Enjoy Zion and Bryce, don’t fear the crowds

Enjoy Zion and Bryce, don’t fear the crowds

It’s been all over the news: Record breaking crowds are converging on the national parks in Utah.

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This year, with all the hype surrounding the 100th birthday of the National Park Service, you would expect the crowds to be even bigger, and the trend we’ve seen of park visitation numbers rising continues.

Folks in Springdale are upset because their driveways are getting blocked and the crowds are shoulder to shoulder. Outrage erupts any time new events like the Tour of Utah are discussed in Springdale.

From the comfort of our homes in St. George, Cedar City or Hurricane, most of us who call Southern Utah home listen to the controversy. We listen to the complaints, and we decide to spend our Saturday hiking in the Santa Clara River Reserve rather than ride a shuttle or drive to Zion National Park and brave the overcrowded conditions.

I know for a long time I’ve avoided going out to the main canyon in Zion just because I knew there were other less popular but still spectacular spots worth exploring in Southern Utah.

This wasn’t always the case. When I first moved to Southern Utah almost 20 years ago now, my friends and I hiked in Zion regularly.

The Narrows, Angels Landing, Observation Point — I visited them all. I took relatives that came to visit out to Zion without fail.

Maybe it’s the combination of having been there before and the fear of running into the crowds that has made me so much less inclined to spend the day hiking Zion.

Just last week, however, I braved the possibility of waiting in long lines and being forced to park at the east end of Springdale and went out to Zion with the intent of hiking what is probably one of the most popular hikes in Zion Canyon, Angels Landing.

I have to report, none of my worst fears came to pass.

I arrived in the park a little after 9 a.m., and the line of cars at the entrance station was only two or three deep. I pulled into the park and found a parking spot at the Visitors Center.

Mind you this was just last week in the middle of National Park Week and the park’s week of free entry.

A few minutes later I was standing and waiting for a shuttle but there were no long lines and only a few other folks waiting with me. As we headed up the canyon, the bus was close to full but there were still a few seats available.

As I left the bus and began hiking from the Grotto Trailhead there were a few others with me on the trail, but it wasn’t beyond belief. It wasn’t anything that kept me from enjoying the hike.

I prefer to wear my running shoes and get in a little trail run rather than just hike when I’m out in the wilds of Southern Utah and I made no exception on my hike to Angels Landing.

I ran when I could but when it came the steeper parts of the trail like Walter’s Wiggles, and the chained section above the West Rim turnoff, I spent most of my time walking.

Once at the top there were a few dozen other people sharing the view with me but I managed to take quite a few pictures that made it look like I had the place to myself — I even captured a 360-degree photo sphere on my Android tablet that was devoid of any other people in the image. If you want to check out the photo sphere go to https://goo.gl/photos/GuXamescGzgnB64A7 — It’s almost like being there on top of Angels Landing.

As I sat there and enjoyed the scenery, I realized that while it is one of the more crowded spots to hike in Washington County, the view is worth it.

There’s really nothing that compares to the hike to Angels Landing. There’s nothing that compares to the view from up there.

It’s like going to a concert. If you want to see the most popular musicians, if you want to see U2, Taylor Swift, or the Rolling Stones perform, you’re going to have to share the experience with a stadium full of people.

There may be other hikes that offer spectacular views but when it comes right down to it, the best views to be had on a hike in Southern Utah are found at the top of the trails in Zion Canyon and among the hoodoos in Bryce.

Sure, it would be nice to be able to experience the solitude of being alone in nature while hiking the Fairyland Loop or Observation Point, I’m not going to dispute that. But why avoid the hikes completely just because we have to share them?

We shouldn’t let the fact that we have to share parks like Zion and Bryce with millions of tourists dissuade us from enjoying them ourselves.

We have amazing National Parks here in our backyard. There’s a reason why they were set aside and given that designation. We shouldn’t write off visiting them because we fear crowds and lines.

Living in Southern Utah, we have the luxury of being able to pick and choose when we decide to hike Angels Landing. We don’t have to fit it in to the one weekend we have while on vacation. Take a day off, head out early and visit Zion on a Wednesday in April. Hike the Narrows on a Thursday in July. Stroll the Queens Garden in Bryce on a Tuesday in September.

The National Parks are treasures that every American should enjoy and those of us who live in the shadows of Zion and Bryce are no exception.

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