Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park

I had one day to do whatever I wanted in Southwest Utah. I chose to wade the Narrows in Zion Canyon.

My best friend highly recommended this hike. He’d visited a couple years before and, luckily, I texted him beforehand. You’re going to get wet in the Narrows. Nearly all of it is in the Virgin River. In some spots, I got up to my nipples in chilly water. He told me I had to rent water boots from Zion Adventure Company.

I listened and it was well worth the thirty or so bucks I spent. Not only because of the rugged, but breathable, boots and neoprene socks, but also the complimentary hiking stick. I was also bringing my DSLR, so I grabbed a dry bag and headed out.

Temple of Sinawava
The trailhead for the Narrows is at the back of Zion Canyon, so you’ll need to take a free shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava, and then walk a mile on flat asphalt until you can’t go any further. The bottleneck in the canyon not only hems in the towering cliffs, but chokes a river of people into one spot too. I’ve never seen so many selfie sticks in one place.

The crowd didn’t thin out for the first few miles, so be prepared to deal with crowds. The canyon is fairly open here and you can hike on the riverbank in spots. Makes it great for folks wanting an easier day, or if you’ve got young kids. On one of the rock shelves, people created an awesome mural of muddy handprints and messages for other hikers to add to. Somehow, it made dealing with the crowd a little more palatable. We’d all created this simple artwork that would only last until the next good rain.

The Narrows - Zion National Park

Wall Street
After several miles, the canyon narrows into its iconic form. Flowing river from cliff to cliff, that tower over a thousand feet overhead, with only twenty or thirty feet separating. Here, Wall Street and Odenkirk Canyon split. I ventured down Wall Street, but I’ve heard Odenkirk offers more opportunities to swim and boulder.

The Narrows is simultaneously claustrophobic and inspiring at the same time. The rock is overwhelming. But the scale is awe inspiring, when you look ahead and see how tiny other hikers are compared to the walls.

The Narrows - Zion National Park

The actual logistics of hiking are something I’ve never experienced anywhere else. You truly are in the river the entire time. It’s a lot like hiking on wet, misshapen bowling balls. Only you aren’t able to see where you’re stepping. Also, don’t where thin clothing you can see through when it gets wet. I wore Chaps hiking pants and black underwear, and left nothing to the imagination.

The Narrows - Zion National Park

Big Springs
Huddled against the cliff about 6 miles in, you’ll find a stout water fall called Big Springs. This is the farthest back bottom-up hikers can go without a permit. Past that, you’ll need to reserve a spot, and probably spend the night. It took me until nearly sunset to get up and down the river. Twelve miles is a fairly big day anyway, and I was slogging through water the whole time.

I wouldn’t call this a “must see,” though. It’s probably worth skipping if you’re short on time or if you want to see Wall Street and Odenkirk Canyon. I spent a few minutes here taking a couple pictures and gulping down some water. But I soon found myself headed back down the river to walk in the rippling shadows again.

Hiking Snow Canyon State Park – Butterfly Trail and Cinder Cone

Utah wasn’t the first state that comes to mind for volcanoes. But just north of St. George, there’s an awesome park filled with lava flows and red rock.

Butterfly Trail
Not 100% sure how this trail got its name. There are no butterflies to be found in this parched desert. The kids and I chose the hike because it had a little bit of everything: lava tubes, petrified sand dunes, views of the stunning red and white rock formations in Snow Canyon. Our first choice, Johnson Canyon, was also strangely closed during the summer, and open during the winter. If you’ve been to other National Parks, you know that’s the complete opposite of the norm.

It was just me and the kids that day. After some initial grumbling from my daughter, both were pretty excited to hit the trail, even though it was over a hundred degrees. Make no mistake, this is a desert hike, but there’s lots to see. The first part of the trail involves scrambling down some petrified sand dunes, walking along side red rock cliffs, and crossing an old lava flow. From there, it opens up and flattens out. Not much but cacti, the open desert, and more red cliffs in the distance.

Snow Canyon State Park - Lava Flow

Snow Canyon State Park - Petrified Sand Dunes

The kids were excited and a little nervous at the idea of seeing Gila monsters, which supposedly call the park home. Even though we kept our eyes out, we didn’t spot any sunning themselves.

Cinder Cone
Cinder Cone actually sits outside the fee area, but is still listed on the park map. It’s an old volcanic formation that rises a few hundred feet out of the desert. The sides are covered in black volcanic rock, and the crater is easily visible from the highway that bends around it. Once you recognize the iconic shape, you’ll start to notice plenty of other cones in the area. As far as I know, this is the only one with a trail running around it to the lip of the crater.

Once my son heard this was a volcano, we knew we had to climb it. My daughter was a little nervous about a potential eruption, but we assured her it hadn’t gone off in nearly 40,000 years. The trail winds among some giant piles of jagged volcanic rock and steadily climbs up to the tall side of the crater.

