Zion National Park Utah: An OverviewSeptember 16, 2010 No Comments
One of the benefits of living in Southern Utah is its proximity to national parks. While Bryce Canyon and the north rim of the Grand Canyon are each just a few hours away, the most easily accessible from our current place of residence is Zion National Park. Although it’s located 43 miles from St. George, the drive into Zion is part of the experience. The road winds through the small towns of Hurricane and LaVerkin before opening up to some of the most beautiful scenery in Southern Utah. From many points along the way the Virgin River can be seen sparkling below, its red banks often lined with towering trees. The two-lane highway also runs past the ghost town of Grafton; one of the locations where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed.
Just outside of the national park boundaries sits the town of Springdale. Since there’s only one hotel within the park itself, (the Zion Lodge), Springdale provides the lodging, restaurants, gift shops, laundromats, and grocery stores that take care of most of the tourists that come through the area. It can provide a full day of entertainment and sightseeing by itself and is definitely a point of interest in its own right. Also available here are a number of camping, hiking, biking, and rafting outfitters for those who want to explore Zion in a different light, as well as several shuttle stops where the Zion Park trams pick-up and drop-off.
For those of us who remember Zion during the non-tram days, the shuttle can take some getting used to. They run from April through October, (the peak season) of every year and are the only way to get from one place to another inside the park. During the peak season cars must either be left in Springdale or parked at the Visitor Center just inside the park entrance. Anyone staying at the Zion Lodge inside the park is sent a special parking permit which must be presented to a ranger at the entrance points before they are allowed to make the three-mile drive to the hotel. From the first of November through the end of March, the shuttles are not in use and cars are free to drive anywhere throughout the park. During these months no permit is required to reach the Zion Lodge.
There are three campgrounds within Zion National Park: the South Campground and the Watchman Campground are both within Zion Canyon just on the other side of the south entrance. The third one, the Lava Point Campground, is an hour drive from the canyon, is very small, and is usually only open from June through October. During the summer months the two campgrounds within the canyon are almost always completely full so it’s best to make reservations well ahead of time when possible.
The Zion Lodge is also nearly always full during the peak months and making reservations in advance is again a good idea. It offers both motel rooms and cabin accommodations. Depending on the size of the room (there are a limited number of suites available), they have either a queen or king sized bed, full bathroom, and private balcony while the cabins feature two double beds, full bathroom, a fireplace, and a private porch. There are no televisions in any of the rooms or in the cabins so be sure to bring an alternate form of entertainment for the little ones during the hours you’re not outdoors!
There are a number of hikes and trails throughout Zion but not all of them are made for little feet. Some are extremely steep or go over difficult terrain and a few have scary drop-offs. One of our favorites though, is the Pa’rus Trail; it’s paved and is perfect for pushing a stroller or riding a bike. If you happen to be traveling with a pet, it’s also the only trail in Zion where they’re allowed.
My son loves this particular one because it runs along side the Virgin River and has many cut outs that lead right down to the water’s edge. Though it’s a bit difficult to get a stroller down to the bank (the paths are made of deep, soft dirt) it is possible! On one of our recent day trips to Zion I parked ours beneath a tree and sat with our little daughter while my husband and son played in the river.
While the river is certainly one of the fun parts of being in Zion, there are a couple of things I should point out. First, it’s extremely fast-flowing in many places and although there are calm shallows along the banks that provide the perfect spot to play, it’s certainly not someplace for children to be unattended. Second, rafting in the river within Zion National Park is no longer allowed, so those wishing to take part in this activity must do so where the river passes through Springdale.
Zion has always been one of my favorite places to vacation. As a little girl, my family and I made the trip many times from Southern California and now that I have children of my own, I love that we live close enough to visit often. Although many of the regulations have changed in the years since I first began coming, the scenery and the experience are every bit as spectacular. Hopefully my children will have as many fond memories of Zion as I do!
For more information on Zion National Park including hours, fees, and trails, please visit their page of the National Park Service website at www.nps.gov/zion. For more information on the Zion Lodge including reservations and rooms, please visit www.zionlodge.com.