Highway 89 Road Trip Day 3: One Day in Zion National Park
If you’ve ever wondered how to best spend one day in Zion National Park, today’s the day to find out. With towering sandstone cliffs, verdant valleys, and the serene Virgin River, Zion offers a plethora of trails and views. Experience its most iconic sights and let the majesty of nature take your breath away.
Morning: Choose Your Own Adventure
This will be separated into different morning itineraries for hiking Angels Landing, The Narrows, or Observation Point. As a note, I have done all three, and they each have their own amazing aspects. Each can easily be done with one day in Zion National Park as well.
Angels Landing in the Morning
The promise of a new day finds you at the base of one of Zion’s most iconic trails: Angels Landing. This hike is currently the highest-rated hike in the United States on AllTrails. Start your day before first light, ensuring you beat both the heat and the crowds. Boarding the first shuttle from the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, alight at The Grotto trailhead and feel the excitement mounting as you begin your ascent.
The path first introduces you to Walter’s Wiggles, a series of switchbacks, leading you to Scout Lookout. Here, the true challenge unveils itself. With a deep breath, grasp the chains and navigate the spine of the rock formation, balancing precariously but confidently. Reaching the summit, a sense of achievement washes over you.
As you stand 1,488 feet from the canyon floor, panoramic views of Zion stretch in every direction, making every step of the journey worth its while. After a moment of reflection, it’s time to carefully descend, already anticipating a rewarding brunch in Springdale.
The Narrows in the Morning
Zion’s beauty isn’t just found atop its peaks but also within its depths. This morning is dedicated to The Narrows, a hike unlike any other. Begin by gearing up appropriately. If you didn’t bring water-resistant footwear, Springdale’s outfitters have you covered. We recommend Zion Outfitter. With equipment in tow, board the shuttle to Temple of Sinawava, the gateway to your adventure. A brief stroll on the Riverside Walk primes you for what’s ahead.
As you step into the Virgin River, the canyon embraces you. Walls hundreds of feet high loom overhead, narrowing to just twenty feet apart in places. The river’s cool, gentle current challenges and guides you, as dappled sunlight paints the scene in shifting patterns of light and shadow.
Depending on your pace and spirit of adventure, you might reach the famed Wall Street section or even Big Spring. As noon approaches, turn back, with memories of a corridor carved by nature etched in your mind.
Observation Point in the Morning
Embrace a less traveled but equally rewarding path this morning, as you set out to hike Observation Point via the East Mesa Trail. Starting your day early, you’ll navigate to the East Mesa trailhead, located outside of the main Zion Canyon.
As you walk, this route offers a relatively flat and straightforward trek compared to the strenuous main trail. The whispering pines accompany you, contrasting with the desert terrain of Zion. Before long, the view at the end of this 3-mile trail unfolds – the grand Observation Point.
Higher than even Angels Landing, it provides a sweeping panoramic view of the entire Zion Canyon below. The sight of the winding Virgin River, lush canyon floor, and the distant cliffs is a serene reward. After soaking in the majesty, it’s time to make the return journey, the vista replaying in your mind with each step back.
Afternoon: Finishing Your Hike
This will be separated into different afternoon itineraries for hiking Angels Landing, The Narrows, or Observation Point. As a note, I have done all three, and they each have their own amazing aspects. Each can easily be done with one day in Zion National Park as well.
Angels Landing in the Afternoon
As you descend from Angels Landing after your exhilarating morning hike, take the time to relish the view from Scout Lookout one last time. The shifting sunlight provides a fresh perspective on Zion Canyon’s vastness.
Once you reach the canyon floor, consider taking a leisurely stroll along the Pa’rus Trail. This easy and mostly flat path meanders a total of three miles alongside the Virgin River, offering a tranquil setting to relax your legs and reflect on the day’s achievements. It’s an out and back, so you can easily turn around when tired.
Along the way, you’ll encounter interpretive signs that provide insights into the park’s flora and fauna. As the afternoon sun begins its descent, find a quiet spot by the river, perhaps near the Zion Human History Museum, to soak in the serene surroundings before heading back to Springdale.
