Of course this most popular of Utah’s national parks1 is grand and picturesque no matter how you experience it. The towering sandstone walls cleaved by the sparkling Virgin River make jaws drop and heads shake even from within a circulator shuttle, Zion’s people-moving mechanism that has rationed the growing throngs for twenty years.
And when we, like most other visitors, disembarked at the shuttle stops that remained open in COVID times, our hikes to the Emerald Pools and along the Temple of Sinawava’s Riverside Walk confirmed Zion’s beauty and grandeur – especially in late October when red canyons and blue water and purple horizons and green pines and yellow cottonwood bosques filled our eyes like a spilled box of crayolas.
The Perfect Length to Bike
Zion’s north-south scenic drive has been closed to private cars for the decades since the buses started circulating, and at 12.5 miles it’s marathon-length to hike out and back.
But it’s the perfect length to bike. And the roads are smooth and traffic is light: just bikes and buses, and not many of either.
Which is how we experienced the park on our third day trip in. On our first day, we hiked the Watchman Trail, starting on foot from our basecamp half a mile away. The views were lovely and glorious. On our second day, we shuttled to those Emerald Pools and Riverside hikes. Lovely and glorious.
But also, for both days, we had plenty of company. Zion is not so very large2, which forces too many people onto too few trails, and trying to stay distanced detracts from the ability to just be in the place.
So on the third day, we biked. This gave us solitude amid the magnitude and chance sightings we would have otherwise missed.
Like this condor wheeling over the peaks of the Court of the Patriarchs.
And these dizzying wall-climbers and cliff-hangers. To our eyes, these canyon walls are vertical. Seriously, impossibly vertical.
The ride into the park is slightly uphill, just enough to discourage casual riders from venturing too far in and crowding the roads. And also just enough to have us appreciate stopping for those condors and climbers and the occasional surprise grotto:
At the drive’s end, facing downhill, we decided to ride back nonstop. Unlike the uphill ride, where we were obliged to pull over every few minutes to let a shuttle pass, if we maintained speed on the return trip no shuttle would overtake us, giving us free reign on the road to ride like the park was ours alone.
So we rode.
We rode down and fast. We pedaled and sliced through the wind, seeing and feeling the world, and spinning our place in it. Smooth and steady alongside the river, fast and faster we carved our descent, each push of the pedals an independent stride of “I am here” in the world.
Shade and sun alternated, warm and chill, each its own delight. Heads down and eyes up, we played on our wheels like kids again, pedaling lights-out like we could ride forever and ever and never stop in one of the most beautiful places on earth, fully ours and fully in the moment.
It was simple joy, straight up.
This was Rachel’s ride straight down:
- Zion is the nation’s fourth-most popular national park, behind only Great Smoky Mountains, Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain3 National Parks, and just ahead of Yosemite and Yellowstone.
- 15 Zions would fit inside Yellowstone.
- Welp. Until recent fires.
We tried our best to squeeze all of Zion’s scope into these tiny picture frames. They each probably deserve to be expanded to wall-sized for proper appreciation.