RV Road Trip: Zion National Park

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The Grand Circle

In October of 2011, Sam and I set off on an RV road trip adventure through the national parks of Utah and Arizona, also known as the Grand Circle. We purchased the America the Beautiful Pass for $80 which would give us access to ALL of National Parks. During our 8-day RV Road Trip we visited Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capital Reef National Park, Grand Staircase Escalate, Horseshoe Bend State Park, Arches National Park, Monument Valley, and the Grand Canyon.

Our journey began in…

Zion National Park

We made the 5-hour drive from San Diego, California to Las Vegas, Nevada to pick up our 27-foot Cruise America RV, in order to start our RV Road Trip closer to the location of the parks. This prevented us from putting an extra 300+ miles on a vehicle that ended up only getting about 8 miles to the gallon!

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Following a harrowing 3-hour drive, we arrived late in the evening and had to find our RV site (Watchman CampgroundLoop B/Site B059) by literally shining a flashlight out the window to see the site numbers. I heard the drive into Zion is absolutely breathtaking, but we may never know, because it was pitch black and raining upon our arrival. Despite the slightly stressful start to our journey, we were excited to relax and spend our first night in an RV.

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We had no idea what to expect when we awoke in the morning, because we couldn’t see a thing the night before. I stepped out of the RV and was blown away by the majesty of the surrounding beauty! Since it was October, the air was crisp and the morning fog hung right below the tips of the surrounding colorful sandstone cliffs. It was a sight to behold!

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Zion Shuttle Service

Our goal for the day was to explore as much of the park as we could! Since the road into the actual canyon (Zion Canyon Scenic Drive) is closed to private vehicles from mid-March to November, we had to rely on the Zion shuttle.

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First Shuttle Stop: Temple of Sinawava

Here we found Riverside Trail (1.5 hours / 2 miles round trip), the gateway to the Narrows. Riverside Walk is an easy paved trail that follows the North Fork of the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow, high-walled canyon. We stopped once we reached the entrance to the Narrows, because we didn’t have waterproof hiking boots and weren’t interested in having soggy socks for the rest of the day!

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Shuttle Stops: Big Bend & Weeping Rock

This is where visitors can view the Angels Landing Ridge Trail. Angels Landing is a 5-mile round trip, fairly strenuous hike known as one of the most outstanding trails in the US. Because of our limited time in each park, we would have to skip major hikes and stick to the shorter paths! Weeping Rock was our next stop. We took the Weeping Rock Trail (1/2 hour / .4 mile walk round trip). This was a short but mildly steep, paved trail that ended under a rock alcove with dripping springs.

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The Grotto

The Grotto shuttle stop is where serious hikers can pick up the Angels Landing trailhead (4-5 hrs / 5 miles round trip). Although we were not planning to embark on this strenuous adventure, we decided to depart the shuttle and just take a look around. I’m glad we did, because there was a park ranger standing by to point out various wildlife (mostly birds) in this particular region of the park.

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Zion Lodge

At the Zion Lodge we enjoyed checking out the lodge and resting our feet while enjoying some snacks and delicious hot chocolate. Feeling rested and well nourished, we walked across the street to the Emerald Pools trail head (1-3 hrs / Lower-1.2 miles round trip / Middle– 2 miles round trip / Upper– 3 miles round trip).

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Again, due to our limited time in the park, we settled on just going as far as the lower portion of the trail, and we were not disappointed. The dual waterfalls created a refreshing mist along the trail as we approached the 100+ foot waterfall.

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Final Shuttle Stop: Court of the Patriarchs

This stop included a short 5 minute / .1 mile walk leading to a stunning view of the Three Patriarchs and the Sentinel.

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Because of the time of year we visited the park, the crowds were almost non-existent, the shuttle wasn’t packed and we only passed a handful of other visitors on each trail. I also strongly recommend this time of year (fall) because of the crisp, cool weather, which is great for hiking!