The Narrows in the Afternoon
Having explored the enchanting depths of The Narrows during your morning journey, your afternoon retracing offers new sights and experiences. The play of light against the water and the canyon walls shifts dramatically as the day progresses. On your return to the Riverside Walk trailhead, don’t rush. Stop occasionally to capture photos of the sunlight streaming down, creating a mosaic of shimmering reflections.
Once you’ve exited The Narrows, consider exploring the Weeping Rock Trail. This incredibly short and accessible trail leads to a unique rock alcove where water seeps out of the rock, giving the appearance of “tears.” The cool mist offers a refreshing respite, especially during a warm afternoon.
Relax, hydrate, and perhaps enjoy a light snack you packed, reveling in the sense of accomplishment from your day in Zion’s watery corridors.
Observation Point in the Afternoon
Descending from the panoramic heights of Observation Point via the East Mesa Trail, the setting sun casts a warm golden hue on the surrounding terrain, making every moment picture-worthy. As the trail weaves through the mesa’s pine forest, listen for the gentle rustling of wildlife preparing for the evening.
Once you’ve reached the trailhead, consider driving to the nearby Canyon Overlook Trail for a quick late afternoon excursion. This short trail offers another vantage point of the Zion landscape, with fewer crowds and a view of the West Temple, the Sundial, and the Altar of Sacrifice.
The trail’s end provides a perfect spot to watch the sunset, painting the canyon in shades of pink, orange, and purple. As the day’s final light fades, take a moment to breathe in the fresh mountain air, carrying with it the memories of your day’s adventures.
Evening: Relax in Springdale After A Long Day
As dusk settles over Zion National Park, the town of Springdale, sitting at the park’s doorstep, comes alive with its inviting ambiance. Begin your evening with a visit to the Zion Canyon Theater, which showcases the film “Zion: Treasure of the Gods” on a giant screen, offering a cinematic journey through the park’s majestic landscapes and its rich history.
Following the movie, Springdale’s main street beckons with its array of dining options. After dinner, take a leisure stroll along the main street, perhaps stopping by a few of the local art galleries like the David J. West Gallery that showcase the works of local artists, inspired by the park’s breathtaking beauty. As you browse, it’s the perfect time to pick up a souvenir or two to remember your adventures in Zion.
For those still with energy to spare, consider attending a live music event or a local performance often held at the Switchback Jack’s Sports Grille, or other venues around town. As the night winds down, the starlit skies above Zion make for a mesmerizing end to your day, with constellations shining brightly, a testament to the area’s minimal light pollution.
- Recommended lunch spot: Meme’s Cafe
- Alternative lunch location: Oscar’s Cafe
- Recommended dinner spot: Spotted Dog
- Alternative dinner spot: Kings Landing Bistro
- Breakfast, snacks, dessert, and more: Deep Creek Coffee Co., Jack’s Sports Grill, Bumbleberry Bakery
While there are ample camping and vacation rental options all over Highway 89, I personally highly prefer staying at Hilton-branded properties when traveling to national parks and during road trips. As such, here is three recommendations for places to stay in Springdale, Utah on day 3 of the ultimate Highway 89 road trip.
Quick Things To Note
Stay Ahead Of Permit Requirements
While many of Zion’s trails are open to the public without the need for a permit, certain activities, like overnight backpacking in The Narrows, do require one. Always check the official Zion National Park website for up-to-date permit requirements before you set off on your hike.
Practice Proper Trail Safety
Zion National Park’s trails, especially those like Angels Landing, can be steep and narrow. It’s crucial to wear appropriate hiking shoes, stay on designated paths, and ensure you’re physically and mentally prepared for the challenge. Remember, there’s no shame in turning back if you feel a trail is beyond your comfort zone.
Weather in Zion can be unpredictable, especially during transitional seasons. Flash floods, particularly in The Narrows, can be a real danger. Always check the weather forecast and heed any warnings or advisories issued by park rangers.
