Autumn hiking in Zion National Park, Utah, can be extremely rewarding.
Fall season trips are best as crowding is down and the heat has melted away.
Leaves on the trees are changing to gold and red, and the spring and summer snowmelt water flow has eased up in the rivers and streams that must be crossed.
One year, I went to Zion during the week of Thanksgiving. It was the perfect time to go.
Angels Landing Trail
Make it an early morning start for the famous Angels Landing Trail.
Crowds for this hike in Zion can be so severe over the last few years that the Park is considering implementing a reservation or quota system.
Angels Landing must be hiked when there is no snow on the ground, too, as the rock pathway along a chained handrail can be slippery enough to send a hiker down hundreds of feet to their death.
One particular source claims that more than a dozen hikers have fallen to their death over just the last 20 years.
We left at first light, and still, the path was crowded by our standards.
Reading other accounts of hiking here, I realize now that this was a light day for Angels Landing.
Out and back, Angels Landing Trail is about 4.5 miles, and depending on the crowds, and how comfortable you are hiking at speed with huge drop-offs on each side of you, it can take anywhere from two to five hours to complete.
Don't use the chain handrail.
Frustrated with the pace of those hikers shuffling their feet and grabbing onto the National Park Service-provided chain handrail for dear life – I chose not to touch the chain at all and go around them.
Ignoring the chain handrail for the final half-mile up and back was a spectacular way to do the climb, as it was the way it was done for decades by early park-goers.
The views at the top are worth every sweaty, fearful step, and looking down at the valley floor some 1,500 feet straight down.
One is fully aware of how the rock formation got its name. Early explorers must have thought that only angels would ever land on its summit.
Endangered California Condors
California Condors call Zion National Park home.
A special treat on the way up Angels Landing is a resting place and photo opportunity spot called Scout Lookout.
On this day, a park ranger was on hand to point out the perch below of the gargantuan California Condor family who had settled in the area.
He even had one of the feathers from their 10-foot wingspan.
In 1987 the California Condor was considered extinct in the wild as all the remaining 27 birds were in captivity.
Since then, successful breeding and reintroduction to the wild programs have found their footing in Coastal Central and Southern California, Grand Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park.
Hidden Canyon Hike
Find Hidden Arch
Angels Landing is not the only hike with dangerous drop-offs and otherworldly scenic views.
Hidden Canyon is my favorite Zion National Park hike. Your trek into this seldom-used trail starts at Weeping Rock trailhead.
At the “Y” on the paved trail, veer right and enjoy a 3.5-mile out and back journey seldom visited by the masses.
After leaving the paved switchbacks, venture onto a trail with stones cut into the shape of stairs and a trail carved out of the cliff with 200-foot drops to the right and a safety chain secured to the cliffside on the left.
Journey next to sheer cliffs and sandy dry creek beds until it becomes impassable.
At some point, you may notice that the Hidden Arch never materialized until you see it on the way back down the trail. Hidden indeed.
One of the reasons we loved this trail is that over two-plus hours we saw only a handful of other people.
In a national park, that is a rare opportunity and one worth taking.
It was closed due to rockfall.
Not long after I visited the Hidden Arch on my favorite Zion National Park hike, a huge rockfall covered part of the trail and nearly wiped out the trailhead at Weeping Rock.
Stay tuned for the opening dates when my favorite trail is open again.
An overnight stay in the backcountry of Zion National Park may be a wonderful way to enjoy the peace and serenity that is not always available in the park's main areas.
More than 90 miles of trails in Zion National Park allows the adventurous soul to leave a vehicle behind and see the park in its most natural state.
How to Avoid Crowds
Planning involved obtaining Wilderness Permits online, as the Kolob Canyon Visitor's Center does not issue permits.
Zion's North Entrance is the hidden hack that provides a nearly solo experience, especially during the fall.
Use exit 40 near Cedar City on Highway I-15.
The 2nd Longest Arch
Kolob Arch is regarded as the second-longest natural arch in the world at 287 feet.
It is accessed via the La Verkin Creek Trail.
Plan to spend one or two nights backpacking in this beautiful area.
There are 13 campsites along the trail. Some are walk-in sites, while others must be reserved in advance.
Advanced reservations or walk-in permits are available for various areas in Zion National Park.
Check the park website at www.nps.gov/zion for details.
Related: Where to Hike on a Road Trip to Zion
The out and back hike to Kolob Arch is about 15 miles, but the journey can be longer if you want to explore beyond the Arch.
Most of the trail is exposed and hot in summer as it can be well over 100 degrees (40+ Celsius).
Autumn is great because the temps are cooler, the bugs are rare, the leaves are turning colors, and the crowds are nowhere to be found.
Traveler, Adventurer, Writer, Photographer