Of all the national parks I’ve seen, Zion is my absolute favorite. Kate and I were there in 2008, on a cross-country road trip in our teardrop trailer (see www.teardrop-trails.com/cross-country-trip.html). That was mid-September and the temps were in the upper 90s. We stayed at the Zion Canyon Campground, just outside the park in Springdale. Our teardrop was dwarfed by RVs then in the crowded lot, but the views were unbelievable. We were fortunate to befriend a campground host who offered to hike the narrows with us while Bailey and her dog stayed in her air conditioned RV. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to do much in the park, where dogs are allowed only on one hike near the lodge.
This time, we had hoped to stay at one of the two campgrounds inside the park, but even in May, they are filled up by mid-morning. So we stayed again at the Zion Canyon Campground, which was quite a bit spendier ($50/night) but offered full hook-ups, laundromat, pool, fire pits, and free wifi that actually works from your site. The weather was much more civilized, reaching the upper 70s in the afternoon, with rain one night.
If you enter Zion park from the east, you’ll pass through a mile-long tunnel that penetrates an entire mountain. The tunnel is only 13’2” at its middle height, so RVs and trucks have to drive down the middle of the tunnel. You pay $15 for a tunnel ticket (round-trip), and rangers will stop traffic coming through the other side until you have made it through. Also, you have to unhitch tow vehicles when driving through the park.
Kate and I were a little nervous about this procedure, so we utilized some cheap walkie talkies we’d bought at Target. While I drove behind Kate and Bessie, I’d let Kate know if she was driving a little close to one side or the other. She did great, and on the way back out, I drove Bessie, and it really wasn’t that big of a deal.
Hiking the Narrows
Zion is famous for its narrow canyons that flank the Virgin River, and hiking these eight years ago had been the highlight of our cross-country trip. We couldn’t wait to do it again with our friends. You take the shuttle bus to the last stop, walk the paved Riverside Walk for a mile, then slosh into the shallow, rocky river and head upstream. It’s best to have good water shoes (we all had Keen sandals) and hiking sticks, because the large smooth rocks can be very tricky to navigate, especially carrying a camera. The first time, we’d rented shoes and sticks at an outfitter shop across from our campground.
Flash floods are common in the narrows, and the park posts flood predictions each day. It’s important to check them before hiking, because floods occur even when skies above are blue. When we arrived at Zion, it looked like we might not be able to do this, but by the first afternoon, flood warnings lifted and we eagerly took off up river.
The river is cold, but after a few minutes, we didn’t even feel it. And the challenges of finding crossable water became a game. We were pulled forward, reluctant to stop. Every time we paused to look upward, we were stunned by the height of the cliffs next to us, the way the sun lit up the tops of the mountains. The rocks themselves were so rich in color and texture, marked by water and erosion, an aged patina that made stone look soft: marbled red, striped black and gray. Dotted with splashes of green where maidenhair ferns nested in vertical pockets.
We wished we had longer to forge ahead, but we had to be mindful of the time. Finding our way back in the dark wouldn’t be fun. So reluctantly we turned back around 6:00.
Zion is well set up for bicyclists. There are bike racks on the shuttles, and there’s a great wide bike path that goes along the highway, west of Springdale. A very easy ride with great views. That’s the one I chose, and I wished I’d had time to go further.
The second day, we all took a hike to Emerald Pools. The path to the first pool is an easy one, and it passes behind a waterfall. Although the pool is little more than a puddle. The upper pool is a real pool, but not impressive by Oregon standards. Still, it’s a good hike with some great views.