Zion National Park, Utah

One of our favourite features of Zion has nothing to do with canyons but rather with the way the National Parks Service manages visitors. From the two campgrounds, a bus shuttle takes visitors into Zion Canyon, depositing people at trailheads. We love being able to park our car for a week and still reach trailheads. What a shame more parks do not operate in such ways. Getting up early and cooking breakfast as the sun rises, feeling the heat of the sun chase away the cold of the night from our bones is one our favourite moments in camping. The trailhead for Kolob Canyon made for a most excellent breakfast/sunrise spot, though lacking picnic tables, we looked a bit disheveled – stove, frying pan and kitchen bin scattered in the parking lot.

We hiked beneath canyons a colour you would swear weren’t real. It was spectacular, especially when the trail ambled alongside Kolob Creek, passing stout old Fremont Cottonwoods. The swirl of colours was almost too much to fully appreciate: the red Navajo sandstone walls, the golden cottonwood leaves, the perfect blue sky, the crystalline creek. Such beauty. We found the arch which is suppose to be one of the largest in the world but we were more impressed with the girth of the ponderosa pines beneath it. We were also delighted to quietly watch a half dozen wild turkeys grazing. A loud “zip” could be heard as their beaks striped each blade of grass of seeds.

Angel’s Landing is heavily traveled yet one of those must-do hikes. The trick is to visit the park in the off-season and to ride the first bus of the morning into the park, long before the sun has risen and most hikers/campers are even awake. It is also beneficial to be fit since the trail is steep but definitely fun, with its 21 switchbacks affectionately called Walter’s Wiggles. Going early means missing the crowds and having to deal with all the “pardon me” and waiting or skirting around the line of people having fits over the steepness and exposure of the trail or those angling themselves for the perfect selfie. A quiet solitude can be found during sunrise on Angel’s Landing. And, an added benefit of an early start is you miss the heat of the day, when the oppressive desert sun makes climbing up the canyon walls laborious.

From Angel’s Landing I set off alone for the West Rim, This is where I am most comfortable, at my happiest. Alone. Wandering wild places. I was quite happy hiking the trails of Zion, retreating as the sun went down back to the campground where I could indulge in a beer and watch the sunset cast its light against the Towers of the Virgin.

Every day we spent in Zion we explored side canyons, sat beside creeks watching great blue herons and common mergansers. We found desert bighorn sheep, a bobcat and watched a rock squirrel stuff his face with cottonwood buds. Even a pocket gopher entertained us. He worked so studiously at excavating a hole.

And not once in a week in Zion did we need to jump in our car and drive.