glamping atzion national park
“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy, and its charm.” – Theodore Roosevelt
We landed at St. George Airport in (surprise) St. George, Utah in the rain. This airport might as well have been from 1968. It had exactly one gate, it’s only restaurant was a vending machine, and the walls were wood-paneled and featured an advertisements for local community theatre and opioid prevention. We picked up our rental car and began the 45 minute drive to our “glamping” site in Virgin ( Under Canvas Zion), making a pit stop at a local grocery store to stock up on PB&J-making supplies and buy perhaps the worst bagels in the world for breakfast. The landscape began to look more and more prehistoric (I kept getting the theme song to “Land of the Lost” stuck in my head). To our New England born-and-bred eyes, it looked like an entirely different planet.
Not long later, we made the turn onto the windy road that leads to the Under Canvas property. In classic Elan fashion, we stopped twice for him to take photos, and in classic Anne fashion, I just wanted to get there and get settled and had zero interest in stopping. A few moments later, we drove down a dirt (well, due to the uncharacteristic rains, it was more like a mud) road to Under Canvas, and after a quick overview of the property, were taken in a souped-up golf cart to our home for the next four nights – a canvas tent with a wood-burning stove and a king-sized bed that was practically screaming our names (it was at this point about 4:30 PM UTC/6:30 PM EST and we had been awake for 15 hours already).
We began to unpack and unwind a bit, then made our way to the main lodge area for a quick dinner, some Polygamy Porter (their brands really lean into it out there), and some moments of relaxation. We went to bed before the sun set – it didn’t matter. The bed was so comfortable, our day had been so long, and we had many miles of trekking ahead of us.
E verybody who has been to Zion National Park or who has heard anything about the park knows that Angel’s Landing is the single most popular hike in the park. It’s not particularly long, but it is steep, and features a section of trail with steep drop-offs on both sides, and a chain in the middle for hikers to use for support and they make their way through that section. Elan wanted to do it. Months before we even began to plan the trip, he was sending me YouTube clips of people who use a GoPro to record their ascent, and for months, I told him absolutely not. If my hands start sweating watching footage of a hike, then I know I cannot trust myself to complete it without having a nervous breakdown. Angel’s Landing was out.
We did some research and learned that Observation Point, a much longer and less-traveled hike, featured the Angel’s Landing summit as one of its views. Better view, higher elevation, less people? We struck gold. We grabbed some free coffee from the lodge, hopped into the rental car, and drove the 25 minutes to the visitor’s center to catch the 7:30 AM shuttle bus to the trailhead. I popped a Sinex, started my Garmin GPS, and we set off.
After the canyon, the switchback ascent continues, this time with a different view. The drop-offs feel a little more jarring and the landscape becomes a lot more desolate. It’s a nice reminder that even on the days when you feel the most powerful and important, you are still basically a speck compared to the rest of creation. Just when our legs started to get exhausted from the climb, the trail flattened out, and the final 1/2 mile to the summit was (blessedly) flat. The trail became muddier (and with Zion’s red dirt, this meant that basically all of our hiking clothes are now slightly more crimson than they were before). The vegetation was shrubby and reminded me of the bushes that one usually sees near a beach. We reached the Observation Point, and took some time to really let the other-worldy vista sink in.
The weather forecast called for cold rain, a drastic departure from the more seasonal 80-degree-and-sunny weather that Zion normally features in early May. We had been bracing ourselves for downpours the entire ascent, but it wasn’t until we reached the point that the skies began to spit out some precipitation. Instead of rain, however, it was snow! We felt incredibly fortunate that despite the weather, the clouds were low and didn’t obscure the view as much as it could have – in fact, we could see the tiny people on Angel’s Landing. Elan was happy he got his vista, and I was happy that I didn’t have to hold onto chains for dear life in order to get there. We ate a couple of snacks we brought along (shout out to Lara bars and EPIC chicken bars), and, still a little nervous that the light snow would turn into hard rain, began our descent.
As we started our return, we passed dozens of people climbing up, and were once again relieved that we like to take on the day early, since we were able to enjoy so much more solitude than we would have had we waited an hour or two! We made the descent fairly quickly, and since our legs were feeling pretty good, we decided that we had some more energy is us and could do a quick detour. Instead of climbing back down the last 3/4 miles of switchbacks, we took an alternate path back UP the other side to check out Hidden Canyon.
The chains were, dare I say, even a little bit fun! When we reached the “Hidden Canyon” (which is really just about 1/2 a mile of trail-finding that ends in a little archway), we were pretty much beat. On our return, we saw a couple of women panicking on the chain section, and it felt pretty good to be able to tell them “Hey, I made it, and I’m terrified of heights.” I hope that they powered through.
So, did we like Yosemite or Zion better? Why not both?
We liked our hikes in Zion better than our hikes in Yosemite. There were fewer other people on the trails, the routes were more varied in landscape/hiking terrain, and they were just so spectacular. The Subway, in particular, was our joint favorite hike pretty much ever, and there’s nothing that can really compare with that in Yosemite. That being said, when we visited Yosemite, we were able to stay inside the park, allowing us 24/7 access to its trails and sights, and the Valley Loop trail allowed for pedestrian access to all of the big trails, and it was easy to rent a bike and take in the whole valley. This time of year, Zion requires shuttle access only to all of the major trails, and there are no walking paths linking all of the main points of interest. We very much loved Under Canvas and our stay, but we missed being able to wake up inside the park and play in the park after our hikes were done. Yosemite felt, to me, to be a spiritual place. It was impossible not to look at our surroundings and not feel like I was praying with my eyes. I could feel the history, and the sheer power of the park – the fact that someone went missing while we were staying there emphasized that. There was a mystery to Yosemite that contradicted the throngs of visitors everywhere you looked. Zion, on the other hand, didn’t have that awesome, mystic feel to it. It instead felt like another world all together. Impressive and beautiful and strong, but not so much mysterious as it was bold and proud. It felt as though it wasn’t a land created for humans, but one that wasn’t necessarily out to prove that, in the way that Yosemite was. We truly loved both parks, and look forward to visiting them again. It’s important to visit places that make you feel small in order to appreciate just how big and beautiful our home planet is.
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