Located in southwestern Utah, Zion National Park is one of the most well-known national parks in the United States.
Famed for its massive canyon walls comprised of red and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone, this national park is surely one of the most beautiful anywhere around. Zion’s pristine beauty attracts four-and-a-half million visitors each year.
Zion is located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions. The convergence of these vastly different environments creates wildly unique geography within the park, from canyons, mountains, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, and natural arches.
In addition, numerous plant and animal species inhabit the park’s four life zones, from desert regions to riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest regions.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of RV adventurers flock to Zion National Park to witness its awe-inspiring geography.
One of the most popular hikes in the national park can be found in The Narrows, which winds through a slot canyon thousands of feet high. Did we mention that it also requires you to hike upstream along the Virgin River in an area that is sometimes only 30 feet across?
Although Zion National Park is not far from the Grand Canyon and some other national parks, it is completely unique in terms of how visitors experience the park. While the majority of Grand Canyon visitors only get to experience the park from the canyon’s rim, Zion is essentially the opposite, allowing you to experience the park from the base of Zion and Kolob Canyons.
This 229-square-mile national park is absolutely colossal in size and sensation.
That’s why we’ve put together this all-inclusive guide for RV adventurers who are interested in visiting the amazing Zion National Park.
The History of Zion National Park
The area within Zion National Park formed as a result of rock layers being uplifted, tilted, and eroded over millions of years.
One thing that you may be shocked to learn is that Zion National PArk is part of a natural formation known as the Great Staircase along the Colorado Plateau. This series of colorful cliffs stretching between Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the Grand Canyon. In fact, the bottom rock layer of Bryce Canyon is the top layer of Zion, and the bottom layer of Zion is the top rock layer of the Grand Canyon.
Over hundreds of millions of years, the region around Zion National PArkwas altered by uplift, erosion, and volcanic eruption. The geologic story is extensive at dates back to the Mesozoic era, 240 million years ago.
Human habitation did not take place until 8,000 years ago when a small group of semi-nomadic Native Americans known as the Basketmaker Anasazi temporarily settled in the area.
The first European-American settlers to arrive on the scene were the Mormons, who visited the area in 1858 and settled there in the early 1860s. As more pioneers learned about the area around Zion, greater conservation efforts were taken.
President William Taft established the area as Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909. However, out of fear that early settlers would not be able to pronounce the name, and subsequently avoid visiting the area, the name was proposed to be changed to Zion National Monument in 1918. The new name also had a greater appeal to the Mormon influence in the area.
On November 19, 1919, congress passed a bill that redesignated the monument as Zion National Park, which was signed into recognition by President Woodrow Wilson. The Kolob section of the area that was previously separate from Zion National Monument was incorporated into the national park in 1956.
Since its introduction as a national park in the early twentieth century, visitation has been steadily growing. Forty years ago, the park welcomed roughly one million visitors. Today, that number is closer to five million.
Fortunately, there are plenty of places to spread out to enjoy the park in a way that is entirely your own.
Getting to Zion National Park
Zion National Park is located in Springdale, Utah, in the southwest corner of the state.
One thing that visitors may not know is that there are very limited parking spaces in the national park. In fact, even during the less busy months, the parking lots within the area fill up very fast. Therefore, your best bet is to park your RV near a shuttle station and catch a bus ride into the park.
There are two main shuttle lines in Zion. One is located within the park and requires a ticket that must be purchased in advance at Recreation.gov in order to ride. The second shuttle system is free and has multiple stops in the town of Springdale.
If you opt for using the shuttle system, keep in mind that most parking spaces in Springdale charge by the day. Consider this fee as part of the cost of entry. The pass to park in Springdale is not a voucher for entry to Zion, and a park entrance pass will have to be purchased separately.
The shuttle service runs from 6 am to 8:48 pm daily and allows for plenty of time to see the park each day. Traffic is extremely limited in the park in order to protect vegetation, prevent parking problems, and to maintain tranquility in Zion Canyon.
However, if you are inclined to seek out a parking spot within the national park, it’s still a possibility. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to arrive very early in order to find a spot to park.
If you’re coming in from Las Vegas, expect to have about a 2.5 hour drive ahead of you over a course of 160 miles. The fastest route is to take I-15 N to UT-9 E which will lead you directly into the park. Most of the drive is fairly scenic itself, so you can relax and enjoy the ride for most of the journey there.
