We visited Zion for only a half day on our first Big Trip two years ago and didn’t really get why people are obsessed with this National Park. This trip, we wanted to really understand Zion’s appeal, so we stayed close by for five days. Result: we get it! We really get it. Zion is incredible.
We stayed at Zion River Resort, after seeing it on a “best RV campgrounds” list somewhere. It’s one of the nicest campgrounds we’ve stayed at, clean and spacious, with full amenities. Our site backed up to the Virgin River, but a stone wall with a “beware of rattlesnakes” sign blocked our view of the water (but not just a few spots down there was a trail down to the river). Eep. Zion National Park’s main entrance is about a 12-minute drive from the campground.
There’s an RV campground in Springdale, the town immediately outside Zion, and we’d try that on a future visit just to be walking distance to the many Springdale restaurants on its surprisingly bustling main drag–not to mention walking distance to the National Park.
The Watchman campground inside the National Park looked sunny and peaceful, but there are so many people tromping by on the adjacent trails that we wouldn’t want to stay there.
We also saw lots of BLM boondocking options on Kolob Terrace Rd–use this site to find details.
Zion National Park
The first time we popped by Zion, we only had time for one hike, so we chose Angel’s Landing. Obviously we had time for a bunch more this trip. The shuttle bus irritated impatient J, but I rather liked just parking the car once and being able to stare out the windows on the ride to the trailheads.
I wrote about our Zion experiences on the Zion page.
Outside Zion National Park
While we were in the area to experience Zion, we also wanted non-Zion trails to entertain Bugsy, as dogs aren’t allowed on trails in Zion. (The exception in Zion is the Pa’rus paved multi-use trail, which I’ll talk about with the other Zion hikes.)
We stopped into Zion Outfitter to rent water-hiking gear, and the friendly dog-owning employees gave us a couple recommendations for doggy hikes. One trail is also a popular mountain biking trail, so we chose the other: Eagle Crags. It’s about six miles, up to the base of a big craggy mount, with lots of rocks for picnicking with a view of the valley. It was a perfect recommendation.
Snow Canyon State Park is a playground of red rock formations a little farther from Zion, about a half hour west of Virgin in the larger town of St George. The entrance fee is $10, and after we’d paid and looked at the trail map, we saw that the trails are mostly NOT dog friendly. J and I took turns popping down a couple of the shorter trails while the other walked Bugsy around the trailheads: Jenny’s Canyon was neat, while Johnson Canyon was just ok, and Cinder Cone was fun! The Paradise Canyon section of the park (but it’s outside the fee area) IS dog friendly, and it’s a lovely area known as St George’s “City Park” as it’s connected to downtown by bike paths and is full of people climbing, trail running, and walking dogs.
Eating and drinking
There’s no reason to split Eating and Drinking into two separate sections, because we’re in Utah, and in Utah you can’t order drinks at an establishment without also ordering food. The alcohol laws here are nuts.
Fort Zion is an incredibly cheesy tourist trap featuring cutesy Western buildings near our campground, and we felt compelled to stop in. The gift shop is full of crappy souvenirs, but more importantly: the restaurant sells homemade ice cream!
River Rock Roasting is the coolest spot close to Virgin (about a 10-minute drive away from Zion). We had beers and a scone (because you have to order food to drink in Utah) and sat on the deck, watching the sunset over the canyon behind the building, while attempting to do some computer work. It was awfully hard to focus on the computer screen.
We wanted a cocktail, so we had dinner at Bit and Spur. The cocktails and food were all good, and J really liked his ribeye. Each time we talked about Spur (as we called it), we said it a la Jessica in The Man From Snowy River. Anyone know what I mean? [After reading this, J made me add that no, he did not say it Jessica-style.]
Inexplicably, J needed to watch the Redskins, so he went to the only sports bar in town while the more reasonable amongst us (i.e., me) hiked in the National Park. Jack’s Sports Grill showed the game, but J thought the food was pretty awful.
Zion Brewery has an incredible location: literally steps from the pedestrian entrance to Zion National Park. The patio kind of overlooks the Virgin River, and the National Park campground across the river. The beers are pleasant, and the food we tried was quite good, if served in small portions for the price. But hey, you’re looking at Zion while you eat, so there’s going to be a surcharge.
We were in St George hiking in Snow Canyon on our first day in the area… which was also my birthday! So for my fancy birthday dinner, I chose Cliffside Restaurant in St George. The food was delicious, and the sunset view over the little city from our deck table was fantastic.
This is farther afield, but you’ll likely go through Colorado City, Arizona, on your way to or from the Zion area. If you do, you MUST stop at The Hive food truck. We stopped on the way to Virgin, and on the way from Virgin, for breakfast burritos and a fancy latte. We also picked up some staples at the Bee grocery store next door, but be advised that their beer selection isn’t as fabulous as they advertise (they’re right over the border from Utah in Arizona, so they can sell real beer at grocery stores–we had high hopes).