It’s been a busy month since I spent an October weekend in Southern Utah at the Zion Canyon Beer Festival. I’m writing this article later than I’d hoped, but I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass without dishing on what may be the most beautiful setting for a beer festival – like ever! Zion National Park has always been one of my favorite places to visit. Its beauty is quite literally jaw-dropping! Visitors come from all over to see it, but for the residents of Utah, it’s just part of the scenery. We take it for granted sometimes. This year, we were blessed to have that heavenly solution we call “beer” flowing from the taps of 11 Utah breweries, with the classic Zion backdrop we all know and love.
This was the first of what I hope will be many years of success for the Zion Canyon Beer Festival. It took place outside of the Zion Canyon Brewpub just steps from the entrance of Zion National Park. As I reported in my article, Zion Brewery Lives, Zion Brewery reinvented itself after a change of ownership in 2012 with a talented new head brewer, Jeremy Baxter, and the opening of the brewpub in Springdale. The beer itself is still brewed in the basement of the Majestic View Lodge. Fast forward to 2019 and Zion Brewery is about to open another location in St. George (Fire Station 2), and they successfully hosted their first beer festival!
Since my first visit to Zion Brewery in 2017, I’ve been a big fan of theirs. They’re good people making awesome beer, and besides having the famous Zion National Park at their doorstep, they also happen to be close to one of my favorite areas for mountain biking. It wasn’t a difficult decision to put the Zion Canyon Beer Festival on my calendar, especially since mid-October is the perfect time to visit. The desert of southern Utah can be hot in the summer, but the weather is ideal in the fall or spring. I was able to save my hotel money for beer by camping nearby at Gooseberry Mesa with views of the valley below and the pink and red peaks of Zion in the distance. I woke up Saturday morning to hot coffee and high anticipation for my day at the Zion Canyon Beer Festival.
I drove to Springdale and parked in one of the pay lots near the Zion Canyon Village. There are options for parking all through the town and a shuttle service that will take you to the village and the entrance of Zion National Park. From there, another shuttle will take you into the park with stops at all the various points of interest and trailheads. These days, Zion is busy so be ready to deal with crowds. There are less traveled parts of the park you can visit by driving up the Kolob Terrace Road from Virgin, or the Kolob Canyons section of the park via exit 40 on I-15. But there are some amazing sights not to be missed in Zion Canyon proper. Besides, that’s where the beer is!
The beer festival didn’t start until noon, so I decided to squeeze in a morning hike. I could have taken the shuttle into the park to hike Emerald Pools or Angel’s Landing, but I chose to keep things simple. There is a trail that begins from the visitor center called the Watchman. No shuttle required. The Watchman is the name of the giant rock spire that seems to stand watch at the entrance of Zion Canyon. The trail doesn’t summit this pinnacle, but instead takes hikers to a vantage point just below it that overlooks all of Springdale. It’s a relatively easy hike, just 3 miles round trip, and is a great first taste of what Zion has to offer. I enjoyed the opportunity to burn some pre-festival calories and get a bird’s eye view of the setting.
I worked up quite an appetite – and thirst – on my morning hike! I arrived at the Zion Canyon Beer Festival just as it was getting under way during the lunch hour. Food trucks were on hand to help with the hunger while 11 of Utah’s breweries had booths set up with delicious beer ready to fill our empty mugs. For local breweries like Cedar City’s Policy Kings and St. George’s Silver Reef, it was a great opportunity to attend a festival closer to home. After all, why should Salt Lake City have all the fun? It’s not that the Salt Lake breweries were complaining. They seemed perfectly happy to be pouring beer in such a gorgeous venue.
The Zion Brewery team was in good spirits, relishing their duty as festival hosts. They had a brand-new beer called The Fuzz, made with local peaches from Stirling Farm in Leeds. The peaches were complemented by fruity hops and a light body that kept it crushable on a warm, sunny day. It was a spectacular way to start the festival. From there, I set out to try as many new-to-me beers as I could. Policy Kings had a lovely sour cherry saison, Talisman served a nice malty Märzen, and Hopkins was pouring the Basic Witch, a dark pumpkin ale brewed with actual pumpkin pies. Hallelujah!
Besides food and drink, the festival also provided entertainment. Musical acts, Josh Warburton, Whiskey Tooth Revival, and Soul What!?, kept our toes tapping while we sipped our suds. A shady lawn with a bounce house gave the kids something to do and parents a place to lounge while supervising. A few other local vendors were also on hand with their offerings, including massages from the Spa at Cable Mountain Lodge. Hand made pretzel necklaces were for sale along with festival logoed t-shirts. But the best thing about the whole shindig was that 100% of proceeds went to the Zion Forever Project, an organization working on many levels to protect and preserve the impossibly beautiful natural landscape that is Zion National Park.
The day after the festival, I made sure to take advantage of my convenient proximity to local mountain bike trails. I rode from my campsite along the rim of the mesa on the twisting, rocky Gander trail. The views were spectacular. So much so, that I almost found myself becoming accustomed to them. Almost. We are lucky to have such exquisite scenery so close to home, and the beer ain’t bad either! If you’re due for a trip to Zion National Park, it’s not too early to mark your calendar for the Zion Canyon Beer Festival in 2020. There’s no better way to rejoice in what Utah has to offer than to drink local brews in nature’s cathedral.
Visit our Facebook Page for a photo gallery.