Zion National Park Day 1: Watchman Overlook Trail
Updated: May 9
In early 2020, we'd starting planning an amazing week-long vacation to Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks with our friends, Chad and Shannon, who have visited us in Tahoe for some adventures over the years. In March, however, everything shut down and we had to cancel our entire trip. It was a huge bummer. Especially since my husband and I haven't taken a real vacation in a decade or more. We do tons and tons of day trips and weekend overnight excursions, but a whole week of vacation was practically unheard of.
Last fall, we put the bug in Chad's ear that we needed to reschedule our trip. And reschedule it, we did.
My husband decided he preferred we drive from Tahoe to Vegas, pick up Chad and Shannon at the airport, and then continue on our journey to the national parks. So, we packed up the Jeep on Friday afternoon, being as minimalist as possible, focusing mostly on our hiking apparel and gear, and headed south towards sin city. Our first destination was a hotel in Pahrump, NV. I told my husband that's not the name of a town, that's the sound a disappointed elephant makes when it plops down on the ground.
Our plan was to get up early the following day, drive the approximate one hour, and meet Chad and Shannon at the airport in Vegas – fingers crossed that all of our luggage fits in the back of the Jeep.
We stopped and had breakfast, continued to the airport, successfully and hurriedly stacked (read: crammed) everything in the Jeep like a game of Tetris while parked in the pickup lane, and headed to Utah, passing through the northwest corner of Arizona on the way.
Later that afternoon, we arrived in La Verkin, UT – our home base for the next 3 days – arm-wrestled for the bigger bedroom, got settled, and then Shannon looked at her watch and said, "Let's go for a hike." Mind you, they had probably been up since 4am Central Time.
Before we headed into Zion National Park, we drove up to the La Verkin Overlook (or, in this case, the "Laverkin Overlook") to get the lay of the town.
The sediment-laden Virgin River can be seen winding through the bottom of this huge canyon.
We arrived at the gates for the national park entrance, handed over our annual pass, and then looked for signs to direct us to parking lots, etc. The area called Zion, which was named by Mormon pioneers who arrived in the region in the late 1800s, is ancient Hebrew for “sanctuary” or “refuge.” In 1909, President Taft set aside approximately 16,000 acres for what was then named Mukuntuweap National Monument, which became Zion National Monument in 1918. In 1919, the named changed again to Zion National Park. On January 22, 1937, President Roosevelt established a second Zion National Monument, preserving over 36,000 acres. The second Zion National Monument was incorporated with Zion National Park in 1956.
The first of five national parks in Utah, Zion National Park is about a 30-minute drive on a curvy two-lane country road from La Verkin. None of us had been to Zion before, so we weren't super confident we'd know where to go, where to park, whether we'd need to catch a shuttle bus, etc. Since we arrived late in the day, we easily scored a parking spot inside the park and walked to the trailhead.
The inaugural hike chosen for this trip was the Watchman Overlook Trail. A 3.61-mile roundtrip trek with 584 feet of elevation gain. Not particularly hard, but a good way to regain our hiking legs (and lungs) and get warmed up for the rest of the trip's adventures ahead.
When my feet hit the hard clay trail and we started climbing, as cheesy as this sounds, my heart got pretty excited. It felt like I hadn't hiked in a year. I instantly remembered why I love it so much. And off I went.
The views along the trail as golden hour approached were beautiful. The red, orange, and pink sandstone cliffs towering around us, dotted with green desert sagebrush, prickly pear cacti, and budding trees.
The trail ascended and wound around the rocky clay hills.
Naturally, this sign inspired a chorus of "Linger" by the Cranberries. And by "chorus," I mean a solo by me.
One of the other hikers on the trail was kind enough to take our group's photo.
I talked Shannon into posing with me on this ledge. For the record, she is not actually taller than I, but she was proud to be towering over me in this one.
Once we took in enough of these incredible views and the beautiful weather and sunshine, we started back down the trail to beat the darkness and impending temperature drop. Even though this hike was awesome to us, we had no idea what else lay ahead in Zion. This was just the tip of the sandstone cliff.
(Check out what we did in Zion on Day 2.)
Watchman Overlook Trail