Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah is one of the top five most-visited national parks and one of our personal favorites. From hiking the amazing red rock mountains to floating on the majestic Virgin River that carved the enchanting Narrows, Zion is an outdoor lover’s dream. So, you’ll likely not be surprised to learn that many come to Zion National Park for epic camping adventures. Here, we’ve compiled a list of the best places for Zion National Park camping to get the most out of your visit.
Let’s dive in so you can get started booking your reservations!
Where Is Zion National Park?
Zion is one of the Big 5 National Parks in Utah in the southwestern United States that shares the blazen red rock of the region’s sandstone. Located in Utah’s southwest corner near the Arizona border, Zion National Park is east of I-15 and west of Highway 89 on State Route 9 that runs from Springdale, UT to Mt. Carmel Junction. Kanab is to the southeast, and St. George is to the southwest. The Arizona border and Grand Canyon National Park sit to the south, and Cedar City is to the north.
Driving through the park is an option, but vehicles over 11’4″ in height or wider than 7’10” need special traffic control through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. This is because the tunnel is not big enough to accommodate these larger vehicles staying in their own lane. So, they have to stop traffic and send vehicles through on their own. There is a toll for this, so be prepared or route your road trip to enter the park from Springdale. We can tell you from experience that during the busy months,
Bryce Canyon National Park is about 70 miles to the northeast. Visitors can easily visit both national parks in a day. But the experience is better if you give at least one day to each park.
The History of Zion National Park
The canyons of Zion National Park were carved by the Virgin River and its tributaries. While relatively small, the river is very steep. It drops about 71 feet per mile, compared to the Mississippi River which drops about one inch per mile. This steepness gives the river its awesome carving power that still impacts the park today.
Native Americans had lived here for thousands of years, and John Wesley Powell put the area on the map when he led the first scientific exploration of southern Utah in the 1870s. Pioneers sent by Brigham Young from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints also traveled through during the 1800s. This group of people named the area Zion, referring to the Hebrew word for refuge and sanctuary.
Through the years, artists have tried to capture the beauty of Zion Canyon. Because the cliffs of this region were so remote and inaccessible, the only way the public learned of this beautiful landscape was through artists who ventured to the Southwest and painted and photographed the region.
In 1909, President William Howard Taft designated the canyon as Mukuntuweap National Monument. Just ten years later, Congress redesignated the park as Zion National Park on November 19, 1919.
Pro Tip: Lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails on these 7 Easy Hikes in Zion to Experience the Red Rocks.
How Many People Visit Zion National Park?
Zion National Park is one of the most-visited national parks in the country. Visitation peaked in 2021, with five million people traveling to Springdale, Utah. In 2022, the park welcomed almost 4.7 million visitors. The busiest months are May-August. Zion National Park camping typically books to capacity during these months.
Can You Camp Inside Zion National Park?
Zion National Park has three campgrounds and one lodge inside the park. The lodge offers motel rooms, cabins, and suites. Watchman Campground is the only campground with electric hookups. It’s open year-round. South Campground and Lava Point Campground are open seasonally and offer dry camping. It’s best to book early if you want to enjoy Zion National Park camping.
The 7 Best Places For Zion National Park Camping
If you want to bring your RV to Zion National Park, you’re in luck! There are some good options within and just outside the park. Whether you have a Class B campervan or a large Class A motorhome, you’ll find options to suit your needs.
1. Watchman Campground
Sitting at the south entrance of the park, Watchman Campground has tent sites and electric sites for about $20 and $30 per night respectively. Some sites offer 30amp service, and a handful provides 50amp service. There is a dump station and potable water available at the entrance to the campground. They enforce a 14-day stay limit.
The location of Watchman Campground is beneficial for RVers who want to be near the national park. It’s a short walk to the main visitor center and the Zion Canyon Shuttle System, which takes you to the numerous trails and sites within the park. Reservations are available up to six months in advance.
2. South Campground
Another campground within Zion National Park is South Campground. It’s also near the park’s south entrance. However, you can only make reservations for South Campground up to 14 days in advance. Whereas Watchman Campground is open year-round, South Campground is only available from early March to the end of October.
Guests can access flush toilets, drinking water, picnic tables, fire pits, and a dump station. There are no hookups. However, they allow generators at certain times, so check with management for their generator rules and regulations. There’s a 14-day stay limit at South Campground as well, with a rate of $20 per night.
Note: South Campground will have some road detours in 2023 due to construction.
