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Zion National Park
I've never been one to buy travel tchotchkes except for the occasional sticker from a new ski resort. But as I sit here and write this, rocking my new "Bike Zion" shirt, I can't help but smile when I think about this past week's trip to Zion. It was that good.
Freshly invigorated from this camping trip, I totally get why people choose to leave it all behind, freeing themselves from the confines of rent and a mortgage to experience new adventures on four wheels. And Zion would be a great place to start one's van life.
The weather was just right, and from 4,000 feet, the air was raw. I felt the constant welcoming hug from cheerful clouds above me. I couldn't take my eyes off the infinite hues of reds and browns meticulously formed into the jagged mountains as if it were like that on purpose. Being at Zion brought a kind of peace and a calmness that is different from how I feel when I'm in Hawaii.
I owe it to Brianna
My inspiration for wanting to see Utah came from an entertaining memoir called "Nowhere for Very Long," by Brianna Madia. In the book, she ditches conventional life to roam around Utah with her two dogs in a giant, bright orange van she bought for $8,000 on Craigslist.
The way she wrote about the vastness and beauty of the Wasatch Mountains completely piqued my curiosity. I'd only visited Salt Lake and Park City to snowboard, so I wanted to experience a different part of Utah in warmer weather.
So, months ago, I texted my peas and carrots forever friend and camping buddy. Minutes later, I was scrolling through several Hipcamp links he had texted back.
We booked a spot for $40 a night—about 10 minutes away from the park's entrance. While it was mostly okay, we weren't 100% satisfied. We were disappointed to discover it was too close to the street and car noise and had way too many black ants! But we agreed the park totally made up for it.
There are free shuttles, but e-bikes are the way to go
Zion is like Disneyland for adults who would never actually step foot in Disneyland. I wasn't expecting the base of the park to be so... cute? It reminded me of Yosemite's valley but way more developed. Zion had e-bike rental stores, gift shops, cafes, bars, and boutique hotels.
Over a few days, we rented e-bikes and cruised through the mountain on the Pa'rus bike path. It's the best way to see the park. Each morning, we breezed past the long lines of cars waiting to enter the park. I couldn't understand why people drove in, parked, and then waited for the free shuttles when you could hop on a bike. There's nothing like pedaling through the crisp air and breathing in the scenery. But the shuttles were pretty convenient for older folks.
Our e-bikes were awesome. It's 10% leg power and 90% bike power, just the way I like it. We stopped along the path to study the mountainside and snap a few pics.
We hiked Angel's Landing—you can go 2 miles up before you need to flash that coveted lottery-based permit to gain entrance to the real top. It took us about an hour twenty to reach the top, and 40 minutes to get back to the bottom.
The hike was steep but totally worth it. At one point, an older hiker with a cowboy hat and a twang heard us mistakenly assume we were almost at the top. He whipped around to announce, "Oh, y'all still got a looonnng way to go." 😲
I was surprised to see port-a-johns at the top, where Instagrammers and hikers gathered to rest, hydrate, and tear open that Cliff Bar. An overly ambitious Zion squirrel tried to make off with my water bottle.
The views of the valley were stunning, and I was glad to experience lower temperatures along the way—there were much cooler, shadier parts of the mountain tucked away from the blaze of the Utah sun.
The entire hike was paved and crowded. I imagine it could be a lot busier, so I'm glad we got an early start. Our pace quickened when we got closer to the bottom. By then, it was about noon. I heard a frustrated dad say to his slightly sweaty, apathetic-looking family, "It's only going to get hotter, so might as well keep going just instead of sitting here." Hearing that made me feel so happy to be done!
On the second day, we stopped at Riverside Walk, which leads to The Narrows, but you have to take off your shoes to get across the river. We weren't feeling it, so we just walked the paved, 2-mile-ish pathway.
We were supposed to experience another e-bike day and ride to more hikes, but we got a flat tire. I know, what a bummer. We ditched the bikes at one of the hiking stops and hopped on a shuttle back to the visitor's center.
A few quick tips if Zion is on your radar—check the weather, which changes by the hour. Anything over 80 is way too hot to hike IMO, but you may be one of those people who welcome the scorching sun beating down on you while you sweat buckets. Me, not so much.
Like Arizona, Utah experiences Monsoon weather, so look out for flash foods.
If you have Verizon, your cell service will be shit. T-Mobile, on the other hand, wasn't bad. I consistently had two bars.
The day we arrived, we lucked out and barely missed the previous day's extreme rain that pounded down on Zion. But we felt the wrath of the aftermath; a muddy, sticky mess of a campsite. My flip-flop got stuck in the mud as soon as I first stepped out of the car, creating a surprisingly deep imprint.
Then I noticed the endless sea of frenzied black dots covering the red earth—ants. Supposedly they are sugar ants, but they aren't sweet. We got bit, even though the Hipcamp owner said they're harmless. But enough dwelling on the negative!
Utah is now on my list of happy places
My top takeaways from another outdoor adventure that totally exceeded my expectations?
Sept. is a great time to visit, weather-wise and crowd-wise. It's mostly older folks and not a lot of kids.
Utah is magical. If they had more IKON snow mountains, I'd consider moving there.
Next time instead of roughing it, I want to stay at one of those boutique hotels with a pool. That way, I can enjoy the cafes and restaurants.