My First Visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Museum

Although I’ve been to New York City many times over the years, I had never been to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island Museum until recently. Various reasons come to mind as to why I never went to either place before.  On my first visit to New York City I had the intention of going but just missed the last ferry there (this was well before the 911 tragedy so you could just walk up to the ferry terminal, pay, and get on a ferry if there was space). On subsequent visits to the city, either there wasn’t time to see the statue or there were no slots available for the pedestal or crown online when I tried to buy tickets.

When I was planning things to do for a racecation to Morristown, New Jersey where I was going to be running a half marathon in my 40th state, I was happy to find out I could take a ferry from Liberty State Park in New Jersey to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. I immediately booked our tickets. Even though tickets to the crown were sold out five months in advance, I was able to get tickets to the pedestal so I was grateful to at least get that.

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The day of our tour, it was hot and sticky.  We had tickets for 10:00 in the morning so we left our hotel room with the intention of getting at Liberty State Park between 30 minutes and one hour in advance, depending on traffic. When we got there, we had to stand in a long line to go through security screening so it was good we had allotted plenty of extra time.

Finally we boarded the boat and took the short ride to Ellis Island Museum. You have the option of staying on the boat and just going straight to the Statue of Liberty or spending some time at the museum before heading to the statue. We like museums so we got off and spent some time exploring all three floors.

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Ellis Island Museum is full of photos and stories from immigrants seeking a better life in America. There are artifacts including clothing, books, and other personal items many people took with them for the long journey from their home countries. You can walk through the steps the immigrants had to go through upon their arrival at Ellis Island. You can see the sleeping areas, rooms for health inspections, a room that looked like a court room, and others. Audio tours are also available in nine languages.

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As I said earlier, we ended up going through all three floors of the museum. We also had lunch at the cafe, which was over-priced but the food was pretty good at least. The day we were there it seemed like just about half the school kids in the area must have been there on a school field trip so it was crazy busy but maybe it’s always like that. We spent a couple of hours here before we went outside to wait for the ferry for the Statue of Liberty.

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When you see the Statue of Liberty from a distance it seems much smaller than it really is. Finally, we got off the ferry and walked around the base of the statue. If you can’t get tickets for the pedestal or crown, you can walk around the base. It’s beautiful to just walk around and admire the views. A word of warning, though if you don’t like crowds. The ferries are crowded, Ellis Island Museum is crowded, and walking around the base of the statue is crowded. The crowds thinned out in a few places around the pedestal but that’s it.

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The views of the Manhattan skyline and the water surrounding the statue were nice. We got a ton of photos from the pedestal. I’m sure the views are even better from the crown. Next time I’ll just have to get tickets at least six months in advance for the crown or figure out when the off-season is, if there is such a thing. I’m glad I finally got to visit Ellis Island Museum and the Statue of Liberty. It was a fun and history-filled day!

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There are many options for tickets through Statue Cruises but all include the ferry from either Battery Park in New York or Liberty State Park in New Jersey and all tours include access to Ellis Island Museum and an audio tour. Prices increase for crown, pedestal, or hard-hat areas. Book as far in advance as you can because spaces especially for the crown are limited and sell out months in advance.

More information can be found on the National Park Service page here.

Three Places to Stop if You’re Driving from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon

When planning a family vacation to Utah and the Grand Canyon in late winter, I wanted a place or two to break up the drive between Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon. Page, Arizona came up as an option. To drive straight from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon takes about 5 hours (depending on weather and how busy the roads are), which isn’t awful, but to drive from Bryce Canyon to Page, Arizona is about 2 hours, 40 minutes. That sounded like a better idea to me, considering we would already have a 4 hour drive from the Grand Canyon to the airport in Las Vegas. Plus, I discovered “The Wave” and fell down that rabbit hole which turned out to be a bit complicated. Alas, hiking in the Wave was not to be (that deserves a post all to itself).

Stop 1:  Page, Arizona- Antelope Canyon

The biggest reason you may want to add a stop-over in Page is to visit Antelope Canyon. You can take an Antelope Canyon Boat Tour that takes you along Lake Powell, or you can take a guided walking tour. We opted for the walking tour with Ken’s Tours and it exceeded my expectations. Not only was the tour just our family, so we got our own private tour, we also got photography lessons along the way. The tips our guide showed us were invaluable and worth even more than what we paid for the tour itself. Not only did he physically show us how to adjust our cameras for different settings along the tour, he also took photos of us on our cameras. He also gave us advice and tips for future times. I am definitely a novice photographer so any and all tips were greatly appreciated.

