National Park Guide:

Zion National Park

National Park Guide:

Zion National Park

Destination: Zion National Park, UT

Length of Stay: 6 Nights (September 2018)

Lodging: Bryce Zion Campground ($35/night)

National Park Service Fee:  7 day pass - $35 per vehicle | Annual NPS pass $80

This was both of our first times to Zion National Park. We had heard great things about the awe inspiring red rocks that shoot up out of the ground thousands of feet. This place is special for a lot of people, which may be evident by the religious names given to many of the parks features. From the East/West Temple points to the naming of the popular Angels Landing hike, they all hint at a deeper religious meaning surrounding the land. The park was originally named Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909, which turned out to be difficult for many people to pronounce. About 10 years later the name was changed to Zion, a Mormon term, when it was adopted into the in newly ordained National Parks Service in order to make the park's name "appeal to an ethnocentric audience."[1]

Although Zion's current name originates from Mormon settlers in the region during the mid 19th century, there is evidence of Native American presence in the area dating back to nearly 8,000 years ago. The first settlers were a bit more nomadic in that they would hunt and collect seeds from the region and it wasn't until about 2,000 years ago that the natives developed a more sedentary lifestyle and settled down to stay. The early European explorers came to the area towards the beginning of the 19th century, however it wasn't until the early 1900's that the beauty of Zion became public knowledge. Frederick S. Dellenbaugh revealed his famous paintings of Zion's incredulous red wall canyons at the St. Louis World fair in 1904. People didn't believe the vibrant colors the Zion's valley that Dellenbaugh portrayed in his paintings. It is widely accepted that his work led President Taft to proclaim the territory as a National Monument. Even today there is a consistent effort to protect and maintain the land within the park. In 2009, President Obama added 124,406 acres[1] of the region as protected wilderness.

Destination: Zion National Park, UT

Length of Stay: 6 Nights (September 2018)

Lodging: Bryce Zion Campground ($35/night)

National Park Service Fee:  7 day pass - $35 per vehicle | Annual NPS pass $80

This was both of our first times to Zion National Park. We had heard great things about the awe inspiring red rocks that shoot up out of the ground thousands of feet. This place is special for a lot of people, which may be evident by the religious names given to many of the parks features. From the East/West Temple points to the naming of the popular Angels Landing hike, they all hint at a deeper religious meaning surrounding the land. The park was originally named Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909, which turned out to be difficult for many people to pronounce. About 10 years later the name was changed to Zion, a Mormon term, when it was adopted into the in newly ordained National Parks Service in order to make the park's name "appeal to an ethnocentric audience."[1]

Although Zion's current name originates from Mormon settlers in the region during the mid 19th century, there is evidence of Native American presence in the area dating back to nearly 8,000 years ago. The first settlers were a bit more nomadic in that they would hunt and collect seeds from the region and it wasn't until about 2,000 years ago that the natives developed a more sedentary lifestyle and settled down to stay. The early European explorers came to the area towards the beginning of the 19th century, however it wasn't until the early 1900's that the beauty of Zion became public knowledge. Frederick S. Dellenbaugh revealed his famous paintings of Zion's incredulous red wall canyons at the St. Louis World fair in 1904. People didn't believe the vibrant colors the Zion's valley that Dellenbaugh portrayed in his paintings. It is widely accepted that his work led President Taft to proclaim the territory as a National Monument. Even today there is a consistent effort to protect and maintain the land within the park. In 2009, President Obama added 124,406 acres[1] of the region as protected wilderness.

An Eco-Friendly Park

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Just like the bottle refill station we saw at Arches National Park, we were happy to see that Zion offered fresh/free spring water refill stations. Honestly, this water way fresher tasting than the water we were used to drinking so we took full advantage of refilling all of our drinking water bottles/jugs.

We were also impressed with the free shuttle system that park offers. Since the Zion Canyon Scenic drive doesn't permit private vehicles during the high season, they have a fleet of propane powered buses that take guests to all nine stops during the day. We also noticed a few electric buses with mounted solar panels which is apparently part of a test program to transition the fleet to a full on EV fleet

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An Eco-Friendly Park

IMG_8748-2 - 720 4x5
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Just like the bottle refill station we saw at Arches National Park, we were happy to see that Zion offered fresh/free spring water refill stations. Honestly, this water way fresher tasting than the water we were used to drinking so we took full advantage of refilling all of our drinking water bottles/jugs.

