Planning 1st trip to Zion National Park - What should I know?

anonymouscubananonymouscuban Inner Tube PilotPorter Ranch, CaliforniaRegistered Users, Retired Mod Posts: 4,586 Major grins
edited April 21, 2011 in Landscapes
My wife and I our planning to take a trip to Zion this year. We are thinking of doing it sometime in May, hoping to beat the hot summer months and crowds. It will be my first time there. We are thinking of spending 4 days there, not including travel time.

Fist off, is May a good time to go? If there is a better time, we can postpone it and go to Yosemite instead.

As far as lodging, are we better off staying in a room or should we camp? Keep in mind, my wife few experiences camping weren't great so she is a little apprehensive about it. But, if camping is going to make it easier to see the most of Zion, then that is the route we want to take.

As far as things to see/shoot, is 4 days giving us enough time? Also, what places are must see? We are pretty fit and adventurous but I also don't want to risk injury getting to places so please take that into consideration.

I'm sure there are a ton of guidebooks but are they any specific ones you can recommend? Or any sites you can recommend that will help me plan this trip?

Thanks in advance for any info you can provide.
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Comments

  • chrismoorechrismoore Major grins Registered Users Posts: 1,083 Major grins
    edited April 18, 2011
    The campgrounds at Zion are far from primitive, but the Zion Lodge is very comfortable and runs about $80 per night, depending on season of course. Your main objective should be to hike the Virgin River Narrows, sometimes it is closed depending on tide levels, but has the best photography in the park IMO. Rent a wetsuit in town if you don't want to get wet and start early. Your best photography there will be between 11 and 1 with the reflected light off the sandstone walls. I really enjoyed the Subway hike, but it is backcountry, and unless you are with someone who knows the trail, maybe not a good idea. But if you can swing it, it is photographically very rewarding as well, especially towards the end with Archangel falls and the subway itself. It is 11 miles round trip, and a full day. We started at 5am and got back around 5-6pm. Four days should be plenty, and don't forget other areas are nearby including Page and the Grand Canyon.
  • bnickesonbnickeson Photo spammer Registered Users Posts: 83 Big grins
    edited April 18, 2011
    This is just a personal preference, but I would much rather be in Zion in fall. Great weather, lower water levels, fewer crowds, amazing fall colors...plus, if you're planning May of this year you'll be cutting lodging reservations pretty close.

    The Narrows hike is a must in Zion. In fall, the water levels are usually low and the river is hikeable most of the time. In spring, levels are quite a bit higher due to runoff, but they may be coming back down around May. Storms are more common in May, though, and flash floods will happen in the Narrows in a period of heavy rain.

    Angels Landing is another must as long as you don't have a bad fear of heights (and your legs are relatively in shape). The last half mile is absolutely incredible as you go up the main part of the fin.

    As Chris mentioned, the Subway is another great photographic location but it is strenuous in the worst way. You better not make any plans for hiking the next day unless you're in very good physical condition. :D

    If you go in fall, anywhere in the main Canyon is incredible if you manage to time the fall colors correctly. Near the Temple of Sinawava is especially good. If you go in Spring, Emerald Pools should be very nice as they should have a decent water flow coming down the falls. In fall, the flow is just a trickle unless you just had a rain.

    As far as camping, most of the areas are pretty comfortable. However, Springdale is also very close (right outside the gate) and most of the areas have reasonable rates. So if she doesn't want to camp the whole time spending the nights in a hotel won't break the band.

    Laurent Martres wrote a very good photographic guide called "Photographing the Southwest: Volume 1 Southern Utah". In addition to Zion, he goes over a large portion of southern Utah, some of which you want want to check out if you have a few extra days. Another good site is zionnational-park.com. If you are mainly going for photography, sites such as this, photography-on-the.net, nikonians, photo.net, etc. are also good resources to see possible photo locations, times of day, times of year, etc.

    Finally, 4 days may be enough if you are just doing Zion. If you are more of the tourist type, that four days should probably work out alright. If you are more of the photographer type, you may want to spend a bit more time around the area for the right lighting, weather, and scouting times. When I was there last fall I spent three full days and two additional half days there. I got in all of the major scenes I wanted due to good weather, but didn't always get the best light or the best fall color. Plus, I didn't sleep much and was constantly out in the field way before sunrise and way after sunset. :D
  • stirinthesaucestirinthesauce Major grins Registered Users Posts: 293 Major grins
    edited April 19, 2011
    I just got back 2.5 weeks ago from Zion. Stayed at the lodge and it was nice and comfortable. Rates are up now as the season began April 1st, almost double the $89 rate.

    Angel's Landing is a must, hike up there in the morning first thing to avoid the crowds. Even in late March it was getting a little crowded and that trail is not one to be in a traffic jam on.

    My one regret is that the Narrows were closed due to high water levels. One day (I hope) I will get back there for it. Thoroughly enjoyed the trip.

