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How to Have a Long Weekend Getaway to Remember In and Around Zion National Park

It’s no secret that Zion National Park is home to a magical landscape. Named as a place of refuge and serenity, Zion features deep canyons dissected by rushing water and lorded over by sandstone peaks. The park is the perfect destination for a long weekend with its picture-perfect scenery. You’ll find a rainbow of colors, brilliant sunsets, panoramic views, and a wide variety of wild outdoor adventures.

While three days is not enough time to experience all of Zion’s natural wonders, it is plenty of time to get a taste of what Zion has to offer (and make a few plans for what to come back and see next!). Here are our suggestions for a getaway to Zion from Springdale, the friendly gateway to one of America’s best national parks.

Where to Get Caffeinated

There are plenty of options for grabbing a steaming cup of coffee and a quick breakfast before hitting the area’s trails and sights. Deep Creek Coffee Company offers organic coffee, a selection of teas, and breakfast items. Temptations include fresh-baked goodies, the BRO-rito burrito, steel cut oatmeal, and popular acai bowls.

Café Soleil is perfect for a sit-down breakfast before your morning adventure. Order a hearty plate of burritos or a breakfast scramble (vegan and vegetarian options are available) and a mug of coffee. Dine on the outdoor patio to enjoy the red rock scenery.

Perks at Zion near the park visitor center is a handy go-to spot for coffee. A barista brews your specialty order, including strong espresso, a café Americano, or an excellent chai tea to jazz you up for an early hike. Pick up a pastry or bagel and head for the park.

Starting Your Adventure

Visit the Zion Human History Museum to learn more about the region’s first inhabitants.

Ken Lund

Your first stop should be the Springdale Visitor Center, a mile from the park’s southern entrance, for insider tips on making the most of your stay. If you’re heading to Zion Canyon, the gorgeous heart of the park, plan on parking in town and riding the free Springdale Shuttle to the park’s pedestrian entrance or to the lot just inside the park entrance.

Ask rangers at Zion’s Visitor Center for info on visiting the park, where to avoid crowds, and planning your day. To learn about Zion’s history and geology, stop at the nearby Zion Human History Museum. Pick up the free Zion Canyon Shuttle outside the visitor center, which runs from March through November, to begin your journey.

Hike Zion Canyon’s Best Trails

Zion National Park is made for hiking, with a variety of trails ranging from easy to more challenging, that take you to lofty overlooks, plunging waterfalls, and beneath soaring cliffs.

Most of Zion’s best hikes begin at shuttle stops in Zion Canyon. Need a few recommendations? Get off at Zion Lodge and hike to Lower and Upper Emerald Pools and waterfalls. The Grotto is the jumping-off spot to hike the iconic Angel’s Landing Trail, a strenuous path that climbs to a rock-rimmed summit. The Weeping Rock stop accesses its namesake, a verdant spring tucked into a cliff. The Hidden Canyon Trail discovers a remote gorge behind the Great White Throne, and the Observation Point Trail switchbacks up to Zion’s most spectacular view. Riverside Walk and The Narrows of the Virgin River begin at the Temple of Sinawava stop at road’s end.

Remember to bring plenty of water, wear a hat and sunscreen, and avoid hiking during the heat of the day. In the fall and winter, check the weather as you may need to bring an extra layer or two along.

Exploring Zion’s Slot Canyons

The Narrows is one of the most impressive slot canyons in the park—and a must-visit for anyone interested in canyoneering.

Chuck Clark

Canyoneering, one of the park’s best adventures, is the sport of descending narrow canyons using a combination of climbing skills, backcountry hiking, and swimming to navigate their watery depths. Zion happens to be known as one of the world’s best places for canyoneering, with trips that range from easy wades for beginners to technical challenges for extreme canyoneers.

A short hike into The Narrows is a perfect introduction to Zion’s slot canyons. Experienced adventurers should head for the park’s famed slots, including The Subway, Orderville Canyon, Pine Creek, and the spectacular Mystery Canyon, a wild trek with twisting narrows and airy rappels. If you don’t have the skills to descend Zion’s canyons, take a course at Zion Outfitter to learn the ropes (literally) and then rent equipment for a do-it-yourself experience or take a guided trip outside the national park.

Springdale’s World-Class Biking

Zion National Park is pedal-friendly, so don’t forget your bicycle! A two-wheel tour up Zion Canyon is an ideal way to discover the park since you’ll ride through some of the country’s most dramatic scenery. If you can’t bring your own bicycle, rent one in Springdale and hit the pavement via the Pa’rus Trail to the closed 7.5-mile road up the canyon. Each shuttle bus can transport up to two bikes, if you’d prefer to make a one-way trip and get a ride back to the start (or vice versa). A few other rules to note: Shuttle buses are not permitted to pass moving cyclists, so pull over and let them pass when they approach. Cyclists may not pass through the tunnel, so keep that in mind when planning a route.

