Our trip to Zion National Park had its ups and downs both literally and figuratively. The first part of our Zion Adventure involved hiking up to Observation Point for some incredible views. The following two days we experienced some leisurely backpacking and some very tough desert hiking. Our journey into the Zion backcountry began on Saturday morning when we cleaned up our campsite, packed our bags for an overnight hike, and drove to the Hop Valley trailhead. We were getting picked up at the Hop Valley trailhead by Zion Adventure Company, who would drive us to the Lee Pass trailhead so that we could do our hike and end up back at our car. Our driver was really friendly and told us just enough about the trail to increase our excitement, but not enough to spoil anything. We arrived at the trailhead and asked our driver to take a few photos of us before we set off into the desert.
- La Verkin Creek to Hop Valley (Lee Pass Trailhead to Hop Valley Trailhead)
- Distance: approx. 14 mi
- Difficulty: Moderate
- The trail is mostly moderate, but some parts have steeper climbs. There is also a lot of sun exposure on this trail which can make it more difficult.
- Elevation Change: approx. 2000 ft
The hike began with a gradual descent next to towering red cliffs.
About 20 minutes into the the hike it quickly warmed up, and I was happy to have brought a pair of shorts to change into.
As we continued hiking we found ourselves feeling more and more like we were really in the desert. The air was dry, and so was the vegetation. Some of the designated campsites were along this dry area and we were thankful to pass by them. We held out hope that our campsite would be in a more appealing spot.
As we continued on, we came upon a nice little stream, which was a huge relief after sweating in the hot sun. The water was obviously a popular spot and others were enjoying it as well. We stopped and relaxed for a bit before pressing on toward our campsite.
We made it to our campsite sometime in the early afternoon. The NPS website warned that we wouldn’t be alone at campsite 5, and they were right! We had to share the spot with tons of ants. It sounds really bad, but we got used to it after a while and didn’t even notice.
For most of the afternoon we tried to nap in the little shade we could get, and spent the rest of the time cooling off in the river below our campsite.
Once it was an acceptable time for dinner, we went down to sit on a big rock near the river and cooked our dehydrated meals. Apparently the bees in Zion love freeze dried meals because we couldn’t keep them away from our food! The rest of the night was spent gathering water, playing Phase 10, and waiting for it to cool off enough to go to bed. We ended up sleeping without our rain cover for the first time, and when I woke up in the middle of the night, I was amazed at the view above! The stars were incredible!
The next morning we packed up our campsite and headed out for what would end up being the longest and toughest day of hiking any of us had ever experienced. The day started off nice as we walked along the river in the cool of the morning. We were feeling pretty good when we came to the Kolob Arch trailhead, which detours off of the La Verkin Creek Trail, so we decided to tack on the extra mileage to see the Arch. The trail to the arch was a really nice change of pace. It felt like a completely different environment with tons of boulders to climb over and lots of water and shade throughout.
Eventually we made a pretty steep climb just before descending into the valley. The climb was difficult, but as soon as we came upon the view of the valley it felt like it was all worth it.
Hop Valley was beautiful! We were surrounded by giant red walls on either side of us, with beautiful green trees lining them, and in the middle was just us…and a lots of cows. If you look closely in the photo above you can see some of them grazing. Unfortunately, our admiration for this area quickly turned to disdain. The whole rest of the way was at least slightly uphill. With every uphill step in the sand, your feet slide back just enough to make each step somewhat demoralizing. The sand combined with the lack of shade and temperatures in the 90s made us start to long for the end. Once you get in that mindset, every turn around every corner is a disappointment when you don’t see the end. We had to start rationing our water too, which made things even worse. By the time we were about a mile from the end, Josh and I had drank nearly all of our water and were extremely dehydrated. I can’t remember the last time I’d felt so miserable. In hindsight, we should have refilled our water when it was available just after the Kolob Arch Trail.
FINALLY we made it to the end where we collapsed on the ground before taking our boots off and getting into the car. We had every intention of going back to Watchman Campground where we’d envisioned ourselves cooking hot dogs and s’mores over the fire, but the thought of setting up camp again sounded exhausting. Josh was also very ill from being so dehydrated that we had to find him some Gatorade and Pedialyte ASAP. We decided to head back towards Vegas to get the goods for Josh, and then find a hotel to recover in. No regrets. It never felt so good to shower after being completely covered in sweaty sand, and the air conditioning was a huge relief from the heat we’d been in all day.
We all agreed that we were glad that we’d done the Hop Valley Trail, but we were sure we’d never do it again….at least not in the summer 😉
Zion Tips and Recommendations
- If you can fly Southwest, I would suggest flying into Las Vegas because flights to Vegas can be relatively inexpensive, and 3 hours is not a bad drive.
- If you do fly, remember to HYDRATE! Flying makes you dehydrated, and you don’t want to show up in Zion already lacking fluids!
- Don’t underestimate the heat in Zion. We watched the weather leading up to our trip and were expecting 70-80 degree highs. About a week before we left, the forecasted temp went up, and it was closer to 100 degrees while we were there.
- Observation Point is a strenuous trail not only because of the elevation gain, but also because of sun exposure! There is very little shade on the trail, so if you’re hiking in summer try to get an early start, and make sure to stay very hydrated. You’ll loose a lot more fluids on this sunny trail than you would hiking in the forest.
- Don’t forget your hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen! It’s really important in the whole park, but especially on those exposed trails like Observation Point and Hop Valley!
- Hop Valley is LONG…this was the toughest part of our trip because we felt like it was never ending. Make sure you’re well hydrated, have lots of snacks, and are prepared for a long uphill hike in the sand. Hiking uphill in sand is demoralizing because every step you take, you slide backwards a little bit.
- If you plan to backpack in Zion, you can pick up fuel canisters right outside of the park. There are tons of little shops, restaurants and gear outfitters where you can pick up last minute needs, or things you can’t fly with, like fuel canisters.
Comment below and let me know if you’ve ever had any experiences like ours where you wish you’d been better prepared for the elements!