Fast Forward to a couple weeks before the trip, when weather could more accurately be predicted, and I began researching again. We've been to Vegas before and didn't need to spend anytime in the city; our goal was to grab our car and head to a park. Death Valley was the surest bet for good weather; even in February the high temperatures are in the 70s. But we'd been there not too long ago. There are tons of killer hikes and it is an international dark sky recognized area, so going back is absolutely not out of the question, but if I could manage it, I'd prefer to go somewhere new.
Zion National Park was the next best option, both for driving distance and weather potential. Further research revealed two of the greatest hikes in the USA reside in Zion, and that quickly became our ideal candidate. Weather was looking good, so we went ahead and booked our stay.
We scored such a great deal on the flight, I splurged just a bit on the hotel and we stayed in downtown Springdale. It's a fair bit cheaper to stay at the highway exit in a chain hotel, but Springdale is a beautiful little town at the entrance gate to the park, full of local restaurants and lodges. We chose the Zion Park Motel, and it was just perfect! The weather forecast continued to look perfect, and eventually we were off! Remember when I said we had 1 'personal item' each? I found a deal on a very nice mid-sized hiking backpack for each of us, and we crammed our 3-season hiking gear, clothes, toiletries, and anything else we needed for the weekend in them. I even packed our hiking poles and micro-spikes in my pack.
We woke up early to find our motel surroundings were stunning walls of red and white sandstone. It was around 40 degrees, but was expected to be in the 50's and sunny all day. We walked across the street to Deep Creek Coffee Company for a bite to eat before heading off on our first big hike. The food was absolutely top notch, and it's a must-do before a day of adventuring. It was the perfect combination of healthy, hearty, and tasty to power us through a huge day, without feeling overly stuffed to begin with.
Their Southwest Quinoa Breakfast Bowl has become a staple in our household.
The hike to Angels Landing is consistently listed as a top hike in this country. It's about 4.5 miles round trip, but can easily be extended, and about 1400 feet of elevation gain. Some sections of the hike were quite physically demanding, but the true challenge is all mental: the last half mile or so is a thin ridge of sandstone, with a 1500 foot sheer drop-off on both sides. Often so narrow or steep, the park service has installed chains to hold on to. This last bit proved too much for Alicia, so she stayed at the first overlook and enjoyed people watching and the perfect weather. I proceeded across the narrow ridge to the very edge. The final reward is a nearly 360 degree view from 1500 feet high in the center of the canyon. It was absolutely stunning, and so completely worthy of the sky-high ratings. Worth mentioning, winter was so absolutely perfect for this hike! I honestly could not imagine attempting it during peak crowds. Since we were here to hike all day, we did not head back after reaching this astonishing turning point, and rather continued hiking on the West Rim Trail another several miles through the stunning landscape.
We made it back to town after something like 12 miles of mountainous hiking, and promptly headed to a local Mexican restaurant to gorge ourselves on fantastic food. We made one stop on the way, at Zion Adventure Company to pickup our rental gear for tomorrows hike!
The Narrows is the other "Best Hike in the USA" in Zion National Park. The trail is the Virgin River, as it passes through a 2000 foot high slot canyon. Without a wilderness permit, you're only permitted to hike about 4 miles up river through the canyon, plus an additional half mile up a side canyon. In the summer this hike can be done in shorts and great shoes, but in the shoulder seasons, and this, the heart of the off-season, far more protective gear is necessary. We rented complete drysuits and waterproof canyoneering boots. cheaping out on waterproof pants and shoes only was an option, but not worth it to me. One slip and we'd be cold and miserable. I planned to hike as far as I was permitted, so we splurged for the full suits and I don't regret that decision one bit. The hike is flat for the most part, but there were a handful of large rocks obstacles that you could climb over (in the raging water) to proceed as far as we did. For the most part the water was lower than knee level, but occasionally it would go to waist high, and even a few times nearly up to our armpits. This is very strange feeling in 40 degrees (air and water temperature)! The extra difficulty of hiking in water (and often on loose/slippery stones) becomes apparent towards the end of the hike, when we could feel the extra levels of fatigue in our legs.
The summer temperatures and clothing would be a definite plus, but as with yesterdays hike, with the summer temperatures bring huge crowds. We had this hike nearly to ourselves. I believe we saw half a dozen others over the entire 9+ miles. I 100% recommend this hike in the winter months. An additional bonus is the far lower likelihood of being closed due to high water or flash flood potential in the winter months. The hike was the absolute definition of adventuring. It was stunning, a riot, and a challenge! It was so much fun, I cannot recommend it enough.
We added a small additional hike to the end to bring our daily total around 12 again, and headed back to town for another giant recovery meal. We packed and compressed our bags to 'personal item' size once again, and hit the road back to Vegas.