We’ve got another amazing trip from my sister, Lyndsay, to share with you today. A couple of months ago, Lyndsay and her husband, Andy, were able to spend a weekend backpacking at Zion National Park. I dream of one day packing up our family and taking a cross country road trip to see some of these amazing places in person! Until then, I’m thankful Lyndsay is willing to share her pictures and experiences with us (along with a few tips for hiking/camping at Zion)!
Do you ever realize that a long weekend is quickly approaching and you haven’t even begun to think about what fun adventures could take place? Recently that happened for my husband Andy and I around Memorial Day Weekend in May.
We began thinking about places we have always wanted to visit here on the West Coast, but can’t quite accomplish in a normal 2-day weekend. We ended up deciding (on Thursday evening) to go to Zion National Park, leaving Friday (yup, the next day) after work. Being regular backpackers, we were actually able to pull off prep with just a couple hours of packing, about 30 minutes researching tips online, and having a conversation with a couple of my co-workers who have visited the park before. We happened to already have the food supplies we needed on hand (and knew there would be grocery store near the park, if needed), so we lucked out in not even needing to go to the grocery store that night.
We knew three things would be true:
- Traffic would be bad on a Friday – so we didn’t leave until 6:30pm.
- Since it was Memorial Day weekend, all campsites would be booked – so we looked up options for setting up a tent outside the park. If you are on National Forest land, you can camp without having to be at a campground. We found a great spot just 25 miles outside the park off the side of the road. *Please be aware though – there are rules & regulations for camping on National Forest Land – make sure to read up on this if you are going to do it!*
- We wanted to backpack the Narrows – which is what Zion is famous for in the backpacking world – so we knew we would need to prioritize getting a wilderness permit. We tried the lottery you can enter into for $5 online, but weren’t selected. This meant we needed to be at the ranger station by 5am on Saturday in order to obtain an overnight wilderness permit for Sunday night in the Narrows (you also can reserve a spot online 3 months in advance, but clearly that was not an option for us last-minute-planners!).
Since it was a 7 hour drive from where we live, we didn’t get in until 1:30am, which ended up being 2:30am with the timezone change – oops…forgot to plan for that! We set up our tent at the aforementioned spot by the road and were asleep by 3:30am and then up at 5am (short night!) to arrive at the ranger station bright and early. We were the 5th group in line when we arrived just before 6am. When the ranger station opened at 7am, we were able to obtain a permit for just $10. Knowing we needed to both complete the hike and finish the 8 hour drive home all in the same day, we intentionally chose a campsite closer to the end of the hike (number 11 for those interested. Read more here).
Whenever we go backpacking at a new park we have never been to, I look up hikes on backpacker.com. For those of you unfamiliar with The Narrows, like we were, it is a river that runs at the base of a deep gorge (at times 2,000 feet deep), running about 16 miles in length, and at times only 20 feet wide! You spend much of your time hiking directly in the water – with your hiking shoes on because of rocks. It’s a crapshoot what the water level will be. At times hikers may have to swim because it is so deep. For us, the water level was lower – typically below our knees. A few times it came to our thighs, and once it came up to my lower back. There are times when, if a flash flood were to happen, you have no higher ground to get to. We were fortunate to have the water level we had and no danger of flash floods (read more about Narrows conditions here).
You can get a one-day permit to hike the narrows, which would be about 12 hours straight of hiking (almost entirely in water) – kudos to those who have been able to do that! We were thankful to split our trip into two portions: hiking about 7.5 hours the first day and 4 hours the second day. Unlike the rest of the park which was a zoo of people, the Narrows was wonderfully peaceful and serene…until about the last 2 hours when you encounter people hiking up the water from the base (accessible inside Zion National Park).
The terrain changed quite a bit on our hike from top to bottom, as you can see in pictures. From meadow-like hiking to rock formations on one side of the river, to being completely surrounded by huge rock formations. The view up was just gorgeous! We were blown away by God’s creation around us!!
On our hike, we ran into Search & Rescue bringing a man with a broken leg downstream. There were LOTS of them taking turns walking with the boat, or just walking down stream and helping when it came to extra rocky spots. We also had the occasional opportunity to explore an off-shooting slot canyon. But mostly we just walked down the river (with our $5 rented river stick).
We are so glad that we ventured out and explored new-to-us territory! It is definitely worth reading/researching an area you are considering going to before backpacking there. Knowing where water sources are, what weather to anticipate for gear, and dangers to be mindful of are so important for safety is crucial. And as always, pack in and pack out and be good stewards of the Earth.
Thanks so much, Merrythought, for letting us share our adventures with you! ~The Grimms~
PLEASE NOTE:: For people who aren’t regular backpackers, we don’t recommend making last minute backpacking/hiking trips like this. For seasoned backpackers like Andy & Lyndsay, who have enough experience with these kind of trips (they both do them regularly), it’s okay; but if you’re a non-experienced backpacker, make sure to plan these trips well in advance and really do your research on the area. Lyndsay knew The Narrows could be dangerous, and they were prepared for it (they did research before leaving, they took the time on Saturday when they got their permits to read about it at the visitors center, they rented the sticks and waterproofed their gear by putting everything in baggies and/or waterproof camping bags, etc.), so please use common sense and plan wisely.
Lyndsay has more photos & details from the trip on her blog, Grimm Tales, – so be sure to check those out to see more! And if you’re interested in more camping posts, we recently celebrated our love of camping with a Camp Week here on the blog, be sure to check out those posts!