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16 Photos from My Week of Adventure in Zion National Park

My first journey to the desert, but certainly not my last.

By: Andrew Todd + Save to a List

In October of 2016, two great friends and I got to head west (all of us being from the east coast) to Springdale, Utah and spend a week enjoying as much of the beauty and wonder of Zion as we could. We spent two days and a night in the backcountry, and the rest of the week explored through a series of day trips, with the Watchman campground as our home base. This was my first experience in the American Southwest (or in any desert for that matter), and while I wasn't sure how I would like it (I'm more of a mountains & rivers guy), Zion opened my eyes to how amazing the desert can be. 

After driving a few hours to Springdale from Las Vegas (which we flew into), we immediately set up camp at the Watchman campground - named for the Watchman, standing right over us in this photo.

The weather for our early October week in Zion was perfect (60s-70s high, 40s low), and we took advantage of that every chance we got, including running out to hike the Watchman Trail for sunset just an hour or two after arriving in the park.

We got a pretty good first night's sleep, then woke up to catch our shuttle up to Lava Point, which is further northwest of the main Zion Canyon (and also a few thousand feet higher). This was to be the start of our backcountry portion of the trip - backpacking along the West Rim Trail from Lava Point back into Zion Canyon. The exact route we took was this one, outlined by Joe's Guide to Zion.

Campsite number 8 was our stop for the evening on our first day out. Since we didn't have to far too go from the trailhead to the site, we had plenty of time to discover and then relax by what I believe is called Sleepy Hollow, a canyon near Potato Hollow.

It was a fantastic evening out in the backcountry, with no one around for miles and just the sound of the birds and the wind. We pitched our tents (back at the campsite, not by the canyon), cooked dinner, and did a little stargazing once the sun set.

While out on this backpacking bit of our trip, we encountered some wildlife - plenty of birds and the like, but as the sun went down we saw a few mule deer walking by, and later by the light of our headlamps glimpsed eyeballs peering back at us from an unknown source. Fortunately, we didn't have any undesirable run-ins with wildlife, but did end up with the coldest night of our trip with lows in the mid to upper 30s. Even in October the desert can get chilly!

Sunrise over the canyon. Not really any words to add to this shot!

After watching the sunrise, eating breakfast, and grabbing a few more photos, we set off on the fall-foliage shrouded trail. There were also a few groves of aspens along the trail, which was really cool to see.

The West Rim Trail had so many astounding views as it wound its way back to Zion Canyon that it was easy to lose track of just how many different peaks and valleys we had seen.

Eventually we started descending along white-faced cliffs into lower elevation as we approached Zion Canyon, and Angels Landing specifically. The fall foliage was really an amazing sight, especially in contrast to those cliffs.

We arrived safely back at the Watchman that evening, tired and sunburnt, but totally ready for more. So the next day we began our series of day hikes to round out our week in Zion. Angels Landing, being one of the most popular hikes, was pretty crowded, but nonetheless exhilarating. This is my favorite shot from it.

Another really unique hike was our journey through the Narrows. The river water was pretty cold by this time of year, but we were still able to tackle it with waterproof socks and sturdy sandals. Fortunately the river was pretty low, and we rarely got into water above our knees. If it had been any later in the year (or early in spring), I definitely would have looked into renting the boots and gaiters available.

We rounded out the week with a trip to Hidden Canyon, which was one of the most fun day hikes that we did. You begin on the trail to Observation Point, but then turn off to a different trail and up into another canyon. Here's the view right before you enter Hidden Canyon. 

We loved our time in the backcountry, but also really enjoyed our many trips to the Zion Canyon Brew Pub and Cafe Soleil, which were just a short walk from the Watchman Campground. Definitely check them out the next time you're in Zion.

Overall, this was an unforgettable trip. I love having some great memories and context for what the American Southwest is really like. I wouldn't mind visiting Zion another time or two!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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