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Zion National Park was the fourth of the parks we visited on our road trip and, I have to be honest, it was the one I was least looking forward to, probably because it was the one I knew least about. After having visited it, I can safely say that it turned out to be my favourite - even more so than Grand Canyon Park, Monument Valley and Bryce Canyon. Although they are all stunning and breath-taking, I just found Zion to be so very natural and pretty and I loved every minute that I spent there.
===Location and Getting There===
The park is located in the state of Utah and the nearest town is Springdale, which is located right at the park entrance. Getting to Springdale is easy; it is a two and a half hour drive from Las Vegas and a one and a half hour drive from Bryce Canyon by easy to drive on highways and interstates. There is actually a hotel in the middle of the park, but it is quite pricey and in bad weather, the road to it gets blocked off. A much better option is to stay in the village of Springdale, which is cheaper and very convenient. There is a free bus service that runs into the entrance of the park and stops at various points in the village and runs very regularly throughout the day. The town also has lots of shops and good restaurants that are all within walking distance of all of the B&Bs and hotels in the area.
===The Welcome Centre and Getting Around the Park===
There is a great welcome centre just inside the park entrance beyond the booth where you pay. The welcome centre has everything you need to enjoy the park to the full, including a pretty good gift shop and a little presentation area that tells you about the park and its history. There is also a huge car park in front of it. You can drive through parts of the park but I'd highly recommend leaving your car in the free car park and taking full advantage of the free parking and use the bus system which is brilliant; it is free, stops at all the main points and is extremely convenient.
The park is absolutely stunning, there is no other word for it. Its elevations range from 3700 feet to 8800 feet which makes for some stunning rock faces and scenery, made more beautiful by the covering of deep green provided by the trees and grass that cover them. A fact that I found interesting about the park was that it contains less than 1/10 of a per cent of Utah's land area, but over 70% of the State's native plants are found there. It really does show as well because the area is really very pretty as a result. The greenness is due mainly to the river that runs through the centre, from which the mass of trees and rock faces fan out. This beauty can be seen at its best from the various walks around the park that vary in length and toughness, from gentle strolls to full on hikes. We opted for a few of the more sedate walks but there were challenging enough to be fun and felt like we had achieved something but not so much that we needed masses of equipment and time to complete them. Here are my favourites:
==Weeping Rock Trail - Average Time ½ hour==
This is the shortest and possibly one of the easiest of the walks although it does include ascended 98 metres. It may not seem like much, but you are doing this in just a fifteen minute walk, so over a very short distance. If you can manage it, it is so worth it though because the views at the top are absolutely beautiful. The start of the walk is one of the very last stops of the bus route and so it is almost at the end of the park, meaning that you get views looking back over the entire length of the park. At the top I couldn't help thinking about the island in the first Jurassic Park film. You can't see the river below, but you can see all the trees that surround it and the massive rock faces at the sides and to me it looked almost as though it was artificially designed for a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. It isn't called Weeping Rock Trail for no reason either. At the top there is a natural platform that is overhung by a huge piece of rock that drips water that has come from the top. It creates a sort of waterfall effect that looks a bit like gentle rain shower which just looks amazing and makes the view all that much better. There is almost always a rainbow there as well to add to the package. If you also like plant life, you'll love the walk up to the rock too because it is lined with amazing coloured flowers, many of which has signs near them to explain what they are.
==Lower / Middle Emerald Pool Trails - Average Time 1 / 2 hours==
This is actually one trail, although it is in two stages, so you can do one or both. The first trail (the lower one) is a 1.2 mile round trip and is not too much uphill, with a quite gentle climb of 68 feet. There are a couple of lovely waterfalls on the way which make it worth the trip. There are a couple of fairly steep drop offs and it is quite uneven underfoot although it is paved for the most part, so it is not suitable for those who are unsteady on their feet. When you get to the top of this trail, you have the option of looping back round to the start or you can carry on to the middle pool, which is so worth going to if you can manage it. We absolutely loved the second part of the trail because it was a little bit more adventurous than the others without being too challenging. It is quite steep and involves an element of climbing, although it is mainly up uneven steps. When you get to the top, the emerald pool is absolutely stunning. There are lots of rocks so that you can sit and admire the views both upwards and downwards and even enjoy a probably well deserved picnic.
==Riverside Walk - Average Time - 1.5 hours==
This is absolutely the easiest of the walks in the park because it is totally flat and well paved all the way. It is located right at the end of the park and is accessible via the last stop on the bus route. It follows the line of the Virgin River and you can either walk along the path or, in places, walk along the actual riverside, which is nice. It makes for a nice gentle stroll where you can spot all the flora and fauna on show and in the summer months they actually have exhibits along the route, although they weren't there when we visited in mid-October. This trail is also the route you need to take if you want to walk the Zion Narrows, although you'll need a lot of equipment for that walk because it involves going through the water.
Entrance to the park cost $25 for one car and all of its passengers and this fee lasts for one week. You have to pay specifically for this park and it isn't included in any of the annual passes that you can get for the other national parks in the area (such as Grand Canyon and nearby Bryce Canyon).
The park is open all year round, although various parts of it, including some of the trails are closed during the winter months because of bad weather. The shops and restaurants in the town of Springfield also reduce their opening hours in winter, although the hotels and B&Bs tend to reduce their prices too - so it isn't all bad!
When you get into the park, you get a map of the area which is really handy because it includes details of where the bus stops are and where the various trails start. If you are staying at one of the places in Springdale I'd recommend asking them for a copy of the Zion National Park Vacation and Travel Planner, because it was our bible whilst we were there. It includes details about the park, the length and difficulty of the trails, as well as information about the shops, restaurants and accommodation available in Springdale - it really is a great little guide.
I can't recommend Zion Park enough because it is fabulous for so many reasons and is like nowhere else I've ever been. You can be a kid and get some fabulous pictures all at the same time. No matter how long your stay (we were there for just one night and still managed to accomplish a lot), you can have a whole lot of fun.