Zion: Visiting in the Fall and (not falling off) Angel's Landing
Zion is a US National Park that has activities for adventurous hikers and also beginners/families- from the exhilarating Angel's Landing hike where you cling to chains to make it to the end, and the chilly and wet Narrows between weaving canyon walls. Going in early November was a great experience- it wasn't too hot, the views were still nice before the snow, and there were fall colors all around.
Before going, I reserved a shuttle pass at https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/zion-canyon-shuttle-tickets.htm. To get to Angel's Landing, the Narrows, and most of the park, a shuttle drives you from the bottom of the canyon. I was able to get two $1 shuttle reservations the day before, even though tickets can be reserved up to 2 weeks in advance. The shuttle reservations range from 7 AM to 2 PM. I woke up at 8 AM the day before and reserved a 9 AM reservation since we wanted to do Angel's Landing earlier in the day.
We drove from Vegas, leaving around 4 AM (to account for the MST 1 hour time difference) in order to arrive in time for our 9 AM reservation. Driving in the morning is great so you can see the multicolored canyons as you enter the park. My only regret was not stopping by the town of Virgin and taking a picture in the Virgin jail. We parked at the Visitor Center, and the lot was already more than 60% full by 8:45 AM on a weekday. There was lots of parking in Springdale, but I recommend parking in the visitor center since it's closer to the restrooms and shuttle and the outside parking may be more expensive. I also recommend buying the $80 National Park Pass- if you are going to Bryce/Arches/Grand Canyon anyways.
After using the bathroom and putting on hiking gear, we got on the shuttle around 9-9:15 AM. The shuttles inside are spacious and definitely allow for social distancing.
Some of the stops are closed (See the map here to plan your visit), and it took about 30-40 min to get to stop 6, the Grotto, which is the trailhead for Angel's Landing. After another bathroom break, we started the hike.
Difficulty: According the NPS, it is strenuous and takes 4 hours. I would say it's actually medium/hard, but definitely not for anyone afraid of heights. I have a slight fear and my legs were wobbly as we were nearing the top and looking over 1000 feet over the edge. But my heartrate steadily lowered as I took in the views at the top. As a moderately fit person, it took me about 3.5 hours to finish, starting from 10 am and getting to the bottom around 1:30 pm, with several breaks, and several minutes of delay (due to the chains allowing only one person to hike on the path at a time). We packed lunch and I carried about 32 oz. of water, and I don't drink too much so I wish I only packed 16 oz of water.
Even though I normally hate descending- going down was easier than I thought and not too scary. Also, around the midway point before the chains there is normally a restroom, but there was caution tape so I just held it in until we finished the hike. I think people still used the bathroom there anyways. I recommend Angel's Landing so long as you are not afraid of heights- it's over 100 flights of stairs ascent, but the views are amazing.
After finishing Angel's Landing, we took the shuttle to the temple of Sinawava where we did the riverside trail that led to the Narrows (the Narrows on it's own is a half-day to full-day excursion). It was about 1-2 miles in and flat, so I recommend this simple walk for families (although I was still recovering from finishing AL).
Also, there is an express shuttle from the Temple to the Visitor Center, but we took a different bus and went to Emerald Pool (another easy hike). It was pretty disappointing in the fall though, as there was barely a waterfall. I recommend doing the Emerald Pool hike in the spring.
Otherwise, take the end of the day express shuttle from Temple to the Visitor Center!
We also drove to spend the night in Bryce- but missed out on seeing the scenic drive near the Bryce entrance. And there is nothing really in between the drive and people in Utah drive with high beams so if we had more time it would've been cool to stay the night in Zion.
If you can spend the night near the park- Zion Mountain Ranch seems like a cool option. With interstate road trips being more feasible than international travel, I'm seeing hella people go to Zion, so hopefully my advice helps if you opt outside!
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