I was traveling solo again. Erin had left for the West Coast early that morning. I was off to find a new Utah adventure to call my own.
Most people don't realize how huge Zion National Park is outside its main gates. For no park fee, I found dozens of trails around the Kolob Canyons area of the park. One of these trails took me down a lesser-beaten path where I rarely met another hiker.
As a solo traveler, I appreciated bumping into the few travelers I did. But I also basked in every moment I had alone to reconnect with the wilderness.
Saying Goodbye To My Bestie
It was morning in St. George, Utah. Erin and I had just left two of her relatives and their 6 blonde-haired, blue-eyed children. They were a Mormon family who drove 2 hours from a rural town in the middle of Utah to have breakfast with us. They went off on a family hiking trip for the day while I said goodbye to Erin at the airport.
The airport in St. George is amusingly small. I was able to pull right up to the front door. There was nobody else around—no security, no other travelers, no one!
Erin left for the west coast and I returned to our Airbnb to pack for my next adventure.
Our Airbnb host, Jordan, from the previous night could not have been more helpful. He took out a map of Zion National Park and pointed out some trails I could find. I could see I didn't have to go back into the main park to find a hike worth my time.
I was already planning to hit the treacherous Angel's Landing hike early the next morning. My goal was to find a simpler hike for that day.
Driving East Kolob Canyon Road
Following Jordan's advice, I drove up Highway 15 to the turnoff for Kolob Canyons. I stopped at the visitor's center on the way in and then followed the road into the park.
East Kolob Canyon Road meanders next to desert wilderness and towering sandstone monuments. There are various stopping points and parking lots to turn off and take photos. One stop looked out across the wilderness at the entire Kolob Canyon viscinity.
An information marker described "hanging valleys" in the distance.
Hanging valleys are sections of wilderness raised up by two rock formations. The piece of wilderness lifted to its own, separate level over time. Hanging valleys are lush and beautiful but inaccessible without rock climbing gear!
I mounted a nearby boulder for a clearer view.
Meeting Friendly Strangers While Solo
You may be wondering how I was able to get the above photo of me taking a selfie on top of the boulder.
Well, I was standing there snapping photos of myself when a woman approached me. She asked, "Would you like me to take a photo of you up there?"
"Sure! If you don't mind?" I handed her my camera.
This seems to happen to me very often when I am traveling solo. It's always helpful to have someone take my picture for me. For example, here's my favorite shot from this exchange:
Great photos like this are not the only reason I love these interactions. Traveling solo opens doors for meeting people I would never meet otherwise.
Through our exchange, I learned my photographer's name is Ellen. She was traveling with her partner Tom from Pennsylvania—fellow east coasters!
Back home in New York, I walk by many people every day whom I never say hello to, much less learn their names. I love solo travel for giving me the opportunity to have simple, human exchanges like this. It seems a bit silly we don't interact more with others when we're not traveling! The world is full of wonderful people to meet—and Tom and Ellen are two of those people.
Below are some more bonus photos Tom took on his iPad. He emailed them to me later on. Thanks, Tom!
Hiking Taylor Creek Trail
I drove up to Kolob View Point and then turned around. East Kolob Canyon Road is short, but there are many trailheads to explore the area further. I chose to hike Taylor Creek Trail because it was only a 3-4 hour hike in and out. Plus, it would take me to a photogenic end point between two cliffs.
The Taylor Creek Trail was a straight forward hike. Mostly flat the entire way, the trail crisscrosses a shallow creek most of the way. It cuts through dense vegetation as you advance into a valley between two looming cliffs.
I felt like I was there at the perfect time of day. The afternoon sun brightened the orange and pink colors of the sandstone walls.
I ran into two historic cabins along this trail. The first is the Larson Cabin and the second is the Fife Cabin. Built in the 1930s, there wasn't much to them on the inside, but they looked enticing from the outside! I imagined what it would be like to sleep in one of these overnight.
Not too many people hike this trail. I encountered about 20 people and one ranger in a whole 4 hours. It wasn't unusual to feel completely alone in the wilderness at times. But don't worry, I was alone but not lonely! I enjoyed every minute I had to immerse myself in nature.
After about 2 hours, the space between the two cliffs narrowed and the path led closer to the rightmost wall.
Snacking at Double Arch Alcove
I heard the echo of voices before I finally arrived at the Double Arch Alcove. Three hikers' conversation was bouncing off a cave-like indentation pressed into the rock. They left shortly after I arrived so I had a full 30 minutes to myself at the end of the trail.
It was time to break into the food I had in my day pack. There was a granola bar and a bag of grapes. I ate in relative silence, marveling at the enormous rock formation in front of me. The Double Arch Alcove is a sandstone atrium. It has hanging valleys and two prominent arches.
The ground-level arch is undercut like a shallow cave. It features beautiful dark and light-colored vertical streaks. The streaks developed from water seeping through the rock.
I dropped a grape on the ground as I gaped in awe of Mother Nature's creation before me.
That's when a squirrel darted out of nowhere. It hesitated before snatching up the grape and darting into a bush next to me.
I guess I wasn't alone, after all!
The hike back followed the same trail. It was uneventful except for the frequent lizard scampering away.
These lizards are the only thing you will hear on this trail other than your own footsteps and breathing.
I was beat by the time I got back to the rental car. The mostly flat terrain made it an easy hike. But the heat and sun exposure exhausted me. At this point, I was eager to make my way to my new Airbnb stay for the night.
Bonus Drive on Kolob Terrace Road
On a separate occasion, I spent an afternoon driving another route into Kolob Canyons. From Highway 9, I caught gorgeous views along Kolob Terrace Road.
Here are two of my best shots:
This was worth the half hour I spent driving and stopping to snap photos.
Some people know about Kolob Terrace Road because it takes you to the Left Fork Trailhead. This trail brings only 50 people per day to a part of Zion National Park called The Subway. It's a beautiful, popular location. But you can only reach The Subway with a permit and an advanced booking.
I managed to see a ton of beauty from both roads in the Kolob area. And there were no extra fees or advanced permits required. Now that's my kind of adventure!
I loved Kolob Canyon for its simple beauty and no crowds. If you're on a budget, you could visit Zion National Park and have a wonderful time without paying the park fee. But you may not mind paying after you read my next post. I will be writing about Angel's Landing hike found in the main part of Zion National Park. The heights are not for the faint of heart, but the photo ops are more than worth the challenge!