3. Lava Point Campground
The last option to enjoy Zion National Park camping within the park boundaries is Lava Point Campground. This is a primitive campground, which means there are no hookups. Each campsite has a trash receptacle, picnic table, and fire ring. Guests have access to pit toilets but no potable water. There are no hookups, but they permit generator use within a time frame the management establishes. You can make reservations in advance, however booking is closed until the camping season is decided by management.
Since it sits above 7,800 feet, it’s typically open May through September, as weather allows. From the south entrance of Zion National Park, it takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach the campground. It’s off Kolob Terrace Road, 25 miles north of Virgin.
4. Zion Canyon Campground
The first campground on our list outside the national park is Zion Canyon Campground. With over 100 sites that offer electric hookups and only a half mile from the entrance, Zion Canyon Campground is a trendy option for RVers who want to be near the park but not inside it.
Amenities include a playground, laundry facilities, bathhouses, and a camp store. A riverside tent site is usually around $89/night, while a premium riverside RV site is approximately $119/night. Various other options fall into that price range.
5. Zion River Resort & RV Park
The Zion River Resort & RV Park is just minutes from the south entrance in Virgin, UT. With a 5-star rating on Campendium, you’ll find tidy sites and full-hookups to accommodate any RV type. Rates range from $45 – $91 per night depending on the season, site type, and site size. Snowbird rates and weekly discounted rates are available for those looking to spend even more time at the park. Additionally, discounts are offered for Good Sam, FMCA, Military, and First Responders at check-in.
At Zion River Resort, they offer heated swimming pool and hot tub, off-leash dog area, community room with TVs and games, laundry facilities, on-site propane fill, and playground. They also provide a 14-passenger shuttle bus to Zion from March to October.
6. Zion Crest Campground and RV Park
Zion Crest Campground and RV Park is another popular option outside the national park. On the East Zion Plateau, Zion Crest Campground is part of Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. Campground guests have access to dining and recreation services at the resort. The RV park offers full hookups and access to laundry facilities and bathhouses. There are also tent sites, cabins, glamping covered wagons, and other overnight options.
The RV campground site rates depend on season and availability. We recommend calling Zion Ponderosa Ranch to confirm availability and get the latest pricing.
7. Zion Wright Family Ranch
You’ll have views of Kolob, Smith Mesa, and Zion National Park from Zion Wright Family Ranch in Virgin, Utah. It’s only a 30-minute drive to the national park, so you’re close enough to access it but far enough away to feel off-grid. The campsites start at approximately $35/night but offer no hookups. Enjoy the dispersed camping style at Zion Wright Family Ranch on 1,200 acres. The ranch also provides glamping options and horseback rides.
Reviews on their site glow about the views and experience. However, be sure to ask about road conditions near your time of arrival in case of rain. Several people noted the road into the ranch can get a little slick when wet.
When Is the Best Time for Zion National Park Camping?
Zion National Park is most crowded in the summer season. It can get quite hot during June, July, and August, so if you can visit in May or September during the shoulder season, you’ll avoid the high temperatures. You’ll also avoid the crowds that visit during summer break.
Winter camping is possible, but you must prepare for snow and colder temperatures. Camping inside Zion National Park boundaries is only at Watchman Campground during the off-season.
Is There Free Camping at Zion National Park?
If you’d like to take advantage of free camping outside the park, there are dispersed camping sites at Dalton Wash Road and North Creek in Virgin near Crater Hill. To the south are Smithsonian Butte and Gooseberry Mesa dispersed camping locations. To find more options, check out Campendium, FreeCampsites.net, iOverlander, or other apps to search for free camping.
Pro Tip: Keep an eye out on your hike for amazing wildlife! Don’t know what to look for? We put together The Traveler’s Guide to Zion National Park Wildlife.
How Much Does It Cost to Camp at Zion National Park?
The cost of camping at Zion National Park depends on where you camp, the time of year, and the amenities. If you time your reservation-making right, you can spend as little as $20-$30 per night in a campground or upwards of $90-120 per night at a luxury RV resort. For the boondockers out there, there are also plenty of free camp spots nearby to satisfy even the most frugal explorers.
Is Zion National Park Camping Worth It?
Zion National Park is a favorite destination for many travelers. The massive sandstone cliffs, the slot canyons, and the Virgin River lure campers year after year. The backpacking, canyoneering, hiking, rock climbing, and stargazing opportunities seem almost endless. Zion National Park camping is truly an unforgettable experience.
Will you be one of the five million visitors to drive through the entrance gate at Zion National Park this year? Tell us your travel plans in the comments!
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