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The tour took us one hour from start to finish, but our tour guide told us in the busy summer months, it often takes an hour just to get from the main building where you check-in to the start of the tour (it took us maybe 10 minutes at the most). This is another reason why visiting during the winter can be the best time of year to visit the area.

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There are two types of tours, the general tour, which lasts an hour and costs $25 per person for ages 13 and up, $17 for children ages 7-12, and children 6 and under are free. The photographer tour lasts 2 hours, 15 minutes and during the summer you need to get a special use permit from from Navajo Parks and Recreation (another reason to visit during the less-busy winter). This tour is only for ages 16 and up and costs $47 per person.

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Where to stay and eat in Page, Arizona

We stayed at Comfort Inn & Suites and found it to be comfortable, clean, and the suite I reserved was enormous. There were two rooms, one with a king bed, TV, and patio off it, and the other room had a sofa bed, desk, TV, refrigerator, and microwave. We swam in the indoor pool and relaxed in the hot tub after we took our tour of Antelope Canyon. The location was convenient to restaurants and shops in Page. We ate lunch at Mandarin Gourmet, a Chinese restaurant that we found to have a surprisingly delicious and affordable buffet. We had dinner at Big John’s Texas BBQ, and while my husband liked his brisket, I didn’t care for mine, but our daughter said her pulled pork sandwich was good. I guess overall that’s a pretty good rating.

Our tour guide from Antelope Canyon told us about a place where the rich and famous stay when visiting the area, and I looked it up; it does look pretty amazing. It’s Amangiri in Canyon Point, Utah, and the room rates when I checked were around $2000-$3000 per night before taxes and fees. Our guide told us actor Hugh Jackman once stayed there and took a tour with their group of the canyon.

Stop 2:  Glen Canyon Dam

Just outside Page, Arizona is the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which includes the Glen Canyon Dam. The recreation area encompasses hundreds of miles from Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry in northern Arizona to southern Utah, including Lake Powell. There are trails for hiking, boat tours, and tours of the dam. Dam tours are 45 minutes long and cost $5 for adults, $2.50 for children 7-16, and free for children 6 and under. Adults 62 and older and members of the military are $4. Tour times vary by season, so check the website for details.

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View from Glen Canyon visitor center
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Glen Canyon Dam
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Views from Glen Canyon visitor center

Stop 3:  Cameron, Arizona

Another option for a place to break up the drive between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon is Cameron, Arizona. Cameron is smaller than Page but is an unexpectedly unique little place to stop for lunch or dinner. We stopped at Cameron Trading Post and had Navajo tacos for lunch. Not only were the tacos delicious, it was interesting just looking at all of the handmade blankets and other artwork on the walls and around the dining room. There were also shelves upon shelves of pottery, dreamcatchers, clothing, and many other souvenirs in the gift shop. Touristy? Yes, but still interesting.

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In addition to the gift shop and restaurant, Cameron Trading Post also has an art gallery, convenience store, and garden. You can also spend the night at the motel here. Although the single and double rooms look pretty simple, the luxury suites look a bit nicer and the prices seem reasonable. If you have an RV, there’s also an RV park here for $35/night.

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Cameron is a great place to stop to fill up with gas, have lunch, and stretch your legs for a bit before you finish up the drive to the Grand Canyon. A word of warning, there are long stretches along the drive from Bryce Canyon to the Grand Canyon where there is nothing but Navajo- or other government-owned land on either side of the highway with no businesses or gas stations for miles upon miles. Make sure you fill up the car with gas before you leave Bryce. You definitely wouldn’t want to run out of gas on this road. Cameron Trading Post is about 57 miles from Grand Canyon Village, so you’re in the home stretch at this point!

Grand Canyon National Park in Late Winter- the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is so heavily visited, the National Park Service even has a web page about crowding at the South Rim and how to avoid it. There are tips on how to make the most of your visit and avoid crowds. My family and I visited during late winter, and found this is one way to at least lessen the crowds; however, visiting the Grand Canyon during the winter is not all rosy.  There are some advantages and disadvantages to coming to the park in the winter.

First, a few statistics about the Grand Canyon NP. The gorge is 1 mile deep and 277 miles long, with the Colorado River running through it. The North Rim is separated from the South Rim by the 10 mile wide canyon in between. The entire park is 1,217,403.32 acres but surprisingly this is only the 11th biggest US national park by size. There are six national parks in Alaska alone that are bigger than Grand Canyon National Park.

