Updated: Aug 13
We woke up early, feeling rested in our little cabins at Jacob Lake Inn. Since the North Rim of Grand Canyon was not open, we headed northwest into Utah for a welcomed second helping of Zion National Park.
The last time we were in Zion, we did not get a chance to hike the 7-mile trail to Observation Point, so that would be our first adventure this time around. It would only take us about an hour and a half to drive from Jacob Lake to the trailhead, but it required driving through some rural areas and a gravel road. And we knew from our research that getting to the trailhead early was key due to very limited parking and strictly enforced parking regulations.
If you arrive when there are no legal parking spaces remaining, you have to turn around and drive a ways back out on the gravel road to an area where you can park and take a shuttle back to the trailhead. We were hoping to avoid this scenario, because it would add a bunch more time (and inconvenience) to our outing than we desired. But, we got up early and it paid off, because we were able to get one of the last open parking spaces at the trailhead.
The caveat with this hike is that parts of the trail, including the trailhead area, overlap with privately owned land, so it's of the utmost importance to respect the landowners and their rules. They don't have to allow us to hike on their land. It would be a terrible shame if the trail got shut down due to people disregarding the rules. Because, I will say, this hike is awesome, and many other awesome hiking trails on private land have been shut down due to this very thing. Needless to say, we respected the rules while we were out there.
When we pulled into our open parking spot, that section of vehicles was collectively disproportionately spaced. So, we did the best we could to maximize the available remaining space for the next vehicle(s) when they showed up, and we hit the trail.
About the first half of the route looked like this – lightly forested, dotted with mule's ear clusters, and a compacted dried mud trail. And we had threatening clouds above us. We knew that there was a chance of rain that day, which was another reason we wanted to get this hike in early.
I would say the trail's grade was mostly a gradual climb, but there were a few sections that were a bit steeper. And the terrain transitioned to more sand than compacted mud.
As we climbed, the trail started looking a bit more desert-like with yuccas and various cacti. It seemed weird to me that we could be hiking amongst plentiful conifer and deciduous trees right next to cacti and sagebrush.
Then we kind of crested the hill and we could start to see the first glimpses of magnificent Zion Canyon.
Not far from the top, we came across this group of guys who were on a trip together, celebrating multiple 40th birthdays. I told them we were there for the same reason for my sister-in-law. We offered to take their group photo here and then they returned the favor for us.
A quick 3.5 miles and we joined a dozen other hikers to take in the grand sights at Observation Point.
This canyon is just so amazing.
And a really fun thing about Observation Point is that you have a full view of Angels Landing, which was my favorite Zion hike the previous time we were there.
I probably could have stayed at this overlook all day.
I eventually sat on a rock for a little bit to have my snack, knowing I was going to haul it on the return route, challenging myself a little bit, and would need a bit of fuel.
Just then, we saw a young couple appear at the overlook, the young man was wearing a shirt that read "Mounds Park" on it. My husband asked him if that high school was in Minnesota. The guy confirmed, then we chatted with that couple for a bit.
They were on a road trip from the Midwest. We told them they should really try to get permits to hike Angels Landing while they are in Zion. The young woman admitted she was not fond of heights, so she didn't know if she would like that hike. I told them that my husband doesn't like heights either, and he was surprised it didn't bother him on that hike. And I reinforced to them that it was by far my favorite hike we did in Zion.
As we started wrapping up our chat with the Minnesota kids, a few sprinkles began to fall from the clouds above us, so we decided we should probably head back. Off I went, passing people along the way. Sometimes, I just like going fast.
When I returned to the vehicle parked at the trailhead, I sat on a large rock at the edge of the parking area to wait for my husband and sister-in-law. It was hot. I was hot. And I was actually swatting mosquitoes. Weird.
As I was sitting there, swatting and sweating, a man drove up on a 4-wheeler. Based on his body language, I am pretty confident he was making rounds to ensure nobody was illegally parked. I smiled and waved to assure him I didn't need help and was just waiting. He waved back and continued on his parking patrol route.
