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Zion National Park: The Bucket List

Fellow truck campers share their hiking, camping, and adventure tips for visiting Zion National Park and the surrounding area. We added a few of our own, including our Zion visit that literally made the national news. Hello, David!

Zion National Park The Bucket List

Angela and I have visited Zion National Park a few times over the years but none was like our experience in May of 2013. The Go RVing campaign posted a request from ABC News looking for RVers to feature on the nightly news and, on a whim, we sent our information in. A week later we were contacted by an Associate Producer at ABC World News and were instructed to call them. On the phone, the Associate Producer asked us to shoot a video for the segment by the following Wednesday. After the call, they emailed us a shot list.

We happened to be in the vicinity of Zion National Park and immediately changed plans, changed course, and began planning a video shoot. When we arrived at Zion National Park, there were no campsites available–of course–and the place was packed solid with people and cars.

Zion Tip 1: Book your campsites as far out as possible; reservations are allowed six months in advance.

Zion Tip 2: Go on hikes as early as you can stand. Zion NP gets very crowded.

Thankfully, Angela spotted a road on the map just outside of the park called West Kolob Terrace (the road ends at Lava Point). The road went for several miles outside of the park before entering a remote area of the park. The rangers told us the area outside the park was BLM and wasn’t visited much.

Zion Tip 3: For Zion and other national park sites, always ask about hidden gems.

The next morning we stopped in Hurricane, Utah for supplies and headed to West Kolob Terrace to scout our video shoot locations. Before entering the National Park we found a large open turn out. That’s where we shot most of the video for ABC World News. Several driving shots were also recorded in West Kolob Terrace. It was perfect. In addition, we shot a few scenery shots while hiking inside the park.

Zion Tip 4: It’s not unusual for there to be free BLM camping within easy driving distance of national parks in Utah. We’ve used this trick several times over the years.

Zion Tip 5: Zion is really beautiful. It may be darn near impossible to get a campsite, and stupid busy, but it’s a must-see national park. Don’t be dissuaded. Make plans, and go.

Zion Tunnel Update: The Zion National Park website has posted that, “Beginning in mid-2026, the park plans to reroute vehicles that exceed 11’4” tall, 7’10” wide, 35’9” long, or 50,000 pounds to routes other than the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway (the road across Zion National Park). Vehicles that exceed these specifications can use existing alternate routes surrounding the park. These changes aim to help reduce collision likelihood, overweight transits on road bridges, and lane-crossing due to vehicles being too long to negotiate turns.”

After three days of shooting, we uploaded our video to ABC News in New York via an internet store inside a grocery store in Kanab. Angela said it felt like finishing a college term paper. I was just hoping ABC News liked what we had shot. Long story short, they did – a little. About seven seconds of our footage actually made the news. We still laugh about that. The next day, I uploaded the full four minute video, and moved on. That’s show business.

Get your bucket list out and a pen. It’s time to put Zion National Park on your list and make your campsite plans far, far in advance.

Mark Nissen and Nicida Maerefat
2013 Chevrolet Silverado
2012 Hallmark Guanella/K2

Hallmark Camper At Zion

We went to Zion in September of 2020. When we planned our trip, all of the campsites in the Watchman Campground were reserved. Visiting every day, we got a four-night Watchman Campground reservation because somebody canceled. Our persistence paid off. Now we go on waiting lists for openings based on specific date(s).

Personal vehicles are not allowed on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. We had to make reservations online to take a shuttle in the morning. We had some communication issues to make shuttle reservations, but it worked. The cost for the early shuttles is $1 per person. After 3 p.m., the shuttles are free, filling seats on a first-come, first-served basis.

View from Watchman Trail in Zion National Park

Above: View from Watchman Trail in Zion National Park

We hiked the Watchman Trail, a three-mile round trip hike above the campground. It provides a spectacular view up the Zion Canyon. Don’t miss it.

We also hiked to Angels Landing. It is a morning hike to avoid the heat of the day. The trail is quite steep with a 1,000-foot elevation gain over two miles with many switchbacks. I counted twenty-one of them. We were only able to hike to Scout Lookout. We stopped for lunch and watched the small shuttle buses worm their way up the scenic drive dropping off tiny passengers at various trailheads. That’s what a 1,000-foot elevation does to your perspective.

Above: Scout Lookout view

The Angels Landing portion of the trail, above Scout Lookout, was closed due to Covid. The chain portion to Angels Landing is only two to three feet wide which made a six foot distance between hikers impossible. The view from Scout Lookout is breathtaking and well worth the hike.