In 2016 almost 6 million people visited the park, with the vast majority of visitors during the summer months and the least visitors during December, January, and February. We chose to visit in early March and found it was definitely not as crowded as during the summer. It also wasn’t as busy during the week as it was on the weekend, not surprisingly.

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What are some advantages of visiting Grand Canyon National Park during the late winter? (The Good)

Obviously, the main advantage is crowds are less. However, there was a big surge of visitors on Saturday that we didn’t see on the days before that. So, even during the winter, it’s still best to come during the week if at all possible.

Along with the trails and roads not being as crowded, restaurants also aren’t as crowded during the winter months.

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One of many elk along the trails

It’s also nice to see the Grand Canyon when it’s snow-covered, and see the park in a way many people don’t get to experience.

Because it’s cooler during the winter, it’s more conducive to hiking if you plan on going on some long hikes down into the canyon. The temperature rises 5.5 degrees for every 1000 feet you lose in elevation, so the floor of the Grand Canyon is often as hot as 106 degrees Fahrenheit in July. If you plan on going to the Grand Canyon Skywalk on the West Rim, the average daily high in July is 116 degrees. July and August are also when monsoon rains occur here. In contrast, high temperatures during the winter are usually in the 30’s and 40’s.

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What are some disadvantages of visiting Grand Canyon National Park during the late winter? (The Bad)

If you have your heart set on going the North Rim, it is closed during the winter months, so your only option is the South Rim.

It can get quite windy during the winter months and a cold wind on top of a high around 35 degrees can make for a chilly hike.

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Can you tell it was windy?!

During the winter, most of the trails often have at least some areas where they are slick with ice and/or snow. Even on the popular Rim Trail, the majority of the trail had slick spots and we had to watch our footing.

Any other disadvantages? (The Ugly)

Mules are on Kaibab Trail during the winter and in fact year-round. During the winter the top of the trail is snowy and icy, and further down the trail where it is warmer, there are areas where it can be extremely muddy. This combined with piles and piles of mule poop leads to one smelly, messy trail. I’m not sure which was worse, the ice and trying to not fall at the top of the trail, or the mud and mule poop later on the trail. My daughter was actually cheering when we came upon ice again after going through the thick, heavy mud for a while. At least the ice wasn’t trying to pull her shoes off her feet like the mud was! We did, thankfully, reach parts of the trail further down that were neither ice- nor mud-covered, and that was awesome!

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This part of the trail was actually not hard to walk on. The mud was the worst.

Trails at the South Rim

There are five day hikes at the South Rim, with four being steep or very steep and only the Rim Trail is flat and easy. We spent most of our time on the Rim Trail and South Kaibab Trail but I’ll discuss them all briefly here.

The Rim Trail runs along the South Rim of the canyon, as you might guess by the name and is undoubtedly one of the more popular trails because of its accessibility. You can hop on a shuttle and take it to the next stop and hike as little or much as you want, before getting on the next shuttle. The Rim Trail runs from the village area to Hermit’s Rest for 13 miles and is mostly paved and flat. There are 13 shuttle stops from South Kaibab Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest Trailhead. Shuttles run March 1 to November 30.

Bright Angel Trail is a steep but maintained dirt trail that begins near Bright Angel Lodge and is 12 miles long roundtrip. Park rangers recommend you turn around after going 3 miles at 3 Mile Resthouse and during the summer not going past 4.5 miles one-way at Indian Garden. There are mules on this trail.

South Kaibab Trail is a steep but maintained dirt trail that begins south of Yaki Point (a shuttle stop) on Yaki Point Road. There are great views along the trail, including one with the funny-named “Ooh-Aah Point” at 0.9 miles into the hike. By this point, you’ve lost 600 feet in elevation, from the start at 7260 feet. Cedar Ridge, at 1.5 miles one-way is where park rangers recommend people who are not used to hiking or have gotten a late start to turn around and are adamant that summer hikers not go beyond this point. You don’t get your first real view of the river until Skeleton Point, 3 miles into the hike, at an elevation of 5200 feet. This is your recommended turn-around point for a day hike, presuming you’ve gotten an early start, are used to hiking, and it’s not summer. Again, there are mules on this trail.

