictures of that area.
After the drive, we decided to check out the parking lot to see if there was a spot available later in the afternoon. We finally found one and jumped on the shuttle to explore Zion Canyon proper. We did a couple of hikes and enjoyed the ride, but have to say it was unimpressive after the views on the scenic byway drive. The canyon walls were very tall and from the shuttle you could not get the whole view. The hikes were nice, but very crowded. All in all, if we were visiting again and only had one day we would create more hikes on the Zion-Mt Carmel drive and skip the canyon all together. I believe we mentioned so some of you that we were missing trees and water, well Zion offered both!! These pictures are mostly of the Riverside Walk in the Temple of Sinawava at the top of the canyon. Up there you have access to the “narrows” (without a trail), and we really wanted to go up a little just to see the ~20 ft wide cut in walls that must have been 1,000 feet high, but you had to cross the Virgin River to have any bank to walk on and we were not up to wet feet and hiking back.
Note: Amazing that Zion was created by the Virgin River which also created the mountain pass we took to enter Utah from Arizona. This pass was beautiful and we thanked the river the whole way for not making it worse on our bird, we were not sure how we would get over those mountains. The bird did great and so did my driver. Peace and love.