Zion National Park
Updated: Nov 28, 2023
During a weekend trip to Vegas for family, we decided to take 2 days to explore parks within driving distance of Sin City. Just 15 miles outside the city, it is a whole different world! The first park we checked out was Zion National Park. The most shocking thing to me was how gorgeous this park is in the winter. Most of the pictures I’ve seen are from warmer months so it was an incredible surprise!
Zion is large and since we only had 6 hours to explore the park we decided to do the highlights to catch as many snow covered views as possible. We drove our rental car from Vegas to Springdale, the town at the entrance to Zion and parked our car near the visitor center. We then took the tour bus from the visitor center to each stop in the park, but only chose to hop out for 3 and hike for 2 of them because of time. The shuttles run roughly every 10 minutes, which allows you to spend some time at each of the 9 stops: Visitor Center; Human History Museum; Canyon Junction; Court of the Patriarchs; Zion Lodge; The Grotto; Weeping Rock; Big Bend and Temple of Sinawava. The last 2 stops were closed due to road issues, so we got out at Court of the Patriarchs and The Grotto (hiked 2 trails at this stop). But as soon as it gets warm, we will be going back to Zion to check out all the stops and trails we missed. (See below for our wish list for the next trip.)
The Court of the Patriarchs:
This stop had a few short hikes but mostly an impressive view of some iconic landmarks in Zion. They are a set of sandstone cliffs named after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from the Bible. The hikes are so short at this stop, they shouldn’t really be considered hikes at all. But the views are breathtaking. The tallest peak is 6890ft (Abraham peak) and you can also see The Sentinel and Mount Moroni from this stop. You really only need about 10minutes at this stop however there is a longer trail called Sand Bench Loop which is less popular, which means has less people.
This stop has what is considered to be the best hike with the best views in all of Zion: Angel’s Landing trail. Half of this trail was closed so we were only able to do the first 3.5 miles of the trail. If you had spikes on your boots, you could complete the entire 5 mile stretch, but towards then end of the 3.5 miles we were already losing our balance on the ice narrow paths. The first part of the trail brings you to Walter’s Wiggle, a steep zig-zag that goes up to Scout’s Lookout. From this vantage point you get sprawling views of the canyon in the direction of the visitor center (although you are too far away to see it). The trail is partially paved with a few guardrails or chains to help less experienced hikers out. But the last mile of the trail is very narrow and nearly impossible without spikes in the winter (4.5-5 feet wide).
The other trail we took was Kayenta trail to the Upper Emerald Pools. We had little prior knowledge of this trail when we decided to take it. By the time we looped back from Angel’s landing, we had about an hour of daylight left so we made the call to hike up Kayenta quickly to see what it had to offer. We ended up finding beautiful half frozen pools and what looked like 500 to 1000 foot waterfalls! During the summer the pools have a green tint due to the algae but during the winter they are a sea of white among the red rocks. The entire trail was about 2 miles there and back because we went as far as you could go to the Upper Pool. The Upper Pool is more secluded than the others and is surrounded by towering cliffs on 3 sides. The silence is deafening and you get moments of truly feeling completely alone in the best way. The icy snow and the setting sun slowed us down a bit, but we managed to complete the loop in 45 minutes and make it back for the last shuttle.
Wish List for Next Zion Trip:
Court of the Patriarchs - Sand Bench trail
Zion Lodge - Lower & Upper Emerald Pools
Weeping Rock - Hidden Canyon trail, Observation Point trail, East Rim trail
Temple of Sinawava - The Narrows, Angel’s landing trail views (from a different vantage point), Riverside walk
The second park we explored was a lesser-known state park this turned out to be a hidden gem! Valley of Fire is only an hour and a half outside of Vegas but feels like you’re on a different continent.
This park is a year round park, for sure! No matter when you go, you can hike and see stunning scenery. It is enjoyable in 90 degree weather and in 40 degree weather.
If you are looking to camp in this park, rather than just hike, I would recommend the spring or fall so that you are comfortable at night.
But if you would rather book a cabin, hotel room, or one of our personal favorites, a safari tent with Under Canvas, you can really go any time of the year and be perfectly content with your trip.
When you’re planning your own adventure to this stunning park out west, be sure to consider rolling Bryce Canyon into the mix as well! Bryce is only a 2-hour drive from Zion and can be seen in a day or two if your time is limited.
For other national park trip ideas, check out these posts:
Backpacking Through Shenandoah and the AT - Coming soon!
Teton National Park’s Must-Do Hikes - Coming soon!