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Hermit Trail is steep, strenuous, rocky, and unmaintained trail that begins near Hermits Rest shuttle stop and during the spring, summer, and fall is only accessible by shuttle bus (no private vehicles). This is definitely a trail for experienced hikers. You have two options on this trail for day hikes, either go to Santa Maria Spring, 2.5 miles one way or go to Dripping Springs, 3.5 miles one way. The advantage to this trail is there are no mules.

Grandview Trail is similar to Hermit Trail, in that it is also a steep, strenuous, unmaintained dirt trail with tougher conditions than either Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail. The trailhead can be reached by vehicle (not shuttle) at Grandview Point, 12 miles east of the village on Desert View Drive. Day hikes are to Coconino Saddle (1.1 miles one way) or Horseshoe Mesa/Toilet Junction (3 miles one way). However, day hikes to Horseshoe Mesa are not recommended during the summer due to strenuous conditions of the trail beyond Coconino Saddle.

Regardless of which trail you choose, do not attempt to hike from the rim down to the river in one day during the summer months. Even during the cooler months it’s not recommended unless you start very early in the day and are an experienced desert hiker.

There are several trails at the North Rim, none of which we did since the North Rim is unaccessible during the winter months. You can read about North Rim trails plus South Rim trails here.

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How to Get Here

Most people fly into Las Vegas, Nevada and drive the approximately 270 mile route to the Grand Canyon or fly into Phoenix, Arizona and drive the approximately 232 miles from there. Rental cars abound at both of these international airports. Tours can also be arranged at both places if you feel unsure or uneasy about driving that distance on your own and/or are from another country and are uneasy about driving in the States.

Where to Stay

If you want to maximize your time inside the park (which I highly recommend), there are several options for lodging in the park. At the South Rim, you can stay in the more crowded Historic District and choose from five different lodges, or you can stay in the quieter Market Plaza near the Visitor Center at Yavapai Lodge or Trailer Village RV Park. We chose to stay at Yavapai Lodge and found the motel rooms outdated but quiet. You can read more about the rooms in the park, including what’s available at the North Rim here. All of these places tend to fill several months in advance, especially during the summer months, so make sure you make reservations as far in advance as possible.

Where to Eat

Inside the park, there are several options for meals as well as groceries. Most of the lodges have a restaurant and there are some coffee shops and taverns scattered throughout the South Rim. The Canyon Village Market General Store is a pretty decent-sized grocery store that also has firewood and souvenirs. Prices didn’t seem too terrible here either. You can also get snacks at Hermit’s Rest Snack Bar at the end of Hermit Road. Although closed during the winter, you can eat at the Grand Canyon Lodge Dining Room or Deli in the Pines at the North Rim. Outside the park, you can find groceries and restaurants 7 miles south of Grand Canyon Village in the town of Tusayan.

Other Things to Do

Depending on the weather, how much time you have to spend here, and your interests, there are many options of things to do at Grand Canyon NP. As outlined by the National Park Service, you could take a mule trip and go along the canyon rim or down to the bottom and stay at Phantom Ranch, or take a bicycle tour, go whitewater rafting, or even participate in a Grand Canyon Association Field Institute Learning Adventure.

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Fees

Admission to the park is valid for seven days and includes both the North and South Rim. A Grand Canyon National Park Vehicle Permit is $30 and admits a single vehicle (non-commercial) and everyone in the vehicle.

A Grand Canyon National Park Annual Pass is good for 12 months and costs $60. The America the Beautiful Annual Pass costs $80 and allows free entrance to all national parks and federal recreational lands. The Annual “Every Kid in a Park” 4th Grade Pass is free (!) for US 4th graders who have obtained the paper voucher through the Every Kid in a Park website. Active duty military are eligible for a free annual pass. The America the Beautiful Senior Pass is $10, and the America the Beautiful Access Pass and Volunteer Pass are both free.

My advice is get an America the Beautiful Annual Pass and combine a visit to the Grand Canyon with one to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. That’s what we did, and it made for one spectacular family vacation!

 

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah in the Winter

Let me start off by saying I loved Bryce Canyon even more than I thought I would. Bryce Canyon National Park is about 1 hour and 45 minutes from Zion National Park, both of which are in southern Utah. People often visit both places during the same vacation because of their proximity to each other. However, while they may be only less than 2 hours apart, they are worlds apart in many other ways.

