Zion National Park
Guide

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Introduction

Zion National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the country - and with good reason. The geologic features of this landscape are unsurpassed by almost all others. It is a sight that will leave you awestruck and aching for adventure. The sheer vastness of the mountainous drops is astounding. A visit to Zion National Park is a recreational opportunity like no other and there are so many ways to explore the park’s grounds.

Choose from a whole list of recreational activities. Are you a hiker, a biker, or someone who likes to take it easy? No matter your pace, you will fall into any easy rhythm here. There is something for everyone. This challenging atmosphere provides visitors with much to take away while leaving the landscape untouched and pristine.

It is a getaway that camping enthusiasts of all levels will enjoy. Whether by foot or travelling with a fully stocked rig, you are welcome here. Zion’s towering cliff walls provide shelter for all and make for the perfect setting for your Utah adventure. It is a place where you can continue to 'live elevated' and experience some of the state’s most talked-about features.

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RV Rentals in Zion National Park

Transportation in Zion National Park

Driving

Getting around Zion National Park is relatively easy and not many restrictions are in place for rig sizes, except in very few areas that have narrow passageways or shorter clearances. Weather conditions can make for wet or muddy travel, but most roads will remain open throughout the entire year. While driving around Zion National Park, you will want to be sure to take in every opportunity to stop at scenic overlooks.

Parking

Parking can get a little challenging here, as Zion is quite a popular spot for visitors. Zion National Park happens to be one of the most visited in the entire country, but that does not mean you always have to wait. If you want to beat the crowds, it is best to arrive outside of peak season (May through September) and get to parking lots before 10 AM. Also, when you can, park your vehicle and make use of the park’s free shuttle.

Public Transport

Zion National Park offers its own active shuttle system that runs throughout many areas of the park. Even if you have parked an RV or trailer at a nearby campground, you are not without wheels. The shuttle system was established in 2000 and has helped to eliminate parking problems and limit traffic. Free rides on the shuttle usually begin in March and operate throughout November, as weather permits. Shuttle buses arrive at every stop every seven to 10 minutes. If shuttles are not your thing, make use of other modes of transportation and get around via horseback, bicycle, or your own two feet.

Campgrounds and parking in Zion National Park

Campsites in Zion National Park

Reservations camping

Watchman Campground

These grounds are located just a quarter of a mile in from the south entrance and provide a welcome place to camp year-round. There are 176 sites for tent and RV camping with two sites that are fully wheelchair accessible, and six sites for group camping. Primarily reservations will fill up these grounds from March through November. It is a very popular park. There are no full hookups, but a dump station is provided, and electric sites can be purchased for an additional cost. If it was not for all the other visitors, it would feel as though you were in the middle of nowhere. The sand and mountains can be a dizzying combination. You are welcome to bring your pets, but they have to be properly restrained and supervised at all times during your visit.

South Campground

Reservations are highly recommended here for the reservation season. These sites fill up quickly, so be sure to use the two-week lead time before your arrival date to secure a spot. Located just half of a mile from the South Entrance, it is no wonder these grounds are so popular. There are 116 sites available, with three that are fully wheelchair accessible. There are no hookups provided, but RVs and trailers will find a dump station and potable water.

There is not much shade here, and sites that do harbor trees only allow for vehicle clearance of a little over 12 feet. When you do fit into a spot and you finally get settled in, be sure to enjoy your surroundings. There are almost two dozen campsites on the banks of the Virgin River and some near the Pa’rus Trail. You can also get one near the Visitor Center or close to the Nature Center. Waking up among the sand and shrubs is a perfect setting, surrounded by beautiful mountainous views. Pets are welcome but must be kept restrained and supervised at all times.

Cedar City KOA

Cedar City KOA is open year-round, allowing campers to take advantage of the many natural attractions and festivals in the area, and visit nearby Las Vegas. Zion National Park is close, too, and stunning Bryce Canyon National Park is just a 90-minute drive from Cedar City. Home to world-class theaters, Cedar City hosts the Utah Shakespearean Festival throughout the summer and fall, and you do not want to miss it! You can also check out the 18-hole golf course nearby, along with mountain biking, ATV trails, and trout fishing. At Cedar City KOA, amenities include a swimming pool, a playground, ice cream, and horseshoes. Wi-Fi and cable TV are available and pull-through sites can accommodate rigs up to 100 feet.

St. George / Hurricane KOA

Deep in the stunning red-rock desert landscape of southern Utah, St. George/Hurricane KOA is only minutes from the Red Cliffs Recreation Area and Quail Creek State Park. Guests can visit the dinosaurs at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm. Back at the campground, after a day of hiking, golfing, swimming, or fishing, relax in the seasonal heated pool, play pickleball or miniature golf, or just spend time at a beautiful campsite. Hungry? Get a quick bite to eat at the snack bar. Wi-Fi is available throughout the campground, and the campground provides clean laundry facilities, hot showers, and clean restrooms.