I looked off to my left and saw a bunch of shuttle riders piling up under the shade of a large tree as they waited to be picked up. I, too, was waiting, though not protected by the shade of a tree, but I was still pretty thankful we didn't have to wait even longer for the shuttle to arrive.
Then I looked more closely at our rental vehicle and rolled my eyes and scoffed to myself. Here we tried to be courteous and thoughtful to other vehicles that would come to the trailhead after us, and someone parks so closely to our vehicle that we almost couldn't get in on the driver's side.
When my husband and sister-in-law returned to the trailhead, I motioned to them to check out the parking situation. My husband sighed and said, "Well, it's a good thing my wife is fun-sized."
So, I figured that was my cue, and I squeezed myself between the vehicles and through the door and into the driver's seat and backed out so everyone else could jump in. Crazy.
Observation Point hike
Zion National Park
After we finished our Observation Point hike, we headed to Zion, entering the park from the East Entrance. Only this time, I was in the passenger seat, so I actually got to pay closer attention to the scenery. Last time we were through here, I was driving, so it was nice to get to fully take in the canyon sights this time.
When we got to Springdale, UT, the town adjacent to the national park, I realized I was hungry and ready for some lunch after that 7-mile hike. So, we stopped at a restaurant before continuing to the hotel to check-in for our one-night stay. After getting settled in our room, I wanted to get outside and walk around Springdale.
A few minutes after we were outside and headed to the sidewalk, it started to rain. Then it started to pour. I was laughing. I couldn't believe we were getting caught in a downpour. We ducked into a little hardware/souvenir shop for shelter. The guy working at the store almost couldn't believe how hard it was raining.
When it looked like it was going to let up, we headed back outside and continued walking up the sidewalk, stopping in a few more stores, and then we hit the ice cream shop for a treat. We decided we'd had our fill of souvenir shops and turned around to return to the hotel. I felt like relaxing by the outdoor pool until we were ready for dinner, so I grabbed my book and headed to the lounge chairs.
The view wasn't bad, either.
Then we went to dinner at one of the same restaurants we'd eaten at the last time we were in Zion. Afterward, I was starting to hear my bed calling and was looking forward to some rest, knowing we'd planned on getting up early again the following day to head into the park and hopefully score a convenient parking space and catch the first shuttle for some sightseeing. We had to squeeze in whatever we could that morning, because then it was off to the airport.
We arrived early enough at the park to get a decent parking spot and we joined the already long line for the day's first shuttle. People were in pajamas, some still half awake, and some in full hiking gear, eagerly ready for the day.
The first shuttle arrived at the stop maybe 10 minutes ahead of schedule and it filled up quickly. So quickly, in fact, we had to wait for the second wave of the shuttle bus before we could board and begin our sightseeing adventure. It was only a few minutes longer to wait, and then we were on our way to Temple of Sinawava where the Riverside Walk trail is.
Much to our disappointment, the big waterfall we saw here just a few weeks ago was already dried up to barely a trickle. The same trend continued when we arrived at Weeping Rock. But along the trail up to Weeping Rock, we saw a doe and some turkeys having a standoff, so that was entertaining.
We hopped back on the shuttle and got off at the stop for Big Bend.
Here are some incredible views from the Big Bend shuttle stop in Zion Canyon. I love the blue sky with the textured red-orange rock walls, then down into a lush green strip along the winding Virgin River.
The Virgin River was still high on our second visit to Zion. Lots of trees and shoreline have been altered by the river this season.
One of our last shuttle stops was the view from Court of the Patriarchs.
From left to right: Abraham Peak (6,890 ft), Isaac Peak (6,825 ft), Mount Moroni (5,690 ft), and the white-ish peak tucked behind Mount Moroni is Jacob Peak (6,831 ft).
Then it was time to take the shuttle back to the visitor center parking lot to retrieve our rental vehicle and head back to the airport. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a popular restaurant inside a hotel that apparently serves a lot of golfers from the nearby golf course. We had great food and then continued on to the airport to part ways and say goodbye to my sister-in-law.
Overall, I think we all enjoyed this trip to the Grand Canyon and beyond. And I was actually glad we got to visit Zion a second time, too.