My Beginner’s Guide to Navigating through Zion National Park + Bryce Canyon in Utah

During the first week of August, I traveled to Southern Utah for a 4 day, 3 night trip to hike the beautiful Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park! This has been on my bucketlist for the past year after learning more about these spots. So, when I planned my trip back home to California, I made the decision to also visit these areas before heading back to Chicago.

It was truly an unforgettable (and very hot!) experience. I attended the trip with four of my friends, all of whom were also first timers. We planned this trip through the help of friend’s suggestions and research. Now, naturally, I wanted to pay it forward and provide you, with my beginner’s guide to taking on these two places. Hope it helps!

Preparation before the trip: Booking a lodging area, dedicating at least a day to Zion and Bryce each, packing the right clothing (sunnies, hat, socks, hiking boots, just to name a few), toiletries (sunblock, chap stick, hand wipes), acclimating yourself to the climate change and activity (build endurance, walk/jog on incline), and food.

Lodging: We booked a home through airbnb. Although there were hotels surrounding Zion, we felt that an airbnb accommodated our group of five better. We booked 2 months in advance and got a home about 22 miles away from the entrance of Zion. The drive to and from Zion from our airbnb was 25 minutes, which wasn’t too bad. The drive was also very scenic! What I absolutely loved best about the lodging was that, after long days of hiking, we were able to come home to a very large but cozy home. Also, considering how hiking these national parks may take up the entire day, it was very helpful to have a place with a kitchen and refrigerator. We were able to stop by the local grocery store, stocked up on food and snacks for our hikes. In conclusion, airbnb > hotel.

Food: Make sure to pack food and water! I cannot express this enough! Regardless if you hike easy and short trails versus long and strenuous trails, you need food and water during the hike! I highly recommend that every person bring a backpack to hold your food. Since I hiked during summer, the heat combined with the strenuous trails left me occasionally light headed and out of breath. I had to constantly stop and refuel my body with nutrients. Especially since some of the trails require so much energy and you won’t really know until you’re hiking, it is so important to pack more than you think you need. For myself, I pretty much spent roughly 6-8 hours a day hiking. Each morning I had a heavy carb-filled breakfast and in my hiking bag I had two sandwiches (both pb&j), 2 granola bars, fruit, and a 3 gallon bag of water. Lastly, depending on the season you go, make sure to purchase the right kind of snacks. For example, we purchased trail mix that had chocolate chips and everything melted in our backpack and it got messy! Here is a list of snacks provided by generous partners that I consumed durin gmy

Physical preparation for the hike: Depending on the trail that you choose, you may spend hours on each hike. For example, Angels Landing at Zion (one of the most popular trails), is roughly a little over 5 miles round trip, but it took us nearly 4 hours to complete! yes 4 hours for a 5 mile hike. The reason for such is because of the nature of the hike. Majority of the hike is a steep incline and there are a million, (ok 25 or sum) switch backs that took nearly an hour to get up on. Over at Bryce Canyon when we hiked the navajo loop, it was also a 5 mile hike that took close to 4 hours as well. In short, if you are not a very active individual, or you do not have a lot experience hiking or walking up steep hills, I highly recommend you prep and train your body for these changes. Some ways that I trained for this was jogging on incline on the treadmill or building my endurance with longer runs. I would like to think I’m an active person, but I too occasionally felt fatigue. It also didn’t help that the temperature was high 90s each day.

Things to pack and have on hand during your hike: Backpack/bag to hold your liquids and food, sunglasses, a hat, hand wipes, empty plastic trash bag to hold your trash, sun block, camera/phone to take pictures, gum (it was very helpful for me), a face towel in case you needed to wipe anything or wet it and put it on your head/neck to protect yourself from the heat, flashlight (we didn’t know when we would finish our hike so we brought it in case we went beyond light time), headphones if you want to listen to music.

My experience of Zion National Park:  While at Zion National Park, we hiked a few minor ones (not really worth mentioning) and two world renowned and very popular trails. Angels Landing and the Narrows. Angels Landing is an unforgettable hike worthy of all bucket lists. The views of Zion Canyon’s 270 million-year-old rock layers will time travel you back to the Triassic period when this section of the Colorado Plateau was a flat basin at sea level. Anyone in an average physical condition can make this heavenward trek, but it can be mentally challenging with its steep switchbacks and sheer drop-offs. There are chains bolted into the cliff to provide secure handholds. People who have a severe fear of heights should not attempt the final stretch, but can enjoy the trail all the way to Scout Lookout. While, The Narrows is the most popular hike in Zion National Park, and one of the world’s best slot canyon hikes. It is pure fun and can be tailored to suite any ability level. The trail is basically the Virgin River. The canyon is so narrow, the river covers the bottom in many spots, which means you have to wade or swim to proceed. Plan on being wet. In fact, the cool water makes this hike particularly pleasant during the hot months of summer. (Summary of Angels Landing and Bryce are courtesy of utah.com). The hikes are free but there is a $30 parking fee.

My impression of Bryce Canyon National Park:  If you are short on time, Bryce Canyon has view points that offers a pretty good perspective of the park. The four view points can all be reached via car and are SunriseSunsetInspiration and Bryce. My favorite viewpoint was Sunset. Just like Zion, Bryce Canyon offers several day-hiking trails. Because many of these are interconnected, the most popular hikes are combinations of two or more trails. We hiked Mossy cave alone and combined the rim trail and the Navajo loop together. The Mossy Cave and rim trail are both very easy and short hikes. The Navajo Loop begins at Sunset Point and goes down into Bryce Amphitheater through a “slot” canyon where large Douglas Fir trees are stretching to reach sunlight high above. The hiking trails are free but there is a $30 parking fee.

Overall, prepping and my trip ran very smoothly. In fact the information center at both National Parks were very helpful. They had maps that we could take along our trails and they answered any questions we had.  I highly recommend everyone check out these beautiful places! Although summer wasn’t the best time to go, I had to take advantage of the available time I had. It was a blessing and I am so thankful to have even had the opportunity to go. It will stay in my memories forever!

I hope you found this helpful!

Additional information and sites that I looked to for tips are found below:

Zion National Park’s Website

VisitUtah.com Website

U.S National Park Service

Bryce Canyon National Park’s Website

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