Like a lion in Zion: Canyon Overlook, The Narrows

As we drove into the mountains towards Zion National Park, we really didn’t know what to expect – i’d never heard of the place before, i hadn’t done any research or seen any pictures and was wholly unprepared for what was about to happen. But that turned out fine, since that’s when mind-blowing awesomeness is at its best: when you least expect it. And Zion is definitely mind-blowingly awesome, so much more so for being sort of a hidden gem, a less glamorous and less world-famous park (Or is that just me? Had you guys heard of it before? Feel free to embarrass me if that’s the case :-) ).

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Thanks to our weather mishap of the previous evening, Zion was one of the very, very few places (i.e. the only place) where we arrived before dark and got to have a look at our surroundings – and even have a couple of short hikes – before nightfall. Getting to spend some extra time in that amazing place made it all worth it…

We drove along winding red roads (the road surface is coloured to match the colour of the rocks!) into the park, but before we entered into Zion Canyon we had to pull over for one of the most highly recommended hikes in the park: the Canyon Overlook Trail. It’s an easy family hike (we ran into a couple hiking with a baby, quite cute), not too steep, not too long, but greatly rewarding, we were told… so of course we had to give it a try! We found the trailhead by the side of the road right before the entrance of the tunnel that leads to the canyon. We walked up through a cave in the rocks,

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past cactus patches and curious little mountain deserts,

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past interesting looking roots in the ground (that one gave us quite a scare until we realised it wasn’t a snake!),

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and up the steps carved into the red sandstone:

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These steps lead to the end of the trail – an amazing rocky platform with a gorgeous view of the canyon below:

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The Canyon Overlook trail is an excellent introduction to Zion’s beauty – it is indeed easy and short, it offers a beautiful view of the canyon that you can’t really get from the inside, and it’s fairly safe compared to most of the other Zion trails… the viewpoint at the end is quite well protected. So if you have little ones in tow, this is the way to go!

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It seemed to be raining above the canyon, so we had a little break at the end of the trail and watched the clouds slowly disperse. When the sun came out again, we left our little perch on the rocks, made our way back down to the road and entered the tunnel leading to the bottom of the canyon. The tunnel isn’t very high so we had to wait for about ten minutes to let a bus come up the hill.

Zion Canyon tunnel

The thing that makes Zion so special is that you spend most of your time on the canyon floor, looking up. The Grand Canyon is majestic and very impressive, but it’s very difficult to get down to the bottom. So you only have that one perspective whilst there: you’re on the rim looking down which makes everything feel kind of small. Not in Zion though! The further down you go, the smaller you feel, surrounded by these massive rock formations.

As soon as we entered the canyon, everything around us turned into a warm, vibrant red colour.

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The rocks, the road, the trees, all seemed to reflect the gorgeous afternoon light. Zion seemed to have put on its most magical colours just in time for our arrival :-)

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We drove along the canyon floor for a bit fascinated by this warm red glow, and decided we had time for a short hike before sundown. We decided to hike the short but sweet Riverside Walk trail, and hopefully part of the Narrows trail that starts at the end of it.  So we followed the Virgin river,

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all the way to  the Temple of Sinawava:

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This huge rock wall is the end of the road – beyond it only a footpath continues to follow the river, and that’s precisely what we intended to do. Before we started walking upstream, we stopped to take it all in. Down there at the bottom of the canyon, in the shadow of these immense rocks, you feel so very small (just to give you an idea of how big everything is: take a look at Chris in the above picture).  And everything around you feels so big. Even the birds seem to be abnormally big over there :-)

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We took the Riverside walk up towards the end of the canyon – another easy, short hike. The path winds along the little river, while the scenery becomes more spectacular:

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The hike is nice, very easily accessible, and, from what we gathered, extremely popular in the summer (so always overcrowded – it was great to be able to enjoy it all alone!). At the end of the trail is where things actually get interesting:

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The canyon becomes gradually narrower, and the path finally disappears completely. At that point the river takes over and the only way to continue is to walk in the water as it rolls through the narrow slit in the rocks. The Narrows trail is not extremely technical, but it can be very dangerous for unprepared hikers because of the great risk of flash floods (quite a few people have lost their lives on that hike). It had just been raining that very afternoon, so we thought it would be wiser to play it safe. But even in the best of weather, hiking the Narrows involves walking most of the trail knee- or waist-deep in water. Probably not the most fun thing to do in December :-).

So we retraced our steps to the Temple of Sinawava,

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(can you see me in there?) and decided it was time to call it a day… As the sun was setting, we headed to the Watchman campground.

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There, amidst grazing deer,

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under the shadow of the Watchman mountain and right next to the river, we made our home for the night!

As the moon came up in the bright December sky,

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we had another delicious bbq dinner and chatted excitedly about what we’d do the next morning.

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Zion is so full of possibilities, there’s so much to see and do – and despite the weather and seasonal limitations we wanted to make the most of it. What would it be? The Weeping Rock trail? Awesome Angel’s Landing?  Maybe the easier Emerald Pools trail? Or the more exciting Hidden Canyon trail? We went to bed tired and excited – we couldn’t wait to see more!

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Tell us what you think!

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