View From Scout Overlook

Above: Another view from Scout Lookout

In order to get to the Emerald Pools hike, exit the shuttle at the Zion Lodge, cross the street, and start up the trail. We entered one of the side canyons with 1,000-foot walls surrounding us. The trail winds behind the bottom waterfall and sprinkled us with occasional water drops. From the bottom fall the trail continued up to the two falls. It was another great hike. Returning to the Lodge we enjoyed a light snack and some ice cream.

Above: 1000 foot walls by Emerald Pools

Our planned hike of The Narrows hike was officially closed due to a cyanobacteria outbreak in the Virgin River. But that did not stop people from hiking the Virgin River. Our hike stopped at the end of the paved trail. We plan to return to do this hike.

At 5 a.m., we drove the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway towards the east entrance of the park. Just after the tunnel there is a trailhead for the Canyon Overlook Trail. Arriving a few minutes later, we found the parking lots already half full.

The trail varies from hard rock to sand with a footbridge and low clearance alcove to negotiate the five-plus feet of headroom. The end of the trail provides another view of the Zion Canyon. The road we drove to get there snakes back and forth, far below. We arrived in plenty of time to catch the sunrise. A bighorn sheep was standing on the ridge line behind us and enjoyed the morning as much as we did.

Watchman From The Virgin River Walkway

Above: Watchman from the Virgin River Walkway

On our last evening, we walked the paved trail just up from the campground, along the Virgin River. We saw more astounding views just along the river.

Zion is definitely worth a visit. The only drawback is that you will not be alone in your exploration. If you want to read more about Zion, and more of our trips go to

Todd Beaudoin
2015 Ford F-350
2010 Arctic Fox 992

Zion Hike Todd

We visited Zion in February 2024. I wanted to avoid the crowds, so we planned to visit in mid-February knowing that we were gambling with the weather. We got lucky. The highs were in the low 50s and it was in the upper 30s at night.

Some trails are closed during the winter months due to runoff and icy conditions. Also, note that the shuttle system doesn’t start until March.

Zion Hiking Trail

Open trails were limited during our stay. We were able to hike the Watchman Trail, West Rim Trail, and Angels Landing. These are long well-polished trails, and are not difficult.

Arctic Fox Camper At Zion

We stayed at the Watchman Campground. It was $30 a night for an electric hookup. Potable water and a dump station are available in the campground. It’s a challenge if you wish to stay longer than two days to get a campsite. We reserved in December for our February trip. I’d say most only stayed a night or two so the turnover is high in this park.

Coming from Arizona, we stopped at Horseshoe Bend on the way.

Orian Hartviksen
2011 Ford F-350
2021 Northern Lite 10-2 LE

West of Zion, between La Verkin and Virgin is an area with BLM camping (pictured below). Last time there were no restrictions. Now the BLM has 56 designated sites along three to four access roads. It’s very rough and lumpy to get in.

BLM Between Virgin and La Verkin, Utah

While we were in a designated spot, there were way more campers than sites, but they were all within the designated area. There was a great view and everyone was respectful. The BLM rules don’t specify how many vehicles can be there, but I’m sure that will change.

There are no facilities, but somebody left a potty by our site. We were mainly passing through. We did end up at Sand Hollow State Park (pictured below); a haven for off-road vehicles. The primitive camping there is dispersed along the reservoir and really nice. We were happy to wade in the water. It has hard-packed red dirt and is okay for driving.

Sand Hollow State Park in Utah

The last time we were in the area we did Walters Wiggles, but not to the top. Now you need a permit. It was spectacular!

On the rare times we go to state parks, we have only lost out on campsites once. When the sign says full, we always ask anyway. Usually, they have something.

In Capitol Reef, a van came by when we were waiting to talk to the camp host. They were leaving a day early and told us to take their site and that it was all paid for. At Natural Bridges a couple had a spot but the water wasn’t working so they had to leave.

At the Utah State Parks, they wait until noon before releasing spots. At National Parks, I think it’s at 10 a.m. It’s always worth asking!

Mary and Craig Carder
2019 Chevrolet 2500 HD
2013 CampLite 8.6

Zion Kolob Canyon

We only spent a day in Zion and chose to visit the Kolob Canyon area of the park. It was reportedly the least crowded and made more sense for driving to Bryce Canyon the next day.

Road Block Due To The Road Damage On Kolob Canyon Road

Above: Road block due to the road damage on Kolob Canyon Road

It seems our timing was perfect for bicycle riding. The road was closed to motor vehicle traffic about halfway due to a sinkhole that was scheduled to be repaired the following week. I’m guessing that knowledge of the road closure kept a lot of visitors away. There was hardly any traffic on the stretch before the closure.

