With cooler autumn temperatures upon us, my thoughts always go to Zion National Park in Utah. Just a few hours’ drive from Boulder City, the park seems worlds away with its majestic red sandstone monoliths, mature deciduous trees and diverse wildlife surrounding the banks of the North Fork of the Virgin River.
Due to COVID-19, shuttle access to Zion Canyon’s Scenic Drive and some of the park’s most popular trails takes a bit more planning than formerly, but the park offers plenty of other great trails you can easily access.
One is the Pa’rus Trail, which is about 3.5 miles round trip. It starts off near the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, at South Campground, and travels to the entrance of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
The paved trail meanders along the North Fork of the Virgin River, crossing five bridges along the way. At an elevation of 3,915 feet, you can expect daytime high temperatures in late September to run in the 80s and in October in the 70s. In some areas of the park the leaves have already begun to turn their fall colors but in the main area, like here, you won’t see peak foliage until the end of October, continuing through early November.
Pa’rus Trail makes a great outing for families of all ages and abilities as it’s flat and easy and is the only trail in the park that allows bicycles. It also is quite suitable for jogging strollers and wheelchairs, with assistance. You will get incredible views of the park’s signature sandstone monoliths, all while being in a lush riparian ecosystem dominated by Fremont cottonwood, box elder and single-leaf ash trees.
With a constant supply of water and healthy vegetation, the area is home to plenty of wildlife. It’s common to see mule deer during the day but most mammals here are nocturnal, although you might see evidence of them from their scat or prints in the sand. Wildlife here includes bobcats, gray foxes, raccoons, badgers, ringtail cats and the top predators in Zion: mountain lions. In fall, birds you could possibly see include ospreys, coopers hawks, red-tailed hawks, wild turkeys, red-napped sapsuckers, hairy woodpeckers, violet-green swallows, black-capped and mountain chickadees.
As you travel along the trail look up on your right (south) to Bridge Mountain, 6,814 feet high, and try to locate Crawford Arch. This long, thin, bowed arch is about 150 feet long yet only about 3 to 4 feet wide. It is located to the left of the peak, to the right side of an obvious saddle. Bring your binoculars for a better look.
To meet COVID-19 public health regulations the park has implemented a reservation system for the shuttle to visit the most popular destination in the park: Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. It’s a $1 fee, good for only one boarding from the visitor center, but once in the canyon you can stay as long as you want and get on and off at different shuttle stops. Tickets are available at www.recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777.
The tickets are available online for one hour boarding blocks, between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. During your allotted time you can board the next available shuttle; they leave approximately every five minutes. Advance shuttle tickets for Oct. 16-31 will be released Sept. 30.
If you wish to go sooner, additional tickets might be available at 9 a.m. Mountain Time one day in advance of your visit, but these sell out very quickly. Those without advance tickets may possibly board between 3-6 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis, but boarding is not guaranteed.
While the Virgin River remains beautiful to see, currently there is a toxic cyanobacteria bloom. It’s being monitored closely and for the time being the park is asking visitors not to go into the water or allow children or pets to do so. This organism is especially toxic to children and dogs.
For more information on Zion National Park, and for updated information before your visit, go to www.nps.gov/zion or call 435-772-3256.
Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books about hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.
Take Interstate 11 north to U.S. Highway 95 and continue 13.8 miles to Interstate 15 north. Continue about 125 miles through Arizona into Utah. Take exit 16 to Utah State Route 9 East/West State Street toward Hurricane. Continue on Utah State Route 9 for 32 miles to Zion National Park.