While Zion’s trails are for hikers only, take your mountain bike to the wild terrain west of Springdale. Gooseberry Mesa, one of Utah’s best mountain bike areas, offers miles of stellar singletrack trails with technical slickrock and cruiser flats, while Guacamole Mesa offers audacious rides beneath the shadow-filled Zion Canyon and Mount Kinesava to the east and the looming Pine Valley Mountains to the west.

Finish the Evening in Springdale

Springdale is filled with excellent dining options to enjoy after a day on the trails.


After each day’s Zion adventure, head back to Springdale on the edge of the park. It offers loads of post-adventure restaurants, brewpubs, and hideaways to rehydrate, refuel, and remember the day’s excitement. For a town with a mere 500 residents, Springdale is serious about taking care of you and living up to its billing as the gateway to Zion National Park. The town, hosting most of Zion’s five million visitors every year, boasts a diversity of excellent restaurants, gift shops, and galleries, and plenty of lodging options from campgrounds to resorts for every budget and taste.

Springdale’s Dining Scene

The Zion Canyon Brew Pub is a great spot where you can unwind and sip a cold, handcrafted beer on its outside patio as you watch the sunlight fade on Zion’s rock mountains. Find dinner at any of the restaurants lining Zion Park Boulevard, Springdale’s main drag. Great choices for an outstanding meal include Oscars Café, the Bit & Spur Restaurant and Saloon, Spotted Dog Café, Switchback Jack’s Sports Grille, and many others.

Lodges, Inns, and Hotels

A good night’s sleep is essential after hiking, biking, and exploring Zion. Springdale’s numerous hotels, motels, resorts, and campgrounds are the best places to rest your head on a comfy pillow and recharge for tomorrow’s fun. One of the best things about staying in Springdale is that you can park your car at the hotel and ride the Springdale shuttle into the national park.

It’s best to book ahead of time, especially during the busy season, since places fill up with guests. You’ll find plentiful rooms at national chains like the Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn, Springhill Suites, and the La Quinta Inn, but there are also superb local options in Cliffrose Lodge & Gardens, Desert Pearl Inn, Flanigan’s Inn, Driftwood Lodge, Watchman Villas, and Cable Mountain Lodge. Or consider a vacation rental to suit a larger group.

No matter where you stay in Springdale, you’ll have easy access to the park and lots of options to make your trip easy. A long weekend may not be enough time to explore it all, but it’s enough to enjoy the incredible natural beauty of one of America’s best national parks.

Written by Stewart Green for RootsRated in partnership with and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

Featured image provided by Ron

6 Tips for Winter Hiking in Boulder

For lack of a better pun, it’s safe to say that Boulder’s winters tend to be bi-polar affairs. Because Boulder sits at a relatively low elevation at 5,400 ft., it’s not unusual to get 50 degree days in January — though there are a few weeks every year where the temps drop below zero for days on end. The few snowstorms that come through the city each year are a treat, but normal winter weather offers clear, cool days that are amenable to hiking. Here are a few things worth knowing before hitting the trails.

1 – Microspikes and Hiking Poles Are Great Ideas
Boulder’s daily highs in January in February average around 40 degrees while daily lows settle in around 20 degrees — ideal for melt and freeze cycles. Add to that an active community that creates enough traffic to compact snow on the trails and you have the perfect formula for hard, icy terrain, especially in shady sections on the mountain. Microspikes fit over most shoes and provide enough bite to maintain traction (crampons would be overkill). Likewise, hiking poles are especially good for slick descents, even on modest mountain hikes like Mount Sanitas (which has a notoriously slippery northeast facing trail).

2 – Layering is Everything
Boulder’s trails start at around 5,500 ft. and climb as high as 8,500 ft. — and that 3,000 foot vertical difference often brings quite a change in the weather. Temps can be 20 degrees cooler over 8,000 ft. and persistent winter winds add to the chill. It’s important not to overdress on lower trails and get too hot — the higher you go, the colder that sweat is going to make you. Baselayers and light jackets are good for lower elevations, but it’s a good idea to bring along a few warmer layers if you’re headed up (the one layer people seem to forget are warm gloves).

Anemone Trail Boulder
The Anemone Trail on a bright winter's day.