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Canyon Overlook Trail

The next day, we took the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, which is a 10-mile road that connects the east and south entrances. One of the highlights of this drive was a mile-long tunnel, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. On the other side of the tunnel is the start of the Canyon Overlook Trail. The trail is well marked and leads hikers through a variety of topography.

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What’s great about this hike is that, although it’s a 1-mile (roundtrip) moderately difficult hike over rocky terrain, it offers high altitude, spectacular views of lower Zion Canyon and Pine Creek Canyon without the work of hiking to the top of something like Observation Point or Angels Landing.

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Although we didn’t want to leave the beauty of Zion National Park, we knew that we had many more parks to visit along our road trip adventure, so we elected to move on. For visitors serious about learning more about nature, the Zion Canyon Field Institute conducts a variety of one-day and multi-day workshops covering subjects such as photography and geology. For information on workshops, visit www.zionpark.org.

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Checkerboard Mesa

East of the Canyon Overlook Trailhead is Checkerboard Mesa, a sandstone mountain etched with a spectacular criss-crossing of lines and shapes, made through the forces of erosion.

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After a brief stop at Checkerboard Mesa, we continue our journey by making the 85-mile drive to Bryce Canyon National Park.

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 Continue on this journey with us, as we head to Bryce Canyon National Park!


  1. Hello there! May we ask you a question about your road trip? You said you drove from San Diego to Las Vegas to pick up your RV. Where did you park your car? Thank you so much!!!

    • We actually have family in Las Vegas and were able to leave our car at their house during our RV Road Trip. I found it rather bizarre that we weren’t able to leave our car at the RV rental facility (Cruise America). You would think it’s part of the package. I’m not sure if there is a parking facility nearby, as we didn’t need to look into this. So, unfortunately I don’t have any advice for you in this regard. Maybe call wherever you are considering renting from and see what suggestions they have, as I’m sure you’re not the first person with this question! Best of luck to you and enjoy your trip!

  2. Hi. Enjoyed your blog. I will be wrapping up months vacation at the grand canyon north rim before heading back to Denver for a 12hr ride. The route takes me past Bryce Canyon which is not in our itinerary. I would hate to drive past Bryce and not see it. Is it possible to stop in Bryce for 1hr to take in a few sites? If so, what’s the biggest bang for my limited time? Thank you.

    • Yes, absolutely! If you are that close, you simply have to visit! You’ll still have to pay the $30 park entry fee and parking may be limited, depending on the time of your visit (1 parking spot for every 4 cars that enter in the summer months), but to see the best views of the canyon visit Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, and Sunset Point. All fairly close to each other and if you had a little more time, you can walk along the rim trail between the points. This certainly doesn’t cover the whole park, but gives you a quick look at some amazing landscapes! There’s also a shuttle bus that runs throughout the park that you might want to look into, but if you are very limited on time, it’s best to have your own vehicle to explore.

  3. Hi there,

    We plan to go on a 4 day trip to LV-Zion-GrandCanyon. Need your expert help with the following plan,

    We leave from MSP thursday early morning (end of august or early september) to LV, spend a night in vegas, next day leave LV around noon and drive to Zion national park (2-3 drive by car??). Spend night in zion. Next day drive to Grand Canyon, stay there for the night, leave to MSP late sunday night. Is this a doable plan? Also, considering its late august, how are crowds, weather and acvomodation?

    Please suggest. Thanks in advance. Also, any tips for us would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks again and great going!!!!

