Zion National Park, Utah
Everything the RV Renter Needs to Know
Everything the RV Renter Needs to Know
The striking reds and oranges of the sandstone cliffs and canyons at Zion National Park cannot be missed. Established as Utah’s first national park in 1919, the park received its name due to the large Mormon population of the region. The park’s incredible canyons were formed by extensive erosion over hundreds of thousands of years from the Virgin River which flows from north to south through Zion.
Today, more than four million visitors flock to Zion National Park (more than Yellowstone) to take in its amazing desert beauty and explore the extensive geological features throughout. The river valley also attracts unique animal and plant life and its greenery is a neat visual contrast amongst the canyon walls. There’s a reason visitation has exploded for Zion National Park. Hop in that rental RV and see what everyone is talking about.
There are two main canyon areas, Zion Canyon to the south and the Kolob Canyons in the north. Zion Canyon is the larger of the two, stretching for 16 miles with walls as high as 3,000 feet. The Kolob Canyons are less popular and a particularly secluded spot to enjoy some peaceful time in nature.
There are a bunch of ways to explore the canyons in Zion. The easiest is the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and a five-mile stretch along Kolob Canyons Road. For a much more intense experience, try canyoneering. Never heard of it? Essentially, it consists of navigating through particularly complex sections of the canyon with a combination of rappelling, hiking, and route discovery. For something in between, standard hiking trails are the way to go.
Explore all of Zion along the nearly 50 miles of hiking trails throughout the park. Options are available for visitors of all abilities with routes from one-mile trails that you can complete in just 30 minutes all the way up to full-day, 14-mile hikes. Routes feature canyon walls, the river valley, scenic overlooks, and waterfalls.
A few things are critical to keep in mind when hiking in Zion National Park. Any hike along the canyon rims features significant drop-offs, some of which can be very hazardous. Depending on the abilities of your group members, research the most appropriate routes. The dryness of the area also raises the potential for flash flooding near the river after rainfall so keep close tabs on the weather. Finally, rattlesnakes are present in the park so keep your distance should you hear the telltale rattle from a nearby bush or rock outcropping.
If you enjoy rock climbing, chances are you've heard of the Big Wall climbs at Zion National Park. The 2,000-foot orange and red cliffs of Zion are challenged by climbers primarily in the spring and fall. These routes are only recommended for seasoned climbers as the soft sandstone can be dangerous for novices. If you are new to climbing or just want to have a little fun, try the various bouldering routes instead which require no specialized equipment or training (if you stay relatively close to the ground).
Contact park staff before starting your climbs in order to protect wildlife. The cliffs of Zion are a critical nesting habitat for Peregrine Falcons and routes that endanger the safety of these nests will be closed for certain periods of the year. In addition, there are a number of bat species that roost among the cliffs. A devastating fungal disease known as White Nose Syndrome is spreading throughout the country and decimating local bat populations. Do your part by making sure your climbing gear is thoroughly cleaned before starting your route at Zion.
Break out the kayaks for an awesome and challenging paddling experience on the Virgin River. At certain times of the year, the river flows at an incredible rate of 150 cubic feet per second or greater. Paddle right through the canyon and look up at the amazing erosion caused by the very river on which you are floating.
It should be noted that the river is unpredictable and is best suited for veteran kayakers. In fact, park staff suggests that anyone who wishes to make a trip through a tight section referred to as ‘The Narrows’ have the ability to navigate class V rapids. Personal floatation devices are also required.
Zion is a veritable gold mine for avian enthusiasts. Nearly 300 species of birds call the park home—the most famous being the Peregrine Falcon. These incredible raptors can reach speeds of nearly 200 miles an hour when diving to capture their prey. In the spring, they are found nesting in the cliffs of Zion, raising their chicks as the next generation of elite hunters.
The extremely rare California Condor, virtually extinct not long ago, has also been repeatedly sighted within the park. Visitors may also be lucky enough to identify a Mexican Spotted Owl in a tree or a bald eagle soaring high in the desert sky. Park staff have compiled a birding checklist for your entertainment so grab your binoculars, hit the trails, and see how many you can cross off of your list on your trip.
Zion has two RV-friendly campgrounds on the southern border of the park. The Watchman and South Campgrounds both offer ample RV camping opportunities, however you won’t find any full hookups here. As is the case with most national park campgrounds, the amenities are quite limited with the main advantage being that you are able to camp directly inside the park.
Watchman has a portion of sites that do offer electrical hookups, so no generator usage is permitted. The South Campground, on the other hand, has no hookups of any kind but hours are set aside for campers to fire up their generators. For your wastewater, both campgrounds do have a dump station available.
About 13 miles to the west of the park’s south entrance, Zion River Resort RV Park and Campground is a great option to set up camp for the night. Choose from a variety of either back-in or pull-through sites, all with full hookup capability. Wi-Fi is available throughout the park as are bathhouses and laundry facilities. Additional amenities include a swimming pool and spa, playground, camp store, and a social hall with a variety of games.
The WillowWind RV Park is a nearly 200-site campground 24 miles to the west of Zion National Park. Nicely wooded full hookup sites can accommodate the biggest of big rigs with spacious pull-through sites if needed. The bathhouses, restrooms, laundry rooms, and free park-wide
Wi-Fi will cover all of the necessities. The clubhouse has a pool table and a variety of games for entertainment. The campground is also near the towns of Hurricane and Washington where you can find a variety of dining options and other entertainment such as a movie theater and Brigham’s Playhouse.
If you want to maximize your nature experience while camping near Zion, consider Quail Creek RV Resort. Located just outside of Quail Creek State Park, you will be about a 30-mile drive from Zion National Park. The gorgeous campground has 43 full hookup sites with spectacular mountainous canyon views. The close proximity to the reservoir allows campers to partake in various watersports and swimming and kayaks and paddle boards are available for rental.
For campers wishing to stay near the north end of the park, Red Ledge RV Park and Campground is a solid option just 10 minutes outside of Zion. Red Ledge is a standard full hookup-capable RV campground on the smaller side (22 sites) with no surprises. There is a bathhouse, restroom, and laundry facility so you’ll be comfortable. The park is geared toward a peaceful camping experience, so you’ll need to look elsewhere for entertainment if you wish. Visitors will be close to golf courses, lakes, and forests.
Park visitors will have two dining options within Zion, both located at the lodge in the center of the park. For a more casual experience, the Castle Dome Cafe has quick bites such as cinnamon rolls, burgers, hot dogs, and coffee throughout the day. For a proper sit-down experience, the Red Rock Grill offers all three meals and features standard grill fare (steak, salmon, chicken) with a southwestern twist.
By far the best option is to look to the town of Springdale, immediately outside the park’s south entrance. In addition to the standard grills and American cafés, diners will also have options like Thai, Mexican, Japanese, and pizza. There is even a local brewery on the scene just across the river from the Watchman Campground.
No matter where you stay, the rich red canyons of Zion will provide wonderful memories for you and your camping crew for years to come. You’ll want to put Zion National Park near the top of your list for your RV camping trip through Utah.