Zion had been high on my list of National Parks to visit for quite some time, and it exceeded expectations in all areas!
There's a lot of questions when it comes to planning for a National Park visit. I must have read 30 blogs (and my national parks guide book) about what to expect, what to pack for a visit in October, where to go in 2 days, etc. To help streamline your planning, I've outlined some of my top tips and experiences for visiting Zion National Park during the Fall.
It’s a great hike for all skill levels because you can go as deep as you’d like on the trail and turn around when you’re ready.
We went at 7:30am. It was very cold, but there were few people there and we got to go much further into the narrows since we had time to come back before dark. It warmed up in the afternoon, as did the crowds, which became almost overwhelming near the trailhead.
At one point, the trail comes to a fork. The left path is the main trail. The right path slowly gets very narrow. I recommend you detour at least for a bit to the right. It’s really cool to see the canyon walls. Note though that it gets very cold the deeper you go this route. Anyone without the canyoneer shoes had to stop (see my tips below on what to wear!).
For the best photos, you’ll want to bare through the crowds and capture that afternoon glow on the walls - it was surreal. Around 1ish, the sun was overhead & hitting the canyon walls. Chasing the light became the activity of the day. Everywhere you look, vibrant colors popped - the walls turned a rich orange-red, plants popping out of the walls became bright lime green & the water shimmered trickles of light down the path.
While some of our group did Angel’s Landing, I have a fear of heights, so I stuck with West Rim Trail. From my friends who did both, their feedback was that they were glad they did Angel’s Landing, but West Rim Trail was prettier. Angel’s Landing is also packed, so you’re standing single file waiting on people - even when we went early in the morning. But hey, you get that classic, pretty photo over the canyons.
The West Rim Trail was the most incredible hike I’ve ever done. Coming in around 12 miles round trip, it’s not a leisurely stroll, but it’s worth the trek. You have insane views at all times. It starts with a 1.5 mile walk to Angels Landing. Then veers off on all kinds of rock formations that feel like you’re in a national geographic movie. At one point, we turned a corner on the trail and entered the most colorful Fall with vivid, rainbow leaves surrounding us. When you get to the top, you overlook the tops of the mountains with green terrain and forests, as well as the valleys, including the one you see from Angel’s Landing.
We stayed at Zion Canyon Campground & RV. It was centrally located to stores, restaurants, and walking distance to the visitor center, which is where you pick up your shuttle. It also had bathrooms & nice showers. The views from the site were pretty epic as well. I recommend it if you’re looking for something that’s not secluded. We also reserved a bit more last minute.
You can find some other camping options in our article on the Essentials for Your Zion Trip.
The water canyon shoes & neoprene socks keep you warm, provide ankle support, and give a solid grip on slippery rocks. You can get them at multiple locations right outside the park.
When I say I over researched, I'm not exaggerating. In addition to the blogs, I also chatted with a conglomerate of people on the decision to rent or not. The advice was 50/50 - some saying that you’d be fine with tennis shoes. After doing the hike in October, I’m shocked anyone would suggest this. My friends who didn’t rent were so cold that they couldn’t continue down some paths. With the socks and shoes, it wasn't as cold as I expected. I also appreciated the ankle support versus tennis shoes. It was the best $27 I spent on the trip. Note that you must rent the shoes in person as each person has to sign a waiver and be "fitted," so make sure to plan this stop before you head into the park.
A few of my friends debated the walking stick, and everyone afterwards said it became their best friend on the trail. It's a necessity. You’re walking through running water over rocks. The stick helps you balance and see how deep the water is ahead.
When you rent shoes, you get a free wooden stick. I rented a Black Diamond trekking pole. The wooden stick didn't get stuck in the rocks as much, but the trekking pole was really light and can be folded up small when you're not using it. You also only need one so can share a set. If I go again, I'd do the trekking poles.
We all had lots of layers, but your hands get pretty ice cold. Those with gloves were thankful.
The hikes get really crowded in the afternoon.
During this time with Covid-19 limitations, even public shuttles need reservations 24 hours in advance. Our group reserved a private shuttle. It took forever to get picked up from the hikes. However, it seemed that the Red Rocks company was there every 20 min, so I suggest you try them.
Naturally I utilized this time to rent my favorite gear and try new items!