We were also impressed with the free shuttle system that park offers. Since the Zion Canyon Scenic drive doesn't permit private vehicles during the high season, they have a fleet of propane powered buses that take guests to all nine stops during the day. We also noticed a few electric buses with mounted solar panels which is apparently part of a test program to transition the fleet to a full on EV fleet

Zion - Mt. Carmel Highway

Unfortunately, the Zion Mt. Carmel highway is a narrow two lane road so there was quite a few traffic backups while we were there. Tour buses and large RVs can only pass through the tunnel when there is a one way flow of traffic so this can cause some backups. Luckily, we got a parking spot and went on theis hike just as a long line started to form. Nearly and hour later we finished the hike and it still hadn't moved! There was also construction going on at the time we went to Zion so maybe we had bad timing, who knows. But you may want to expect some delays when passing through the tunnel during high season.

Zion Canyon Overlook

The Zion Canyon Overlook Trail was probably our top highlight of the park. It was our first hike and the perfect way to introduce the unbelievable scenery Zion valley has to offer. At only 0.9 miles, it is a popular hike and easily accessible for almost everyone. The trailhead is located just before the Zion Mt. Carmel tunnel, but parking is pretty tight especially during the high season so we would recommend hitting this first thing if you want to get a spot. This is one of the few hikes that you can drive yourself to because most of the hikes in the park are located along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive so that's another reason why you might want to get here shortly after the park opens.

Checkerboard Mesa

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Zion's Checkerboard Mesa feature is located just after the east entrance of the park, along Highway 9 (better known as the Zion Mt. Carmel highway). The unique cracks in the sandstone resemble a checkboard pattern in the mountain.

Watchmen

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The Watchmen is probably the most photographed feature within Zion National Park (as seen on countless postcards). This viewpoint is located at the intersection of the Zion Mt. Carmel highway and the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. If you pass this point near sunset you can see dozens of people lined up with their cameras to capture the iconic shot.

Zion - Mt. Carmel Highway

Unfortunately, the Zion Mt. Carmel highway is a narrow two lane road so there was quite a few traffic backups while we were there. Tour buses and large RVs can only pass through the tunnel when there is a one way flow of traffic so this can cause some backups. Luckily, we got a parking spot and went on theis hike just as a long line started to form. Nearly and hour later we finished the hike and it still hadn't moved! There was also construction going on at the time we went to Zion so maybe we had bad timing, who knows. But you may want to expect some delays when passing through the tunnel during high season.

Zion Canyon Overlook

The Zion Canyon Overlook Trail was probably our top highlight of the park. It was our first hike and the perfect way to introduce the unbelievable scenery Zion valley has to offer. At only 0.9 miles, it is a popular hike and easily accessible for almost everyone. The trailhead is located just before the Zion Mt. Carmel tunnel, but parking is pretty tight especially during the high season so we would recommend hitting this first thing if you want to get a spot. This is one of the few hikes that you can drive yourself to because most of the hikes in the park are located along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive so that's another reason why you might want to get here shortly after the park opens.

Checkerboard Mesa
IMG_1950 - 720 4x5

Zion's Checkerboard Mesa feature is located just after the east entrance of the park, along Highway 9 (better known as the Zion Mt. Carmel highway). The unique cracks in the sandstone resemble a checkboard pattern in the mountain.

The Watchmen
GOPR1584 - 720 4x5

The Watchmen is probably the most photographed feature within Zion National Park (as seen on countless postcards). This viewpoint is located at the intersection of the Zion Mt. Carmel highway and the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. If you pass this point near sunset you can see dozens of people lined up with their cameras to capture the iconic shot.

See how this fits into the best road trips in America

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

The scenic drive offers some of the best hikes of Zion. However, you won't be able to take your own car during the high summer season. Fortunately, the park offers a free shuttle service to drop you off at each of the stops. It runs all day long from the Zion visitor center approximately every 15 minutes.