Top Of Kolob Canyon Road

Above: Top of Kolob Canyon Road

I believe this was the most scenic bicycle ride we’ve ever done! No other bicycles were on the road that day, so we had the upper miles to share with only a few hikers. It’s only 10.6 miles round trip. We enjoyed it so much that we repeated the ride three times!

Return Ride Down Kolob Canyon Road

Above: Return ride down Kolob Canyon Road

The visitor center has modified their water dispenser so that you cannot screw on a hose. We made do with our jugs and funnel to refill our holding tank. There isn’t a dump station in the Kolob section of the park. There is one just inside Bryce. That’s the one that we utilized.

Boondocking Spot On Forest Road 29 Off New Harmony Road

Above: Boondocking Spot on Forest Road 29 off New Harmony Road

We found the perfect boondocking spot on Forest Road 29 off New Harmony Road. It was only nine miles west of the Kolob visitor center. The view of Kolob Canyon was spectacular from there.

Leaving Kolob, we headed north and picked up Highway 14 East in Cedar City and passed the ancient Markagunt Plateau volcanic field. It’s a vast eerie landscape containing Navajo Lake which formed when a thick blocky flow dammed Duck Creek. This road crosses through Dixie National Forest which allows dispersed camping and has multiple established campgrounds as well as many hiking trailheads. I regret not stopping to explore the area.

During Scenic Highway 12 Drive

Above: The Scenic Highway 12 Drive

Next, we took US 89 north a few miles to the start of “The All-American Road: Scenic Byway 12” in Panguitch. Scenic Byway 12 passes through Red Canyon with its spectacular red sandstone spires and formations and two road tunnel arches. There are multiple bicycle/hiking trails throughout the canyon that we enjoyed. This was close enough to our Bryce campsite that we could ride our bikes back.

Biking And Hiking Path Running Next To Highway 12 At The Tunnel

Above: Biking and hiking path running next to Highway 12 at the tunnel

We were able to boondock just two miles from the entrance to Bryce. The beautiful drive was less than a hundred miles and under two hours from Kolob.

Scenic Byway 12 continues all the way to SR 24 near Torrey. We would highly recommend taking the time to travel this route. You’ll pass Kodachrome Basin, Escalante Petrified Forest, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Capitol Reef National Park.

There are endless outdoor recreation and dispersed camping opportunities along the way and the sights are breathtaking. At times literally, especially the stretch called the Hogs Back between Escalante and Boulder. It literally took my breath away when I looked down. The road drops nearly straight down into deep canyons on both sides, making me feel dizzy. We seemed to be perched on a razor’s edge!

Greg Chambers
2015 GMC Sierra 3500
2015 Lance 855S

Zion National Park Rainbow

My wife and I were on a multi-state and multi-national park tour last fall with two friends who had a small travel trailer. Unfortunately, we made it to Zion on a Saturday and the place was a zoo–to put it mildly. We drove in through the upper end of the park having just come from Bryce National Park. After waiting a few minutes and paying a modest fee we were able to drive through the 1.1 mile long tunnel.

Editor’s Note: In order to drive through the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel, any vehicle that is wider than 7’10” (2.4 meters) and/or higher than 11’4” (3.4 meters) is required to obtain a tunnel permit. Vehicles over 13’1” tall and longer than 50’ in length are prohibited. To get the permit, you pay $15, in addition to the park entrance fee, at the entrance station.

It was a beautiful drive through the park, but with nowhere to stop, much less park, we were only able to drive through. Even the parking area at the main visitor’s center was full and closed to traffic, so we just kept going.

Zion Wright Family Ranch

We camped just outside the park at Zion Wright Ranch. It’s a private homestead of several acres. It was a “camp where you want” kind of place much like BLM land, but with rock fire rings and clean construction-type outhouses spread throughout the property.

Lance At Zion

It was a beautiful spot, but hard to find. It’s off a well-graded, steep, and windy dirt road. It was so steep that our friends with a two-wheel drive truck and trailer got stuck on one of the steep sections. Fortunately, we were in the lead and were able to back down in 4-low and pull them up the hill. It was a beautiful spot to camp, but it rained both nights. We waited until the afternoon for the road to dry out a little before leaving. It was $35 a night.

Of the seven national parks we visited, we were never able to camp in any of them in spite of trying to make reservations many months in advance. We drove through most of the campgrounds and rarely found them more than half full.

Alan Whittern
2012 GMC Sierra 3500
2007 Outfitter Apex 9.5

Angels Landing From Near The Trailhead

Above: Near the Angels Landing Trailhead

We hiked to Angels Landing and also went on short hikes near Checkerboard Mesa.

The top two hikes were Angels Landing and Observation Point. The canyon trailhead for Observation Point is currently closed after a rockfall last year. Check the Zion website for current conditions.

