Approaching Zion via Interstate - Fear Followed by Serenity and a Rattlesnake
California and Nevada lay behind us as we enter the third state on our route, Utah. To get there from Las Vegas, we had to cycle along the Interstate 15. First, that was fine, esp. after a truly stressful experience on strip in Vegas, where we had to often squeeze in between stretch limousines.
Instead of casinos, we found ourselves cycling our Haibikes with a comfortable 20-mile+ speed through desert landscape that was lightened by a river that feeds green trees and bushes.
Soon however, we were not able to enjoy the scenery anymore because the Interstate narrowed suddenly as it leads through a narrow gorge over bridges that have no shoulder with trucks chasing us at 55 mph. Although trucks would usually use the left lane when they saw us ‐ if it was free, it was a harrowing experience. We pushed the pedals as hard as we could to get those 15km behind us as quickly as possible.
Imagine the relief we felt when we finally got of the road and onto the campground from where we left the next morning to get to Zion.
The first canyon on the Sand to Snow pedelec tour is formed by the Virgin River, that has carved its way through layers upon layers of sand stone to design this cut that runs half a mile (800m) deep.
But nature was not the only beautiful thing we found. To us as electric cyclists it was the amazing bike lane that runs within the canyon.
>> You can watch the cycling clip on our Facebook page.
Not only is it ultra smooth, it is also the most beautiful and most independent way to enter Zion. It runs over 15 miles and eventually merges into a road that is closed for private vehicles and open only for a shuttle bus - and (electric) bicycles. This means if you bring your own bike or rent one, you will be independent from the bus schedule and you can stop wherever you want along the way.
After having cycled through the desert for 10 days, we were flashed by so much green. There were bushes, bright green leave trees, and colourful flowers everywhere. The Canyon road ends where the Narrows, literally the most narrow part of the canyon, begins. It was closed as the Virgin River currently carries a lot of water.
Tips for cycling in Zion Canyon
Zion is a very popular tourist attraction and things are very organised, or one could say regulated.
For wild camping in the park you need a wilderness permit that can be purchased at the busy visitor center at the entrance of the park (20 USD) but is best reserved beforehand.
You have to provide a clear itinerary that states at which spot you will be on what day. Camping is only allowed in designated areas and the number of persons is restricted from 4 to max 12 people. Most places were already fully booked.
The only area we could have camped in the wild required a 4 mile uphill hike. We are perfectly prepared to go to places with bikes and do day hikes. But for an overnight hike, where we had to carry sleeping bags, tents, food, cooker, lots of water and this after a day's riding, we were not ready. So we decided to stay at the mass camp ground for a night and go into the wilderness the next day.
For once, we would leave the e-bikes behind and walk uphill. An what a hike that was to Zion Observation Point.
We got up before sunrise and rode to the Narrows again, finding, that this was the best time before shuttle buses start service. It seemed we had the whole canyon to ourselves. It was however, freezing cold and we could not wait for the sun to climb over the edge of the canyon.
There is a second road that leaves the park towards the east. As we learned the tunnels on this road are closed for cyclists.
This was one of the very rear situations where we loaded the whole crew and all bikes into our support vehicle and drove up to the top plateau. From just outside the park we hiked along the edge of the plateau back towards the gorge. The beautiful hiking trail went down into a side canyon to then climb up again to the Observation Point. Pine trees, flowers in all colors, green bushes made our hike over golden sand stone a spectacular experience.
Although we were told that there were no dangerous animals in Zion it was here when we first saw a rattle snake.
Riding along the river was amazing already, but the breathtaking view from the top of the gorge at 6000ft / 2000m down into the canyon topped it all.
More than happy we had done this hike, we finished it after 6 hours in the dark and set up our camp just outside the park in the woods.
This was one of our few “rest days”! A good one!