James Dziezynski

3 – Wild Animals Are Still Active
Boulder’s big boys — mountain lions, black bears and coyotes — remain active throughout the winter. With less human traffic in their territories, encounters tend to be a little more common in the cold months. The bear population never goes into true hibernation, rather they experience a state of torpor, which is like light hibernation. The upshot being bears tend to stay in their dens in cold weather but may wake up on warmer days. Bear bells are a good idea (for you and your dogs) to alert wildlife you are coming.

4 – Snowshoeing is a Rare Treat
As great as Boulder would be for snowshoeing, there is rarely enough snow to be worth gearing up. However, in the case of heavy snow, many of Boulder’s local trails are a blast to snowshoe. Boulder Valley Ranch, Marshall Mesa, the Mesa Trail and Dowdy Draw are all fun to explore when there’s enough powder to warrant snowshoes. Walker Ranch, which sits above the city of Boulder at roughly 7,500 ft. is especially fun on a snowy day.

5 – Gear Up Your Dogs, Too
The major problem for dogs will be keeping their paws free of ice and snow. Dog booties are a nice option — if your pup will tolerate them. Consider using paw wax to help prevent ice balls from building up. Most dogs will be ok with the colder air but if you have a short-haired dog (or an older trail veteran), a light jacket will help keep them cozy. Make sure to bring water and snacks for them, since many of the go-to water sources may be frozen. Collar bells are a good idea to alert wildlife and keep your dogs from chasing the locals.

Mount Sanitas Boulder Snowman
Snowman on the stormy summit of Mount Sanitas.

James Dziezynski

6 – You Can Still Get Sunburn
It’s easy to forget to use sunblock on cold days (especially when you leave your bottle of sunblock in the freezing car, brrr!). But even on overcast days, the sun is still contributing plenty of UV rays to planet Earth. When there’s snow on the ground, that UV power is radiated upwards. Sunblock and sunglasses are important year-round accessories in Colorado and winter is no different. The higher you go, the more intense the sun will be, so be prepared.

Written by James Dziezynski for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

Featured image provided by James Dziezynski

Quandary Peak – Your First Winter 14er

Standing at 14,265 feet, Quandary Peak is Colorado’s 13th highest mountain and the highest summit in the Tenmile Range. Many hikers choose Quandary Peak as their inaugural 14er thanks to the accommodating east ridge. This broad, natural ramp provides a gradual hiking route that is 3.3 miles to the summit (6.7 miles round trip). The modest terrain coupled with easy trailhead access make this one of the most crowded summer mountain destinations in Colorado.

Come winter, there’s a very good chance the only ones on the peak will be you and the local mountain goats. Quandary Peak reverts to a place of pristine beauty, a state rarely experienced in the busy summer months. As far as the 14ers go, it is the easiest and safest winter summit – which isn’t to say it’s going to be easy or entirely safe. But the minimized risk, good winter access and the fact it is hiked enough on a regular basis to establish a winter trail makes it a good peak to aim for as your first winter 14er.

Training For Quandary

Winter mountain hiking requires more vigilance than summer outings. All the same warm weather best practices apply: adequate hydration, altitude acclimatization, weather awareness, physical fitness, knowledge of the route, and proper clothing. Winter tacks on increased severity in weather conditions, avalanche potential, reflected sunlight exposure from snow, and the challenge of keeping your hydration methods from freezing. To put it bluntly, it’s going to be more work — but that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun. The reward of a blazing blue horizon atop the highest snow-capped mountain in the area is worth the extra effort.

Chances are that most people will have already hiked some of Colorado’s mountains in the warm weather months — this is a great start. The physical effort for a winter hike of Quandary is going to be slightly more taxing than a summer ascent but the real work comes in preparation for winter conditions.

To get a taste for winter conditions, especially those above treeline, several ski areas offer uphill access outside of normal operating hours. The best of these near the Front Range is Arapahoe Basin, which offers uphill access most days, barring severe avalanche conditions. Not only do you get a feel for your layers and exertion levels, there’s a “bonus” of getting an alpine start (A-basin opens to uphill traffic at 5:45 a.m. and access is allowed again after the slopes close, around 4:30 p.m.). Off resort, hiking the ridgelines to the east from the summit of Loveland Pass climb up over 13,000 ft. and mostly avoids avalanche terrain.

Which leads us to the other big difference in winter versus summer: avalanche potential. Proper avalanche gear (beacon, probe, shovel) and the knowledge to use them are vital for winter safety. While Quandary Peak’s east ridge has low avalanche potential, it’s important to realize that this does not mean “no avalanche potential”. Take a class before on avalanche safety before you. Friends of Berthoud Pass has excellent intro classes for free and highly recommended classes beyond. The Colorado Avalanche Forecast is essential information before heading out — and it changes daily, so check in regularly.

