Zion Front-country - Nov. 2019

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wabenho

Member
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Joined
Sep 18, 2017
Messages
113
Growing up in Utah, my family spent many adventures in National Parks throughout the West and Zion was one of our favorites. I remember, as a kid, driving all the way up to the end of Zion Canyon in our family car. I remember parking at the lodge to hike, dine and stay in the cabins there. As I entered my teens and twenties, the shuttle was implemented and my Zion adventures changed to canyoneering, backpacking and other backcountry pursuits. Even though I spent more time outside of the main Zion Canyon, I still enjoyed dropping in at the lodge, lounging on the lawn under the big cottonwoods and taking a quick hike to the Emerald Pools.

As the Park grew more popular it became increasingly difficult to derive the same enjoyment as I once did. Shuttle lines became ridiculously long, permits and camping spots were hard to come by, etc. Eventually, my trips dwindled down the very rare occasion.

So, when my wife and I were gifted a 2-night stay at the Zion Lodge, I had my doubts. I doubted that we would be able to find a reservation that worked with our schedule. Even if we found a reservation, I questioned the quality of our visit. I imagined standing in long lines for the shuttle and overly crowded hiking trails...

Eventually, I adjusted my attitude and set about making a reservation. I found some availability for a weekend several months out. It wasn’t in the exact timeframe I had hoped for, but it would do. We also began planning some less traditional ways to experience the main canyon. In the end, this turned out to be an awesome weekend and my faith was restored that you can still have a great experience the front-county of Zion.

We arrived in Springdale about mid-day on Friday. The first activity we wanted to try was to bike the main canyon from the south entrance of the park to the end of the road at the Temple of Sinawava. We stopped at a small shop just outside the park entrance and rented a couple bikes. The ride was about 8 miles one way with a gradual climb as you progress further into the Park and a nice coast down on the way back.

This ride was awesome. The segment from the Park entrance to Canyon Junction is on a paved trail, so you are not on the road in the area that receives the most traffic. After Canyon Junction, only cars with special permits can continue up the main canyon to the lodge. So once we began riding on the road, there was very little car traffic. Then after you pass the lodge, only Park rangers are found driving the remainder of the road to the Temple of Sinawava.

This was an incredible way to experience the canyon. You are going at a slower pace with great visibility which really allows you to take it all in. We saw wildlife including several deer, turkeys and even the condor chick (through a scope that a volunteer had set up). When biking, you can stop wherever you want (unlike the designated shuttle stops) and explore. In all my visits to Zion, I had never experienced the canyon in such great detail. Not even when personal cars were allowed to the end of the road.

Here are a few pics:

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After our ride we returned to Springdale and had a great dinner at Oscar’s. After dinner we drove up to the lodge to check into our room. As we were pulling into the parking lot at the lodge, our headlights flashed across a small group of garbage cans near the edge of the big lawn and I saw what I thought was a racoon. I stopped and maneuvered the car so the headlights were again shining in the direction of the trash cans and I got a better look at the creature. To my surprise it was actually a ringtail cat. We were able to watch him for just a few seconds as he scampered off into the dark (not enough time for a picture). It was very cool to see an animal that I have wanted to see since reading about them in the old Zion pamphlet from when I was younger.

The next morning, we woke and discussed hiking options over breakfast. My wife had originally wanted to hike Angels Landing, but I sold her on a hike to Observation Point. Since she had hiked Angels landing before, it was not a hard sell. Because the trails at Weeping Rock are closed, we went the other way and drove around to the Ponderosa Ranch and used the East Mesa Trail.

From the trailhead at Ponderosa Ranch, the hike to Observation Point is about 3 miles. If you pay attention, there are a few spots where you can follow short social trails to the apex of some impressive slot canyons that plunge down from the East Mesa to the north.

I don’t know the name of the first one, but it has a great view:

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I do know the name of the second one: Mystery Canyon. Years ago, when I did more canyoneering, I was lucky enough to descend this canyon a couple times. It is a great experience if you ever get the chance and can secure a permit. Standing at this point brought back some great memories.

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Not too long after the Mystery canyon junction, we arrived at our destination.

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We lingered here for a good while, eating lunch, admiring the views and watching through binoculars the line of people hiking the last section of Angels Landing (the prominent feature in the front right of the picture above). It was a great afternoon.

