Thanksgiving Weekend in Zion and Bryce
Alex and I spent Thanksgiving weekend back in Utah. We spent two days exploring Zion and one snowy day hiking in Bryce Canyon. We thought we would be able to escape a snowy and cold Wisconsin but Wisconsin ended up having a very mild fall and Utah was cold and much, much snowier, but we made the most of it!
With only two days to explore Zion we didn't want to lose any time and started our first day early despite an exhausting night of travel. We flew into Las Vegas and landed at midnight and then drove 2.5 hours to Glendale. We allowed ourselves to sleep in until 9 and then headed off to our first hike: Angels Landing. Angels Landing is a gorgeous hike but not for the faint of heart as it takes you up a narrow ridge with 2000 foot sheer drops on either side and is often listed in lists of the world's scariest and most dangerous hikes. The hike starts out at the Grotto stop on the Zion park shuttle and slowly begins gaining elevation through some broad switchbacks. If you take the time to stop and rest, which we did often, you can turn around and see dramatic views of the Virgin River flowing through the canyon. Soon you begin to leave the views of the valley behind and are taken higher on a gradual paved path. Next is Walter's Wiggles, a series of 21 steep switchbacks. Once you complete these switchbacks you have made it to Scout's Lookout. The view from Scout's Lookout is enough to make the hike "worth it" and is a perfectly acceptable stopping place for those with a fear of heights and families. Onward from Scout's Lookout is the terror-inducing exposure the hike is so famous for. There is a chain in place which gives some comfort and makes moving up the steep sections easier. The one downfall of this hike is its popularity. There are traffic jams often as the chains make the hike a one-way street. Hikers often have to wait for extended periods of time as others move up or down the chain. To add to this obstacle we also had to deal with icy sections. The higher up the ridge we hiked the icier it became. Eventually we found ourselves at an extremely icy patch with no chain. We finally accepted that we would not reach Angels Landing on this trip. We were surprisingly not disappointed. Alex and I both agreed that we didn't feel comfortable going all the way to the top but were happy with how far we made it and still enjoyed the views along the way.
After hiking Angels Landing we watched the sunset over the Watchman. Before our trip I read that the best place to watch the sunset was from the Canyon Junction bridge, however the bridge seemed so close to the cars and shuttles I assumed that the bridge the article was referring to was one further down, on the Pa'rus Trail. I was wrong. But I'm glad I made the mistake because I was able to get a different perspective from the entire bridge lined with photographers at Canyon Junction. We continued along the Pa'rus Trail as the sun sank lower and had perfect views of the Watchman, and not another photographer was in sight.
The second day of our trip we completed one of Zion's other popular hikes: the Narrows. The Narrows is a hike through a slot canyon and most of the hike requires you to wade through knee to waist deep water of the Virgin River. In the hot summer months this hike is extremely popular, the cool river water is refreshing and people hike in shorts and t-shirts. In the winter months the hike is entirely different. The water temperature during our hike was 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the air temperature was 30 degrees Fahrenheit! This winter hikes warrants more gear than simply shorts and a t-shirt (although we did see a few people attempting the hike in shorts!). We were fully outfitted by the Zion Adventure Company. We rented full-body drysuits, neoprene socks, water booties, and walking sticks. I was apprehensive going into the hike but ended up being completely comfortable! The drysuits did their job and kept us entirely dry and our fleece and down layers under the drysuits kept us warm. Our feet did get wet because the booties aren't water-proof but the neoprene socks kept them relatively warm.
Hiking through the Narrows is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. The towering canyon walls make you stop often to just look straight up and take in the sights. Doing the hike in the winter means that you will have far less company on the hike than the summer months, which is always a win in my book. To make the hike even more beautiful, it snowed on us while we were hiking!
We only had one day to spend in Bryce Canyon and we decided to spend it hiking the Peek-a-boo Loop. This hike starts at Sunset Point and first takes you through the Navajo Trail and then links up to the 3 mile Peek-a-boo Loop. When we began the hike it was a clear, bluebird day but halfway through the loop the skies opened up and it began to snow, hard. It made for a magical winter hike through the snow-covered hoodoos. If you want a more detailed itinerary of the hike I wrote an Outbound adventure for it here.