For many years I’ve held Utah’s national parks—particularly Zion—on a pedestal; waiting, hoping, thinking, and praying for the right time to visit. As a city-slicking West Coast dweller, the desert’s raw and vast beauty has always wooed me with its sculpted rock formations, skin-toned setting, and time-tested strength.
I just needed to find the right time to go. As a shoulder season fanatic—I like to explore when the crowds are thin, the hotel rooms aren’t booked, and the weather is cooler—I avoided spring and summer, and landed on late-winter when the temperatures are turning from frosty to flushed.
Realizing that Vegas, with its international airport and straight-shot highway to the National Park, was the closest and easiest gateway, I put my trip together binding these building blocks.
Stage 1: Plan
The plan: Nestle into nature followed by pool time.
While I love a trip into the sticks, as a Trip Stylist, I also appreciate the finer things in life, so pairing Zion’s scenery with Vegas’ sizzle was the perfect fit for my trip.
With a budget of US$2,250 covering moi and Mr. Trip Styler, we decided that mid-February’s off-season rates offered the most bang for our buck.
Once we researched flight, hotel, and car rental prices—the biggest line items in our budget—on the Expedia App, we came to the conclusion that five days and four nights allowed us to stay at the park’s edge, as well as see the bulk of our Zion bucket list musts. We even found a “splurge contingency” within our trip fund, which we spent on a swanky Strip-side stay and VIP helicopter tour of Las Vegas.
Stage 2: Explore
Typically, road trips veer in the leave-any-time, no-set-plan direction. Ours was a little different. With only five days and a long list of must-do trails and viewpoints, we created a loose itinerary.
Viewfinder Tip: Zion National Park allows cars to roam the roads freely in the off-season. Come summertime, a shuttle system ferries visitors between stops to accommodate crowds.
Once we were on the ground, as first-time visitors it was important to us that park rangers and Springdale locals weight in on our plan. (Locals always know best.)
Both sets of experts helped us to refine our hike-see-do ideas and shared important insights such as avoiding certain trails in the morning due to frost, suggest actual hiking times based on our athletic abilities, and confirm the best time of day—for that month—to take pictures of famous vistas such as the West Temple or the Canyon Overlook.
Our itinerary (thanks to local feedback):
– Fly: YVR or BLI to LAS
– Fetch: rental car in LAS
– Drive: Vegas to Springdale, UT
– Stay: Flanigan’s Inn (Feb 10-13)
– Stop: supermarket to gather dinner and backpack-friendly food
– Visit: South Rim Entrance ranger station
– Photo opp: West Temple
– Morning hike: Canyon Overlook
– Afternoon hike: Emerald Pools
– Morning hike: Riverside Walk + partial Zion Narrows
– Afternoon hike: Angels Landing
– Photo opp: Virgin River at dusk
– Depart early for Las Vegas
– Late-morning: stay at luxe Las Vegas hotel
– Afternoon: pool
– Do: Maverick Helicopters Scenic Night Flight
– Morning: coffee + pool
– Afternoon: return rental car
– Fly: LAS to BLI
Stage 3: Reflect
Admittedly (and literally), I placed Zion National Park on a pedestal; however, it lived up to and exceeded my expectations. Whether I was making footprints in the sandy base of the Colorado Plateau, huffing and puffing up to Scout’s Lookout, or peering over the cusp of Canyon Overlook, there was never a moment when I wasn’t moved—into spontaneous song or tears of joy.
You can’t help but be humbled by the 360-degree views of sky-scraping monoliths, and mountains for miles.
Nature has a way of reminding us what’s real, what’s beautiful, and what’s important, which is why I love the quote by John Muir, the Scottish-American naturalist often referred to as the father of National Parks: “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
And deep down, isn’t that why we’re drawn to America’s national parks?
This article is part of a Zion series! Don’t miss:
10 breathtaking photos of Zion National Park
Travel in style with these national parks packing essentials
What are your tips for planning the perfect National Park recipe?