Last weekend, I did something I have never done before – I camped overnight with my boyfriend in Zion National Park, located in Southern Utah. After spending only two nights, and two and a half days in Zion, it was nothing short of majestic, incredible, and completely awe-inspiring.
Though it was a bit of a last minute trip, every second of it worked out perfectly in our favor. Him and I were able to gain the full experience that we were hoping for, despite the short time frame. And that was mainly because we did our research, made smart decisions, and came prepared.
To give some context, my boyfriend lives in Northern Arizona and we’ve been in a 2,500 mile long-distance relationship for nearly a year, so we’ve been used to traveling back and forth to see each other.
We had been talking about doing some sort of trip together instead of just taking turns to visit each other in the states we live in. Eventually, we decided on a camping trip. This trip had only been in the works for about a month, so as we were coming down to the wire, we really had to nail down the logistics of the trip.
The one main concern was where to stay. Since this was so last minute, we narrowed it down to a few different campgrounds that didn’t require reservations ahead of time and finally chose South Campground, which is located near the South Entrance of the park.
We initially planned on driving out early Sunday morning, but it really turned out to be late Saturday night. We were in Sedona, AZ on Saturday night and didn’t arrive back to his place in Flagstaff, AZ until around 11:30PM. Once we got back, we packed everything ahead of time so that it would be ready to go once we left the apartment.
DAY ONE: Getting to South Campground and Hiking Angels Landing
We left Flagstaff around 1:30AM and finally arrived in the park around 6AM. It was still pitch black and the park rangers weren’t even there yet to collect entrance fees as we were driving in. The drive through the park to get to our campground was about 10-15 minutes. As we pulled up to the parking lot for South Campground, there were already 15 cars ahead of us. We weren’t assigned our campground until about 8:30AM. Once we pitched our tent, we took a quick nap and woke up around 10:00AM.
From there, we had to decide on what we would do that day. We headed to the Visitor Center to ask for recommendations and were initially deterred from doing Angels Landing that day since it was already late morning and the sun would be at its peak. We did it anyways.
We took the shuttle bus from the Visitor Center and arrived at the trail leading to Angels Landing around noon. The woman at the Visitor Center was right in the sense that it was blistering hot, but it was completely worth it. The entire hike took us around 5 hours, as we stopped several times and took our time up and back. We went to the very top of Angels Landing.
What I can say about this hike is that it was truly strenuous, as listed on the brochure. Even as a long distance runner, this was still a challenge for me. At a certain point of the hike, you are holding onto links of chains in order to climb up to top and it hardly ever plateaus, so you are continuously going up hill with very little footing surrounding you. It’s especially hard when it’s crowded because people are constantly going up and down and you have to navigate your way around them. However, as long as you are cognizant of your movements, you’ll be fine. If you are deathly afraid of heights, this will be a huge challenge for you, but it’s certainly not impossible.
After we got to the bottom of the Angels Landing trail, where we began, we dipped our feet in the Virgin River and got a little taste of what to expect for the next day.
DAY 2: The Narrows
We woke up around 7:30AM and had planned on meeting up to hike The Narrows with two new friends that we had met along the way while hiking Angels Landing. The trail that led to The Narrows is the very last stop on the shuttle bus from the Visitor Center. We arrived at the entrance of The Narrows around 10AM and finally started our journey around 10:30AM. The very first step that we took was already up to my calves in water. We started out slow and the water levels only got higher as we continued through.
Our mission was to get to the point of The Narrows where there was a fork in the trail. Someone had recommended this to us and we had to go quite far until we arrived at that point. If you are afraid of deep water or can’t swim, I’d first be wary to recommend this hike. But, if you are adventurous, want to get away from the crowds, and don’t mind doing some climbing, then I’d recommend going all the way until the point that we hiked to.
It took an army to climb over certain areas. We were with our two new friends, a married couple, and a family of four when we were getting through some of the obstacles that we had to surpass. What I can say is that it was definitely not for the faint of heart, but it’s truly an unreal experience.
We didn’t get back to the beginning of the trail until around 4:30PM – That’s about six full hours doing this hike.
Fortunately, you can turn around at any point, but again, if you want the full experience, I’d dedicate an entire day to doing this.
DAY 3: Winding down and heading out
After two very strenuous hikes, we decided to keep our third day fairly open. We still wanted to get another trail under our belts, but we wanted to do an easier, shorter one, so we decided on the Lower Emerald Pool trail. This trail was definitely more for beginners, families, or those who are interested in a beautiful walk through nature. Though it was listed as an easy trail, there are still points that are slightly uphill, but that’s to be expected for any of the trails in Zion.
Once we finished this trail, we grabbed lunch at the Zion Lodge and laid out on the grass with other tourists who were also enjoying the scenery.
We left Zion around 1:30PM and arrived back in Flagstaff a little before 6PM. The views driving through Utah were gorgeous enough to make the drive go by very quickly.
Overall, this trip was truly unforgettable and one that I would absolutely do again with more time blocked out. I’d highly recommend putting Zion National Park on the top of your list of National Parks or even just as a vacation idea if you enjoy sightseeing, hiking, and camping.