Court of the Patriarchs

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Court of the Patriarchs is stop #4 on the scenic drive. We wouldn't even consider this a hike since it is a 0.1 mile walk to the viewpoint. The name comes from each of the three peaks named after the biblical figures Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Personally we aren't a fan of the name (end the patriarchy!) 😉 But, its worth checking out since its only a few hundred feet off the road.

Zion Lodge

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The Zion Lodge is stop #5 and is the only place on the scenic drive to buy food or drink. Just as we were getting off the bus to do the Emerald Pools hike the skies opened up so we rushed inside to wait out the rain. After seeing the prices of food ($32 for a whole pizza) we would recommend bringing your own food an drink into the park. Fortunately, they had a free chess board to pass the time (bonus points for teaching Molly how to play).

Emerald Pools

The Emerald Pools loop is located at stop #5 and is right across the road from the Zion Lodge. Unfortunately, the full loop was closed when we visited in September 2018, and as of November 2018 the trail is still closed. However, the Lower Emerald Pools trail was still open so we were able to do the short 1.3 mile out and back trail. Although the lower pool wasn't exactly emerald green, they get their greenish tint from algae that grows in the water.

Weeping Rock

Weeping Rock is located at stop #7 on the scenic drive. Similar to Court of the Patriarchs, this a very short walk clocking in at just over 0.25 miles. Weeping Rock features lush hanging gardens because the water seeping through the rocks keep them consistently moist. It is no small feat for the water to 'weep' out of the rocks. It has taken over 1,000 years for the water to penetrate through the permeable sandstone, but nature always finds a way.

The Narrows

The Narrows hike is a 1.8 mile highly trafficked trail that is stop #9 on the scenic drive. Ok, confession, we didn't actually do the full hike because this was our last stop and we were pretty beat by this point. Full disclosure, if you want to do this hike be prepared to get wet, and we mean up to your shorts/pants. After seeing tons of people leaving soaking wet, we were less than enthusiastic about wading through the Virgin River right before the sun set. However, we did part of the hike and even continued our walk back to Big Bend (stop #8) in order to avoid the several hundred people in line to get back on the shuttle. We thought this part of the hike along the scenic drive was much more enjoyable than wading in the river and waiting around soaking wet for the bus.

The Virgin River holds significant meaning to Zion National Park as this river is responsible for carving out the entire valley over thousands and thousands of years. Although it may not look like a big strong river, it can suddenly multiply in size when a flash flood hits. The strong and fast current can come ripping down through the valley moving tons (literally) of sediment, even moving boulders that down down trees. In 2015, seven people were killed due to a flash flooding incident in Keyhole Canyon. We were told that when it rain hits Zion it's best not to attempt this hike because the river can rise quickly. It just goes to show the immense power of mother nature and we must heir on the side of caution when dealing with her.

Zion Canyon Scenic Drive

The scenic drive offers some of the best hikes of Zion. However, you won't be able to take your own car during the high summer season. Fortunately, the park offers a free shuttle service to drop you off at each of the stops. It runs all day long from the Zion visitor center approximately every 15 minutes.

Court of the Patriarchs

GOPR1504 - 720 4x5

Court of the Patriarchs is stop #4 on the scenic drive. We wouldn't even consider this a hike since it is a 0.1 mile walk to the viewpoint. The name comes from each of the three peaks named after the biblical figures Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Personally we aren't a fan of the name (end the patriarchy!) 😉 But, its worth checking out since its only a few hundred feet off the road.

Zion Lodge

GOPR1549 - 720 4x5

The Zion Lodge is stop #5 and is the only place on the scenic drive to buy food or drink. Just as we were getting off the bus to do the Emerald Pools hike the skies opened up so we rushed inside to wait out the rain. After seeing the prices of food ($32 for a whole pizza) we would recommend bringing your own food an drink into the park. Fortunately, they had a free chess board to pass the time (bonus points for teaching Molly how to play).

Emerald Pools

The Emerald Pools loop is located at stop #5 and is right across the road from the Zion Lodge. Unfortunately, the full loop was closed when we visited in September 2018, and as of November 2018 the trail is still closed. However, the Lower Emerald Pools trail was still open so we were able to do the short 1.3 mile out and back trail. Although the lower pool wasn't exactly emerald green, they get their greenish tint from algae that grows in the water.