And for a final recommendation, it’s great to get in your first winter 14er with more experienced hikers. forums are a great place to meet up with others interested in winter ascents. Additionally, the Quandary Peak information page has excellent trip reports, current conditions and details on the east ridge route.

Your goal: the summit of 14,265 ft. Quandary Peak.

Wendy Cranford

The Day of the Hike

Get an early start – sunrise or earlier is best, given how briefly winter sunlight can shine. Be sure to check the weather and avalanche forecasts before you head out. Experienced backcountry skiers can make great time by skinning up and skiing down, though be aware that Quandary is often wind-scoured above treeline, making a continuous ski descent difficult.

The critical thing to be aware of is that mistakes in winter conditions are amplified. A forgotten water bottle, poor layering or improper eye protection can all speed the onset of debilitating conditions such as hypothermia, dehydration and snow blindness. Here’s a quick rundown of the typical gear used for a winter ascent on Quandary:

  • Warm, wicking (non-cotton) layers

  • Windproof, waterproof jacket and pants

  • Warm boots

  • Extra gloves, extra hat, balaclava, ski goggles, neck gaiter

  • Hand and foot warmers

  • Avalanche gear (beacon, probe, shovel)

  • Insulated water bottles (smaller 16 oz water bottles can be stored in jacket pockets)

  • Maps / GPS (note that cold weather causes GPS units to wear out quickly)

  • Headlamp with extra batteries (lithium batteries are suggested for cold weather conditions)

  • Ski poles

  • Adequate food and snacks

  • First Aid kit

  • Snowshoes

Best Time to Go

Typically, December – February are cold, dry months in Colorado. It’s often chilly and clear. During periods of snow stabilization (low winds, no storms) these months can be a great time to hike Quandary, though the sun goes down earlier in the day (usually around 4:30 p.m.). Start early and make sure your headlamps can handle a few hours of lighting the way.

February – March (the official end of winter) offer more sunlight and warmer temps than early winter, but often have more snow and elevated avalanche danger. Look for a series of stable days. Don’t be surprised if the sun gets warm enough to hike in a t-shirt but be prepared for the temps to drop like a rock come nightfall (or even cloud cover).

A typical winter hike of Quandary Peak takes between 5 – 7 hours for a fit climber. The round trip mileage is 6.7 miles – though the descents can be made quicker by plunge stepping snowy slopes or skiing down.

Avoid hiking or skiing Quandary Peak when avalanche conditions are high any time of year (which can be autumn, winter or spring).

Written by James Dziezynski for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

Featured image provided by Andrew Davidoff

10 Things to Know Before Planning a Trip to Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve is home to the tallest dunes in North America, topping out at around 755 feet. These ever-shifting hills and mounds sit west of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, creating a mind-boggling, desert-like landscape surrounded by 14,000-foot snow-capped peaks. Compared to most of Colorado’s mountains, the Sangres are extremely rugged, due to the earth’s sudden upheaval that created their relief. The landscape here is one of the most stunning scenes in the entire country.

The dunes are also surrounded by a variety of environments, including grasslands, wetlands, aspen forests, and alpine lakes. Nearby, a grove of 200 ponderosa pine trees, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was historically peeled by indigenous tribes for food and medicine.

From the best ways to explore the dunes to where to stay when visiting the area, here are 10 things you should keep in mind to make the most of your trip.

1. There Are Many Ways to Play

There are more things to do at the dunes than you might expect. Medano Creek, a popular stream for tubing and beachside activities, curves through the edge of the dunes in the late spring and early summer. Minimal light pollution allows for a clear dark sky, which is ideal for stargazing and nighttime photography. These sand slopes are the perfect spot for sandboarding and sand sledding, as well as hiking or even backpacking. East of Great Sand Dunes National Park is more public land—Great Sand Dunes National Preserve, Rio Grande National Forest, and BLM land—where there are more trails for hiking and backpacking.

Grab a sandboard and hit the slopes.

Great Sand Dunes National Park/Joseph Tumidalsky

2. Come Prepared for All Kinds of Weather

The summer season delivers temperatures in the range of 45 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit from day to night. If you’re thinking of hitting the dunes during the warmer months, keep in mind that while the air temp. might not be that bad, the sand can skyrocket to 150 degrees and afternoon thunderstorms can roll in, so plan to spend time on the sand in the early morning. (If you see lightning, get off the dunes as quickly as possible!)

Winter temperatures can drop below 10 degrees and reach highs near 45 degrees. If you visit during spring, be prepared for possible high winds in the afternoon. The months of March and April deliver the most snow of the year, so pack for any type of weather conditions during the spring.

