Ever since Max’s first visit to Zion National Park, it has ranked as one of his all-time favorite National Parks. This time, on our second visit there, we invited Max’s mom Margo to join us for a week.
At the time we booked Zion, we were on the National Park reservation website looking for availability at the Grand Canyon. That’s when we noticed the Watchman Campground in Zion had a surprising amount of availability for the following month of April. We didn’t know why so many had become available, but we wasted no time booking a site on the river for 7 nights! It turns out Zion holds back a number of campsites each year due to potential flooding. Once the Spring flood risk passes they release them, so it might be worthwhile to check the reservation site in mid-March!
To get to Zion National Park, Max and I drove “Big Red” from Page, Arizona, while Margo flew into Las Vegas, Nevada. We had Margo take the shuttle from Las Vegas to St. George, Utah saving us 4 hours of additional driving. After picking her up, we stopped for lunch at the Hawaiian Poke Bowl which was highly rated lunch spot on Trip Advisor. In talking with the owner, we learned she opened the restaurant because she missed the flavors of Hawaii after moving to Utah for her spouse’s job. Each one of us got a different poke bowl and all three were phenomenal!
From St. George, we had another hour drive before reaching Zion National Park. Upon arrival, the ranger told us we had reserved one of the BEST sites in the campground (Site #B054R) as it was right on the Virgin River and offered more privacy than most. The Watchman Campground has electric hookups and flush toilets, however it does not have shower facilities or water/sewer hookups. With three of us staying in Big Red for a full week, we knew we’d need to utilize the paid showers available at several outfitters just outside the park in Springdale, UT.
The first time Max and I visited Zion in 2016, we did two of its most famous hikes: The Narrows and Angel’s Landing. The Angel’s Landing hike is all on dry land, but has an elevation gain of 1,600 feet over 4.1 miles. The last mile of the hike is completed with the assistance of steel chains due to the steep cliffs and sheer drop-offs. Needless to say, this hike is not for the faint of heart or for those afraid of heights. With Margo having an extreme fear of heights we knew hiking Angels Landing was out of the question this time around.
Hiking the Narrows on the other hand, means hiking 3-9 miles in the waters of the Virgin River through a giant slot canyon. While the elevation gain is minimal, the water flow rate and temperature can vary dramatically, so it’s important to consult a park ranger and/or outfitter for the most up to information and necessary gear.
When we hiked the Narrows in 2016, the water flow rate was at 149 cubic feet per second – the highest possible before closing it for safety reasons. At that flow rate, the hike was absolutely amazing, but tough! After a long day hiking 9 miles in the waist deep, 60 degree water, we were completely exhausted and could barely move our legs. Knowing how physically demanding the hike was, we figured it would be too strenuous for Margo, but we stopped by an outfitter anyway to ask about current conditions.
After talking to several employees at Zion Outfitters, we learned 2018 had been such a mild winter that the water runoff was extremely low – only 50cfs. This meant hiking difficulty was significantly lower than when we had first done it in 2016. With this new information in hand, we now just had to convince Margo she could do the hike too. Zion Outfitters was extremely helpful in answering all of her questions and after watching a short video about the Narrows hike, Margo agreed to do it! All three of us rented the appropriate gear (dry pants, canyoneering boots and a walking stick) and prepped that night for our big hike the next day.
The next morning we woke up early and caught the first bus to the Narrows. Margo & I were thankful for the fleece layer under our dry pants as the water was a bit chilly starting out. However, after a mile of hiking, our blood started pumping and we warmed right up. It was a beautiful spring day and the first rays of sunlight reflected like gold on the canyon walls. Max stopped frequently to take pictures, while Margo and I kept a fairly constant pace.
The three of us hiked into the canyon until the water got deeper than our dry pants would allow us to go. After a 9 mile roundtrip hike in the Virgin River, we made it out of the canyon with another world class hike in the books. Margo did such a great job and we were really proud of her for pushing herself to accomplishing something she never thought she would do!
After the Narrows hike, the rest of the week was a bit more relaxing. One evening we had an early birthday celebration for Max at the Bit & Spur, where they had amazing prickly pear margaritas on the menu! Another day we ate delicious burgers at Oscar’s Cafe.
We also ventured out for a few more hikes such as the Emerald Pools Trail as well as the Canyon Overlook hike where we saw several families of mountain goats along the way. As expected, Zion did not disappoint on our second time there. We were so glad Margo was able to visit this incredible place and experience its most epic hike!