About seven hours into our road trip, we watched the California coast disappear from our rear view mirror and looked forward, awestruck, as we made our way through the gates of Zion National Park. Spilling outside of the park entrance is a treasure trove of canyons, peaks, hoodoos and cliffs with a wild river that flows through it. As we drove through the park, accompanied only by the echo of the Virgin River to our left and Utah’s most treasured landscape to our right, we felt a rush of gratitude and adventure bubbling over and one that we have anxiously been waiting for.
“It should not be denied… that being footloose has exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations, with absolute freedom, and the road has always led West”
– Wallace Stegner
Zion is brimming with bucket list adventures and a spiritual history that awakens our curiosity and makes our heart beat a little quicker. Humans have been drawn to natural landscapes and our origins since the dawn of time. It’s no wonder why modern day tourists flock to this sacred land to connect and renew their spirit.
Pioneers in the 1860’s endeavored here and fortuitously named the area Zion, after the Hebrew word meaning a place of refuge. Though, long before these curious explorers “founded” Zion, the land was already a sacred place for the Southern Paiute who named these lands Mukuntuweap, meaning “straight canyon”.
“Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”
– Walt Whitman
The lands of the Southern Paiute force you to be present- to put one foot in front of the other, but also pause and take in the quiet stillness of the land, the sparkling Virgin River and the clean desert air. These are the reminders that Mother Nature is in charge and we must respect what is larger than us. No matter how you choose to honor Zion and explore these ancient lands, you will be moved by her.
Getting to Zion National Park
Zion National Park is located in Springdale, a small town in southwest Utah and about an hour east of the main city Saint George. To get to Springdale, many opt to fly into Las Vegas and drive the 2.5 hours into the park, while another option is to fly into the regional Saint George airport and drive about an hour to Zion. Or, if you’re like us driving across the country, you will take the scenic SR-9 directly into Springdale.
To enter the Park, visitors will need to purchase a recreational pass, which is valid for 7 consecutive days or if you’ve been bitten by the national park bug, you can purchase an Annual Pass. For $80, you will have access to every national park in the country for one year.
Stay at LaFave Luxury Rentals
LaFave was named the best luxury vacation rental in Zion by Conde Nast and for good reason. As a complete resort experience for the conscious traveller, LaFave’s luxury villas, homes and suites are outfitted with sleek modern furnishings, full chef kitchens with quartz countertops and stainless steel appliances, spacious bedrooms and living spaces, in-unit washer and dryer, plush towels and linens, wifi and smart TV’s and private patios with grills, to name a few of their many amenities. Guests can enjoy free parking for the full length of their stay, a new spa pool on property and incredibly friendly and helpful staff.
Another element that sets LaFave apart from other accommodations, is their idyllic location in the heart of Springdale Utah, the gateway town into Zion National Park. Staying within Springdale is ideal for those who plan to spend their time exploring and taking advantage of all that Zion has to offer. If you have three days to explore Zion, you will want to begin your day early in the canyon and leave just before the last shuttle call- staying in Springdale allows you to do just that!
LaFave sits only one mile from the south entrance to the main Zion Canyon and features a Zion shuttle stop directly in front of the property. For those who want to save on gas and avoid traffic, crowds and parking lots, this is the place to stay.
Our favorite features of LaFave’s Villas and Suites (which are all named after Zion’s iconic hikes) is the close proximity to the park, and the attention to detail and luxurious amenities throughout the space. Guests can expect waterfall showers and stone flooring (a great massage for the feet after a day of hiking), fully stocked kitchens with stainless steel cookware, utensils, spices, coffee pod and coffee maker and filtered water (perfect for your reusable water bottles). Luxury towels, linens and zen-like spaces to relax and unwind. LaFave also has contactless check-in, all coordinated via text from their glowing staff.
