Springdale, Utah, commands attention in the fall
The tiny town of Springdale in Southwest Utah is nestled in Zion Canyon, built along the banks of the Virgin River. With a backdrop of soaring sandstone walls, the rushing river and cottonwood trees that rustle in the wind, every direction provides a postcard-like view. The picturesque scenes are amplified in the fall, when foliage changes colors against a red rock backdrop, daytime temperatures are milder and crowds are diminished. More peace. More solitude.
Whether exploring the canyons by way of hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing or walking with nature, outdoor activity options abound in Springdale and Zion National Park. It’s also an artist’s paradise. Painters gather at Canyon Junction Bridge to capture the sun setting.
While plenty of chain hotels are discretely tucked into the town, my oasis in the desert is Flanigan’s Inn. It is a place to feel rejuvenated and at home. Just a five-minute walk from the park’s entrance, Flanigan’s is centrally located yet dreamily tucked into the scenery. It has an attached restaurant, The Spotted Dog, and a full range of spa services for after-hike recovery or complete pampering. Everything you need to be outfitted for outdoor adventures is right next door at Zion Adventure Company.
One of my days begins with a short nature walk up to Flanigan’s hilltop labyrinth, and I stride with intention as the sun rises from behind massive walls of red rock. I head to MeMe’s Cafe a half mile down the street for a coconut milk cappuccino and a hearty roasted turkey crepe. Next door to MeMe’s, I fill my backpack with bread, cheese, fruit and snacks at Sol Foods. Then I grab my canyon shoes, neoprene socks and hiking pole from my room and hop on the shuttle for the scenic ride to the entrance to The Narrows. Early morning, just after the sun rises, is a great time for spotting wildlife of all sorts.
Virgin River flows through the center of Zion canyon, and there’s one impressive hike through it. From the Temple of Sinawava, The Narrows trail follows the North Fork of the river on a bottom-up hike through a narrow slot canyon that meanders as you walk through flowing water and occasionally scamper over or around large rocks. The sight is breathtaking, and during the fall, you rarely encounter people, especially if you begin early. Round trip is about six hours, but you can turn around whenever you wish.
I return to Flanigan’s and drop my rented gear next door. A hot shower followed by a dip in the pool and a rest in the hot tub to soothe my worked-out muscles ensues. For dinner, I walk the half mile to Oscar’s Cafe as mule deer walk the streets full of art galleries and munch on grasses. I order a hearty plate of green chile enchiladas and sit on the patio with fellow hikers.
The walk back is astounding below a sky full of stars never seen in big cities like Atlanta. I tuck into the comfy bed, making sure to turn on the electric fireplace to dry my boots for tomorrow’s adventure up to Angel’s Landing, a steep hike with 360-degree views and a set of switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles.
“Zion” means place of peace and refuge, and the title couldn’t be more fitting for Utah’s most visited national park and the town that serves as home base.
TRAVEL TIPS GET THERE: Fly Delta to Las Vegas, rent a car and take the 2.5-hour drive to Springdale via I-15.
GET AROUND: Shuttles run February through November. The free service arrives frequently at nine stops along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Additionally, there is a shuttle service in the town of Springdale, stopping at nine spots from early morning until late evening.
IF YOU GO
Zion Adventure Company
Drinks columnist at Simply Buckhead. Food, spirits, and culture writer.