After the return hike from Observation Point, we drove back to the lodge. Since there was a bit of daylight left, we decided to walk across the bridge and do a quick Emerald Pools hike.

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This trail used to be a loop around the lower and middle pools, but a rockfall on the connecting trail prevents the loop. You now access the lower pools from one trail and the middle and upper pools from another. We visited the lower pools on this evening.

We returned to our room and prepared for dinner. As my wife was getting ready, I sat on the porch and watched several dear come out of hiding and make their way to the big lawn near the lodge.

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Some got so close I could have reached out and petted them (I didn’t).

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The main lodge looked cool as we walked over for dinner.

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We enjoyed a nice dinner and the lodge and as we wrapped up the trip my hopes were renewed and I enjoyed the thought that someday my kids might be able to have awesome experiences in Zion, just like I did when I was young.
 

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zionsky

Member
Joined
Dec 23, 2018
Messages
236
The first activity we wanted to try was to bike the main canyon from the south entrance of the park to the end of the road at the Temple of Sinawava. We stopped at a small shop just outside the park entrance and rented a couple bikes. The ride was about 8 miles one way with a gradual climb as you progress further into the Park and a nice coast down on the way back.
I chuckled when I read this because it reminded me of when we biked it back in the fall of 2013. The park was closed at the start of our trip due to the shutdown. Two days before we left, the state of utah stepped in and reopened the park but kept the main canyon closed to cars and buses. We wanted to go in but dreaded the long walk to all the trailheads so I came up with the idea of renting bikes. I had been up and down the canyon drive many times by car or shuttle bus and never once paid attention to the elevation gain. So when we rented the bikes in town (with my 3 year old in the pull-behind buggy)
I was expecting a leisurely afternoon ride. Needless to say, that gradual elevation gain kicked my butt. It was a beautiful ride, especially with no traffic but I was so happy for the downhill on the return.
 

Ugly

Life really is better Here
.
Joined
Apr 20, 2013
Messages
620
Ringtails are cool, and fun to watch swinging from your food bag by headlamp...
I have contemplated talking my wife into biking Zion, it is something she would like to do down there, especially if we were sleeping in the lodge or a hotel. Thanks for the motivation.
 

JBPHXAZ

Member
Joined
Apr 2, 2018
Messages
18
Growing up in Utah, my family spent many adventures in National Parks throughout the West and Zion was one of our favorites. I remember, as a kid, driving all the way up to the end of Zion Canyon in our family car. I remember parking at the lodge to hike, dine and stay in the cabins there. As I entered my teens and twenties, the shuttle was implemented and my Zion adventures changed to canyoneering, backpacking and other backcountry pursuits. Even though I spent more time outside of the main Zion Canyon, I still enjoyed dropping in at the lodge, lounging on the lawn under the big cottonwoods and taking a quick hike to the Emerald Pools.

As the Park grew more popular it became increasingly difficult to derive the same enjoyment as I once did. Shuttle lines became ridiculously long, permits and camping spots were hard to come by, etc. Eventually, my trips dwindled down the very rare occasion.

So, when my wife and I were gifted a 2-night stay at the Zion Lodge, I had my doubts. I doubted that we would be able to find a reservation that worked with our schedule. Even if we found a reservation, I questioned the quality of our visit. I imagined standing in long lines for the shuttle and overly crowded hiking trails...

Eventually, I adjusted my attitude and set about making a reservation. I found some availability for a weekend several months out. It wasn’t in the exact timeframe I had hoped for, but it would do. We also began planning some less traditional ways to experience the main canyon. In the end, this turned out to be an awesome weekend and my faith was restored that you can still have a great experience the front-county of Zion.

We arrived in Springdale about mid-day on Friday. The first activity we wanted to try was to bike the main canyon from the south entrance of the park to the end of the road at the Temple of Sinawava. We stopped at a small shop just outside the park entrance and rented a couple bikes. The ride was about 8 miles one way with a gradual climb as you progress further into the Park and a nice coast down on the way back.

This ride was awesome. The segment from the Park entrance to Canyon Junction is on a paved trail, so you are not on the road in the area that receives the most traffic. After Canyon Junction, only cars with special permits can continue up the main canyon to the lodge. So once we began riding on the road, there was very little car traffic. Then after you pass the lodge, only Park rangers are found driving the remainder of the road to the Temple of Sinawava.

