Exploring Zion and Bryce Canyon: A Week In Utah
The southwest wasn’t always on my travel radar. I thought, “What could be so interesting about a desert?” Then I visited the Grand Canyon and Moab last year and finally got the hype. From the glowing red canyon walls to warm cotton candy sunsets, the southwest is now one of my favorite travel destinations, and I’ll take any excuse to make a trip back.
I chose Zion this time because the iconic Zion Narrows was calling my name. The hike is in the river of a slot canyon, unlike anything I had ever done before. Other travelers recommended October, so I booked my flights and even managed to rope my fiancé into joining me! After doing so much solo travel this year, it was a nice change to have a travel partner. We flew into Vegas, rented a car, and drove the 2.5 hours to Springdale.
ZION NATIONAL PARK / SPRINGDALE, UT - 4 Nights
Springdale is a fun town. It’s one main road lined with hotels, gear shops, and local restaurants, with a (free!) hop-on-hop-off shuttle running all day long into the park. I could have spent an entire month there!
Where We Stayed: Quality Inn & Suites Montclair
Basic, comfortable accommodations and plenty of guest parking available. No matter where you stay in Springdale, you can easily hop the shuttle into the park. However, I chose this specific hotel because I heard that the closer the shuttle gets to the park, the more likely it is to be full, so staying further away from the entrance can actually be a perk because you get earlier dibs on bus space. It wasn’t as busy as I expected, so we were able to drive in and park at the Visitor Center during our trip.
Good Eats: Deep Creek Coffee Co., MeMe’s Cafe, The Park House
Our Favorite Hikes: Angel’s Landing. The Narrows, and Canyon Overlook
If you’re looking for a hike that will make your stomach flip, head up to Angel’s Landing. The last half mile crosses a narrow ridge with 1000-foot drop-offs on both sides, guided by a stability chain. It was simultaneously the most terrifying and most rewarding hike I’ve ever done. GO EARLY. We caught the first bus into the park at 7am and were some of the first to the chain portion. By the time we came down an hour later, there was already a line of people forming to start up the chains. Trust me, the height is nerve-racking and the last thing you want to be dealing with is people trying to pass you coming the other way (there is only one chain, so someone passing will have to let go and step around). Also, this hike is probably not suitable for kids.
There are two popular ways to hike the Zion Narrows: top to bottom (16 miles, permit needed), or day hiking from the bottom upward. We day hiked from the bottom, which is nice because you can hike as far as you want and turn around whenever. If you do the same, I highly recommend making it to “Wall Street” (about 3 miles in), where the canyon really narrows. We rented the dry pants, water shoes, and walking stick from Zion Outfitter at the entrance to the park, and I stayed completely warm and dry the entire time. Definitely rent the gear, I think it made all the difference!
If you’re looking for a shorter hike with a fantastic view, Canyon Overlook is a must. It’s about a mile roundtrip and well worth the stop.
BRYCE CANYON - 2 Nights
Bryce Canyon National Park is only 2 hours from Springdale, so it was an easy destination to add to our trip. The hoodoos of the canyon are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Two nights was plenty of time here - you can see a lot in a day and because there isn’t much going on in terms of restaurants and other activities, we would have been bored if we stayed any longer.
Where We Stayed: The Lodge at Bryce Canyon
While Springdale is buzzing with lots of hotels and restaurants, Bryce is pretty bare. The only lodging inside the park is The Lodge at Bryce Canyon, and we had mixed feelings about our stay. The upside: you are staying right on the rim. If you want sunrises, sunsets, and easy access to trails, you can’t get a better location. The hotel grounds are beautiful. The downside: accommodations were especially basic, and there was no cell service or working WiFi (even though it is advertised with the hotel). Yes, we were away in nature to unplug, but we were also planning to access trail maps and park information online during our stay, and we had no way to do so. And it wasn’t just us - at one point I sat in the common room on my laptop trying to get a signal, and 20+ people stopped and asked if I had gotten the WiFi to work.
Good Eats: Stone Hearth Grill, Bryce Canyon Coffee Co.
Both of these are located in Tropic, which is about a 15 minute drive from Bryce. Stone Hearth Grill is a beautiful upscale place for dinner - a gem if you’re looking to split a bottle of wine and treat yourself.
If you’re looking for a great photographer in Zion - check out Kate from The Wild Within Us. Aside from being an all-around awesome person, she takes beautiful photos and knows all the best spots!
This trip was everything I hoped for and more. Zion was my favorite by far, and I would go back in a heartbeat to explore more. Have you been to Zion or Bryce? What was your favorite part?