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Guidebook Getaway: A Book for Exploring Zion and SW Utah Both On and Off the Beaten Path

Headed to Zion and its surrounding region any time soon? Consider taking this guidebook along.

Favorite Hikes In and Around Zion National Park, a 2012 release from independent publisher Sharp End Publishing, is written by 2 hiking buddies, Tanya Milligan and Bo Beck, a pair of southwest Utah locals.

Milligan and Beck don’t mind veering off the traditional beaten path in search of worthwhile views. If you like hikes with an adventurous edge, this could be your book.

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On the route (not a maintained trail) to Hidden Arch in Zion. (Photo: Tanya Milligan)

Today’s Guidebook Getaway, a periodic feature in The REI Blog, offers a sample trip from this adventurous guide to Zion and its nearby terrain.

Twenty of the book’s hikes originate in or close to Zion; the others range from the Grand Canyon’s North Rim to Cedar Breaks National Monument to Paria Canyon near Kanab.

Get the free trail description.

Or, get the complete book.

More than a handful of the duo’s hikes in the book follow routes that are technical and challenging, meaning not every trip is suited for casual strollers.

Milligan, a former national-team judo competitor and mother of 5, says she has hiked them all—even though she gets a little spooked when scrambling on exposed slickrock.

The key, she says: Hike with someone who knows what they’re doing when exploring off trail or in remote canyons. Enter Bo Beck, a former outdoor-gear store manager and experienced canyoneer. He agreed to show Tanya the (rappelling) ropes whenever the need arose.

Our free sample description is typical of the book’s approach. It offers a short hike (1.4 miles round trip), but to a little-known destination (Hidden Arch; that's a view of it in the photo to the left). It's on Zion’s east side. It's short, but instead of a defined trail, it follows a sandy wash and involves a little footwork on slickrock. Nothing too tough, but no one should expect to find signs and handrails here.

The adventurous style used by Milligan and Beck seems to connect with some REI customers. As of this writing, the book has 5 customer reviews on REI.com, earning 5-star (4) and 4-star (1) ratings.

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Enroute to Hidden Arch from Checkerboard Mesa parking lot. (Photo: Tanya Milligan)

Today Milligan, 53, is co-owner of the East Zion Thunderbird Lodge in Mount Carmel Junction, built on land homesteaded by her grandmother. It lies east of Zion where U.S. 89 and Utah state route 9 meet.

Her book's lesser-known destinations and the challenges involved in getting to them may bring to mind Michael Kelsey, an independent (some would say "maverick") guidebook author of Colorado Plateau. No surprise, Milligan is a fan.

"I adore Michael Kelsey and have met him," she says. "He is a legend!"

Kelsey's descriptions are known for audaciously fast hiking paces despite high levels of difficulty. Milligan and Beck once gave one of Kelsey's tougher trips a try.

"The hike was in the winter and ended in several painful river crossings," she says. "The water was so cold and the ice was cutting our legs. We had to keep crossing the water to get back to our vehicle. That was one of our many misadventures."

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The hike is little-known, yet it starts at major Zion pullout. (Photo: Tanya Milligan)

Milligan says careful hikers accompanied by experienced friends should be fine navigating the more challenging trips in her book.

"It's written on the cautious side, because that is who I am, being a mom and all," she says. "Bo and I are cautious about different things, which ended up making a good mix for our writing and hiking.  The times given for hikes are extremely conservative. Bo would rank my hiking speed in "pph" (photos per hour.) They are not Kelsey speedy by any means."

A few of the book's hikes advise the use of a rope. "Any hike that says you need a rope, also says that you need the skills to use that rope," Milligan says. "Climbers and many canyoneers will downclimb those areas where we say to use a rope. 

"We don't suggest anyone downclimb (using only hands and feet). Using a rope is far safer. We also don't suggest anyone do any hike above their level.

"That also includes navigation. For each individual hike that might be difficult, you must have the required navigation skills as described in the book intro."

Not everything in the book is a big challenge. Many trips follow maintained trails. But along with standard trail metrics such as elevation gain and best season, Milligan and Beck include "Off the beaten path." If they answer "Yes" (as about half of the trips do), then adventure awaits. "There's just so much to explore here," she says.

Posted on at 12:00 PM

Tagged: Guidebook Getaways

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Slim027

I'm headed out to Bryce and Zion in the coming days with REI. I'm really excited to get back to this amazing region, but want to make sure I'm ready. How can my wife and I train to prepare in advance? We're fit, but could always use a few tips on best ways to get ready.

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T.D. Wood Staff Member

Howdy Slim,

A virorous walking regimen should serve you well. Main trails in Zion and Bryce trails are designed for the general public and should not offer too many challenges other than stiff inclines (as when ascending Angel's Landing or Observation Point in Zion, or heading up and out of the Queen's Garden in Bryce). If you have some steep trails in your neighborhood, tromp on those a few times before your trip. Maintain a determined pace while you're at it. Consider them training hikes rather than leisurely strolls. You'll be knocked out by the views. Lucky you that you've made plans to visit. Enjoy the trip.

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