Tips on Hiking in Zion National Park (From a Local)
The first time I decided to try and hike Zion National Park was with a friend from school. We were taking Organic Chemistry & just had to get away from the crazy studying that was required. We loaded up the car and headed down in June.....and it was a scorcher. I had to try twice to get all the way up to Angel's Landing, but found plenty of alternatives to hike until I was ready to climb it all the way. So here are my tips on hiking in Zion National Park.
My First Attempt At Zion National Park
I was riddled with excitement to hike Angel's Landing, felt like I would be part of the 'in' crowd & get to the top and take that one iconic picture that was all over Instagram. Well it was around noon, and it was so hot -- I think it was around 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.8 C) that day. We ended up meeting these guys on the trail that were from Switzerland, as I was huffing and puffing, trying to keep up with everyone. My friend was so patient with me, and all I could think about were these self-deprecating thoughts swimming around in my head.
How I wasn't good enough, how I was so fat that I couldn't do what I loved and so on and so forth. Well I ended up getting really dizzy and my heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest, I was not sweating very much, and I didn't even want to drink any of the warm water that we had brought along with us.
I told my friend I wasn't going to make it, she was so sweet and said she didn't mind at all because she was getting really hot as well & glad I said something.
We ended up going to the Narrows, a wonderful hike up a riverbed, complete with swimming holes, beautiful scenery & MUCH cooler environment for me to adapt to. I was glad my friend was able to go on one hike that we both enjoyed. We ended up having a lot more fun on this hike than the other, only because it wasn't miserably hot.
If you plan on visiting Zion's National Park in June, July or even August you need to start this hike very very early in the morning. Get a Bandana wet so that you have something to keep yourself cool. Bring Gatorade or an electrolyte drink with you. There are several tourists every year that don't prepare well for the hiking & heat, and end up getting hospitalized for heat exhaustion or heat stroke. There is always one tourist, or someone in a youth group we hear about, that dies from heat every year, so don't let that be you or someone you care about. Come PREPARED! Don't be afraid to turn around, your pride is not worth as much as your life.
That is the great thing about Zion, if one hike doesn't work then you have plenty of options around for every type of traveler, physical condition, hiker preference etc...
There are shuttles that can take you to each trail head and each trail head is clearly marked. Those who are in wheelchairs or have bad knees can wander around the trail head, there are plenty of little trails everywhere for each level of physical health. Be sure to check out the opening hours and times of the shuttles should you need to use them.
In some areas you have to actually swim with your pack overhead to not get your camera wet. Make sure that you have a Protective Water Proof Case. I would also recommend a walking stick because this is a river bed that is very rocky. Bring water shoes, wear your swimming suit. You can turn around at any point on the trail, you can hike for one hour, 10 hours, 16 hours, or 1-2 days depending on your physical capabilities. Make sure you are properly prepared to Hike the Narrows if you decide to go, do not think you know more than mother nature.
When we left, we had some great memories, but I was still pretty bummed and embarrassed about having to turn around on the Angel's Landing trail. So I made up my mind to not let the trail beat me, and I was determined to go back and tackle it one more time. I started to do some conditioning and training for hiking Angels Landing, which meant A LOT of STAIRS and a bunch of lunges & calf raises.
It was about 2 years later when I got the chance to tackle the trail again. I went alone this time and just knew that I was going to make it to the top, come hell or high water......or in this case snow.
It was October, and Utah weather is VERY unpredictable. There is actually a joke here, that if you don't like the rainy weather, you just cross the street for sunshine.
The storm clouds were coming in, and I stopped at a little unique looking hotel called, Zion Lodge, on the way to Zions. This looks like a great place to stay (if you have the money). The weather didn't look like it was going to dump any rain, maybe snow, but no lightning or thunder -- so I ventured on. (Check out the Safety Tips on Hiking in a Storm)
It was the off season, so I was able to drive right up to where the hike started pretty much and just took my keys, small backpack and some water and started up the trail.
I had my rucksack, my music, my two feet and a heart that knew I was going to conquer. I started on the trail, which was well marked and easy to follow (even for a directionally challenged person).
I was so proud of myself I made it to these switch backs, there were plenty of them to make the hike super doable.
Hiking tip: switchbacks often scary for new hikers, but they are actually a really good way to conserve your energy, so you don't wear out before you get to the top. Switch backs prevent you from having to climb straight up with a rope.
For my climbing readers: If you want to climb up to Angel's Landing, there are a few routes, but you have to have permits, are physically capable of doing it, and that the routes are open. There are about 8 different routes with various degrees of difficulty, but please note that these are typically Trad routes. If you don't know what that means, then please don't attempt it.
Once you get past the switchbacks, then you see your first ascent with the legendary chained path. Once you start up this path, especially during the high season, its basically the point of no return (you will see why later). Basically, they are there for you if you should slip, get dizzy from the altitude, or have a fear of heights.
Hiking tip: When hiking on steep surfaces where chains are available, a good rule of thumb is to always keep one hand on the chain at all times. Be patient with those in front of you (and sometimes those behind you). If the people behind you are getting pushy, I usually just try and fart or pretend like I farted & they back off rather quickly, lol -- I know, I know - I have no shame, medical professional.... come on.
The path is pretty well worn, but the great thing about sandstone is that it doesn't typically get slippery from all the foot traffic until it gets wet. So make sure you have good shoes to take with you. I like my Merrell hiking shoes because they have these magical rubber soles that stick to any kind of rock and I have never had a problem with them. If you have weak ankles, then I suggest High top's on your hiking shoes for support.
Once you get past the chains you come to this gut turning sight, a narrow path with sheer drop off's on each side of the trail. This is why I told you, the prior chained area was a point of no return. At this point, I got a good song on, screamed along with the song inside my head, and just focused on putting one foot in front of the other while I white-knuckled the chain.
There is a reward at the end though....beautiful views with breathtakingly stunning 360 view of Zion's National Park in all its glory! You can see why it is called Angel's Landing once you stand in this place. I feel like I took 1,000 photos up here, for more of a reason than just to plaster them on Facebook or Instagram....it was a triumph of fear, self-doubt, and self-deprecating thoughts of my failed attempt at doing this so long ago.
Celebrate Your Victories, Learn From Defeat
I was a little reluctant to share this experience because I was worried people would judge me for finding this hike to be so challenging. I have been finding more and more that I am my own worst critic, and I think we all are. Why do we let ourselves be defeated by our own thoughts?
Why do we limit our experiences because we are afraid society might think, 'oh she is so stupid for even attempting this at her [insert comment on physical shape or age]'? Who cares if you look the part of an experienced hiker? Who cares if you are huffing and puffing to the top! Are you taking the photos for your Instagram followers, for yourself, or your posterity?
If you stuck with me to the end of this post, you are likely one of the few that take photos for your posterity, for your own memories, for your video or photo journal -- as a consistent reminder to yourself that you CAN do it, and you can succeed at anything you LET yourself succeed at.
Celebrate your victories, learn from your defeats, but don't ever give up....find your courage and say, "I WILL NOT LET YOU DEFEAT ME!" Even if we are saying that to our own critical selves.
Thank you for taking this hike with me. Honor the best that is within you, make peace with the parts you have labeled as weaknesses, and never ever give up on yourself.
Where is your next hiking trip?
What is the hardest hiking trip you have ever done?
What are some tips you would give to new hikers?
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My name is Janiel, a medical professional, and solo adventurer. I have over 23 years of international travel experience and have a sincere passion for celebrating humanity, connecting with cultures, finding unique art and adventure. I’m an advocate for animals and sustainable travel and want to invite you to join the Culture Trekking community.