From the north, near Salt Lake City, it’s about a 4.5 hour drive over 308 miles. The most direct and fastest route is to take I-15 S for the majority of the journey. Take exit 27 for UT-17 and then make a left onto UT-9 E to enter the park.
When you first enter the park, be sure to stop at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center near the south entrance or the Kolob Canyon visitor center near the west entrance of the park. You’ll be able to learn about park activities here, receive restaurant recommendations, view transportation schedules, and purchase any permits if necessary.
Both visitor centers are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the spring and summer, and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the fall and winter.
RV Camping near Zion National Park
Zion National Park has a variety of RV campground in the area.
South Campground is usually regarded as one of the best places to camp within Zion National Park. There are large, old-growth trees that provide some shade from the blazing sun above. The campsites are also spacious and have a good distance between each other.
There are no hookups available in the South Campground, but there is a dump station, potable water, and full service bathrooms. There are 117 sites available and reservations can be made up to 14 days before your arrival. Keep in mind that this campground is only typically open from the beginning of March until the end of November.
The Watchman Campground is also incredibly scenic and conveniently located near the park’s south entrance. There are fewer trees in this campground, which means the midday sun can get pretty hot, but this also makes for a more stunning view of the surrounding canyons.
There 95 total sites available, but only 26 will accommodate RV campers. Each site also has electrical hookups and reservations can be made up to six months in advance. Another great thing about the Watchman Campground is that it is open year-round.
If you can’t find a spot to camp within the park, you shouldn’t worry too much. There are plenty of additional RV campgrounds outside of the park.
For the most convenient campgrounds, the Zion Canyon Campground and RV Resort is within walking distance of the park’s entrance. There are 133 sites available for RVs with full hookups available and free WiFi!
Another great option is the Zion River Resort RV Park & Campground located in the town of Virgin. This campground has pull-through sites, full hookups, free WiFi, and a pet area. You can also catch a shuttle to the park from the campground for a small fee.
If all else fails and all of the campsites appear to be book, you can also look in the town of St. George. This town is only 45 minutes away from the park and offers many of the same accommodations in Springdale and Virgin.
Grocery stores and gas stations can be found in any of these nearby cities. If you’re in need of a quick meal, consider packing a picnic from the supermarket in Springdale. There also one restaurant located within Zion National Park. The Red Rock Grill serves burgers and other classic food options, but it tends to get very busy, so plan accordingly.
Attractions at Zion National Park
There are plenty of sightseeing and outdoor adventure opportunities in Zion National Park. Whether you’re planning a visit for just a couple of hours, or you have several days to explore the park in depth, there are some highlights that you shouldn’t miss.
One great option to fill part of your day with is the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This road is only open to vehicles in the winter, when the park is less busy. However, during the busier months, if you’ve bought a pass from recreation.gov then you can hop on the shuttle bus. The road offers some of the most scenic views in the park, including a view of Angels Landing and access to The Narrows.
Zion National Park also has plenty of amazing hikes, ranging from less than a mile to long-distance multi-day trips. The two most popular are arguable Angels Landing and The Narrows. If you do hike up to Angels Landing, be prepared for a huge climb in elevation, although, the views when you reach the top are absolutely breathtaking.
Other popular locations in Zion National Park include: Weeping Rock, Riverside Walk, Lower Emerald Pools, and Checkerboard Mesa.
If you didn’t have a chance to purchase a shuttle pass ahead of time for inside of the park, there is another great alternative. The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway runs through the park rom the South Entrance to the east. The drive is very similar in beauty to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, but it offers an entirely different view of some immaculate scenery. There are several pull-off spots to look out across the landscape.
Even then, this is all just scratching the surface. While these highlights are sure to give you an authentic Zion experience, it’s strongly recommended to check out additional areas in the park to experience everything it has to offer.
The park also offers guided horseback riding trips, nature walks, rock climbing, bicycle routes, and evening ranger programs in the summer months.
Zion: An Epic National Park
Zion National Park is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful parks in the United States. The trail systems alone are guaranteed to take you from top to bottom, and all around the alluring canyons making up much of the landscape.
Fortunately, RV adventurers will find plenty to do in the area, even if you choose not to visit the park every day. The town of Springdale has a fun culture of its own, and you’ll be able to find additional events and amenities there. This can be especially rewarding if you’ve spent most of the previous day hiking and need a day for rest.
It’s easy to see why the area draws such a large volume of visitors each year. Zion National Park is certain to make you feel like you’ve reached the Promised Land on your upcoming RV vacation!
Looking for more National Park adventures? Check out our National Park Guide List