Adventure Honeymooning On a Budget
Zion. Bryce. Buckskin. Horseshoe. Antelope. Grand Canyon.
“The national park is the best idea America ever had.”JAMES BRYCE
Crisp air fills my lungs and massive beauty fills my eyes as my conflicted brain attempts to also focus on where I am placing my rapidly climbing clumsy feet. The verdant canyon, grasping trees, snaking emerald river and sage green shrubs, with deep iron red rock reaching stoic hands toward the sky…photos never do such places justice. You have to go.
Zion National Park, where the views elicit 5 murmured wows per 3 minute span. This is our honeymoon beginning. Because we wanted to be somewhere as beautiful as the wedding moments, albeit in a different way. Actually, the honeymoon was the first thing planned; I love Jeremy immensely, and traveling and experiencing together sounded far more interesting initially than everything around the “I do.”
Our plan: drive from Vegas in an unbelievably beautiful five-day hiking loop, culminating in the Grand Canyon, with no more than four hours of driving per day. After a horrible debacle with American Airlines and Nü car rentals (never trust a place trying to use a trendy umlaut, and always cut lines when hiking before sundown is at stake), we made it into Zion at 4pm our first day out West. The drive wasn’t half bad, either, and made our 24-hour delay less of a frustration.
Semi-fortuitously, en route, we discovered the top level of the Emerald Pools were closed due to tumbling rocks, as well as half the park and the Zion-Mt. Caramel Tunnel, which, at 1.1 miles, is the longest tunnel in the world. In February, 10 extra inches of water fell, wrecking havoc on sections of road and trail…but not Angel’s Landing! We had 3.5 hours to the departure of the last shuttle–back-up plan, hitch hike? Combined with a park ranger’s doubt and our restless legs, we set off, extra-energized by the beauty around us.
Visiting and hiking information
Best time of year to visit: now! Crowds were thin everywhere. We never had to wait in line for the shuttle, and were easily able to park at the visitor’s center. The weather was impeccable: 65 F and a bit of fluff cloud.
Parking: When crowded, park in Springdale and shuttle (summertime), or wake up mighty early. Off-season: generally there is space at or near the Zion Park Visitor’s Center. You must then take the Zion Shuttle into the park; this is in place to help auto congestion.
Payment: entry into the park is 30 or 35. I’ve forgotten because I was an exceptional planner for a change and purchased a U.S. Parks Pass, which I 100% recommend if the intention is to road trip parks out west. We payed 90$ with tax and shipping, and already saved an extra 60$ after it payed for itself!
Accommodations: there is a lodge actually in the park. It looks gorgeous and often has deer munching on snacks out front, but I’m usually too poor. Springdale is a cute town, although touristy, very bike-able, and slightly cheaper. My favorite: Hurricane. Less touristy and filled with fantastic restaurants (you have to go to Alfredo’s, if you like Mexican!), it’s a great location for cheap accommodations and lies half an hour from the park. We, however, drove all the way to Kanab after hiking in order to drive less the subsequent morning.
Recommended trails: it depends. They hand out brochures and maps at the entrance counter to aid in decision making. There are many family friendly trails where as much or as little can be completed, as desired. One of the reasons this particular park is so popular, I’d imagine, and made possible by the shuttle system. Emerald Pools is my favorite family-friendly hike. The Narrows are beautiful, but I have weak ankles and no desire to hike much distance in water. More of a swimmer than a wader, but I have heard it’s quite worth it… hiking from the Subway down through the Narrows is definitely on the list. Click here–> for more information regarding weather, parking, and tail conditions!
And then, my all-time favorite, both for technicality and the stunning views: Angel’s Landing!
Hop off at shuttle stop #6, The Grotto, for the trailhead to one of the most iconic hikes in the park, and the most breathtaking view over Zion Canyon. The beginning itself isn’t too shabby, either. We crossed the Virgin and began our sandy trudge! But actually, after the first 400m, the trail is paved, which irked me at first. But, not to worry, it would grow more difficult in time.
