Zion National Park Camping: A Good Experience Depends On The Weather... And The Time Of Year That You Go!

My wife and I recently experienced some Zion National Park camping. It had been close the 30 years since I had last visited this National Park, and it was definitely not a disappointment. The Red Sandstone bluffs still captivated our imagination.

After we had settled down in the area, we began our visit to this scenic park just north of Springdale, UT. This made sense to us because we had just come up through Mesquite, NV.

Using the South Entrance to Zion Allows Visitors
to Use Either the Watchman Campground
or the South Campground

The Watchman and South Campgrounds are the two largest Zion National Park campgrounds, and they sit right next to each other... however, they perform different functions.

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For a more primitive Zion National Park camping experience, the South Campground will fit your needs. This campground is a first come first serve facility. So if you are in the area and want to give it a try... there are 116 sites available.

I recommend planning in advance if you want to use the Watchman Campground because reservations are a must. However, this Zion National Park camping experience is a step above the South Campground. Watchman has 163 sites with some locations along the Virgin River. It is open year round and has 63 RV electrical sites.

Watchman Campground

You Will Have A Great Zion National Park Camping Experience at Watchman and South Campgrounds

Because Zion National Park weather varies greatly throughout the seasons, having electricity is a very nice luxury. You may want to run the air during the HOT summer months, and electrical heaters will come in handy during the cold winter season.

If You Want The Best Zion National Park Campground Experience, Try Using The Free Shuttle Service

Spring and fall probably are the best times to visit this park. Peak highs during the summer months can reach above 100°F (90°F is the norm), and winter lows can get down to 0°F. (It doesn't usually get below 20°F).

Zion has eliminated private vehicles from the canyon area between April 1st and October 31st. During this time visitors must rely on the shuttle buses to move about this portion of the park.

These shuttles will get you up and back down the canyon in about 80 minutes... or you can hop on and off of them at any of their stops if that is your choice. In fact, you can get on and off of them until they quit operating at 10PM (11PM during the summer months).

Zion National Prk Hwy 9

Heading East On Highway 9 At The Back Of The Park

The shuttle system is efficient and really helps clear up a lot of congestion. Actually, it is pretty sweet. This system also extends beyond the park into Springdale, UT. This is a small, quaint town that offers a variety of restaurants and other conveniences like movies, shops, etc.

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Using the shuttle system has another advantage. In addition to moving people inside the park, it also takes them in and out of the park. So, if you are not staying at one of the campgrounds in Zion, you do not have to fight the traffic to bring your rig... you can just use the shuttle!

Park fees still apply, however... this is kind of a catch 22 because the individual admittance fee is roughly half the cost of the vehicle fee.

Therefore, in practical terms, this would mean that two people could park their rig outside the park and shuttle in for about the same amount as the vehicle fee. However, it's easy to see that a family of four would cost significantly more than the straight vehicle admittance fee.

Therefore, larger families will do well to plan on enjoying a Zion National Park Camping experience and simply use the available facilities and special events like the Ranger Lead Programs.

The Ranger Lead Programs include talks, walks, drop-in programs, rides with a ranger on the shuttle, and evening programs at the Watchman Campground Amphitheater and Zion Lodge Auditorium.

Emerold Pool Trail

Clear Signs Offer Choices In Trails To Use

There Is A Ton Of Stuff To Do Here...
But Most People Come To Hike The Trails

While enjoying the Zion National Park camping opportunities, there are many great hikes available for those who like to stretch their legs and get a closer look at this park.

The Emerald Pool trails are a couple of relatively short, but scenic, hikes just across from Zion Lodge. Lynn and I spent a couple of hours exploring this area. Too many views, too little time!

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You can combine all three trails into a one 3 mile loop, or break them down into 2 or 3 separate hikes. As the graphic above shows they are easily identified as the lower, middle, and upper trails. The lower trail is a 1 hour hike that is +/- 1 mile in length. This trail is considered to be an easy hike with views of the valley floor and the scenic lodge across the canyon.

The middle and upper trails are a continuation of the this lower trail. These two trails are moderately difficult and extend this hike to +/- 3 miles.

The graphic below shows the trail going around the backside of the middle pool which is the largest of the three pools. Depending on the time of year, water flows from above. It can be very spectacular!

Using this trail allows you to walk behind a potential waterfall. The day we were there, we had a small stream spilling over... you could get wet from the spray. It just depends on how much runoff is occurring at the time of your visit.

Emerold Pool Trail

Here I Am Watching The Water Spill Over Into The
Middle Emerald Pond

It Is Important To Watch The
Weather Conditions At this Park

When planning your visit to this part of Southern Utah, you need to check on Zion National Park weather. During the summer months, there may be issues with hot weather and thunderstorms, and if you want to visit in the winter... well, it may get really cold.

We were there in July 2010 and had temps in the mid to upper 90's. We simply paced ourselves and kept well hydrated. As a note, the park does offer water at the visitor centers, campgrounds, Zion Lodge, and some shuttle stops. It's easy to refill your water bottles.

Depending on the time of the year and water flow in the Virgin River, an adventure is waiting for those who want to hike The Narrows.

This is an 8 hour, 9+ mile hike so you probably should have some sort of plan when attempting it. There is plenty of good advice available at the visitors center... you really want to pay attention to water flow and flash flood issues because the Virgin River is the trail!

Sometimes the water is too cold and/or too high
and therefore, not really an option. But, if the conditions permit, this is a great way to experience this canyon.

Unfortunately, Lynn and I did not take this walk due to physical issues. However, we have it in our bucket list. I'm thinking that, if healthy, I'm up to it. I really enjoyed hiking the Feather River in California...

Altogether, there are 18 hiking trails in Zion National Park, and they offer something for every skill level... easy, moderate, and strenuous.

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