We knew getting a spot at the first-come-first serve campground in Zion National Park during spring break would be difficult. We had a plan though, and it seemed like a good plan. Unfortunately, as plans sometimes do, this one fell short. The plan went something like this: Monday evening- pack up Airstream, dump tanks at Lone Rock, drive to Walmart in Page, spend the night.
Tuesday morning- leave bright and early, drive 2ish hours and arrive at Zion just in time to snag the site of some departing family who needed to drive back home to Minnesota or wherever. The plan fell short on two counts. First, early for us is like 9am. Second, we underestimated the popularity of Zion as a spring break destination. Not only was the campground busier than anticipated, but the traffic through the park was also much more congested and slower moving than we counted on. All of this resulted in an arrival time around noon and a full campground. With not many other options at hand, we bit the bullet and shelled out some bucks for a spot in the closest private park we could find for the night.
It’s been several months since we stayed at a park full hookups, so we spent the afternoon & evening taking full advantage of the amenities. We utilized the surprisingly fast wifi, did a few loads of laundry and took the longest, hottest showers ever. As luck would have it, we also ended up at the same park as some fellow full-timing RVrs, Pam & John. Their blog, Oh The Places They Go, has been an inspiration for us these last few months as we followed along on their often ambitious hiking adventures. Not only were we at the same park, but we had a site practically right across the street from them (their rig is the tan & black motorhome that you see in on the lower right side of the above photo). It was great to meet them in person and although they’re leaving Zion on Sunday it sounds like we will cross paths again in Moab sometime in the next week or two.
The next morning we got a much earlier start and pulled out a bit after 8 am arriving at South campground before 9. Just in time to snag the spot of some departing campers. Success!
South Campground is one of the two campgrounds in the Zion. The other campground, Watchman, takes reservations and as a result is nearly impossible to get into unless you plan far, far in advance. The last time I looked the earliest you could get a spot was mid-July. The two campgrounds are practically right next to each other and as far as I can tell the biggest difference between them is that Watchman offers full-hook ups while South is dry camping. This means that Watchman is primarily full of larger RVs and South is about half tenters and half small RVs. It’s been awhile since we stayed at a park with so many tents and it’s quite nice to look around and see people actually camping and not just RVing. Not that we’re planning on switching to a tent anytime soon :)
We quickly realized that one of the best things about this campground is the dog friendly trail that runs along its perimeter. The Pa’rus trail starts at the Visitor’s Center, passes the campground and continues for another mile or so. It is the only trail in the park that allows dogs so chances are we will get to know this trail very well during our time here.
The Pa’rus trail winds around the Virgin river as it climbs up into the canyon. Much to the delight of our water loving pooch, there are numerous river access points along the trail. Phin thought we should check them all out, but in the end he was happy enough with the two we stopped at.
While meandering along this trail was a fine way to spend the afternoon, we were ready for some real hiking, so on Thursday we set out to do just that. Zion is a great park for hiking. There seems to be something here for everyone. From short hikes perfect for families with young kids, to mid-length scrambles and longer overnight treks into the back-country. Many of the hiking trails are accessible from the free shuttle service that runs up and down the main canyon. Starting the last week of March when visits to the park start to pick up, the route covered by the shuttle is closed to all traffic and the only way you can travel the Zion Canyon Scenic Dr. is by shuttle. They started the free shuttle service back in 2000 to cut down on traffic and minimize the amount of parking needed in the canyon. It’s a great system that helps keep the park in a more pristine condition while offering visitors a convenient way to travel through the park. There are a good number of shuttles that run up and down the canyon all day. Even though the park is very busy right now we didn’t have to wait long for a shuttle on either of our trips.
For our first hike in the park we decided to jump right in and tackle a strenous hike to one of the highest points in the park. Topping out at 6508′, Observation Point is a steep 8 mile round trip hike that gains a heart pounding, thigh burning 2100′ in elevation.
The trail began with a series of steep switchbacks that wind up the eastern side of Zion canyon.
After roughly a mile of climbing the trail leveled out and entered Echo Canyon.
As we traveled through Echo Canyon the trail offered glimpses down into a deep slot canyon off to the side.
From here the trail resumed a gradual ascent up around the back side of the mountain.
The grade of the trail began to increase and we decided it was time to stop for lunch. We had traveled about 2 miles at this point- halfway to our destination.
After lunch we continued to climb up, up and up. After traveling through an open rocky hillside we reached the final steep section of the trail. This the part of the hike is definitely not for anyone with a fear of heights. A series of switchbacks cut across the face of a cliff above Zion Canyon below. The trail has been blasted into the white rock wall and while it was wide enough for two people to pass, the drop off over the edge was straight down.
Finally we reached the rim and the steep part was over. From here a flat, sandy trail traversed across the rim to the summit.
The view from 6500′ was incredible. We could see Zion Canyon below, Angel’s Landing, and the bottom section of the trail we had just climbed.
Hiking Observation Point felt like quite an accomplishment and was a great start to our exploration of the park. Tomorrow we’ll tackle another hike and have more photos and stories to share.