Zion National Park has a lot to offer; steep cliffs, narrow canyons, great hiking trails and breathtaking viewpoints. Zion, Utah’s first national park, has two main regions: Zion Canyon (which is the main area and should definitely be part of your plans) and Kolob Canyon area (which I did not visit), both regions being reachable by different, unconnecting routes.
We drove from Fillmore to Springdale in the morning (we only stayed in Fillmore for the night). We arrived at our campground around 11 am, but couldn’t check-in until noon. In the meantime, we had lunch and relaxed in the parking lot in front of the camping, admiring the breathtaking cliffs surrounding us while our tent and socks were drying. In Springdale and Zion, wherever you look you will see those massive sandstone cliffs, which contrast perfectly with the infinite blue sky.
From April to October, cars are not allowed to drive through Zion Canyon. Zion Canyon Shuttle, operated by the Park Service, allows you to visit the park and stop at all of the major hiking trails. The Park provides a free map where stops and trails are clearly indicated.
If you stay in Springdale, you can take the Springdale Shuttle to Zion National Park Visitor Center, where you can then hop on the Zion Shuttle. You could also walk to Zion National Park Visitor Center, as we did; it was an easy 10-minute walk to get there from Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort. The next day, we parked our car at the Visitor Center around 9 am. Many parking spots were still available at that time, but they fill up very quickly.
Here are the trails we hiked during our trip (you can click on markers for trail names and enlarge the map to have a better view):
- Combine Kayenta Trail (difficulty: moderate; duration: 45 minutes one way; distance: 1.0 miles/1,6 km; elevation change: 150 ft/46 m) with Upper Emerald Pool Trail (difficulty: moderate; duration: 1 hour roundtrip; distance: 1.0 miles/1,6 km; elevation change: 200 ft/61 m) and end with Lower Emerald Pool Trail (difficulty: easy; duration 30 minutes one way; distance: 0.6 miles/0.95 km; elevation change: 69 ft/21 m). Kayenta Trail starts at The Grotto Shuttle Stop (unpaved climb to the Emerald Pools with moderate drop-offs) and Lower Emerald Pool Trail ends up at Zion Lodge Shuttle Stop (easy paved trail). The trail offers great and diversified viewpoints. We saw other people on the trail, but were alone most of the time.
- Riverside walk (difficulty: easy; duration: 1,5 hour roundtrip; distance: 2.2 miles/3.5 km; evelation change: negligible): Take the Zion Shuttle to Temple of Sinawava Stop (it’s a 45-minute drive from the Visitor Centre). This easy paved trail starts at Temple of Sinawa Shuttle Stop and offers great views along the Virgin River, but is too crowded. It takes about half an hour from the bus stop to get to the bottom of a narrow canyon (starting point of The Narrows Trail), with high surrounding cliffs. We saw many squirrels on the trail, they were big and seemed well-fed (although it’s prohibited to feed them).
- Watchman Trail (difficulty: moderate; duration: 2 hours roundtrip, but it took us 3 hours because we stayed for a long time to admire the view; distance: 3.3 miles/4.3 km; elevation change: 368 ft/112 m): That trail starts at Zion Canyon Visitor Center. It was my favorite hike in Zion National Park and the less crowded (we were alone most of the time)! It offers moderate drop-offs, great views all along the trail and a spectacular viewpoint of the Towers of the Virgin, lower Zion Canyon, and Springdale, at the end.
- Angels Landing Trail (starts at The Grotto Shuttle Stop; via West Rim Trail; difficulty: strenuous; duration: 4-5 hours roundtrip; distance: 5.4 miles/8.7 km; elevation change: 1488 ft/453 m): we did not hike that trail, but it’s a must if you visit Zion National Park (except if you’re fearful of heights like me – but I might do it someday).
Sunset at Zion National Park is magical; the cliffs look like giant flames!
- Cell phones don’t work in most areas of the park
- Choose trails according to your abilities
- Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen
- Know the weather before you go (watch out for storms or flash floods, especially in August and September), ask the Visitor Center or go on the Park’s website to know the current conditions and weather forecast
- National Park Service recommends to carry and drink at least one gallon of water per person per day
Where we stayed:
- Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort (39 USD for tent sites; 49 USD for 30/50 amp RV sites): This campground is perfectly located (only a 10-minute walk to Zion’s Visitor Center). Our tent site was clean and had a picnic table and fire pit. We were close to the bathrooms and showers. Upon our check-in, we received a token to use for a 6-minute shower, which was enough time (thankfully I didn’t have to wash my hair on that day). It is a bit pricey for a tent site, but everything in Springdale was expensive anyway. You can get a bunch a wood to make a fire at the reception desk (5,75 USD).
- There are two campgrounds in the National Park: Watchman Campground and South Campground. Both sites have picnic tables, a fire pit, water, bathrooms, and trash containers. However, no showers are available there. In Watchman Campground, reservations are required from March through November (reservations can be made online, up to 6 months before, but the spots fill up really quickly – when I planned my trip, a month before leaving, no sites were available). In Zion’s South Campground, reservations are not accepted and sites are only available on a first come, first serve basis. I was scared we wouldn’t have a place to pitch our tent for the night, since we planned to arrive around 10 or 11 am in Springdale, so we decided to book a private tent site.
- If camping is not your thing, there are many hotels in Springdale that can accomodate you.
- Canyon Ranch Motel
- Zion Park Motel
- Desert Pearl Inn
- Cliffrose Lodge and Gardens
- Hampton Inn
Springdale has many restaurants to choose from! However, I didn’t try any of them because we ate the food we bought at Walmart the day before. We were not really equipped to cook elaborate dishes; we only had a a small pot, two bowls, one plate, two coffee mugs and utensils. We used our pot and a small folding stove with solid fuel tablets (very useful!) to warm up canned soup and oatmeal and to boil water for our tea.
- If you need groceries, ice, camp kitchen supplies: The Canyon Market; Sol Foods.
- If you want liquor, beer, wine: Switchback Liquor Sotre (closed on Sundays)
- Restaurants: Cafe Soleil; Subway Restaurant; Deep Creek Coffee Co; Kings Landing Bistro; Meme’s Cafe; Oscar’s Cafe; Spotted dog Cafe
- Ice cream: Springdale Candy Company