First-come first-served

Lava Point Campground

This is a much more primitive campground in the park, featuring six sites that are first-come, first-served. Each of the campsites have a picnic table, fire ring with a grill, and a cleared space for hanging out around the campfire. Pets are welcome as long as they are supervised and properly restrained while you are here. There are pit toilets and trash cans provided, but no running water and vehicles over 19 feet are not permitted on the road to the campground. There is no charge for camping here and the grounds are typically left open from May through September, or as weather permits.

Alternate camping

Zion Lodge

If you want a stay that is fully appointed, spend it at the concession-run Zion Lodge inside the park. The Zion Lodge is the only lodging in the park and is not just a hotel or a bed and breakfast, it is a home away from home to keep you comfortable while you enjoy the nature around you. Not only comfortable and spacious, the Zion Lodge offers a homey, year-round, restaurant. Serving up local culinary favorites, as well as a variety of entertainment, is what the lodge does best. You have your choice of 28 furnished cabins, spacious hotel rooms with two queen-sized beds, or suites with an extra sitting room and wet bar.

Seasonal activities in Zion National Park

Spring

Fishing

Fishing is a popular water sport here at the Zion National Park. Whether you want to do some topwater fishing with a bobber or fly or try bottom fishing for the whoppers like blue or channel catfish, you can find them all here and more. Some of the most popular places to fish here include Aspen Mirror, Duck Creek Pond, Kolob Reservoir, Lake Powell, Mammoth Creek, Navajo Lake, and Yankee Meadows.

Mount Carmel-Zion Highway

The highway, running from the park’s south entrance to the east, is arguably just as scenic as another one of Zion’s famed drives, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. It is a much different perspective, though, with views that wind above the valley. The road is not for the faint of heart, as it hugs the cliff wall precariously with the mountain climb. A narrow tunnel makes for some sketchy passageways and traffic is usually held back as RVs make their way through. RVs actually have to pay a fee when entering the park in order to pass through the tunnel. There are roadside pullouts all along the drive, making for some picture-perfect observation areas.

Angels Landing

This is a hiking trail that is rated as strenuous. Angels Landing climbs to a spectacular view looking over Zion Canyon, but it is one you will work for. The trail follows along a narrow ridge with long drop offs. If you have a fear of heights, it is suggested that you skip out on this one. The hike requires some in-depth planning if you are really thinking of taking it on. It is best to come more than well-prepared.

Weeping Rock

This is a great sight with winter’s melt-off freely flowing as spring is warming the earth. The dripping stone overhang offers a close-up look at the hanging gardens that cling to sheer cliff walls. Depending on how much water is flowing, you could encounter waterworks from drips to full-blown falls. Standing at the base of these rocks provides a unique perspective and really lets you embrace the enormity of the canyon’s walls.

Bicycling

Biking is a recreation only to be enjoyed on park roadways and on the Pa’rus Trail. All other park trails, any off-road routes, and the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel are off limits, but there is still plenty to enjoy on the main roads. Cyclists who are enjoying the scenic Zion Canyon Drive must always yield to and be vigilant for shuttle buses. Remember to be safe and always wear your helmet. Bike paths are quite easy here.

Horseback Riding

Many choose to explore Zion National Park on the back of a horse. However, it is good to note that many other types of stock animals are permitted, such as mules and donkeys. Quite a few trails allow for their companionship and there is even a stock camp that allows for an overnight stay.

Summer

Swimming

You may be thinking “duh, of course swimming is fun during the summer,” but you may be surprised how few people actually do any swimming at the Zion National Park. Whether it is because there are so many other fun things to keep you busy or because the waters tend to be cold and a bit rough, you can find a good swimming hole if you want to. One of the favorites is the Pine Creek Waterfall swimming hole, which is off the beaten path and a bit secluded, perfect for a private day for a couple or a family to spend the day.

Evening Programs

Learning about Zion National Park is uniquely fun during evening programs. These 45-minute sessions address all sorts of topics and are held at either Zion Lodge or Watchman Campground. Parking is available at both facilities. The programs are a perfect way to wrap up a day full of exploring the park.

Canyoneering

This is a recreation you have likely only heard about if you are the one doing it. Canyoneering is not an outdoor activity for the faint of heart. It is rigorous and combines elements of route finding, rappelling, problem solving, hiking, and even some swimming. This park has easily become one of the premier places to enjoy such a unique recreation.

Ranger Shuttle Tour

From Memorial Day until Labor Day, park rangers provide guided shuttle tours that start at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. The tours are 90 minutes long and seats tend to be quite limited, so it is advised to make reservations. Reservations must be made in person at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and can be done up to three days in advance.