Zion National Park is a behemoth compared to Bryce Canyon National Park. Zion is 229.1 square miles while Bryce is 56 square miles. The main town outside of Zion, Springdale, also seems like a relatively “big city” compared to Bryce Canyon City, even though Springdale is still what most people would call a small town. Zion National Park has 18 trails, while Bryce Canyon has 9 day-hiking trails, 4 “easy,” 2 “moderate,” and 3 “strenuous.” Finally, the coloring of the rock formations is very different in Zion National Park compared to Bryce Canyon National Park. Zion has the prominent red rocks from iron in the rocks, while Bryce has lighter hues of red, orange, and white rocks and the famous hoodoos. Hoodoos are geological structures formed by frost weathering and stream erosion of the river and lake bed sedimentary rocks.

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Advantages of Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park During the Winter

As I said in my post on hiking in Zion National Park in late winter, Bryce Canyon also has advantages of visiting during the off-season winter months. The most obvious advantage is there are less crowds during the winter than summer months. When we were at Bryce Canyon in late February, we saw maybe 10 or 15 people all day on the trails. I’m sure this would never happen during the summer months.

When we visited Bryce Canyon it had been snowing before we got there, and it snowed off and on the day we hiked there. I have to admit, I’m not a cold weather person at all. I grew up in the mountains of West Virginia and moved south to escape the cold as an adult. However, I absolutely loved hiking in Bryce Canyon in the winter. It was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

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When I was planning my family’s vacation here, I came upon several blog posts and websites where people said the best time of year to visit Bryce Canyon is during the winter. While I haven’t been to Bryce Canyon during the summer and can’t compare, I will say it was absolutely stunning with the snow.

Disadvantages of Visiting Bryce During the Winter Months

The only real disadvantage I can see is the trails can be slick with icy patches. However, I was wearing my Merrell waterproof hiking shoes, which have good tread, but I didn’t wear YakTrax, crampons, or even use hiking poles and I never fell on the trails. Just be cautious and watch your footing.

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Another disadvantage to some people could be the cold weather itself. Bryce Canyon is at a higher elevation than Zion National Park (it varies at Bryce from around 8000-9000 feet), so I knew it would be colder and I planned accordingly. I wore wool thermal underwear under waterproof and wind-proof pants and a warm shirt, all under a warm ski jacket with a hood, hat, scarf, and gloves so I was well-dressed for the weather. If you’re dressed for the weather, as you should be regardless of what time of year you go hiking, you’ll be fine.

Trails in Bryce Canyon

As I said earlier, Bryce Canyon National Park has 9 day-hiking trails. Many of them are fairly short, so you can easily combine them to make a longer hike. One of the more popular combinations is Queens Garden (1.8 miles) with Navajo Loop (1.3 miles). This allows views of Wall Street, Two Bridges, and Thor’s Hammer. You can also combine Navajo Loop (1.3 miles) and Peekaboo Loop (5.5 miles) trails into a figure-8 and get views through the heart of Bryce Amphitheater and see the Wall of Windows. This is all do-able in a day if you’re in good hiking shape but would be a bit too ambitious if you’re not used to hiking. For more information on the trails, the National Park Service has this.

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Where to Stay and Eat

As I mentioned above, Bryce Canyon City is a small town, with limited options for lodging and dining. When we arrived around lunchtime, we had trouble finding a restaurant that was open and finally chose the restaurant in the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn. For lunch, there actually is an extensive salad bar that’s pretty good. We also spent the night here, and the rooms are a bit outdated and in need of some TLC, but nonetheless they were clean, quiet, and within 15 minutes to the park. During summer months, there are shuttles running to the park, which you can pick up at Ruby’s Inn, or further down the road, closer to the park.

Bryce Canyon Lodge is only open late-March to early-November and also offers a restaurant, gift shop, cabins, and suites. Motel suites are open year-round. The Bryce Canyon Lodge dining room and General Store are open when the Lodge is open. Valhalla Pizzeria is open May 17-October 9. Other options for restaurants and lodging are in Bryce Canyon City, Tropic, Panguitch, and the Junction of Highway 12 and 89.

There are a couple of campgrounds, with only North Campground open year-round and Sunset Campground open late-March to early fall. You can find more information here. Tent sites are $20 per site per night and RVs are $30 per site per night. You’ll receive 50% off with the Golden Age & Golden Access pass, America the Beautiful Federal Lands Access pass, and America the Beautiful Federal Lands Senior pass, but not with any other pass.

