Zion – A National Gem

‘80% of our park’s visitors are International,’ we were told by the Park Ranger. You may expect to hear a variety of languages when you visit New York or Los Angeles, but Zion National Park is truly an International experience. Indian, Dutch & Jewish were all languages that we heard frequently; not to mention Italian, French, Spanish and English in several different accents. Who knew heading to the middle of secluded Utah would afford a traveler a truly International experience? Not me!

For us, Las Vegas was the most convenient airport to access Utah’s famed Zion National Park. It’s a short 3 – 3.5 hour flight, relatively inexpensive and offers a lot of non-stop options… Plus, if you’re like me, it’s a great way to take advantage of one night in Sin City. From there, it’s only 2.5 hours to Zion; but not one for those with a weak stomach as the drive includes elevation changes, tunnels and twists & turns with few rest stops or towns in between…. But, it’s worth it – even coming from someone with motion sickness!

Zion Canyon National Park is a long and narrow park with steep hikes up (Angel’s Landing is breathtaking and a challenge for most) and the best canyoning in the country (try the Narrows – my personal favorite). There is a lodge on-site, but make sure to book your stay very far in advance (1 year +) during high season as there’s only one and it tends to be a bustle of activity year-round with Ranger-led programs, an eatery and a limited number of rooms offered. In the early 1900’s, presidents and environmentalists had the beautiful foresight to set aside this place and it’s been maintained throughout the Park’s history including the addition of a public transportation system at a minimal cost to visitors. The entire ride takes about 40 minutes from one end to the other and stops at some of the most popular trails and hikes.

One of my personal highlights was watching my 4-year-old niece take her oath as an official Junior Ranger; a great program for children to learn about the different animals, plants and programs in the park. At the end, they must promise to protect our natural resources and get a badge (which I’m sure was her favorite part)! But, it’s a great way to keep everyone entertained and introduce the National Park system to youngsters in a fun manner.

If you don’t want to stay in the park, Sprindale borders it near the Visitor’s Center. There is a free shuttle that runs along the small main drag and the town consists of mainly restaurants and shops for visitors. The Spotted Dog is highly rated by Zagat and offers local cuisine made with fresh products from neighboring operations; farms, vineyards, breweries, etc… For breakfast, they offer a daily buffet for $7.99 and it’s highly recommended with a variety that changes daily, but continuously offers the staples. There are several hotels, B&B’s and small inns to choose from and we chose the Desert Pearl Inn. The rooms are spacious with floor to ceiling windows, a large balcony, nice bathrooms and a mini-kitchen complete with a dishwasher. The property has a small coffee shop with souvenirs and a nice pool area complete with jetted hot tub, great for after a long day of hiking.

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Leisure Travel Specialist at Travel Leaders (Stillwater Office)

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