Written in collaboration with Kampgrounds of America aka KOA. Opinions are our own.
We have made Father’s Day Week our annual camping trip for the last three years. We have found that it is a nice way to kick off the summer right when school ends, and the national parks are not yet overcrowded. We think it’s because everyone is saving up their vacation for 4th of July which is only a couple of weeks away. It’s always better with friends and family, but it requires more planning and doesn’t always work out because of scheduling conflicts. This year we visited Zion National Park in Utah, because it was highly recommended. The one attraction we wanted to experience were to hike through “The Narrows”. (If you google it, you will find a ton of information). Unfortunately, the water levels were still too high from the melting snow so it was closed on the days we were there. We stayed at a nearby Kampgrounds of America (aka KOA) which was conveniently located off the freeway and about a scenic 20 to 30 minutes drive to Zion. It is nothing like what we see along the freeway. Make Zion National Park a destination and make the detour. It is worth it. Don’t just drive through. Park your cars, and go on a hike. Many of them are easy levels you can do within 30 minutes to 2 hours. We counted six from the hiking guide (posted below). I think everyone should add Zion National Park to their bucket list!
Zion National Park
The maps that they give you at the park entrance is a helpful resource which will assist you in navigating the shuttles and the hiking trails. It is really easy to follow. I was able to download it from their website (see below). It includes the duration of the hike, level of difficulty, the elevation, and how long it will take. It also indicates if it is handicap accessible, bike friendly or pet friendly. There are not too many of those, but it will help you plan your day. We also watched the free film at the museum (shuttle stop 2) which gave us a good history lesson about the park.
ADDRESS: Zion National Park, 1101 Zion Park Blvd, Springdale, UT 84767
Phone (435) 772-01270 www.nps.gov/zion
2019 Entrance Fees:
$35 per vehicle, $30 per motorcycle, and $20 per person for bicyclists, pedestrians, and organized groups. All entrance fees are valid for seven consecutive days. 80% of fees collected remain in the park for repair, maintenance, and facility enhancement directly related to visitor enjoyment, health and safety.
We did one easy trail a day, but could have done more. The children didn’t even complain, because it was more of a leisurely walk than a hike. It was also exciting and we wanted to see more. Packing a lunch, snack and water is also highly recommended. The shuttle takes you roundtrip to all the stops so you can hop on and hop off. The two trails we explored were the Riverside Walk (shuttle stop 9) and the Lower Emerald Pool (shuttle stop 5).
HINT: Six of the shuttle stops had bathrooms. Map below!
As mentioned earlier, we want to come back to experience “The Narrows” which is also shuttle stop 9 and a continuation from Riverside Walk. It is listed under the strenuous level and not always open. Look up weather and flash flood potential forecasts beforehand. You will need closed-toe shoes or sturdy boots with ankle support and a walking stick. It will be much cooler than other areas in Zion. There are no bathrooms in The Narrows so you’ll want to go at Riverside Walk trailhead before hiking. Be sure to do research before you go. There is a ton of information out there.
Important Note from Map and Guide
“Hiking The Narrows means hiking in the Virgin River. At least 60 percent of the hike is spent wading, walking, and sometimes swimming in the river. There is no maintained trail because the route is the river. The current is swift, the water may be cold and deep, and the rocks underfoot are slippery. Flash flooding and hypothermia are constant dangers. Good planning, proper equipment, and sound judgement are essential for a safe and successful trip. Your safety is your responsibility.”
Free Shuttles (Spring through Fall)
If you’re visiting during the spring through fall, park your car and take the free shuttles. A parking fee does apply. They provide free shuttles that will drop you off near the trails. There are 9 shuttle stops. Each stop is unique. If you have a 4th Grader, you can get in free (and all the National Parks for a year) if you apply for a pass and bring the print out with you. More info can be found at EveryKidinAPark.gov. You can park in Springdale to take the town shuttle to pedestrian entrance at Zion or you can park inside at a designated lot, but those are limited and usually fill up fast. They’ll allow vehicles to enter the park but the routes are also limited. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible by shuttle bus.
TIP: Park your vehicles and take the free shuttles during peak season.
Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel
It being our first time, we drove with our vehicles first. It took us through a one-mile historic tunnel constructed for wagons back in the 30’s. Pay attention to the signs because you will exit the park without realizing it. After the tunnels, we had to turn back around to visit the other popular parts of the park. Yes, we ended up doing the tunnel twice. The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel is traffic controlled to allow large vehicles safe passage. If this is you, check the website because they’re only allowed certain times of the day.
Important Note from Map and Guide
“The Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel connects Zion Canyon to the east side of the park. It was built in the 1920s when large vehicles were less common. Vehicles 11’4″ tall or taller, or 7’10” wide or wider, require one-lane traffic control through the tunnel. Large vehicles cannot travel in a single lane through the tunnel. Nearly all RVs, buses, trailers, fifth wheels, dual wheel trucks, campers, and boats require traffic control. Vehicles requiring traffic control must pay a $15 fee per vehicle in addition to entrance fee. Pay this fee at the park entrance station before driving to the tunnel. The fee is valid for two trips through the tunnel for the same vehicle during seven day period. Rangers wills top oncoming traffic so that you may drive down the center of the road in the tunnel. ”
Where We Stayed
It was our first time staying with KOA. We went ahead and paid the annual membership fee of $30 which to me was a no brainer, because it gave us a daily 10% discount. Our discount was $44 off! It paid for itself plus we get 10% off future reservations for a year. When we were doing the research, it listed two locations near Zion. We just picked the one with the shortest drive from our original destination. We rented out a deluxe cabin located at St. George/Hurricane KOA. The model is much like the one last year we stayed in Yosemite, and we enjoyed our stay very much. The staff members are super friendly and the keep the campground pretty clean. Our model is one of the newer ones. It sleeps six comfortably, has a twin-size bunk bed, a queen bed, a queen sleeper sofa, a partial kitchen, and a full bathroom with tub and shower. They provided linens, bath towels, dishes, pots and pans, a microwave, coffee maker, BBQ Grill, picnic table, and it also had air conditioning. We also get free WiFi and satellite TV. When we tell family and friends, they don’t believe us and they don’t consider it camping. Some of them have had bad experiences, and they think it’s a lot of work. After camping this way, it will hard to go back to tent camping. We just want them to go and experience it themselves. It is really fun to go with other families. Everyone has fun and we have memories that will a last a lifetime.
ADDRESS: 5800 N. Old Hwy 91, Hurricane, UT. Phone (435) 879-2212
The site also allows RV and tent camping. There are restrooms, public showers, a laundry room, a pool, club house, miniature golf, shuffle board, play ground, pickle ball, horse shoes, a mini-store in case you forgot something.
WHAT TO PACK:
They had provided linens, dishes and pots and pans, and a gas grill. You never know what you will need but I hate overpacking and try to minimize as much as possible. There is a Super Wal-mart on our way in so you can wait until the last minute to shop groceries. Here is my short list on what to pack: Clothes, Comfortable Shoes, flip flops, hats, pool towels, sunblock, shampoo, lightweight laundry bag, first aid kit, trash bags, spices (transfer to a ziplock bag to save space), cooking spray or small bottle of oil, beverages, case of water, hot chocolate, instant coffee, table cloth, tongs, lighter, ziplock bags in various sizes for compact storage, serving platters (we like the aluminum trays because they’re lightweight and we can toss after our trip), dish sponge, and anything you might need to cook your meals. I like bringing my electric kettle because I can use it for instant coffee, hot chocolate, etc.
We hope you enjoyed this post. If you have anything that you wish to share, please comment below!