How to Get to Bryce Canyon National Park

Although you could take an all-day tour from Las Vegas such as this one, which starts at $330 per person, you could easily rent a car in Las Vegas and drive here yourself. Driving distance from Las Vegas is 270 miles, or around 4 and a half hours. With a rental car, you could also visit Zion National Park on your way to Bryce Canyon, and these two parks are 78 miles or about an hour and 45 minutes apart. As I mentioned above, many people combine these two parks into one vacation.

What to Bring

Dress appropriately for the weather but remember it’s cooler here than other parts of southern Utah even in the heat of the summer because of the higher elevation. Even during the summer, bring a jacket just in case and depending on the season, dress in layers. July, August, and September is the rainy season here and afternoon thunderstorms occur most days.

Bring enough water and snacks to get you through several hours. There are water refill stations at the Shuttle Station, Visitor Center, General Store, North Campground, and Sunset Point.

You’ll want sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses year-round.

Bring a first-aid kid with Band-Aids, antiseptic, moleskin, and Ace wrap.

Bring the maps that they give you at the gate with you.

Don’t forget your receipt for re-entry or even better get an Interagency Annual Pass to allow access to all national parks for $80, good for 12 months from purchase.

Hiking in Zion National Park in Late Winter

Zion National Park is in southwestern Utah near Springdale and is the sixth most visited US national park with almost 3 million visitors a year. Not surprisingly, most people visit during the months of June, July, and August. However, my family and I chose to visit Zion in late February, and what a great decision that was.

Advantages of visiting Zion National Park during the winter:

There are several reasons for visiting Zion National Park during late winter, but the top one that comes to mind is to escape the crowds. During the summer months, Zion can feel quite crowded but if you go during the winter, there is only around a quarter of the people there as during the summer. You don’t feel like you’re constantly walking on the heels of other groups of people and you can enjoy the peaceful nature of the park better.

Also, Zion Canyon is beautiful during the winter months and it’s cool to see frozen or partially frozen waterfalls (pun intended). The peaks weren’t snow-covered when we were there, but I’m sure they’re even more beautiful when they are.

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Another advantage of going during late winter is it’s not as hot. During the summer, the temperature is often above 100°F/38°C. That’s not exactly comfortable hiking weather in my opinion. But during late winter, daytime temperatures are usually around 50-60°F, which is quite comfortable when you’re hiking. There is a chance of rain or snow, however, as nearly half of the annual precipitation in Zion Canyon falls between the months of December and March. When we were there, the weather was great with no precipitation but you do need to be prepared for wet or slick conditions.

Disadvantages of visiting Zion National Park during the winter:

The biggest disadvantage of visiting Zion National Park during the off-season winter is some of the trails may be closed due to ice. Although this was not an issue while we were there, it is a possibility during the winter, especially during the peak of winter.

Another disadvantage is if you want to hike The Narrows during the winter, you’ll need a dry suit. The Narrows is a section of the canyon on the North Fork of the Virgin River. You wade through water that’s around waist-deep on most people during certain sections, but the level of the river varies by season. We just hiked up to The Narrows as far as we could without getting wet and turned around. We’ll have to do that hike another time when it’s warmer. Fall would be a good time for that and not so crowded.

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Trails in Zion Canyon

There are seven trails in Zion Canyon but eighteen trails total in Zion National Park. Some of the more popular trails are The Narrows (discussed above), Angel’s Landing, and Lower and Upper Emerald Pool Trails. I had just read about someone falling to their death from Angel’s Landing before we went to Zion, so I nixed that trail since falling to my death didn’t really sound very appealing to me. If you do hike the ever-popular Angel’s Landing trail, just be very aware while you’re out there and be cautious.

We chose to hike Lower Emerald Pools (a portion was closed due to a rockslide several months prior), Upper Emerald Pools, Kayenta, and The Grotto Trails, which all form a nice loop of about 5 miles and can be completed in a few hours even with lots of stops for photo ops.  These trails are listed as easy or moderate by the National Park Service. While the entire hike is definitely not easy, there are some difficult parts to it. We also did the Riverside Walk Trail to The Narrows and went as far as we could go there. Riverside Walk Trail is 2.2 miles and follows the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow canyon. It is an easy and scenic trail.

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On our second day, we chose the Watchman Trail, which is 3.3 miles round-trip and is listed as moderate. There are views of the Towers of the Virgin, lower Zion Canyon, and Springdale. The trailhead is by the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. The Watchman Trail was my favorite trail at Zion National Park. It was a good way to end our stay at the park.

