I have always wanted to explore Southwest Utah and Arizona’s National Parks but never had the chance. Living in LA, it’s oddly difficult to convince friends to drive anywhere north of Las Vegas. Finally I was able to drag my friend John – a National Parks Afficionado to come along for the ride.
Our first stopover was at Zion National Park. We started our trip from Los Angeles and left midday. From LA, it’s an eight-hour drive passing through the endless miles of desert scenery (which is always easier to bear with a good playlist). Halfway through, we stopped in Vegas for an early dinner and to refuel, then headed directly to Zion, which was another three hours away. Note to self: Every guide book will tell you that summer is the best time to visit the parks. I think it’s far too hot. Temps can reach up to a humidity-free heat of 110 degrees. It is arduous to hike in such conditions. Visiting in spring is ideal for me; the weather was bearable and the wildflowers abundant.
The best and nearest town to book a hotel is Springdale, in Utah. John found us rooms at the gorgeous SpringHill Suites by Marriott Springdale Zion National Park. I was amazed at how beautiful the accommodations were. They were well decorated in contemporary style and the architecture is phenomenal. A swimming pool overlooks the towering red mountains, and it’s quite a sight to behold. (Who would have thought a Springhill Mariott can be this amazing?) The lobby and breakfast are quite spectacular too, and the price is quite affordable at $150 per night. There is also a nice Hampton Inn and Suites in town. All the hotels are surrounded by charming cafes and restaurants that follow the general architecture of the village.
In our five National Park stops, we honestly didn’t think Zion would be particularly memorable. We only booked a single night there and spent an entire day at the park. I could have stayed here for half a week and not run out of things to do and hikes to conquer. If you only have a day to see the highlights, it’s easy to hop on the free shuttle in Springdale and go for a drive up Zion Canyon. The shuttle is pleasantly efficient and there’s a chance to meet interesting hikers. You can get off at any of the many stops or just drive around the route.
There’s also a driving scenic road that is roughly 24 miles long. There are many spots where you can stop to view the stone formations, canyons, waterfall and a mile-long tunnel. It was so amazing exploring these locations. I was in heaven. It is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever had the pleasure of taking. There are as many hiking trails in Zion as there are boutiques on 5th Avenue, all varying in levels. Some are for novice hikers and others are clearly for those who take their hikes seriously. One regret: not having had enough time to explore moe of the trails. Next time, I will have to stay longer for sure. Our next stop? Bryce Canyon!
Enjoy new highlights of travel photographer Edwin Santiago’s journeys each week.
Last modified: August 2, 2017