After driving through roughly 250 kilometers of Arizona deserts, by the time we arrived in southwest Utah we were looking forward to reaching Zion National Park and checking out slot canyons to change up the scenery. We decided to forgo the US$40/person 1.5 hour tour of the famously beautiful Antelope Canyon near the town of Page, opting to hit the road and look for a more affordable option to experience a slot canyon.
Paria Canyon / Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
We found something that looked promising at a roadside Bureau of Land Management (BLM) information display, took note of the roads on the faded map in relation to our approximate location, and headed down a very bumpy dirt road in search of a trailhead to Paria Canyon and Buckskin Gulch. When we reached the trailhead, we were surprised to find that the little parking lot was full of cars, camper vans, and SUVs. We clued-in that we had stumbled on popular destination and soon found out why.
Paria Canyon turned out to be a stunning slot canyon with towering cliffs and so narrow we could touch both walls in some spots. We hiked about 6 km (3.8 miles) in the canyon before turning around at some arbitrary point but could have gone on for many more kilometers in the shadowy depths of the canyon. Massive log jams left over from past flash floods attested to the power of the water that shaped the canyon and we were thankful for the good weather that made the hike possible for us that day. Despite the number of vehicles in the parking lot, we only saw five other hikers in the canyon – apparently everyone else was going to the nearby Coyote Buttes which require advance day-use permits ($6/person day-use permits for Paria Canyon were available at the self-serve trailhead pay station, which is what we ended up getting).
Zion National Park
Arriving in Zion National Park was magical and we can understand why its name means utopia. A mountainous landscape filled with colourful canyons, majestic pines, and – water! Although we didn’t spend a lot of time in the park, we did manage to get in a few hikes.
The highlight for us was definitely hiking up to Angel’s Landing at 7:30 am for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the massive crowds weren’t out in force yet at that time. Secondly, the temperature was still cool and allowed us to enjoy the climb. And last but not least, it was such a cool trail with truly amazing views! The first part of the 4 km (2.5 miles) trail with a 450 m (1,488 feet) elevation gain are paved switchbacks, but once you start traversing the ridge to the final lookout, you are walking along cliffs with shear drops of up to 300 m (1,000 feet). Chains bolted to the cliffs make this a safe hike despite the serious exposure and the thousands of people who aren’t afraid of heights and hike it each year are rewarded with incredible views of the Zion Canyon.