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The Red Rock Route
Zion National Park and Grand Canyon National Park. By Jim Gorman

Map: Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks
Click to Enlarge

Somewhere outside of Las Vegas, in the heart of the desert, the red rock begins to take hold. The flats east of the Strip disappear and views come rapid-fire, washing across the windshield like they were sprayed from the barrel of a Gatling gun. A lone spire here. A soaring butte there. Sweet-smelling juniper and tangy sage everywhere. Canyon country is instant gratification, sort of a Vegas of the natural world, but with an effect that resonates long after the din of slot machines and humming neon has worn off.

Zion National Park is the spot to start, the spiritual seat of canyoneering, where hiking—delightfully—is more like running a watery obstacle course than stomping a dusty trail. Follow that with a drive-by of Bryce Canyon National Park, all pink hoodoos and ponderosa pine, then head south to the Big Ditch, Grand Canyon National Park, the single most iconic landmark in all the nation. By the time you loop back to Vegas, you'll be dust-covered and starry-eyed, screaming to do it all over again.

Zion National Park, UT
Canyons are king in Zion, but so are hanging gardens, rolling slickrock, and eerily vacant desert plateaus.

Do-It-Yourself: From its start on a high, piņon-studded plateau to its end ten miles later at a 30-foot-high (nine-meter-high) waterfall, plunging between red sandstone walls taller than the Chrysler Building, the hike to Beartrap Canyon is a Zion classic. After it picks up with La Verkin Creek, which has a habit of forming enticing pools, the path rarely strays from water. Extra credit: Don't miss the detour to Kolob Arch, at 310 feet (94 meters) across it's one of the largest in the world.

Vitals: Kolob Canyons Visitor Center in the park's northwest corner issues overnight permits ($10; www.nps.gov/zion). Tip: Try to reserve a cool streamside campsite, like number 16 or 17.

Cush: Finding a relaxing place to stay in Zion Canyon is like spending a quiet afternoon at a Dodgers' game: You don't. Instead, look to the Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort, tucked on the eastern edge of the park. From the resort, Zion's trails are a short walk away—you can witness a smoldering sunrise at the Echo Canyon overlook and still be back in time for crepes and cowboy coffee—and you also have a range of options that are unavailable in the park. For example, spend a day mountain biking the ranch's slickrock racecourses.

Vitals: Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort ($160 for a cabin; $35 a day for mountain bikes; www.zionponderosa.com).

Guided: Canyoneering is an irresistible rite of passage in Zion, but you can't head out half-cocked. Before your trip, gain backcountry competence setting anchors, rappelling, and in other fundamentals during a full-day course with Zion Adventure Company. By the end of it, you'll be ready to tackle Orderville Canyon. The 12-mile-long (19-kilometer-long) twin of the ever-popular Zion Narrows alternates between open canyon and sculpted slots filled with pools, puddles, and short waterfalls. Do it in two days.

Vitals: Zion Adventure Company ($149 for a one-day class; prices vary for Orderville shuttle; www.zionadventures.com). The Zion Canyon Visitor Center issues overnight permits ($10; www.nps.gov/zion).

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
Down is the new up at the Big Ditch, where most of the action—some 7,000 vertical feet (2,134 vertical meters) of it—happens below the rim.

Do-It-Yourself: Sure, you can run rim to rim on the Bright Angel or Kaibab Trails, but come on, you're on vacation. Take it slow on a three-day trip down the Grandview Trail to a base camp atop Horseshoe Mesa. The four-mile (six-and-a-half-kilometer) hike is relatively strenuous but short. And once you're there you'll have plenty of time to relax and explore. Ask a ranger ahead of time for directions to the Cave of the Domes, an underground chamber dripping with stalactites, as well as Cottonwood Creek, where bathtub-size pools collect and lounging in the water is encouraged.

Vitals: The Backcountry Information Center issues free permits (reservations recommended, 928-638-7875).

Cush: When it comes to the Grand Canyon, hiking and rafting are the obvious activities. But road biking? You bet. Hermit Road runs eight paved and nearly vehicle-free miles from Grand Canyon Village atop this natural wonder. And at its end is the Hermit Trailhead—a great jumping off point for the three-mile day hike out to Dripping Springs, a blessedly moist grotto. Craft your own bike-hike combo then return to a no-frills cabin at the funky, hostel-like Bright Angel Lodge.

Vitals: It's BYOBike at the Grand Canyon. Bright Angel Lodge ($67 for cabins; www.grandcanyonlodges.com).

Guided: Big air is the last thing you want to catch while riding the Rainbow Rim Trail, a sinuous singletrack right on the edge of the sheer North Rim. On a 105-mile (169-kilometer), four-day fat-tire tour with Escape Adventures, riders pedal from the isolated East Rim westward through Kaibab National Forest to finish on the thrilling Rainbow Rim Trail. The largely singletrack route jogs from overlook to overlook, ducking into cool ponderosa pines in between. Come evening, gather around the fire to dine on enchiladas and watch the play of light and shadow across the canyon.

Vitals: Escape Adventures ($795; www.escapeadventures.com).

The Wave:
This wildly layered meringue of Navajo sandstone is one of those highly sought spots that seems to grace magazine covers on a semiannual basis—and we've got directions. To reach it, reserve a permit ($5; www.az.blm.gov/paria); then hit the Paria Contact Station east of Kanab for a map on your way to Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. From the lot off U.S. Route 89, a rough three-mile (almost five-kilometer) trail will lead you to the Wave.

To read about all seven great park super trips, pick up the June/July 2005 issue!

Subscribe to Adventure today and save 62 percent off the cover price!

Map by Rodica Prato

Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, June/July 2005

• Great Parks 2005: Super Tours, Spectacular Lodges
**Win a Safari: Find out how you could win a safari for two by participating in the Muddy Buddy race or attending the screenings of Emmanuel's Gift.
Steroids on Everest: Some climbers are using them to cope with altitude sickness, but at what price?
Guns 'n' Butter: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Philip Caputo talks about his new novel, Acts of Faith.
Pelton's World: Our man on the scene tells when to fight or take flight.
Croatia By Sea: Contributing Editor Jon Bowermaster's dispatches from sea kayaking along the Dalmatian Coast.
"Life's an Adventure" Reader Photo Album: See readers' photos and submit your own.


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June/July 2005

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