Zion NP is all about Towers and Temples, the essence of nature-carved sandstone thousands of feet tall. It is located just NE of St. George, UT which is a beautiful city in it's own right. We may have just saved the best for last as this is the most popular park in Utah. We traveled in from the northeast off of I-15 then through the small town of Springdale, UT.
Just as in Arches NP this time of year there are no reservations for campsites so we set up our base camp at Watchman CG just within the park. These sites do have electric, but water is only available at spigots or at the dump station so we watered up before establishing camp. We were here in December so only 1 of the 4 camping loops was open. Sites run from $8-$20 per night. We were in a beautiful site on right on the river so it was $20, but with our Senior Access Pass our total per night was only $10. During the summer and peak times of the year you DEFINITELY NEED TO HAVE RESERVATIONS. There will be 4000-5000 vehicles a day in the park or nearby village and only 450 parking spaces. The park does offer a shuttle service throughout the length. IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT FROM NOVEMBER 30 TO MARCH 4 IS THE ONLY TIME VEHICLES MAY DRIVE ON THE ZION CANYON SCENIC HIGHWAY. DURING THE SUMMER THE TOUR BUSSES MUST BE USED. IN ADDITION WAIT TIMES TO GET INTO THE PARK DURING SUMMER PEAK TIMES CAN BE AS LONG AS 90 MINUTES.
Our first day we wandered through town picking up a few supplies and some firewood. Barb, of course, had more detailed shopping in mind. Due to the time of the year not many of the shops were open and the ones that were open were pretty expensive.
Day #2 we traveled east along the Canyon Switchback Highway towards Mount Carmel and the East Entrance to the park. This route includes a 1.1 mile long tunnel that prohibits any type of commercial trucks, or vehicles (RV included) over 12' high or 50' long. So if you're camping here come in from the South Gate. This road begins an ascent pretty early and the switchbacks are tight. There are plenty of pull offs to take pictures and no end to the panoramas provided. Once past the top and out of the tunnel the terrain changes to a more sparce, desolate textured landscape rather than the sheer cliffs of the west side. This area is evidence of many layers of sandstone and other sedimentary rocks from millions of years of erosion and Mother Nature's hand.
Day #3 found us traveling straight north along the main Zion Canyon Road. This 12 miles is the heart of the park. The entire canyon is carved north/south along the Virgin River which had a major role in it's development over the last thousand years. The first part of the canyon is wider, but still as majestic.
The middle part of the canyon begins to narrow once you arrive at the Court of the Patriarchs. As you travel north the walls get steeper, the access to the canyon other than the road is not to be seen.
The Zion Lodge is located in this stretch. From here you will also notice the river turns from it's downstream silty brown to a blue shade. Further upstream it becomes either a deep green in the pools to perfectly clear.
At the end of the road is the Temple of Sinawava and the River Walk Trail which runs 1.1 miles to it's termination at the beginning of the Narrows. This trail is paved and pretty much all level; an easy stroll. From here on the journey is by foot only skirting the edges of the stream near the cliffs or just plain wading upstream. It is accessible for another 3.4 miles. We really wanted to journey further, but in December the stream is pretty much only about 40 degrees and the footing is treacherous, but many people do it, in the summer I would imagine.
We really enjoyed our stay in the park. We ended up with two days off at the end so we spent a day in town doing some laundry and restocking groceries, and propane. We did get a 'wild hair' the last day so we took a drive, the subject of which is our next blog chapter.