Camping in Zion National Park, Utah

My boyfriend and I recently took a trip to Zion National Park. It was a lightly planned, extended-weekend vacation in honor of his birthday. We were saving for another, larger vacation so our goal was to spend as little as possible. We had an absolute amazing time. 

Overview

Zion National Park is about a 7-hour drive from Southern California and about 3 hours coming from Las Vegas (nice half-way point, am I right?).  I have to say this was my favorite hiking trip ever everrr. The canyons are so BIG and colorful and they get BIGGER as you drive closer to the park. We passed through many small towns on the way and everyone was so nice. The trails are spectacular and range from “easy” to “holy-cow-we’re climbing-straight-up-a-cliff”.

The transportation around the whole park is free (after you pay the 7-day, $25 entrance  fee, of course) and the busses come by every 5-10 minutes. The many trails lead you to amazing views, stream, waterfalls, rivers, caves and cliffs. We saw a few deer walking around and their faces were just like “WUT?” Oh, and if you wonder why anyone on a nature vacation would ever want a giant movie theater way out here, you will know when you’re on your second day of the heat. Zion is so cool. Just look at it, these pictures don’t even do it justice:

Zion National Park

Emerald Pool Trail

Camping tips

If you planning to visit Zion, make your camping/lodging reservations early! We planned this kind of late and everything was sold out a few weeks in advance. Luckily, they have a “first come first serve” campsite – South Campground. The way this campsite operates is extremely silly and very confusing if you don’t know what to do.
Here is what you do:

Riverside Walk, Zion National Park

Riverside Walk

Arrive before 8 a.m. but no later than 9:30 a.m.  (the sooner the better). Head over to the campground. You will see a sign that says this is where you reserve a spot. Skip that and drive through the camping area and look for an empty spot. Note the spot number you want, have your loved one sit in it (if there are a lot of other scouters around), and then head back up to the front. Grab an envelope, write the campsite number on it, put your cash in for the amount of days you plan to stay and then drop it in the box.

When we arrived, we, along with three other cars of people were standing around like, “What do we do?” until someone told us to run and grab a spot! It was kind of crazy, but it worked out. The site was nice, bathrooms were nearby and we had a huge cliff as our view. The only bad part was the wind late at night. It might have been just that night but MAN it blew. Desert wind = HATE. Luckily the wind started after we ate our s’mores!

Hotel Tips

We weren’t so lucky the first day – we arrived too late to get a campsite (around 2 p.m.) so we were stuck trying to find a hotel for the night. We had no cell phone service so we had to do it the old fashioned way and drive door to door to hotels, asking what the rates were (oh no!). Most hotels were sold out and the only one that had vacancy said they had two rooms with broken spas inside, for around $150. No way man. We ended up finding a market with free Wi-Fi and booked a hotel on my phone in Hurricane, about 20 minutes outside of the park (thank you technology).  We stayed at the Travelodge which had free Wi-FI, a fridge , microwave, and free waffle breakfast for only $60. SO worth it. I definitely recommend staying outside of the city to get more for your money. Or if you’re Mr. Moneybags, stay in the Zion Lodge.

Hiking tips

To completely avoid getting burned by the sun, here’s the trick: plan your hikes on the east side of the canyon in the morning and the west side in the late afternoon. If you do it this way, you get shade the whole time!

Weeping Rock Waterfall

Weeping Rock Waterfall

Our favorite hikes were the Riverside Walk and the Emerald Pools/Grotto trails. The Riverside Walk should be called InRiver Walk because you will have to walk through water most of the time. I was skeptical but it ended up being really great! We just walked through the water with our tennis shoes because we’d be on land climbing through rocks a minute later.

Prepare to have no place to use the bathroom. We had to pee so bad so we tried to find a cave… nope. Some kids spotted us. The trees were scarce and too thin and there were people everywhere! The only choice we had was to find deep water above our waists and, well you know, go. There’s something really awkward, yet exhilarating about peeing in the wilderness, haha!

We did the Emerald Pools/Grotto trails on our first day. There’s a waterfall, moderate climbing, and a relaxing pool of water that makes a perfect place for a picnic.

Canyon Overlook Trail

Canyon Overlook Trail

The Observation Point trail is a STEEP climb up the side of a cliff. We made it about halfway up until we decided to turn back around before we fell to our painful deaths. If you are afraid of heights at all, do not take this trail. Alternatively, the Canyon Overlook Trail provided a great view but wasn’t AS scary. This is the one where you can see the famous arch. You have to drive there but you get to go through a really cool long tunnel.

Emerald Pool Trail

Overall, Zion is a totally awesome place. Staying in a hotel one night and in our tent on another worked out well – we were able to get at least one good nights sleep for a day of hiking. I must brag about my expert food-packing skills which kept us well fed over the four days we were on vacation. We only had to stop once to get more ice.  I will share my food-planning tips in another post.
***
Have you ever been to Zion? What was your favorite trai? I’m dying to hear how the view was on the Observation Point!

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