Two years ago we rode through Zion National Park as part of our Wild West tour with Eagle Rider. There was no time to stop and admire the view or explore the park, it was simply on our route to Bryce, but we fell in love with the park from that short and winding red tarmac road and decided that evening we would simply have to come back.
The Virgin River, Zion National Park.
It was probably the moment that our Zartusacan adventure was born. I mean, we’d already kind of chatted about “next time” (we’d started doing that before we even got off the plane in LA), and we didn’t properly set the idea in stone until a few months later when we researched the price of renting versus flying our own bikes to North America. But we knew that evening over dinner that one day we would be back to explore this particular National Park in our own way.
Sneaky snap while riding the red road in Zion National Park.
We stayed in Kanab, a cool little town that is in a great location for exploring a number of the biggest attractions and National Parks in this area. We stayed in a motel for a couple of nights so we had a whole day to spend in Zion. I have to mention Big Al’s, a locally owned fast food place that was very popular with local families and teenagers – really good prepared-to-order burgers and awesome milkshakes; definitely head here instead of the McDonalds next door.
The ride into Zion was exactly what we remembered. Kanab is just over half an hour (30-ish miles) away from the entrance booths, where we dutifully showed our America the Beautiful Pass. From there it’s approximately 12 miles of narrow winding road to the Zion Canyon Visitor’s Centre, where the main parking lot is located. The speed limit is low and the road is busy with bikes, cars and RVs, so it’s a case of sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying the scenery as you ride along the red tarmac. One highlight is the 1.1 mile tunnel that takes you through the mountain and to the top of the Canyon, followed by the zigzagging switchbacks that take you right down to the river and into the heart of the Park. The ride is worth it even if you’re just passing through, there’s so much to see from your moving seat, but we were here to get away from the road.
Feeling all cool on my F650GS.
Just like the Grand Canyon National Park, we made use of the shuttle bus to get us through Zion National Park. You don’t have any choice here – if you want to visit to the main features along the Virgin River you have to leave your car/bike in the main areas and use the provided transport. So we switched our heavy bike gear for shorts and walking shoes, filled up our water bottles, and got on the bus. We could only do this when staying at the same place for two nights, otherwise our walking boots were packed away and the bikes full of all our gear leaving no space for storing riding clothes and boots, meaning it felt like something of a luxury.
Hiking in Zion National Park.
With the weatherman promising very warm one, we headed straight to our chosen trailhead while it was still early and before the heat became too stifling. We had chosen to hike to the Emerald Pools, and while the trail was busy and very well marked, we felt like we were having a little taste of Zion wilderness for a couple of miles. The highlight of the short hike was walking underneath two waterfalls cascading down the rocks towards the Virgin River, just beautiful.
Walking under waterfalls near the Emerald Pools, Zion National Park.
Rather than going back the same way (always avoid a there-and-back if possible) we took the Kayenta Trail to the Grotto, a wooded area with Cottonwood Trees and gorgeous views of the Canyon. It was much less busy along here than it was at the Emerald Pools, which is always good. It was only a 2.5 mile trail, and it was undulating but not technical or difficult – just a really nice walk exploring some of Zion away from the road.
As with other National Parks in the USA, there are very limited options for food. We had planned to grab something from the café and sit outside with it in the sunshine, but the place was heaving and it seemed to only offer pizza slices and burgers, which wasn’t really what we hoped for. So we chanced the restaurant upstairs in the Lodge and were very pleasantly surprised – the prices weren’t bad, there was air conditioning, and there were some healthy options on their menu. We both opted for salmon, which was yummy, and relaxed for an hour or so in the air conditioned Lodge.
Cottonwood trees in Zion National Park.
In the afternoon we made full use of the shuttle bus, getting off at each of the stops to see what the Rangers had decided were the main viewpoints in the Canyon. Some really stunning scenery. I can see why this place is protected.
Of course there is a lot more to Zion National Park than the Canyon area, but other than doing either the river-walk along The Narrows (which looks awesome – I definitely want to do that sometime) or getting a permit heading into the back country, you are advised to stay on the marked trails and enjoy the Park safely.
Hiking trail in Zion National Park.
Naturally, the day had to finish with us riding back up the switchbacks, through the tunnel, and along the narrow winding road out of the National Park.
If it had been cooler we might have hiked more (36 degrees is a bit on the warm side for us pasty Brits!), but we are so pleased to have made good on a promise to ourselves – this place was definitely worth the whole road trip. And I hope to go back again someday.
Zion National Park. Just beautiful.