Snow Canyon State Park - Cinder Cone

It’s not a particularly easy hike. There’s no shade, it can get up above 100 degrees, and the approach to the summit is a steep climb on loose, sharp pieces of rock. But at the top, there’s an awesome view of the surrounding desert, Snow Canyon, and the surprisingly deep crater. There’s also a trail that takes you around the lip and down into the center, but we didn’t partake.

Snow Canyon State Park - Cinder Cone

These were some of our favorite hikes on the trip, and they were also the closest to where we stayed in Pine Valley.

Super Better by Jane McGonigal

Super Better by Jane McGonigal5 out of 5 stars

I picked up this book after listening to her interview with Tim Ferris, which was sort of a reintroduction to her work. Back in 2011 she made a splash with Reality is Broken and gameification, but after that I’d lost track of her. Turns out she’d suffered a concussion and spent over a year overcoming debilitating symptoms and suicidal thoughts using a game as motivation.

Super Better is the refinement of that game, and over 400,000 people have played it to help deal with cancer treatments, depression, personal improvement and a whole host of different things.

The first portion of the book is the science behind the system. But instead of spending her time writing about her research, she delves into all the science done before Super Better. Then she validates the work of other scientists and pushes the realm of theory into actual practice with her own study. At the end of three chapters, you should be sold on the real impacts a gameful mindset can have on whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.

The second portion of the book is a walkthrough for designing your own Super Better Since the system can be used to improve and be more resilient for anything, it’s less about solving a specific problem. It’s about helping you solve your problem. At the end of the book, you’ll have a goal, bad guys to fight, an epic avatar, allies, quests to complete, power ups, and hopefully a whole new outlook on the challenge you’re trying to overcome.

Buy Super Better Now

Visting Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Glen Canyon Dam

From above, Antelope Canyon doesn’t look like much. I’m used to things like Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon – where you stand at the edge of a massive expanse. Antelope is little more than a crack in the ground. If I was strolling by, I’d probably miss it or dismiss it.

Antelope Canyon

But if you venture underground, there’s a landscape unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

Antelope Canyon
The hour we spent walking down this narrow canyon was my wife’s favorite stop of our trip. We were escorted by a tour guide like everyone else – we chose Ken’s Tours after a little digging online.

Here’s what to expect – you’ll pay a fee to enter the Lake Powell Navajo Tribal Park and a fee to take a tour. I highly recommend reserving a spot – it’s crazy busy. In fact, the bottom is basically a conveyor belt of tourists with no gaps between groups. Figuring out what time to show up is also confusing – the park observes the America / Shiprock time zone, which is different than the surrounding area. Make sure to call ahead and figure out what their time is in relation to wherever you’re traveling from.

There’s also no running water, which we didn’t know ahead of time. Luckily, I keep a gallon of water in the car for emergencies. Even though the canyon is shaded and underground, it’s still the desert. Bring a water bottle for everyone.

Antelope Canyon

Once our tour descended into the canyon, it was wall-to-wall amazing. From start to finish, the canyon walls resemble flowing water that’s been frozen in sand. They undulate and curve and bend around each other to form naturally beautiful structures and features. The guides were also great about helping everyone find the right setting on their camera. Every single one of my pictures was properly exposed and colored thanks to our guide.


Our kids struggled with staying off the canyon walls and rocks – they usually want to climb on everything, and the sandstone in the canyon is very fragile. They did love the demonstration our guide did at the end of the tour. He showed us how the canyon formed by using the sand on the ground and a water bottle. It’s hard to explain without the demonstration, but he basically made a rock out of nothing more than sand, water, and a little bit of time.

Horseshoe Bend
Since we were confused by the time change in the Tribal Park, we had almost two hours to kill. Luckily, Horseshoe Bend is only 15 minutes away from the park. After a quick drive, we were able to take in one of the most photographed spots on the Colorado River. It’s about a mile-and-a-half round-trip hike with a hundred or so feet of elevation change to the overlook, but it’s well worth it. We even saw a huge jackrabbit scamper across the trail on the way down!

The river sits 1,000 feet below the cliffs, making for an awesome vantage point. Check your fear of heights in the car – there are no railings here!

Horseshoe Bend

Glen Canyon Dam and Vermillion Cliffs
The drive into Page, Arizona is very easy on the eyes. The highway meanders past the Vermillion Cliffs, endless edifices of rock that are all sorts of different colors. Somewhere in there is The Wave, which looks even more amazing than Antelope Canyon. However, I understand it’s a 3-mile unmarked hike across open desert to find it, so we decided not to try it out.

As you near Page, you’ll see Lake Powell, a massive desert oasis that looks impossible amid all the barren, red rock. Even though the drought has knocked the lake behind the dam down quite a bit, it’s still impressive. And the dam itself is giant – I think it’s more impressive than Hoover Dam. Probably because you can get a better view of the size by walking out on the bridge crossing just in front of it.

Later in our trip, we heard from our guide that they are debating whether or not to tear down this engineering marvel, and return the land to its natural state. So if you want to see it, go soon, because it might not always be there.

Glen Canyon Dam