Nature Youth Programs

These are daily programs that are offered from Memorial Day weekend through until Labor Day. Nature Youth Programs are held at the Zion Nature Center, located next to the South Campground. The park’s shuttle doesn't make a stop here, but it can be accessed from the Pa’rus Trail. Parking tends to be quite limited, so the shuttle is recommended to help you get around. The programs are designed with kids and families in mind, with most sessions lasting about 30 to 45 minutes.

Run the River

The Virgin River is not a recreational setting for everyone. In fact, only highly skilled, expert paddlers are advised to take on its waters. Use of watercraft within the park is only allowed along with a wilderness permit. They are free but must be obtained through the Visitor Center. Watercraft must be specifically designed for whitewater use and paddlers should be able to withstand high classes of whitewater.

Fall

Caving

Many people do not even think about caving when they visit Zion National Park, but it is definitely a fantastic way to enjoy nature’s wonders and learn about the area as well. Red Cave is a rugged but magical geological formation that has all the hiking and climbing as well as caving experiences. The upper cave is a 3B II and the lower cave is a 3A I as far as the ACA Canyon Rating is concerned, and you must know how to use a rope and traverse slick rocks.

Rock Climbing

The park’s towering sandstone cliffs are widely known for providing big wall climbs. Most rocky routes are not recommended for inexperienced climbers, as they tend to be quite difficult. Avid climbers will even find areas to enjoy both top roping and sport climbing. It's best to avoid climbing in areas that have been dampened by seasonal rains.

Backpacking

Zion National Park provides over 90 miles of trails and over 35 designated backpacking sites. If you are one who is looking to brave an overnight out here, you will not be without multiple unique opportunities for travel. The terrain and setting are perfect for really roughing it, but, be sure you come plenty prepared.

Human History Museum

Zion’s cultural history is embraced at the Human History Museum. This is the first stop on the park’s shuttle bus and is a destination that features easy-to-read displays and large models of the park and its surroundings. Temporary, as well as permanent displays and exhibits cover a variety of topics that range from pioneer settlements to American Indian culture. A video runs every half hour and park rangers are always available to answer any questions.

Photography

The mountainous settings of Zion National Park are picture perfect and definitely worth capturing for all of time. Photographers of every skill level will find plenty to keep them busy clicking the shutter closed. Whether you have set your sights on geologic wonders, the area’s wildlife, or Zion’s beautiful surroundings, the park offers many perfect opportunities to snap a few pictures.

The Narrows

The easiest way to experience this popular part of the park is from the bottom and back. First, you will want to ride the shuttle to the Temple of Sinwava, walk about one mile to the end of the Riverside Walk, and then begin wading up the river. That’s right – you are going to get your feet wet for this one. There is no set, or formal, destination and once you have had your fill, you can continue down and back the way you came. There is no permit required for this hike.

Winter

Skiing

You may think that you have to go to a popular ski resort to get any good powder in Utah but at Zion National Park there are plenty of places to don those skis and enjoy the cold weather in style. You can enjoy cross country skiing in the higher elevations around Kolob Canyon, Wildcat Canyon, or West Rim Trail with a large selection of routes. You can also choose to get a guided tour from one of the local outfitters or there are always the two most popular ski areas, which are Eagle Point and Brian Head.

Scenic Drive

The section of the park called Kolob Canyons is home to spectacular crimson walls. The canyons make for a very pleasant five-mile drive and are certainly not a sight you want to miss out on. Kolob Canyon Road also provides visitors with a wide selection of access points for various trails and scenic viewpoints.

The Pools

Lower Emerald Pool is a location rather similar to Weeping Rock, as it features “weeping” walls and pools at its base. The site is accessible via a 0.6-mile round-trip, paved trail. The trail leaves right from the Zion Lodge Shuttle bus stop. While this trip around Emerald Pool is rather short, if you have the time and energy, you're encouraged to continue past this point and walk behind the falls to the Middle and Upper Emerald Pools.

Checkerboard Mesa

Pullouts on this side of the park tend to be rather small and accommodate only a few cars at a time. When you can find a spot, be sure to take the opportunity to grab a look of this area’s scenery. Checkerboard Mesa will have its own parking area and information plaques but getting to experience the view from here is a much different experience than the rest of Zion Canyon to the west. Checkerboard Mesa is the first stop after entering the park from the eastern entrance and is definitely worth a stop to see.

Riverside Walk

This scenic round-trip path is a little over two miles in length. The paved trail is quite easy to maneuver and runs along the Virgin River. It is the last stop on the Zion Shuttle bus. Some areas are a little nerve-wracking, but all the views along the way make up for any anxieties. It is a perfect location for spotting the area’s wildlife, as well.

Zion Visitor Center

Located at the South entrance, just inside the park, the Zion Visitor Center is open all year long. The center offers all sorts of displays, area maps, and in-depth details about the park. You can stock up on all sorts of Zion gear here too, to help spread your love of this National Park.

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