This was an incredible way to experience the canyon. You are going at a slower pace with great visibility which really allows you to take it all in. We saw wildlife including several deer, turkeys and even the condor chick (through a scope that a volunteer had set up). When biking, you can stop wherever you want (unlike the designated shuttle stops) and explore. In all my visits to Zion, I had never experienced the canyon in such great detail. Not even when personal cars were allowed to the end of the road.

Here are a few pics:

View attachment 86264

View attachment 86265

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View attachment 86267

View attachment 86268

View attachment 86269

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After our ride we returned to Springdale and had a great dinner at Oscar’s. After dinner we drove up to the lodge to check into our room. As we were pulling into the parking lot at the lodge, our headlights flashed across a small group of garbage cans near the edge of the big lawn and I saw what I thought was a racoon. I stopped and maneuvered the car so the headlights were again shining in the direction of the trash cans and I got a better look at the creature. To my surprise it was actually a ringtail cat. We were able to watch him for just a few seconds as he scampered off into the dark (not enough time for a picture). It was very cool to see an animal that I have wanted to see since reading about them in the old Zion pamphlet from when I was younger.

The next morning, we woke and discussed hiking options over breakfast. My wife had originally wanted to hike Angels Landing, but I sold her on a hike to Observation Point. Since she had hiked Angels landing before, it was not a hard sell. Because the trails at Weeping Rock are closed, we went the other way and drove around to the Ponderosa Ranch and used the East Mesa Trail.

From the trailhead at Ponderosa Ranch, the hike to Observation Point is about 3 miles. If you pay attention, there are a few spots where you can follow short social trails to the apex of some impressive slot canyons that plunge down from the East Mesa to the north.

I don’t know the name of the first one, but it has a great view:

View attachment 86274

I do know the name of the second one: Mystery Canyon. Years ago, when I did more canyoneering, I was lucky enough to descend this canyon a couple times. It is a great experience if you ever get the chance and can secure a permit. Standing at this point brought back some great memories.

View attachment 86275

Not too long after the Mystery canyon junction, we arrived at our destination.

View attachment 86276

We lingered here for a good while, eating lunch, admiring the views and watching through binoculars the line of people hiking the last section of Angels Landing (the prominent feature in the front right of the picture above). It was a great afternoon.

After the return hike from Observation Point, we drove back to the lodge. Since there was a bit of daylight left, we decided to walk across the bridge and do a quick Emerald Pools hike.

View attachment 86277

This trail used to be a loop around the lower and middle pools, but a rockfall on the connecting trail prevents the loop. You now access the lower pools from one trail and the middle and upper pools from another. We visited the lower pools on this evening.

We returned to our room and prepared for dinner. As my wife was getting ready, I sat on the porch and watched several dear come out of hiding and make their way to the big lawn near the lodge.

View attachment 86278

Some got so close I could have reached out and petted them (I didn’t).

View attachment 86279

The main lodge looked cool as we walked over for dinner.

View attachment 86280

We enjoyed a nice dinner and the lodge and as we wrapped up the trip my hopes were renewed and I enjoyed the thought that someday my kids might be able to have awesome experiences in Zion, just like I did when I was young.
Nice post. It is interesting to see the difference in Zion over the years. My friend's father retired to Springdale in the 90s, so we used to go there 1-2 times a year in the 90s and 00s (he finally moved around 2010 after not being able to deal with the crowds). We always took our road bikes and mountain bikes and would ride up the switchbacks to the tunnel and then in to the canyon. Very few cars back then when the visitation was not like it is now. We would mountain bike on Gooseberry Mesa back when it was somewhat of a only a locally known spot. And can remember hiking to Observation Point and only seeing 1-2 other people on the hike. Great memories. Still an incredible place, you just have to have a lot of patience with the crowds.
 

Dreamer

off grid
.
Joined
Jun 14, 2016
Messages
154
Sounds like a pleasant weekend. Visited Zion for the first time this October. I took a morning walk up the Narrows and it felt like I was on the street in Times Square, must’ve seen 1000+ people. Then I got a walk-in camping permit for the south west of the park and did not see anyone for 20hrs.
 

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