October 2016 – Zion National Park in Utah is filled with towering rock formations that rise up alongside the Virgin River. It’s located in the heart of National Parks country, just 70 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park, 70 miles from Cedar Breaks National Monument and 110 miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The views in Zion Canyon are utterly breathtaking.
We had visited Zion National Park before, both in a tent and also with our first full-time RV. But each of those visits had been more of a survey trip than an in depth immersion. This time we took our time exploring.
There are many ways to enjoy Zion National Park. One of the most fun ways to get an introduction is to walk along the Pa’rus Trail that goes alongside the Virgin River right from the Visitors Center.
This is a popular trail both for walking (including dog walking) and for riding bikes as well.
We took our bikes on it one day and saw some fabulous views.
We saw some little critters. A bird flitted between the branches of a tree and a ground squirrel paused to have a look at us.
The main road through the park is the 9 mile long Zion Canyon Scenic Drive which dead ends in the heart of the main canyon. Cars are restricted on much of this road and are forbidden for the last half of it from Spring to Fall, making it absolutely fabulous for a bike ride.
Cyclists share this road with both chartered tour buses and the Park’s free shuttle buses, but the buses are infrequent enough that for most of the ride we had the entire road to ourselves. Awesome!
The erosive power of the Virgin River is responsible for Zion Canyon, and the stunning scenic drive runs alongside it.
The Virgin River is shallow and filled with small rocks in some places.
As we got deeper and deeper into Zion Canyon, the towering rock walls closed in all around us.
The canyon walls grew steeper and steeper, rising up around us on all sides as we approached the end of the road.
Early in the morning, much of Zion Canyon was in shade because the rock walls are so high.
But later in the day the sun rose high enough to light it up. As the sun traversed the sky, the walls on one side of the canyon were lit first. Then they became shaded and the walls on the other side lit up.
Amazingly, Zion Canyon National Park has a brewpub right outside the park. After a day of sightseeing, no one had to twist our arms to join the other happy tourists and find a table with a view to quaff a pint!
In the late afternoon we watched the full moon rise through the sunset.
Zion Canyon is essentially an enormous (and enormously beautiful) box canyon, i.e., a dead end. And Zion National Park is immensely popular. A ranger told me 4 million people had already visited the Park in 2016 when we got there in October.
So, getting all these people in and out of the box canyon is no small trick. Zion National Park has done an amazing job of handling the traffic and the crowds.
For starters, car traffic is highly restricted for all but the Winter season. The parking lot at the Visitor Center fills as early as 8:00 a.m. during the peak season between Spring and Fall.
There are two excellent free shuttle systems to ferry people around both the town of Springdale and Zion National Park.
The Springdale Shuttle takes visitors through town and runs all the way to the Zion National Park entrance and visitors center.
The Zion Canyon Shuttle takes visitors from there all the way through the National Park to the end of the box canyon (which is also the start of the very popular Narrows hike).
There are about 9 stops on each route, and each one takes about 40-45 minutes end to end.
Passengers on the Zion Canyon Shuttle get to hear an interesting recording that tells all about the park, both its natural history and its human history. We took both shuttles quite a few times during our stay, visiting various overlooks and doing various hikes, and we found it easy and convenient.
Cars can drive into the park as far as the turn-off onto Route 9 East that goes through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. People staying at Zion Canyon Lodge, which is beyond that point, can get a pass to drive as far as the lodge and park their cars there. However, during the peak season when the shuttle runs (Spring to Fall), all cars are forbidden beyond the Lodge. During the Winter, the shuttle runs only on holidays, and at that time cars are allowed to drive the full length of Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
Anyone entering the canyon with a big dually truck like ours, or towing a trailer or driving a motorhome, will be informed that their vehicle will require a pilot to go through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel on Route 9. There is a fee for this, as traffic in both directions has to be stopped. Years ago, we went through the Zion-Mt Carmel tunnel and drove the wild switchbacks of Route 9 in a minivan, and the drive is out of this world. So, if you have a car, do it!!
There are two campgrounds that can accommodate small to mid-size RVs. Both are close to the Park entrance. South Campground is, ironically, the more northerly of the two. Watchman Campground is the more southerly one!
During our stay in October, the leaves were just beginning to change into their autumn colors. The peak for fall color is generally around the first week of November.
Zion National Park is a world class destination and we absolutely loved our stay this year! We’ll have more blog posts from our time there. In the meantime, we’ve got lots of links below to help you plan your visit.
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More info about Zion National Park:
- Zion National Park Official Website – National Park Service
- Zion National Park Official Maps – Scroll down to see them all
- Zion National Park Shuttle System – An overview
- Springdale Shuttle System – An overview
- Parking Map for the Springdale Shuttle – Parking is easiest to the south
- Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel – Bigger trucks pay a fee for a pilot
- Zion National Park Campgrounds Inside the Park – Two in Zion Canyon and one in Kolob Canyon
- More RV Park Options – RV Park Reviews
- Zion Canyon Brewing Company – A great lunch stop!
- Locations: Campgrounds, Pa’rus, Lodge, Watchman, Narrows & Zion-Mt Carmel – Interactive Google Maps
Blog posts from our RV trips to Zion National Park:
- Zion National Park’s Hidden Jewels – Off the Beaten Path in an RV! 12/06/17
- Zion National Park “West” RV Trip – Gorgeous Kolob Canyons! 12/22/16
- Zion NP, Kodachrome Basin & Snow Canyon, UT – Great Red Rocks! 10/31/07
Blog posts from the area near Zion National Park:
- Best Friends Animal Sanctuary & Southwest Wildlife Foundation in Utah 09/15/08
- Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park – Shape Shifting in the Sand! 11/08/17
- Johnson Canyon Movie Set – A Spooky Ghost Town – Happy Halloween! 10/27/17
- Kanab – Hub for the National Parks + Gorgeous Canyons Nearby! 11/12/17
- Kanab & Alton, UT – Whoa!!! 09/29/08
- Sand Hollow State Park, Utah – An Oasis in the Desert! 11/21/17
- Zion National Park “West” RV Trip – Gorgeous Kolob Canyons! 12/22/16
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- A Hawaii Vacation! 11/01/19
- Williams, Arizona – Home of the Grand Canyon Railway! 10/25/19
- Drag Boat Races in AZ – Top Speed FUN on the Colorado River! 10/18/19
- Seligman, Arizona – Birthplace of Route 66! 10/11/19