3. A Few Essentials Will Make You More Comfortable

To ensure that you’re safe and comfortable during your trip, be sure to pack the proper gear and clothes. Grab your bathing suit for those warm summer days and splashing around in the Medano Creek. Bring a hat, gloves, wool socks, and a warm jacket for the night year round, because temperatures can drop. For sun and sand protection, pack a sun hat, sun gloves, sunglasses, long-sleeve shirt with UPF sun protection, and a bandana or lightweight face and neck cover like a Buff or Discrete neck buff. Consider packing earplugs to keep sand out of your ears when it gets windy. And don’t forget your camera and tripod!

4. There are Plenty of Nearby Lodging Options

If the kids are exhausted or the weather hits the fan, a hotel is a great alternative. Options in Alamosa range from the Sunset Inn to Fairfield Inn & Suites Alamosa. Monte Vista also offers overnight options, including the Movie Manor Motel—a Best Western attached to a historic drive-in movie theatre—and the Mansion Bed & Breakfast. A tad further west in Del Norte, you can choose a higher-end experience at The Windsor Hotel, or enjoy a more laid-back, budget-friendly choice, the Divide Riders Hostel.

Spend a night under the stars at the Piñon Flats campground.

Great Sand Dunes National Park/Patrick Myers

5. There is Also Great Car Camping and Backpacking

It’s not often that you get the chance to camp among sand dunes. If you enjoy backpacking, pick up a free backcountry permit from the Visitor Center Backcountry Office and travel 1.5 miles from the park entrance to reach a 30-square-mile dune field. (This is one of the most popular places in the park for overnight camping.)

For car camping, travel one mile north of the visitor center to Piñon Flats, a National Park Service campground that has restrooms and a campground store. From the park, you can also travel west to Hooper where Sand Dunes Recreation offers sites for RVs and tent camping. On the northwestern edge of Alamosa, the Alamosa Economy Campground is open year-round and has showers. No matter where you choose to camp or backpack, make sure you pack enough water for hydration, cooking, and cleaning.

6. There Are Plenty of Food Options in Town

Definitely plan ahead and carry prepared food for the sand dunes, or bring a cooler with fresh ingredients to make your meals on site. After your adventures on the dunes, head to Alamosa for a bite. Woody’s Q Shack in serves barbecue, while San Luis Valley Brewing Company offers vegan and pub fare. For coffee, breakfast, and pastries, try Blessed Brews Coffeeshop and Roastery and Milagros Coffee House.

7. Definitely Rent a Sandboard or Sand Sled

There’s a pretty good chance you don’t own your own sandboard or sand sled (snowboards and trash can lids won’t work well here). No problem! Rentals are available at Kristi Mountain Sports in Alamosa, Great Sand Dunes Oasis in Mosca, and Sand Dunes Recreation in Hooper.

Rent a sandboard or sand sled from a local store or outfitter.

Great Sand Dunes National Park/Patrick Myers

8. Book a Local Guide for a Fishing or Paddling Trip

Why worry yourself with all the logistics? If you want to enjoy some of the best fishing or paddling in the area around the park, hire a guide. The Upper Rio Grande Guide highlights top-notch local outfitters and guide services like South Fork Anglers.

9. You Can Shower at Certain Campgrounds

After a long day outdoors—especially a day spent in the sand—a good shower can be a great relief. The showers at Alamosa Economy Campground are open year-round, and the showers at Sand Dunes Recreation are open 24 hours.

10. The Park is at Altitude

The park is in the mountains where elevation ranges from around 7,500 feet to over 13,000 feet. Even if you are coming from the Front Range, take it easy at first if you haven’t spent much time at higher elevations. If you are coming from sea level, take it even easier, and plan more strenuous activities for later in your trip after you’ve acclimated a bit.

If you get a headache, nausea, or feel more fatigued than normal, you may be experiencing mild altitude sickness. This can usually be prevented by drinking lots of water, but you may also need to take ibuprofen and rest. If you start vomiting, feel confused, have difficulty walking, or your headache doesn’t go away, see a doctor immediately.

A Few More Resources for Trip Planning

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve offers free ranger programs, and the majority of the workshops are offered from late May through October. Some summer evening programs feature documentary films or slideshows, presented on a large screen in the open-air amphitheater.

Check out the BLM Colorado Interactive Map for more information about the public lands in the San Luis Valley, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve Visitor Guide for a detailed map of the park’s central use area and helpful tips.

Written by Morgan Tilton for Matcha in partnership with Alamosa CVB and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

Featured image provided by Great Sand Dunes National Park/Patrick Myers