    Remember, Bryce is only about 70 miles away, a very doable day trip.
  • anonymouscubananonymouscuban Inner Tube Pilot Porter Ranch, CaliforniaRegistered Users, Retired Mod Posts: 4,586 Major grins
    edited April 19, 2011
    Thanks guys. This information is very helpful. Are all of these suggested sites just hikes? I probably won't want to do any rappelling. We've done it a couple times, more recreational than serious but I don't want to risk either one of us getting injured. Strenuous hiking is not a problem for either one of us. We are both in great physical shape... both of us are gym nuts.

    The main focus of the trip will be photography. However, my wife doesn't shoot so I also can spend all the time just waiting around for good light or scouting areas. She is pretty patient with me but I also want her to enjoy the trip. I pretty good at finding balance so not too worried.
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  • oldovaloldoval Major grins Registered Users Posts: 456 Major grins
    edited April 19, 2011
    This is the best guide to Zion I have found and I use it quite a bit. http://www.citrusmilo.com/zionguide/

    My personal advise would be to get off trail and find somewhere secluded to explore. But that's just me...I really don't like people, tourists, children, people, children, people or people. :D I'm within a 45 minute drive from Zion but I usually avoid it like the plague from about the end of May to October. The "off" months are much more peaceful in my opinion.

    Oh, if you like wildlife the main canyon at night can be pretty cool. I've seen huge trophy deer, porcupines, etc.
  • schmooschmoo word nerd Registered Users Posts: 8,468 Major grins
    edited April 19, 2011
    oldoval wrote: »
    My personal advise would be to get off trail and find somewhere secluded to explore. But that's just me...I really don't like people, tourists, children, people, children, people or people. :D I'm within a 45 minute drive from Zion but I usually avoid it like the plague from about the end of May to October. The "off" months are much more peaceful in my opinion.

    My kinda photographer! :D
  • JimKarczewskiJimKarczewski Major grins Registered Users Posts: 969 Major grins
    edited April 19, 2011
    Even in October (mid) campgrounds were still full to capacity... Guess it depends on how the weather is, but we found the same at Arches and had to go into Moab for camping. It's unfortunate.. I rather stay in the parks (cheaper) but sometimes it's just not possible when camping and some places don't take reservations. :(
  • anwmn1anwmn1 Wandering the Desert Registered Users Posts: 3,469 Major grins
    edited April 20, 2011
    I was there a couple months ago in the snow a loved it. My previous trips to Zion were in March and in June. Personally I would only be interested in going back in the fall for fall colors or in the winter for a snow storm.

    Other than the Narrows and the Subway (which I haven't done either) I don't see much which would be great photography wise. Just my personal taste.

    Depending on what time in May you are heading out I would recommend Page AZ and Grand Canyon North Rim instead. Both are still drivable from Vegas and will offer both hiking and amazing photography including the following:
    Wahweap Hoodoos
    Alstrom Point
    Toadstools
    Upper Antelope Canyon (pay for photography tour)
    Lower Antelope Canyon (purchase photography pass)
    Canyon X (pay for tour)
    Horseshoe Bend
    Waterhole Canyon (permit)
    Stud Horse Point
    The Wave (permit)
    Paria Canyon
    Multiple other slot canyons

    Grand Canyon North Rim
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  • jsruccijsrucci Major grins Registered Users Posts: 118 Major grins
    edited April 21, 2011
    My wife and I our planning to take a trip to Zion this year. We are thinking of doing it sometime in May, hoping to beat the hot summer months and crowds. It will be my first time there. We are thinking of spending 4 days there, not including travel time.

    Fist off, is May a good time to go? If there is a better time, we can postpone it and go to Yosemite instead.

    As far as lodging, are we better off staying in a room or should we camp? Keep in mind, my wife few experiences camping weren't great so she is a little apprehensive about it. But, if camping is going to make it easier to see the most of Zion, then that is the route we want to take.

    As far as things to see/shoot, is 4 days giving us enough time? Also, what places are must see? We are pretty fit and adventurous but I also don't want to risk injury getting to places so please take that into consideration.

    I'm sure there are a ton of guidebooks but are they any specific ones you can recommend? Or any sites you can recommend that will help me plan this trip?

    Thanks in advance for any info you can provide.

    We visited Zion in September of 2008 and the weather was good. I don't remember it being very crowded then, although it was far from deserted. We stayed in Springdale, which is right outside the park. There are a lot of little places you can stay. We used the Cliffrose Lodge and Gardens, which was a nice place.

    I agree with others who suggested the "Photographing the Southwest" book, which has useful information.

    4 days at Zion should probably be good, but like others said, it depends on what you plan to do and how serious you are. If you have any disagreeable weather, it might mess up your plans. I think we stayed there 3 days and missed out on some stuff. However, we were on a 2 week trip, which was taking us all across Utah and Arizona, so I had to pick my battles.

    My wife loved Zion and wants to go back, so I probably need to start thinking about it again...

    One of my favorite shots from Zion:
    558640287_xPffe-X2.jpg


    My other Zion shots are included in this gallery:
    http://jsrucci.smugmug.com/Travel/Southwest-Sept-2008/6234482_wQxsf
    Steve

    http://www.steverucci.com

    Use this code to get a discount when joining Smugmug: FmsEHhiPzBxic
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