Watchman CG By Alan Whittern

I camped in Watchman Campground in Zion. My advice is to reserve as soon as you know you are going. You should find out when reservations become available and mark it on your calendar.

Kathy Claycomb
2007 Dodge Ram 2500HD
2019 Northstar Laredo SC

Dry Camping At BLM Site On Kolob Terrace Rd Utah

Above: Dry Camping at a BLM site on Kolob Terrace Road

We were fortunate to get a last-minute campsite reservation at the Watchman Campground inside Zion. Our approach was from the west, so prior to our day in the park, we boondocked for two nights at an expansive and very pleasant BLM site on Kolob Terrace Road in Virgin, Utah.

Inside Zion, visitors must park somewhere (in town, at the Visitor Center, or your campsite) and then ride the shuttle busses. You can also rent a bike. We rented e-bikes, which was great. We were able to stop where we wanted and had the full majestic experience. We even found a biologist with a condor-viewing station alongside the road.

Court Of The Patriarchs in Zion

Above: Court Of The Patriarchs in Zion

My advice is to go as early as possible to avoid the crowds, make reservations as early as you can, take long underwear, and read up on the geology of the area. Knowledge will enhance your enjoyment.

Don’t forget the other incredible state parks in Utah such as Kodachrome Basin State Park. Remember to have appropriate equipment if you plan to take dirt roads. They are generally impassable when wet.

I also recommend to keep checking the weeks and days prior to your planned visit. Cancellations do happen. A note for 2024 is that the South Campground is closed for a major update.

Connie Westbrook
2005 Chevrolet 3500
1997 Lance Squire 5000

Zion Camping At Watchman

Above: Camping At Watchman campground inside the park

We have visited Zion National Park in July and November. It is very hot in summer so our November trip was much more pleasant. If you come in from a different direction be sure to drive out east a little ways and back. It’s a spectacular drive!

Otherwise, it’s best to stay parked and use the buses. There is a bus service inside the national park and another for the town. They connect at the visitor center. Springdale is very small and completely overrun with tourists. Parking is very difficult so the buses work best. Most of the year you cannot drive into Zion Canyon so you have to take the bus.

We enjoyed hiking The Narrows. We walked in a stream over bowling ball size rocks. Many do it with one hiking pole but two poles work better while balancing on the rocks with each step. The river is in full shadow inside a wide slot canyon, so it is shady and cool.

We camped in Watchman Campground inside the National Park. It is very shady, which helps in the summer heat. There are some electrical sites but most are not. It’s also an easy walk to some shopping and eating opportunities from the campgrounds.

A secret shower is located across the bridge from the visitor center and behind the Happy Camper store in the shopping area. We never saw anyone else use them. In summer, especially, you will be glad you found them. There is one RV park in town behind a hotel. We have stayed there once. It has showers and laundry, but it’s crowded and small.

Robert Lehmann
2004 Chevy Silverado 2500
2004 Lance 825

Zion is a truly beautiful place in the fall. There are lots of autumn colors and perfect temperatures. We stayed in the park at the campground. In autumn it is easier to get a spot than in the summer, but you should get reservations way in advance.

Casey Myers
2010 Ram 3500
2007 Alpenlite Cheyenne 950

Zion was fun and enjoyable. We were there in April and experienced rain and some snow flurries at higher elevations. The park was not crowded.  I recommend Angels Landing unless you are afraid of heights.

We started at the Zion River RV Resort. It’s commercial and right on the Virgin River. You get full hookups. It’s a very nice park.

You have to book way in advance of your trip to stay in the park. Like Yosemite, it’s very difficult to get a site.

Going through the historical one-way tunnel was very interesting. You can take a side trip out the east gate. The scenery on Highway 9 was beautiful and worth the trip.

Jonnie Shipbaugh
Tacoma 2023 SR5
Tent camped

Zion is my very favorite American National Park. It is strikingly beautiful. I have hiked all the way to the chains at Angels Landing and was afraid to go further. There are multiple National Parks in southern Utah. Zion is the best and a good place to visit.

I have camped in the Watchman Campground. The campsites are ho-hum, but the surrounding scenery is well worth the trip. I went there for years before the current reservation system. Now you have to make reservations nearly a year ahead.

Don Stucke
2021 Ford F-350
1963 Shasta vintage trailer

We have not been to Zion with our vintage Avion truck camper yet, but we stayed inside the park with our vintage trailer once.

Here’s our tip. At Watchman Campground in the park they do not have showers, but there are showers at Bryce National Park which is an easy day trip. So if you are staying at Zion, you can plan to grab a shower at Bryce if you go for a day.

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