The canyon itself is ancient; humans have lived here for the past 10,000 years or so, but some of the rock layers could be 270 million years old. I imagine dinosaurs wandering around as we hike–the landscape seems suitable.
While advancing up the West Rim Trail, it is easy to forget how far you have come…until you look back! Every view is exciting. We also love trying to guess which languages those around us are speaking…every time I hear German, my ears perk up in happiness. Because we did begin rather late in the day, we did not come across many people, but enough for entertainment value. Why are people wearing flip flops?! My feet hurt for them.
Ahhhh…the end of the West Rim Trail, and the beginning of the most rigorous part of the climb! But first, a moment to breathe and take it all in <3.
Zion as a national park has her 100th birthday this year! Woodrow Wilson signed her into law in 1919; however, President Taft first officially protected the area ten years prior under the title “Mukuntuweap National Monument,” thought to be the Southern Paiute Indian name for the area (many of them perished of new diseases brought by Mormon settlers in the mid-late 1800s). After hefty protest by the Mormons farming the land, and politicians who thought no one would want to visit a place called Mukuntuweap, the park was re-christened Zion, a Hebrew word for a place of relaxation and peace. I’m not sure how much relaxing we did, but peace is fully accurate.
Words of caution
If you come upon these chains and grow nervous, don’t continue. It doesn’t get any easier. No one with a real fear of heights should progress upon this section of trail. Leave small children with a trusted adult or at home–the last time I clambered around on Angel’s Landing, I distinctly remember parents leading an inexperienced five-year-old through this portion. He froze and started howling. Just use your good judgment. Only 7 people have died here in the past 100 years; keep it that way!
The last half-mile or so involves 500 ft of elevation gain and a very exposed trail. A windbreaker is a beautiful thing to have along, as are plenty of water, snacks, and even gloves for the rough surfaces. I don’t personally like gloves, but then, my hands do feel like sandpaper.
And now, here we go! An adrenaline-pumping, beautiful climb!
Angel’s Landing, Zion: The top! Approximately 5,790 feet above sea level, with one of the most incredible views. My hear soars; this is my happy place. Angel’s Landing itself towers over Zion Canyon at 1,488 feet tall, and we made it up in about an hour! We sit, breathe, take it in, laugh for happiness. Those iconic views appear all over the place for a reason. But still, they are not even close to the real thing, somehow.
Alas, at some point, we had to head back down; not only to catch the shuttle, but because our stomachs were clamoring for food. Specifically, Mexican. I have a newfound love for sopes. But really, I could stay up there for hours and would return every year if I could. There will always be something extra special about incredible sights and nature you have to work for. That being said, I imagine hang gliding down to the bathrooms at the trail head. Check out the view, down!
Goodbye, Zion!! What a beautiful, perfect start to our honeymoon.
Followed by Alfredo’s in Hurricane, because food, especially deep-fried chips and a salsa bar, is undoubtedly very important, we had a sleepy drive to Kanab. So dark. So sleepy. So black is the night without light and cities and stars, because it was to rain and the next day, and the sky is thick with black sleepy clouds. But, we made it!
Go in the off-season, and book accommodations in advance. We stayed at the Canyon’s Lodge, across from the Canyons Hotel. There’s nothing like wonderful people and a wonderful bed that smells like laundry detergent at the end of a long, perfect day. Look–it was like staying in our own mini-log cabin, with a view of the Grand Canyon! And breakfast the next day–for an active vacation, inclusive breakfast is a convenience must. We wandered across the street to the hotel, and the breakfast buffet had chicken and waffles!! And great coffee! 10/10 recommend staying here; Kanab is also a great middle, taking-off point for many adventures.
Coming next: Day 2 of our honeymoon in Bryce Canyon, where we saw snow!!
Been out West and have great memories or recommendations for the next trip? Comment below!