Zion National Park: camping and hiking trip
Updated: Aug 2
Zion National Park is one of five National Parks located in the state of Utah. Located in the southwest section, it has a diverse array of things to see and do. Among other things, it includes a river, waterfalls, paved trails, forested trails, canyoning, valley walks in the shadow of the mountains, towering rock formations, trails that will thrill the dare devil in you, bucket-list worthy hikes (The Narrows and Angle's Landing) and picturesque camping spots.
As you approach Zion National Park and follow the road that winds through towering mountains and rock formations, you may think to yourself, "Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore!"
Plan to use the Park Shuttle
"March through November, access to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is by shuttle bus only. Private vehicles are allowed to access the Scenic Drive only when the Shuttle System is not in operation." See the National Park website for further information on the park Shuttle.
*****On our itinerary: hiking and camping!*****
Zion National Park-Canyoning in The Narrows
The Narrows hike takes you through a narrow river gorge at the base of a deep canyon, in what is at times knee deep water in The Virgin River. The canyon walls are at points 1,000 feet tall. As you can see in the photos, it is simply stunning. This is the part of our trip I was most looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. Put this neat experience on your bucket list!
Here's is the best way to hike the canyon:
Take the free Zion Canyon Shuttle to the Temple of Sinawava trailhead, use the restrooms there because there are none in the narrows.
After leaving the Temple of Sinawava trailhead, there is a one-mile paved walking trail along the river (the Riverside Walk) before you reach the narrows.
When you reach the end of the path, begin wading upriver. Hike as far as you like and then turn around and go back the same way you came. We hiked the bottom up to Orderville Canyon which is a tributary creek. From the starting spot in the river to Orderville Canyon is about 1.5 miles through the water and another 1.5 miles back (about 4 hours total, including the paved trail from the shuttle stop.) Doing the hike from the bottom up allows you to see some of the most spectacular and narrowest parts of the canyon. If you're feeling more energetic, you can hike as far as Big Spring, a strenuous 10-mile round trip haul.
Check here for more options for hiking The Narrows
Below is where the Orderville tributary and the river meet up. Travel upstream into Orderville canyon or beyond Big Spring is prohibited. It's a beautiful spot and this guy is likely just heading up the tributary a little ways to take a quick peek. Just make sure you follow rules (they were made with your safety in mind) and turn around after you get that photo that you're hunting after.
Tips for beating (some) of the crowds on the narrows hike:
This is a wildly popular hike. To avoid crowds, catch the first shuttle of the morning. On your seemingly crowd free early morning hike upriver you may ALMOST feel like you got away with something but no worries, you won't miss the crowds all together as they will almost surely be there on your way out! Avoid weekends (especially holiday weekends.) Canyoning The Narrows in the off season is also an option. See the NPS website for more information.
IMPORTANT: check the forecast:
This one is NOT optional!!! Due to the risk of flash flooding, Due to dangerous/deadly flash flooding, it is too dangerous to hike the canyon if there is any rain in the forecast. You must check the weather BEFORE you hike the canyon. You can check flash flood potential here. Read more about safety when hiking the narrows here.
The Narrows gear rental
Shoe rental is highly recommended if you don't already have proper gear, or would rather save room in your luggage. The riverbed is full of large slippery rocks that are often water covered and therefore hidden from view. Rentals include canyoning shoes (superior traction and protection for those tootsies!) neoprene socks (avoid blisters from walking in wet shoes) and a sturdy wooden walking stick (which saved me a few times from taking a tumble into that crisp water!) These three items constitute the warm weather package and will run you around $29 for the day (totally worth it in my opinion!) Equipment rentals can be found at Zion Outfitters just outside the park entrance in Springdale.
While I will admit they aren't the fashion statement I'd like to make, I was really glad I rented these shoes! and besides if I got lost and needed to be rescued, they could spot those neon green shoes from outer space....
Zion National Park- Pa 'Rus Hiking trail
Since Angel's Landing was closed during our time at the park, we had some extra time on our hands and decided to do the Pa 'Rus trail. This is a great paved 1.7-mile one way paved trail. There is no shade on this trail so I would not recommend it during the heat of the day, but it was perfect evening walk for us.
Other Popular Hikes in the Park:
Angle’s Landing, the most popular hike in the park, was closed due to a rockslide over the trail. This hike is treacherous, and to be honest, dangerous. I encourage you to do your research before you go. With a 1,488 feet elevation gain, this 5.4-mile hike is rated strenuous. Take the park shuttle to the Grotto stop, then head to the Weeping Rock trailhead. The first two miles of the hike consists of paved switchbacks (Walter's Wiggles.) The higher you get the more treacherous the trail but at the top you will be rewarded with some out of this world views.
This hike can be very hot, there isn't any shade. To avoid the heat and crowds go early or late.
Emerald Pools Hike
There was just a trickle from the waterfall when we visited, so I didn't get any waterfall pictures. The trail was still quite nice although there were parts of it closed when we visited due to rockslides. Check the park website for the most current up to date information on the park and more information on the Emerald Pools hikes.
Camping in Zion National Park
On our second night in the park, we got a campsite at the Watchman Campground (spent the first night at a very nice La Quinta in Springdale.) The Watchman is a gorgeous site, surrounded by mountains. Campsite fee: non electric campsites $20 (prices always subject to change, check NP website for most up to date information.) Campsites with electrical hookups available. There are no showers in this campground. (I discovered that it is possible to get sufficiently clean with baby wipes!) The campgrounds are located in the desert, there is little to no shade. We visited in September and slept comfortably at night.
There are two other campgrounds in Zion NP. Sites fill up fast so do get your reservations early (there are some first come first serve campsites too) You can find information about camping on the NPS Zion website camping page.
The Zion Canon Brew Pub, in the area of the park entrance in Springdale, has some tasty food. I had a burger with jalapeno bacon jam, Swiss and garlic aioli….mmmm good!
My sister-in-law and I camped alone in the park. As a part of a duo of female travelers, never once did I feel unsafe. I slept like a baby on my blow up mattress!
The Altitude in the park ranges from 3,500-5,000 feet above sea level. I flew from Kansas (around 1,000 ft above sea level) to Phoenix and drove in a day to Zion and had no issues with the altitude.
Avoiding crowds at a National Park
It goes without saying to avoid the park on holiday weekends if you are wanting to avoid crowds. Weekdays are better than weekends. Crowds are certain but the National Parks service has some additional tips for avoiding the worst of the crowds at Zion.
As with most national parks, Zion has a somewhat restrictive pet policy. They are allowed in the campgrounds (leash no longer than 6 feet) the roads, and the Pa'rus trail.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Head northeast and in just two hours you'll think you've landed on another planet! Read about it at Bryce Canyon National Park, an otherworldly desert destination in southern Utah.
This trip was part of a mini vacation we spent in Arizona and Utah. You can read about our full trip at Road Trip'ing Arizona & Utah: Zion & Bryce National Parks, Camping, Hiking, and Stops Along the Way
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