Canyon Chronicles: An Eco Adventure in Zion National Park

Climbing in Zion

Maybe I overstated my level of experience, I thought, gripping the saddle horn as my zesty palomino broke into a gallop up the hill. “Just squeeze her sides with your legs,” said Dale, ever so calmly in his warm drawl. Sure enough, my horse stopped at the top and I was met with the view of a sweeping canyon flanked by reddish-hued mesas.

We landed at Utah’s St. George Airport a few hours earlier — after a quick, but very bumpy flight from Salt Lake City — and arrived at Under Canvas within an hour. Located yards away from a lesser frequented entrance to Zion National Park, an intentional choice and common feature of Under Canvas properties, the glamping tents looked like an unraveling corral of Conestoga wagons dotting the hillside.

Bags were dropped, clothes were changed and we were off to the races. Down near the main gathering area horses were being prepped by a couple of cowboys, who we soon learned were J.R., owner of Blue Sage Adventures, and his son Dale. After a quick tutorial, we were up in the saddle and hoofing it through the big, silvery sagebrush in minutes. As we strolled, Dale pointed out various streams and shrubs and areas that had recently burned. Zion is an incredibly diverse biological area with four different life zones — desert, riparian, woodland and coniferous forest.

Glamping in Zion


Refreshed in the morning, in my seemingly hermetic tent that was void of any usual clandestine tent insects the entire duration of the trip, I suited up for today’s adventures. We meander down to the lobby, where an assortment of grab-and-go items are available in addition to a generous breakfast menu and full, barista-operated cafe. It’s time to hit the canyon.

Lambs Knoll, a dry slot canyon, is about a five-minute drive from the property. Although it’s technically not within Zion National Park, Lambs Knoll is right across the road from the park boundary and is, for all intents and purposes aside from legal ones, a Zion peak. Here we meet Jared, owner of Zion Amazing Adventures. An American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) Single Pitch Instructor (SPI) and wilderness first responder, he’s the kind of guy you trust and listen to as he gives normally insane-sounding directions like ninja-kicking walls and spider climbing through narrow canyons.

Brazen with fresh knowledge of belay devices and carabiners that will be halfway retained, we wind around the curved red walls, teetering at what feel like 90-degree angles, scramble up Navajo Sandstone, rappel down a few 50-foot cliffs and slip through a slot canyon all in a few hours. Our day isn’t over yet.

Exploring the Canyon

From outcroppings like the Great White Throne and the Court of the Patriarchs to other stunning sights like the teal-tinged Virgin River, there is a lot to see and take in in Zion. Finally, properly within park boundaries, we opt for the e-bike route to get the most in, in the closest way possible. Zion Cycles is among the many rental options and after viewing a brief safety video we’re advised by an employee apparently throwing caution and risk of lawsuits to the wind, that we “need to use turbo.”

In the canyon, not bold enough to go turbo quite yet, colorful sandstone mountaintops reveal themselves around every turn. We cross bridges, pass wild turkeys, try not to keep stopping for photos. Other than that we don’t see much of the other 289 birds, 79 mammals, 28 reptiles, seven fish and six amphibian species that call this place home, but do hear frogs. The sun starts to lower and like putting on readers, colors condense and everything comes more into focus. Another full day wrapping, we put the bikes in turbo mode and zoom back.

Home Base

Chips and artichoke dip, burgers, fried chicken sandwiches and cauliflower bites — all of it came out of the solar-powered kitchen back at camp, served on metal trays with compostable dining utensils. Bats take to the sky at dusk as we lounge around the fire pit, watching the sky turn pink and then lavender, indulging in our food and low ABV wine — this is Utah, remember. S’mores are doled out nightly, and we grab ours and head to a campfire closer to our tents.

While the nostalgia of campfire s’mores is sweet, the stars are the star of the evening. Constellations so bright and clear they are unmissable to even the most amateur astronomers, with the Milky Way like a dazzling ripped seam in the middle. 

A tired, star-stricken city dweller, I shuffle to the comforts of my tent, though calling it a tent feels deceitful. Furnished with a large West Elm bed, cushy bedding, a wood burning stove and several lanterns aglow thanks to rechargeable USB battery packs — the entire property is solar-powered — this is closer to a luxury cabin. 

I hop in the shower, where water is conserved with a pull-chain, and slather up with familiar EO bath products. Under Canvas boasts that Wi-fi isn’t offered to guests on purpose so that they can connect with others, but I luck out and have service. In bed, I fire off a few texts and wait for the sound of coyotes people say can be heard from a distance. Either I am dead asleep or they stay quiet.

Under Canvas Grand Circle camps (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell-Grand Staircase and Moab) have been recognized as the world’s first official DarkSky-certified resorts, and there’s a program to celebrate. Complimentary for all guests, “We Own The Night” ranges from astronomy talks and starbathing meditations to full-moon hikes. Keep it glowing all night and stay in one of the stargazer tents to see some of the upcoming astronomical events from the comfort of bed.

  • April 22: Lyrids Meteor Shower
  • May 6: Eta Aquariid Meteor Shower
  • May 23: May Flower Full Moon

Kasia Pawlowska

Kasia Pawlowska loves words. A native of Poland, Kasia moved to the States when she was seven. The San Francisco State University creative writing graduate went on to write for publications like the San Francisco Bay Guardian and KQED Arts among others prior to joining the Marin Magazine staff. Topics Kasia has covered include travel, trends, mushroom hunting, an award-winning series on social media addiction and loads of other random things. When she’s not busy blogging or researching and writing articles, she’s either at home writing postcards and reading or going to shows. Recently, Kasia has been trying to branch out and diversify, ie: use different emojis. Her quest for the perfect chip is never-ending.