Distinguished by the canyon’s steep red cliffs, Zion National Park is admired for its unique range of scenery. From the rusty rocks to the flourishing trees to raging waterfalls, campers might find that their thumbs get sore from snapping so many photos on their phones. While spring and summer are usually the most popular times to visit Zion, any time of year is magical within the canyon’s walls.
Back before Zion was a national park and before sleeping outside was a leisure activity, the area was actually relatively flat roughly 240 million years ago. However, as time wore on, the surrounding mountains began to erode, depositing layers of sand, gravel, and mud into the streams which carried these materials to the basin, slowly creating the layers that we now recognize as Zion Canyon.
Today, Zion National Park is the prime location for canyoneering, swimming, rappelling, hiking, and, of course, camping. No matter what your itinerary includes, you’re sure to have an unforgettable time and take some postcard-worthy photos.
Zion National Park Camping in a Nutshell
- Zion NP has three formal campgrounds and backcountry camping
- Some campsites offer 21st century amenities, some are primitive
- Expect to pay some park fees for your trip
- Be prepared for canyon weather and temperatures
The park has a total of three formal campgrounds as well as some backcountry opportunities. Depending on what kind of camping you’re planning on doing and the experiences you want to get, you’ll want to choose your campsite and gear carefully.
Zion Canyon Campgrounds – for RVs and Casual Campers
Zion Canyon has two campgrounds that are accessible by car or camper. Combined, this area has a total of 187 campsites with varying amenities. Located in Zion Canyon, you won’t have to travel more than a half-mile to access Zion National Park’s trails, waterfalls, and cliffs.
Just a quarter of a mile from the south entrance, the Watchman Campground is the go-to location for big groups, glampers, and RV fanatics. The Watchman Campground is open year-round, and reservations are available (and highly recommended) between March and October. With 66 tent campsites and 63 RV electric hookup sites, it’s easy to feel like you’ve become a part of a community at Zion National Park. In order to access these sites, you’ll need to pay $20 per night if just tent camping and $30 per night if using an RV.
There are also six group tent campsites that can hold up to 40 people at each one. The price per night for these larger sites ranges from $50 to $130, depending on the party size. In terms of amenities, you can find flushable toilets, cold, running water, and trash containers.
Whether you choose to bring an RV or a tent, be sure that you also have plenty of sunscreen. There are limited trees around the campsites, and when the sun’s high, you can burn quickly.
The appropriately-named South Campground is located just a half-mile from the South entrance. Unlike Watchman, South Campground is only open from February to November and requires a reservation. There are no electric hookups available here, so if you plan on bringing a camper, it’s best to choose a campsite at the Watchman grounds.
There are 121 total campsites available in the South Campground – 117 are for up to two tents and six people for $20 per night and four are for group tents. Group campsites at the South campground can house from seven to 12 people for $50 a night. Like the Watchman Campground, there are flushable toilets, cold, running water, and trash containers.
While Watchman Campground might be the ideal spot for RV and glampers, South Campground is better suited for those that pack light and don’t need too many creature comforts. With a 12-person max at the group sites, you’ll definitely have a quieter time in this area.
Backcountry and Primitive Camping in Zion National Park
If you prefer a bit more seclusion on your camping trip in Zion, you might want to consider using one of the national park’s primitive campsites at Lava Point Campground. Open from June to October, these campsites are on a first-come, first-serve basis and are located roughly 25 miles from Zion Canyon. There’s also no charge for camping in this area.
This area is still established grounds for multiple camping groups, but unlike the Zion Canyon locations, they aren’t nearly as many campsites. Nor are there quite as many amenities. To put it simply, primitive campgrounds are basically just flat spots on the dirt where you can stake your tent. There’s no water at Lava Point, but there are pit toilets if you don’t feel like finding a tree.
Zion National Park also has plenty of opportunities for backcountry camping. While this is the prime choice for experienced adventurists, this is also a great backup option if you find that the park is a bit too cramped during the busy season which tends to be from April to September. You do need a backcountry permit if you plan on roughing it through Zion Canyon. You can find some popular backcountry campsites along the West Rim Trail as well as the Chinle Trail. For canyoneering pros, Orderville Canyon will be the best option for finding your basecamp.
Must-Have Gear for Camping in Zion National Park
Now that we know the lay of the land, it’s time to talk technical. There are a lot of misconceptions on what kind of camping gear you should bring, especially when venturing into Zion National Park.
Zion National Park Camping Gear List
- Water filtration system
- High SPF sunscreen
- Tarp and paracord
- Portable stove (and propane)
- Lots of light and mid-weight layers
If you’re not familiar with the dry atmosphere that camping out west can bring, you can easily choose the wrong tools and clothes for your trip. During the spring and summer, temperatures in Zion National Park can range from the 60s and 70s during the day to 30s to 40s during the night. In summer, these numbers just to the 70s to 90s in the daytime and 40s to 60s at nighttime. With little humidity and intense sunlit, you can experience overheating and hypothermia on the same day if you’re not careful.
Packing for the Weather
That’s why the first items in your pack should be plenty of base layers and midweight layers. That way, you can add or remove what you need to throughout the day as the weather changes. And, when it’s time to tuck in for the night, you can fill the extra space (or “dead space”) in your sleeping bag with the layers you’re not using to help keep you warmer.
There is no shortage of reason to have a tarp with you while camping, especially in Zion National Park. The most pertinent reason for packing this essential item is to provide some much-needed shade. Paired with a couple of inches of P-cord, you can create some relief from the heat when there just aren’t enough branches to block the sun. It may seem unnecessary, but this can be the difference between a comfortable camping trip and a visit to the hospital for hyperthermia. And, as always, be sure you have lots of sunblock of at least 50 SPF, too.
Also important to bring along is a water filtration system. Even if you’re staying at a campground that has potable water, you’ll want a backup method just in case there’s a problem at the campsite, or if you want a little extra purification. On the same note, you should also have a portable stove with plenty of propane. Make sure your food and water sources are guaranteed, no matter what.
Pro tip: Before you enter the park, make sure you fill up all of your water bottles. And remember, the best way to avoid dehydration and overheating is listening to your body’s limits, avoiding too much sun exposure, and always having plenty of water on you.
Happy trails, Outsiders!