LaFave was built with heart, honoring Zion’s rich history and with guest experience in mind. Ryan, founder of LaFave, has had a 25 year affair with Zion and has passionately laid the foundation for first time visitors or veterans of majestic Zion to have the ultimate experience during their stay. Navigating Zion can be overwhelming, but Ryan and his team at LaFave have narrowed it down to a science- Their Insiders Guide to Zion is a mecca for any traveler with tips on the shuttle system, the best hikes, how to avoid the crowds, where to eat and even suggested trip itineraries.
How to Explore Zion
Carved into the brilliantly colored expanse are winding trails that test your stamina and ignite your thrill for adventure. Thousands of tourists visit Zion daily for a chance at hiking Angel’s Landing, trek the Narrows or climb the Great White Throne- but there is so much more to discover.
With only three days at Zion, you may only scratch the surface of her many offerings, but thanks to Ryan Lee of LaFave, (who composed a hell of a Guide), he breaks down best hikes, best outfitters, and best practices to efficiently and safely enjoy your time at Zion. We turned to LaFave’s Guide for their most recommended hikes and factored in the season, weather, crowds, and time of day for our itinerary.
We managed to sneak in Watchman’s and Emerald Pools on our first day, which was perfect to stretch our legs after a long drive. We completed the Upper and Lower Emerald Pools trails which led us under misting waterfalls and through cavernous spots and breathtaking views. The weather wasn’t on our side for the Narrows: Our advice: check the weather first and if its in you favor- get to the Narrows early, no later than 2pm and get outfitted with rental gear at Zion Outfitter for a safe hike through the iconic waterway a day prior.
We saved the best for last and embarked on Angel’s Landing. At 5.4 miles roundtrip, the most popular hike was teeming with hikers of all ages and hiking experience. This exhilarating trail winds you up the mountain, zig-zagging you through cut rock and climbs nearly 1500 ft in elevation. Even the most experienced hikers take their time climbing this trail and fellow hikers can be heard cheering on their neighboring trail mates from above at Scout Lookout.
Once you reach the summit known as Scout Lookout, take in the incredible 360 degrees of pristine scenery. This is the point where most hikers decide if they will continue forward to Angel’s Landing, the iconic half mile thin precipice with chains affixed to the side of the mountain. The views and experience is none other. As of this year, hikers who want to complete the final half mile to the end of Angel’s Landing will need to obtain a permit from the NPS. The hike up to Scout Lookout is still open to the public and just as beautiful and challenging.
While Angel’s Landing and the Narrows are worth the hype, they are not for everyone. If heights and a long adrenaline rush are not your thing, there are several other hikes that are just as beautiful, challenging and magnificent such as Emerald Pools, Canyon Overlook, and Watchman’s Trail, and if you can swing obtaining a permit, The Subway looks to be quite amazing too. There are so many ways to explore Zion, we highly recommend LaFave’s Guide for the best hikes and best practice when hitting the trails.
Where to Eat in Springdale
Springdale is a highly walkable town, with many eclectic stores, antique and souvenir shops, tasty restaurants, and outfitters all geared toward Zion and it’s southwestern history. Most restaurants are casual eateries and even in the most formal sit-down spots you will find hikers fresh off the trails still in their boots and gear. Local favorites include Bit n’ Spur Saloon and Restaurant, Spotted Dog Cafe and our personal favorite, King’s Landing Bistro, we would be remiss not to mention a great breakfast spot for custom brews, latte’s and breakfast sandwiches, Deep Creek Coffee.
We took full advantage of our kitchen at LaFave and prepared meals by stocking up on groceries in St. George before embarking on our trek to Springdale. The LaFave kitchen was well equipped with everything needed to create a full breakfast, lunch and dinner, but on days after multiple longs hikes, we opted for takeout at Kings Landing on our private patio.
Zion is a place of safety and refuge for those that will have her. Prepare to be challenged, renewed and humbled by nature’s beauty and the spiritual lands of the Southern Paiute. As you zig-zag your way through cut earth, rock, natural waterfalls and waterways, you will encompass some of the most beautiful scapes in our country. If you have the chance to visit we guarantee that you will be moved, mind, body and soul.