    • That’s an ambitious plan! The drive from Las Vegas to Zion *should* take 2.5 hours, though we got caught in a traffic jam and it took us much longer. This would mean that you are not getting into Zion until the late afternoon/evening and then if you’re driving to the Grand Canyon the very next day, you’ll hardly have any time in Zion. Depending upon whether you’re going to North Rim or South Rim, the drive to the Grand Canyon could take anywhere from 2-3.5 hours from Zion. South Rim is where most visitors go. There is a free shuttle service that takes you to the different stops along the rim, though it can be quite crowded in the summer months. (There is also shuttle service within Zion NP.) We’ve only visited in October when the crowds were minimal and the weather was perfect! I imagine it will be a little warm and fairly crowded in August, and as such, you may want to make you accommodation reservations sooner rather than later. All of that being said, 4 days (including all of the driving time) isn’t really enough time to truly enjoy these two stunning parks. Maybe consider a visit to Bryce Canyon (close to Zion) and skip the Grand Canyon for now. But, I understand your desire to want to see as much as possible in a short amount of time! If you allow one more day, that would permit you to have at least 24 hours in each park, which isn’t much, but still enough to experience their undeniable beauty! Have a wonderful time!! Visit the National Park Service websites for more information! ZION -> https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm GRAND CANYON -> https://www.nps.gov/grca/index.htm BRYCE CANYON -> https://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

  4. Zion is an amazing place! I love you’re photos. Thanks for sharing your Zion journey with us it’s so inspiring. This is one of the best RV destinations, over the years I’ve talked to so many people who loved visiting Zion. Here’s a helpful resource for anyone who may be looking to take an RV trip to Zion. Here are some rv rentals by owners near Zion https://rvshare.com/rv-rental/st-george/ut

    • Zion is AMAZING! Our time there was too short; we’d love to get back there one of these days! Thanks for the resource; we’ll leave it up, in case some of our readers can get some use out of it. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Jealous of your RV choice! We did a similar kind of route through Utah and Arizona, but in a little SUV for a month. It was an awesome roadtrip but there were definitely some rainy days and very cold nights where it would have been nice to have a bit more dry space to hang out in. If it makes you feel any better about your gas mileage…we met people in slightly bigger rigs getting even worse mpg than you guys did! We met one couple in Colorado who had worked out they were running on 5mpg. Auch!

    • 5 MPG?! Yikes! Renting an RV definitely isn’t cheap. And even though it’s your transportation (plus gas), your lodging (plus camp site fees), and your kitchen (plus groceries), it’s still quite pricey. However, the experience of RVing is worth it in the end. We found it to be a wonderful way to explore some of the great parks of the southwest and we’d do it again in heart beat!

  6. How many nights did you stay at the Watchman campground ?

  7. Thank you so much for the insights. We are planning on a family trip (w 3 kids) starting from LV , Zion, Bryce, lake powell, Grand Canyon and back to LV.
    It’s a 10 day trip and we thought perhaps less destinations–> more time at each, will be better for the kids.

    Since it is a quite conservative plan, do you think we should add a Must See that we perhaps missed out?

    Thanks you SO much


    • It’s a lot of driving and you don’t want to cram in too much, so I think for 10 days, you’ve got a nice amount of things to see and do. Especially when traveling with kids, you don’t want too much of a rigid schedule, as we know things don’t always go according to plan with little ones in tow. There is so much beauty at Zion, Bryce, and the Grand Canyon, you won’t be disappointed. Maybe while near Lake Powell, stop by Horseshoe Bend. It’s stunning.

  8. Is it smart to drive a 40 foot motorhome for this trip?

    • Hi Michelle. We’re not 100% sure are we did the drive in a 27-foot RV. Much of drive is open highway, though there are a few winding roads and smaller passages. For example, if your vehicle is 11”4 (3.4m) tall or taller or 7’10” (2.4 m) wide or wider, including mirrors, awnings, and jacks, you will need a tunnel permit for the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel near Zion NP. Enjoy your drive through Utah… it’s a gorgeous region!

  9. I’d like to try travelling via RV. Thanks for this idea

    • It’s a great way to travel – see many different places without having to pack and unpack each day! Though with the price of gas right now, I’m not so sure it’s the most economical way to travel. But when considering an RV includes your lodging, too, it might still balance out!

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