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Before my cross-country road trip this summer, I knew almost nothing about Zion National Park. The little I did know ranged from, truthfully, nothing more than a variety of pictures from my favorite travel blogs.
Still, when my roommate suggested adding Zion to our list of parks to visit, I was excited to finally experience the views for myself. We reserved a campsite ahead of time, and about ten days into our road trip, we finally made the drive from Bryce Canyon (another beauty worth checking out), to the entrance of Zion.
The moment you enter through the park entrance, it feels as if you have been transported into a prehistoric world. Enormous sandstone formations, deep valleys, and stunning cliffs envelop you immediately. It’s no wonder that when an artist visited the area back in the early 20th century, people actually thought his paintings were too stunning to be real.
Within a few miles of driving, I found the road taking us, literally, into the mountain. A tunnel transports you through to the other end, and the beauty continues.
Zion National Park boasts tons of different geological formations, plant species, and everything from desert-like heat during the June afternoons, to the freezing cold water that we waded through in the Narrows. You can find mountains, the Virgin River, forests, and, for those willing to risk a 1400 foot drop to the ground, the infamous Angel’s Landing hike.
For those who have never heard of the Narrows, this refers to a famous hike through part of a canyon where the Virgin River runs through unbelievably deep canyon walls.
We decided to plan our hike for early morning. As far as preparation goes, we saw many people walking around in rented “water” shoes, supposedly helpful for wading in the current, but we decided against purchasing them. I was initially nervous about using my hiking boots in so much water, but looking back I would recommend it. They work fine, don’t look tacky, save money, and hey, you get a free wash out of it!
That being said, I DO recommend purchasing a walking stick. As hokey as it felt bringing my wooden stick on the shuttle to the Narrows, it was essential for feeling out the water depth, and trying not to slide around on the rocks. That wooden stick probably saved me from embarrassment numerous times, even if I did look like a wizard.
The morning of our hike, we woke up at about 5:45am. I threw on a t-shirt, running shorts, and a waterproof windbreaker, packed my backpack with a protein bar and water, and we were off. One thing I noticed camping at Zion, the heat wakes you up early, and many people are already wide awake getting ready to beat any lines for the shuttle.
With pretty much all of the main hikes, you have to use the free transportation offered by the park to get to the trail heads, so taking the shuttle by 6:30 or 7am is one of my main recommendations to experience the park at its finest. Past early morning, huge groups of families head out for the hikes, making the scenery less peaceful. Starting out there early is absolutely key to getting maximum enjoyment out of your experience. Because of the quiet morning, I felt as if we were explorers experiencing the Virgin River on our own, with only a few other hikers around us.
Once we got off the shuttle, there was a brief walk towards the entrance of the river. We eventually reached the start, and watching some people in front of us get right in, I went straight for the water. Within moments my shoes were soaked, but it felt refreshing. We were too excited to walk slowly, and quickly made our way against the current.
After only ten minutes, I understood the hype surrounding the Narrows. As I waded knee-deep against swift running water, I felt as if I had entered my own universe hidden inside the valley. The sides of the canyon came close on either side, and rose so high up we were covered in shadow for the first half of the hike.
Different colors of the walls surrounding us included smooth hues of grey, rough red rocks, tiny trickling waterfalls, and large cavernous openings to walk under areas where the canyon jutted out overhead.
For most of the hike, we were submerged in the water. The current picked up at times, making it a constant battle to hike from one side of the river to the next. I could pretend I never slipped, but trust me, I fell in...a lot.
The river ranged widely in depth, at moments reaching up to my hips, forcing me to raise my backpack up high. I saw some people swimming in areas where the current lessened and the water rose up higher, even one hiker just floating for fun while they took a break.
There were also pockets of shore along the river scattered throughout the hike. Trees actually grew down in the valley in these parts, making the Narrows feel even more like a hidden paradise.
We waded through for about 2 ½ hours then turned around to make it back with the current. We met a woman at this point who hiked with us for a bit, and eventually talked about her career as a hiking guide back home. I learned from her that after a certain distance along the river, you need a permit to continue wading further into the Narrows. (This is my goal for next time!)
The way back felt a bit tougher. The current pushed me along over hidden rocks before my footing felt correct, and the sun had reached the depths of the valley by the time we turned around. The shadows keeping me cool for the first bit of the hike had faded.
Yet with the sunlight, the Narrows once again seemed to transform beautifully before my eyes. The water became a rich aqua color I could hardly look away from, and despite feeling a bit of sleep-deprivation crawl its way into my head, I never wanted the trail to end.
By the time we reached the entrance back to land, I could feel the weariness in my legs. The hike does not feel too taxing while you are in the river, considering there are no real uphill moments, but by the end the wading did take a toll. However, I find myself thinking back constantly to my experience.
A year ago, I did not even know such a stunning place existed. Out of all my experiences with the outdoors, I have also never experienced a hike submerged in water! After a morning spent hidden in the Narrows’ secret universe, I can safely say my passion for adventure has grown. Oh, and most importantly? My hiking boots got their free wash on what has become my Prime Adventure.