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How to Get Here

Although you could arrange a tour with a company, most people fly into Las Vegas, rent a car, and drive the 2 1/2 hours from there. Alternatively, you could fly into Salt Lake City, get a rental car, and drive 4 1/2 hours from there. Public transportation (not counting the Zion National Park shuttles) are pretty much non-existent in this area, so unless you’re with a tour group, you need to have your own vehicle or a rental. We flew into Las Vegas, spent the night there, and drove from Vegas. If you’d like to read further about that, see Las Vegas Layover, the Anti-Bourdain Version. The roads were all well-maintained and it was an easy drive, even in our (unexpected “upgraded”) rental sports car.

Where to Stay

We stayed at Cable Mountain Lodge and couldn’t have been happier with the choice. There are several different suites and studios to choose from and you are literally within walking distance to Zion National Park. You don’t have to worry about fighting to find a parking spot or wait in a long line just to get into the park, just walk out of your room and take a short walk over a bridge to the park. We stayed in a suite and it was HUGE! We had a full, well-stocked kitchen, table with chairs to eat at, large living room area with a sofa bed and a separate bedroom, and a nice bathroom. There was even a balcony off the bedroom with chairs and a small table.

Zion Lodge, the only lodging available in the park, is three miles north on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and is open year-round. Motel rooms, cabins, and suites are available but the suites tend to be much more expensive than what I paid at Cable Mountain Lodge. Zion also has three campgrounds with only Watchman Campground offering reservations from March through November.

Regardless of where you stay, whether it’s at Cable Mountain Lodge, Zion Lodge, Watchman Campground, or somewhere else in Springdale, make your reservations as early as possible, at least several months in advance.  Places book up quickly, especially during the busy summer months, but year-round as well.

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Where to Eat

The only restaurants in the park are at Zion Lodge and are Red Rock Grill and the seasonal Castle Dome Cafe. I was surprised at how few restaurants there are in the town of Springdale. There are less than thirty, but several are only open seasonally or only for breakfast and/or lunch. We ate at MeMe’s Cafe for pastries and muffins after hiking the first day, Zion Pizza & Noodle when my daughter wanted pizza, Zion Brewery, and we picked up breakfast items and lunches to take with us into the park at Sol Foods. MeMe’s Cafe looked like it had the best options for breakfast, but we chose to eat in our hotel room for breakfast to save time and money. If you’re a foodie, you’ll likely not be impressed with the food choices here. I wouldn’t call myself a foodie and found that nothing my family and I had was bad per se, but nothing was really spectacular either.

What to Bring

Dress appropriately for the weather but if you’re doing The Narrows remember it’s much cooler here even in the heat of the summer. Bring a jacket just in case and depending on the season, dress in layers. Be prepared to get very wet if you’re hiking The Narrows.

Bring enough water and snacks to get you through several hours.

You’ll want sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses year-round.

Bring the maps that they give you at the gate with you.

Don’t forget your receipt for re-entry or even better get an Interagency Annual Pass to allow access to all national parks for $80, good for 12 months from purchase.

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Other Information

Zion National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with some services and areas closed seasonally.

Parking is limited inside Zion, and parking lots at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center commonly fill by mid-morning. To avoid parking hassles, park in the town of Springdale and ride the free town shuttle to the park. You can park anywhere along the road in town that does not have a parking restriction. To find the shuttle stops, look for the ‘Shuttle Parking’ signs throughout town. If you are staying at a lodge or motel, leave your car there and take the shuttle to the park, or better yet, stay at Cable Mountain Lodge and just walk to the park!

You could easily spend a week at Zion and still not do all of the trails. Just don’t try to do them all in 2 or 3 days, or you’ll be exhausted by the end. Check out the listings and descriptions in this very descriptive hiking guide ahead of time and decide which trails are right for you.

Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon, Tennessee- 27th state

This is part of a series of posts from my quest to run a half marathon in all 50 states. Tennessee was my 27th state.

Who knew Knoxville, Tennessee was so hilly?  Certainly not me when I signed up for the Covenant Health Knoxville Half Marathon.  Typically I tend to steer away from a course that’s full of hills, although some hills are fine.  I just feel that running a half marathon is hard enough without having to climb up and down hills as well.  It’s kind of funny I even ran this race at all.  For years I always thought I would run the St. Jude Half Marathon in Memphis for my Tennessee race.  Somehow that wasn’t happening; the timing was never right, and I really needed a half marathon during my daughter’s spring break in April, and this Knoxville race fit the bill.

