Zion National Park

Utah

Zion National Park

Zion National Park    Photo: courtesy of Zion National Park Service

THE INSIDER: Ray O'Neil, backcountry supervisor and nine-year park veteran
THE BOTTLENECK: On a busy summer day, upwards of 20,000 people cram into shuttle buses on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
THE BACK DOOR: "By hiking the west rim of Zion Canyon, you'll leave 99 percent of the tourists behind," says O'Neil. Take a shuttle ($35 per person; zionadventures.com) to Lava Point, start of the 15-mile West Rim Trail. Spend a night five miles in at Potato Hollow—O'Neil recommends campsites 7 and 8, which offer panoramas of Imlay Canyon. The next day, finish off the trip in 200-foot-deep Refrigerator Canyon before the shuttle picks you up. Plan B: Go canyoneering through the Narrows, the famous slot canyon formed by the North Fork Virgin River. Only 12 groups are permitted each night, and most day visitors enter from the Temple of Sinawava, at the end of the park's roadway. "When you go from the top of the Narrows down, you usually won't see anyone until the last two miles," says O'Neil. Pick up a permit at the Zion Canyon visitor center (from $10; 435-772-3256) and have a shuttle ($30; zionadventures.com) drop you off at Chamberlain's Ranch, near the river's headwaters. Up next: 16 miles of sloshing through sandstone crescents. (Stay at one of the 12 campsites five miles down.) "You'll be walking in cold water through the canyon bottom," says O'Neil. "But when you come out at the Temple of Sinawava, it's worth it."
THE LAUNCH PAD: The Desert Pearl Inn (doubles from $150; desertpearl.com), at the entrance to Zion in Springdale, Utah, rests in the shadow of the park's sandstone spires.

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