Keep Informed on Parking and Shuttle Services
Parking within Zion can fill up quickly, especially during peak seasons. Utilize the park’s shuttle service, which operates most of the year and offers a hassle-free way to access many of the park’s main attractions. The shuttle also stops at several points in Springdale. When you only have one day in Zion National Park, it’s an effective method to get from point to point.
The Importance of Staying Hydrated
The dry climate of Zion means you’ll likely need more water than you anticipate. Always carry ample water, especially when embarking on longer hikes. Refill stations are available at visitor centers and various points within the park, so keep your reusable water bottles handy.
Respecting the Environment
Zion is a treasure trove of unique flora, fauna, and geological formations. Always practice Leave No Trace principles: pack out what you pack in, stay on designated trails, and avoid disturbing wildlife or plant life.
Frequently Asked Questions
How difficult is the Angels Landing hike if you have only one day in zion national park?
Angels Landing is considered a strenuous hike due to its elevation gain and exposed sections near the summit. It involves navigating a series of switchbacks and a final stretch known as the “chains section,” where hikers hold onto anchored chains for support.
While challenging, the panoramic views at the top are often deemed well worth the effort. However, it’s essential to assess your comfort level and physical ability before attempting the hike.
Is there a best time to hike The Narrows?
The best time to hike The Narrows is typically in the late spring to early summer when water levels are manageable, and the weather is warm. However, always be wary of flash flood risks. Checking the forecast and asking park rangers for current conditions is crucial. Avoid hiking during or after heavy rain.
Do I need special gear for The Narrows?
While many hikers manage with regular hiking shoes, renting water-specific shoes and a walking stick can improve grip and stability. Several outfitters in Springdale offer rental gear specifically for The Narrows. It’s also advisable to wear quick-drying clothes and pack waterproof bags for valuables.
How long does it take to hike Observation Point via East Mesa Trail? Can it be done with one day in zion national park?
The hike to Observation Point via East Mesa Trail is approximately 6.7 miles round trip. On average, it takes hikers between 3 to 5 hours, depending on pace and how long they choose to spend at the viewpoint. The trail is considered moderate in difficulty. It can easily be done with one day in Zion National Park.
Can I camp overnight in Zion National Park?
Yes, Zion National Park has several campgrounds. However, spaces can fill up quickly during peak seasons. It’s a good idea to make a reservation if you plan on camping. Additionally, backcountry camping is allowed, but it requires a permit.
Are there food and water sources in the park?
While there are dining options in Zion Canyon, such as the Zion Lodge, it’s recommended to pack snacks and meals if you’re going on longer hikes. Refill stations for water are available at visitor centers and some trailheads, but always carry sufficient water and a way to purify natural sources if needed.
Our Final Thoughts on Highway 89 Day 3
As the sun sets on this remarkable day, we’re left in awe of Zion National Park’s vast landscapes and monumental beauty. The contrasting experiences of the day, from the thrilling heights of Angels Landing to the soothing depths of The Narrows and the expansive views from Observation Point, have painted a comprehensive picture of Zion’s unparalleled diversity.
Each trail carved its own unique memory, blending challenge with wonder, and reminding us of nature’s unmatched artistry. No matter which of the three you selected with your one day in Zion National Park, rest assured you made the right choice. There are no bad hikes at Zion.
Venturing through the park’s winding paths and echoing canyons, one can’t help but feel a deep connection to the land and its rich history. The sounds of the Virgin River, the sight of the towering crimson cliffs, and the touch of the cool canyon waters have all played a part in making today a sensory feast. As we anticipate the journey ahead on Highway 89, it’s clear that the memories from Zion will hold a special place in our hearts, serving as a benchmark of nature’s grandeur for the days to come.
The charm of Springdale’s eateries and the promise of yet another adventure tomorrow as we continue our road trip, ensure that the spirit of discovery remains alive. The journey along Highway 89 has so far been a testament to the American Southwest’s allure, and there’s still so much more to explore and cherish.