The marathon and half marathon courses both go through World’s Fair Park and finish at University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium but in-between are many, many hills.  Here’s a question take from the race website FAQ page about hills that I find interesting.  Pay attention to that last part of the last sentence- “there are not very many miles that are just flat.”

Q. Is the course very hilly?
A. The course has some hills, particularly in the first half of the marathon.  It is not terribly hilly though. You can see a course profile in the race information page. The total elevation change is not dramatic, but there are not very many miles that are just flat.

Translation:  there’s not more than 25 feet of flat land on this course, so just realize pretty much the entire course is on rolling hills.  Yes, of course it’s hilly.

Both the marathon and half marathon start at 7:30 am which helps to get you off the course before it gets too hot.  Knoxville typically has great weather in early April so heat shouldn’t be a factor at this race, however.

Knoxville is the third largest city in Tennessee and is full of things to do including Market Square with restaurants and shops, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Knoxville Museum of Art, World’s Fair Site, and much more.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a little over an hour away and is one of the few national parks with no admission fee.  Oak Ridge is a unique area close by with its claim to fame being part of the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb.  You can tour the American Museum of Science and Energy to learn all about this and more.  One could easily spend 3-4 days in Knoxville and extend that time further if you went to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Nashville International Airport is the closest major airport to Knoxville, at roughly a 2 1/2 hour drive.  Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina is about 3 1/2 hours away by car, as is Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia.  You definitely want to get a rental car for Knoxville unless you don’t plan on spending any time before or after the race or checking out the area.

Would I recommend this race?  Probably not.  It was insanely hilly and just not scenic enough to justify all of those hills.

From my post-race notes:  “One of if not the hilliest course I’ve ever ran.  Was scenic-ran through nice neighborhoods with huge houses and nice lawns, ran past the water some, ran along a greenway, finished on the 50 yard line of the University of Tennessee Volunteers football field at Neyland Stadium, which was fun.  Nice medals and tech short sleeve shirt.  I skipped the post-race party because I was too tired but it looked like fun.  There were some bands playing along the course.  Aid stations were good.  Finished in 2:07, which was good considering the hills.  Great weather helped!”

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Knoxville Marathon

Colorado in June- Estes Park and RMNP

As I stated in my previous post Colorado in June- Hiking in Boulder although some people that are avid skiers wouldn’t consider traveling to Colorado during the summer, I found it to be spectacular and highly recommend it.  The home base for our vacation was in Boulder, but an easy day trip is to Estes Park and on to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Estes Park is only about an hour from Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park is just a few minutes from Estes Park.  We spent several hours walking around the town of Estes Park and Lake Estes.  While Estes Park is much more touristy than Boulder, it is still a beautiful area of Colorado.  The Stanley Hotel, most famous as the inspirational role in Stephen King’s “The Shining,” is also in Estes Park.  We wanted to catch a glimpse inside but decided to skip it when we were told there was a parking fee.  Since we were limited on time, we didn’t think it would be worth it for just a few minutes.  After  a short walk around the lake and some souvenir shopping we had a delicious lunch at Moon Kats Tea Shoppe, which was a fun little place full of all kinds of cat-themed merchandise and really good tea and sandwiches.

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From Estes Park, we drove to Rocky Mountain National Park and spent the rest of our daylight hours here before driving back to Boulder.  This is a park where you never even have to get out of your car if you can’t walk much or just don’t want to.  Since we had a limited amount of time here, we decided to drive and see as much as we could rather than hike and see less.  Normally we are avid hikers and jump at the opportunity to hike up and down beautiful mountains, but in this case it just made sense to limit our time on the trails.  We saw more elk than we had ever seen anywhere else, including Canada and Montana.  We also saw a new creature to us, the marmet.  They look kind of like a groundhog and they were everywhere at Rocky Mountain National Park.  The snowdrifts were quite high and there was a good amount of snow on the ground at the highest elevations, but for the most part, the weather was pretty nice.  It doesn’t get much more beautiful than at Rocky Mountain National Park.

IMG_20160607_131545356_HDRIMG_20160607_132607921_HDRDSC03583DSC03604As I said in my post Colorado in June- Hiking in Boulder vacationing in Colorado during June is a fun way to spend a summer vacation and I can’t recommend it enough if you enjoy hiking and spending time outdoors!  I know we only scratched the surface of places to explore in Colorado and we’re already excited about going back another summer and exploring other areas like Colorado Springs, Durango, Steamboat Springs, or Mesa Verde National Park.  Any other suggestions?