Explore Zion National Park
Zion National Park is one of America’s most popular parks. Located where the Great Basin meets the Mojave Desert, Utah’s first national park is full of unique landscapes and wildlife. It’s also an important spot in human history, having being settled since prehistoric times by Native Americans, and later pioneers. The Human History Museum inside the park offers insightful exhibits on the matter. Because of the park’s popularity, parking and driving in the park with an RV rental can be slightly challenging. However, by planning ahead, you’ll ensure a smooth visit to Zion in your motorhome or camper rental.
First, how do you get there? Well the park is about 300 miles south of Salt Lake City and 100 miles northwest of Grand Canyon National Park. you’ll have to find a campsite. The two main campsites in Zion are located near the south entrance, and both are accessible to RVs. However, they fill up very quickly, especially during the summer. If you’d like to stay here, be sure to make a reservation far in advance. Campsites do provide flush toilets and running water, but don’t have any showers or electrical outlets. However, you can take the shuttle or drive into nearby Springdale for pay showers, laundromats, restaurants and other essential services.
Keep in mind that Zion also requires permits for RVs driving in the park depending on the size of your rig. This is due to the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel which provides access to the east side of the park. A $15 permit is required for vehicles measuring at least 11’4” tall, or at least 7’10” wide. This ensures a ranger escort through the tunnel with one-way traffic only. Vehicles over 13’1” tall are not permitted. The windy roads leading up to the tunnel are hard to maneuver for large vehicles. Consider getting a smaller-size camper rental if you would feel uncomfortable driving on this road. You can get permits with your park admission, and be sure to time out your journey, as large vehicles can only traverse this road during certain hours.
It’s also possible to get a campsite outside of the park. Zion River Resort is located under 15 miles away from the south entrance, and has full hookups and Wi-Fi, as well as shading for the summer months, which can get reach sweltering temperatures. They also offer a $7 round-trip shuttle to the park entrance. Again, it’s important to make reservations in advance. Another excellent campground near the park is the Zion Canyon Campground, near the south entrance.
Once you have all the logistics sorted out, you’ll be ready to start exploring the park. The park has wide variety of trails in both the Canyon and the Wilderness, ranging from short half-mile hikes to longer and more strenuous day hikes. Starting in the canyon, Pa’rus Trail is one of the most popular easy hikes. At 3.5 miles, it runs along the Virgin River from the South Campground to Canyon Junction. This trail is also wheelchair accessible and is the only trail open to pets and bicycles. Its trailside exhibits also make this a great hike for introducing yourself to the park.
An absolute must when visiting is the moderate-level Canyon Overlook Trail. Although it has higher gains in elevation, it’s only 1 mile long and appropriate for kids or less experienced hikers. It offers breathtaking views of the canyon from the viewpoint. You’ll have to get here on your own, as the trail is located near the east entrance of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, and not near a shuttle stop. Other good options for families are the Riverside Walk, a paved trail following the Virgin River, and the Emerald Pool Trails.
For more adventurous and experienced hikers, there are a few more trails in the Canyon. Angels Landing is a breathtaking trail, quite literally, because it involves scaling a steep and narrow ridge up to the final summit. Other sections of the trail include relying on ropes for safety. This hike is extremely rewarding, but certainly not for the faint of heart. If you’re an inexperienced hiker, afraid of heights or prone to vertigo, this hike may be too dangerous to take on. Keep in mind that summers can be oppressively hot, and will make any hike even more challenging. There are two other hikes in the canyon that have recently been closed off due to rockfall. The Hidden Canyon Trail and Observation Point trail are great, less crowded options, but you’ll have to wait until the park deems them safe to re-open. Check the National Park Service website for updated information.
Lastly, a must for adventurous hikers is the Narrows. The full length of the Narrows is 16 miles round-trip, although you can hike as far as you feel comfortable before heading back, since the trail is not a loop. The Narrows mostly involves wading through cold water on rough and slippery rocks. You’ll need more appropriate equipment before taking on this hike. Hiking from bottom-up does not require a permit, but hiking the opposite way does. The trail is closed in the spring due to melting snow, and can also be closed whenever water levels are too high or if there is a flash flood risk. Always ask a park ranger before taking on this or any hike.
Outside the Canyon, the Zion Wilderness also offers a variety of hikes with some different scenery, like the Kolob Canyons and Terrace, and the Southwest Desert. None of these trails are loop hikes, so you can shorten some of the longer trails to fit your needs. Trails vary in length and difficulty, so check the NPS website for information on each one.
Besides hiking, Zion also offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, including birding, horseback riding tours, and popular ranger-led tours. Kayakers can also ride down the Virgin River, although some conditions require permits. Climbing and canyoneering is also an option, and both require permits. Lastly, take some time to connect with the stars. Zion National Park offers excellent views of sunset and the night sky. Great spots include the Museum and the Pa’rus Trail. For any hike, climb or nighttime outing, always be prepared. Bring plenty of water, food and safety equipment. Don’t forget your flashlight and batteries for stargazing. Always check the NPS website for updated information and ask a park ranger before embarking on any park adventure.
Zion is full of amazing experiences, and taking your RV or camper rental there makes for a very rewarding trip. Once you’ve explored Zion National Park to your heart’s content, consider extending your journey to Bryce Canyon National Park or the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Both are within 2 hours of Zion.