Weeping Rock

Weeping Rock is located at stop #7 on the scenic drive. Similar to Court of the Patriarchs, this a very short walk clocking in at just over 0.25 miles. Weeping Rock features lush hanging gardens because the water seeping through the rocks keep them consistently moist. It is no small feat for the water to 'weep' out of the rocks. It has taken over 1,000 years for the water to penetrate through the permeable sandstone, but nature always finds a way.

The Narrows

The Narrows hike is a 1.8 mile highly trafficked trail that is stop #9 on the scenic drive. Ok, confession, we didn't actually do the full hike because this was our last stop and we were pretty beat by this point. Full disclosure, if you want to do this hike be prepared to get wet, and we mean up to your shorts/pants. After seeing tons of people leaving soaking wet, we were less than enthusiastic about wading through the Virgin River right before the sun set. However, we did part of the hike and even continued our walk back to Big Bend (stop #8) in order to avoid the several hundred people in line to get back on the shuttle. We thought this part of the hike along the scenic drive was much more enjoyable than wading in the river and waiting around soaking wet for the bus.

The Virgin River holds significant meaning to Zion National Park as this river is responsible for carving out the entire valley over thousands and thousands of years. Although it may not look like a big strong river, it can suddenly multiply in size when a flash flood hits. The strong and fast current can come ripping down through the valley moving tons (literally) of sediment, even moving boulders that down down trees. In 2015, seven people were killed due to a flash flooding incident in Keyhole Canyon. We were told that when it rain hits Zion it's best not to attempt this hike because the river can rise quickly. It just goes to show the immense power of mother nature and we must heir on the side of caution when dealing with her.

Bryce Zion Campground

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We originally had only planned to stay at Bryce Zion Campground for 5 nights, but ended up staying an extra because we enjoyed it so much. It was roughly equidistant from both Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park so that is how we split our stay between the two parks. It had a friendly staff and you could even feed the horses they have! I loved feeding them carrots and celery. Our only concern was that when we left the campground we noticed ticks all over the truck and camper. Thankfully, we did a thorough inspection and didn't find any on us or our belongings so always be sure to do a tick check when camping! Especially around friendly farm animals.

This campground was also about a 30 minute drive to the picturesque Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park that has rolling dunes open to sand boarders and dune buggy enthusiasts. It makes the perfect day trip in between seeing the two parks.

Bryce Zion Campground

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We originally had only planned to stay at Bryce Zion Campground for 5 nights, but ended up staying an extra because we enjoyed it so much. It was roughly equidistant from both Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park so that is how we split our stay between the two parks.

It had a friendly staff and you could even feed the horses they have! I loved feeding them carrots and celery. Our only concern was that when we left the campground we noticed ticks all over the truck and camper. Thankfully, we did a thorough inspection and didn't find any on us or our belongings so always be sure to do a tick check when camping! Especially around friendly farm animals 😉 This campground was also about a 30 minute drive to the picturesque Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park that has rolling dunes open to sand boarders and dune buggy enthusiasts. It makes the perfect day trip in between seeing the two parks.

See more of Southern Utah & Arizona

If you take the southern route between Zion and Arches through Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend is along the way. This unique 270° turn in the Colorado River is an iconic site that is worth the visit. Read more about it here...

Monument Valley is an incredible region that spans both Arizona and Utah. However, the Utah side is home to famous scene in Forrest Gump where he stops running. Read more about it here...

If you take the southern route between Zion and Arches through Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend is along the way. This unique 270° turn in the Colorado River is an iconic site that is worth the visit. Read more about it here...

See more of Southern Utah & Arizona

Pink Coral Sand Dunes is located less than an hour from Zion. It's a great place to visit on an off day between both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. Read more about it here...

Monument Valley is an incredible region that spans both Arizona and Utah. However, the Utah side is home to famous scene in Forrest Gump where he stops running. Read more about it here...

If you take the southern route between Zion and Arches through Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend is along the way. This unique 270° turn in the Colorado River is an iconic site that is worth the visit.  Read more about it here...

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