Seeking Solitude in Zion National Park

When I’m visiting a national park, I usually seek out solitude. There’s something about being able to hike in the most beautiful surroundings lost in your own thoughts, letting feelings of awe and inspiration take over you without interruption. Feeling like you have the place all to yourself makes it that much more special. My family feels the same way, so often there are chunks of time on a hike when we are just looking, observing and marveling (and taking a million pictures). And also listening… nature has its own beautiful sounds. Yes, we usually have our “what’s for (insert next meal)?” discussions, or “this scenery reminds me of (insert location from Breath of the Wild video game)” discussions, and definitely have the “check out this picture I just took” discussions, but for the most part we are perfectly comfortable being awed by nature in silence.

On our last day at Zion National Park, we woke up early looking to find a hike where we could find some solitude. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, so by the time we drove through the canyon floor, we saw that many of the smaller parking lots were already filled. However, at the end of the valley drive was the Temple of Sinawava lot where people park to hike the Narrows. This lot was much bigger and most of the spots were still open. Although I really wanted to hike the Narrows, we just didn’t have the right gear and we didn’t have the time since we needed to get to Bryce Canyon NP. We quickly parked, and set out on the easy one mile Riverside Walk to the start of the Narrows.

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Temple of Sinawava parking lot (shuttles not running in the winter)
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Riverside Walk

We really enjoyed the Riverside Walk, especially after we went back to the van and put on more clothing. Gloves, scarves, earmuffs, thermals whatever we could put on to cover more skin! After our teeth stopped chattering, we were much more comfortable and could enjoy the early morning solitude. There were hardly any people on the trail and we felt like we had this place all to ourselves at times. Although it was past the official sunrise time, it felt like we were watching a sunrise as we saw the first hints of the morning sun reach the valley.

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Chilly December morning
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Early morning solitude
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The changing colors of the cliffs signaled the morning sun yet to come
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Nature’s graffiti (“cascading water wuz here”)
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Feeling the enormity of the cliffs
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Listening to the soft soothing sounds of the trickling water
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More hints of the morning sun’s arrival
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That turquoise blue water!
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Nice place to dip your feet in the water… In The Summer!
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Aaaah, the beginning of the Narrows, it was so tempting to just keep going
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Although returning on the same trail, the views seemed different
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Finally, some real sun hitting the cliffs
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Life, even in the harshest of environments
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The parking lot filled up during our walk
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Time to hit the road

After our brisk morning walk and watching a valley “sunrise,” it was time to make our way to another destination. We had planned on seeing Weeping Rock and hike up Hidden Canyon Trail (after reading a great post by 4 Roadschoolers and a Fat Cat), but when we drove to the small parking lot, there were cones at the entrance of the lot blocking it and two rangers who were waving cars away that were trying to park on the side of the road (some places were ok to park though). Forget that! We decided to continue on through the park and drive up the Zion-Mt. Carmel Hwy (on the way to Bryce Canyon NP) and hike on the Canyon Overlook Trail. The views along the road were spectacular though, so we just rolled with it and had fun sight-seeing.

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Bright morning sunshine lighting up the valley
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Interesting purple cliffs near Big Bend (basically called that because of a big bend in the Virgin River)
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Emerald Pools area where we hiked the day before

We parked at the Court of the Patriarchs viewpoint and snapped a picture of the three mountain peaks named after biblical figures Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They were very majestic and really stood out among all the cliffs.

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Court of the Patriarchs
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The views along Zion-Mt Carmel Hwy are incredible, don’t blink
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The sky created a beautiful backdrop
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The famous 1.1 mile Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel where you have to get a permit to drive a vehicle over 11’4″ through the tunnel (so they can make it a one way road to allow tall vehicles to drive in the middle)
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Our lunch spot with this view (about 0.5 miles after the Canyon Overlook parking lot)
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We ended up hiking around here instead of the Canyon Overlook trail (which seemed way too busy based on the number of cars parked in the lot and along the road)
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Now this was solitude

On the Zion-Mt Carmel Hwy, we noticed varied terrain, including a mountain with an interesting cross-hatched pattern on the side, exaggerated by the snow trapped in the crevices. Sure enough, there was a pull-out with an information bulletin that described it as the “checkerboard mesa.” What a fitting name!

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Checkerboard Mesa
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Checkerboard pattern highlighted by snow, nature’s highlighter

There was so much interesting scenery to see along the road to Bryce Canyon NP and the two hour drive went by fast, leaving us with a whole afternoon to explore Bryce Canyon. Bryce Canyon NP was an incredibly beautiful park and I will share about it in the next post (thanks for reading this far!).

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Colorful Utah scenery
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Red Canyon State Park along Hwy 12

Our trip to Zion highlighted the fact that you have to be smart about your visit: pick a good time of year to go (I’m still not sure when this would be, although I really liked celebrating Christmas here), prioritize what you want to see and do, factor in the congestion (especially limited parking), and use early morning hours to find solitude on hikes. Keep in mind that in the winter the sunrises later (7:45 am on Dec 26) and sets earlier (5:20 pm), so you have less hours during the day for your outdoor activities, but you also don’t have to wake up as early for “early morning hiking.” Winter is good for hiking with fewer people on the trails (not the popular trails like Angels Landing), but not so good when the shuttles aren’t running because finding parking in the small lots is difficult. I saw a few people riding their bikes on the road, which is intriguing, but also seems a bit dangerous when sharing the road with so many cars. Even though we couldn’t get to all the things we wanted to do, we had a great time here and I can see why everyone wants to come and see this majestic place. We celebrated a Christmas in Zion that we will never forget, and got to see the valley with our own eyes. Truly grateful for the experience.


12 thoughts on “Seeking Solitude in Zion National Park

  1. Wonderful pictures as usual. What an experience to spend Christmas there. Our visit to Zion was far too short reminding me we need to get back there again.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. That will be a great trip for you too. On an unrelated note, what happened to the lady who wrote the Adventuresoffive blog. I haven’t seen her post anything since last May or so before their big 6 week trip. I hope she’s OK.

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      2. I actually met Christine and her son the day before they flew back to Hawaii last summer. Super nice! Sounded like they had an epic adventure. Not sure why she’s not blogging, but hopefully she’ll write about her travels again.

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      3. I’m glad she’s ok and you got to see her. She’s my go-to resource for helping me plan my Hawaii trip here in a couple years. I’ll need your help someday for our California tour!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Gorgeous photos! Zion looks beautiful in the winter. Too bad it sounds just as crowded as other times of the year, maybe not quite as crowded but difficult to find parking anyway. Did you need a permit to drive through the tunnel? I wish we would have done it because your pictures from the other side were awesome. Next time! I was also wondering what happened to Christine, I hope she’s okay and will start blogging again soon. Thanks so much for mentioning our blog in your post! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks!! No permit to drive through the tunnel for us, had plenty of room, but still let out a sigh of relief when we made it through. Not a tunnel you want to get stuck in! Maybe next time you will find the perfect time of year to visit Zion (and let all of us know 🙂).

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