America The Beatiful: Parks Unknown with Zion National Parks
By Jordan Payne
4 minute read
This July, we’re celebrating “America The Beautiful.” We’re going to be sharing a few stories from our staff and from our lovely participants and, with any luck, one or two of our hosts. Our hope with this series is to highlight a few special locations that, while popular, are perhaps not quite the star attractions for international guests. Think Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, or Yellowstone National Park.
First up is Zion National Park, which is around six hours drive from Las Vegas located in Springdale, Utah. Zion National Park is one of the most magnificent places I have visited in the United States.
But before I get too far into sharing our story of Zion National Park, I warn you that the trail you are about to read about is considered strenuous and is dangerous. If you are inexperienced or not confident with heights, I strongly advise that you choose alternative hiking trails. InterExchange puts your safety above all else, we do not encourage you to take any undue risk before, during, or after your program.
Now with the safety advisory out of the way, our travels took us to the Angels Landing trail, after friends told me about their recent experience and insisted that this is a must-see National Park.
According to the National Parks Service “Its now famous name descends from Methodist minister Frederick Vining Fisher who, on his first visit to Zion Canyon in 1916 allegedly quipped only an angel could land there.”
What we did not anticipate, aside from the eye-popping natural beauty, was the amount of time that it would take to find a suitable parking spot! It is worth arriving early in search for parking if you’re not traveling via bus or a tour operator.
Once in the park, you’ll make your payment and head to the shuttles. This part of the experience can be somewhat slow as well so be prepared to wait around while the shuttles escort visitors to the various areas of the park.
The shuttle will drop you at The Grotto, stop #6, where there is a rest area for those who have finished the hike, restrooms, etc. Now, I’ve hiked a few trails but I’m far from an expert. Angels Landing is a strenuous hike with around 21 switchbacks zigzagging up the canyon climbing approximately 1488 feet (453 meters) in elevation.
Once we finished the vertical ascent, we discovered that we still had a little while longer to go. To reach the true precipice, we had to traverse 30 minutes further of vibrant red cliffs that form the “knife-edge ridge”.
My girlfriend was equal parts excited and terrified as we slowly and carefully navigated the advanced sections via chains attached to the rocks to ensure our safety. But even with these safety measures in place, this is an intimidating experience.
At a distance of 5.4 miles (8.7 km), the hike took us around 3 hours with plenty of time for photos. We were in a hurry to finish the trail because we arrived later in the day and we didn’t want to miss the last shuttle back to the entry. The park advises visitors that the trail can take up to 4 hours, depending on your fitness level.
Along the trail you’ll be visited by some inquisitive chipmunks and at the landing at the very end the beautiful and critically endangered California Condors fly above.
While you soak in the incredible surroundings as your reward for enduring such a treacherous journey, you’ll have ample time to take a few photos and have a snack before heading back to safety below.
Since our visit to the park, Angels Landing along with other popular trails require a permit as of 1 April 2022. This can be difficult to arrange at such a popular national park, so you’ll need to plan well ahead of time as there is a lottery system in place.
Aside from Angels Landing, this park has so much to offer, beyond some of the most incredible hikes you’ll experience in America. There are 5 key sections of the park for day hikers to choose from at Zion National Park - it’s an enormous park! The trails on offer include options from day hikes that loop back around, and are the most actively visited. But if you want to fully immerse yourself in the outdoors you can take wilderness hikes, which require wilderness permits when staying overnight.
The park sections included are:
- Zion Canyon Trails
- Kolob Canyons Trails
- Kolon Terrace Trails
- East Rim Area Trails
- Southwest Desert Trails
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