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The ULTIMATE Zion National Park Camping Guide | 2020 Update

Are you planning an epic Zion National Park Camping trip? If so, you’ve come to the right spot. In this updated 2020 guide we’ll share the best campgrounds within the park and a few FREE campsites located right outside park boundaries.

We’ve also created a specific Zion National Park Camping Checklist. This will help you prepare for the unique conditions and activities found in the the park.

Zion National Park is one of our favorite parks in the USA. From the epic hikes to the heavenly sunsets, we’re sure you won’t be disappointed.

Zion National Park Camping
Zion National Park Camping

Best Time to Camp at Zion National Park?

There are two main factors to consider when planning a camping trip to Zion. First, you’ll want to make sure the weather is ideal. Temps fluctuate greatly during seasonal cusp months – spring and fall will be the most comfortable. However, summer time camping is doable if you come prepared.

Secondly, and most importantly, you’ll want to consider crowd size. Despite the large size of Zion National Park, there isn’t much parking for visitors. Additionally, during peak season you must take the Zion shuttle to all trail heads – no private vehicles are allowed on the access road.

This means there are long lines and big crowds at all the main activity hubs. Fear not though, once you get on a hiking trail, the crowds get much smaller.

Here’s a useful chart that combines the monthly highs (temperature in Fahrenheit) and monthly visitors (x10,000). The green overlays show the ideal time to camp at Zion National Park.

Zion National Park Ideal Camping Chart
Zion National Park Ideal Camping Chart

What Should I Bring When Camping at Zion National Park?

It’s important to come prepared when camping at Zion. The park is remote – while there is one great grocery store near the main entrance, prices are very high.

Here’s a quick checklist for your Zion National Park camping trip:

  1. Food: Arrive with all the essentials. Single serving snacks like protein bars and nuts will be great for around the campfire and on a hiking trail.
  2. Water: Bring reusable water bottles to cut down on waste. A few gallon jugs of water is useful, too!
  3. Extra Shoes: Depending on your adventures, having an extra pair of shoes is a must. Some of the hikes take you through bodies of water! And, even if you aren’t doing extreme hikes, you’ll still need a pair of good-gripping shoes for the moderate hikes.
  4. Electricity: Not all campsites inside Zion provide electricity. If you need to recharge you cell phone, having a portable unit like the Goal Zero can really help.
  5. Camping Chairs: Your Zion campsite isn’t guaranteed to have a picnic table…we recommend an awesome camping chair.
  6. Propane Camping Stove: Even if your site has a standalone grill, it’s messy and time consuming to create a charcoal fire. Bring a portable propane grill with you. You’ll be able to quickly boil water for an early morning coffee…or grill some tasty bacon!
  7. The Extras for Comfort: Sunglasses, sun tan lotion, bug spray, backpack, selfie stick and hats.
  8. For Those Who Need Cell Connection: National Parks are serious dead zones when it comes to cell connectivity. We always travel with a cell booster. They can turn 1 bar of unusable service into 4 bars that can stream Netflix. This WeBoost drive sleek is the most economical cell booster – packing the most bang for your buck.

Campgrounds Inside Zion National Park

Here are the best campgrounds located within the National Park boundaries. Generally speaking, these campsites will provide you the quickest access to the Visitor Center and Zion Shuttle.

In the outline below we include price, reservation and location info for each campground. Furthermore, a unique “Zion National Park Camping Vibes” score has been given for easy comparison of campgrounds.

If you have the National Park Senior Pass, you can receive a 50% discount at these campgrounds.

Watchman Campground

Price: $30 RV Sites with electric / $20 tent sites not electric

Reservations: Reservations can be made up to 6 months in advance. The NPS strongly recommends making reservations saying, “…the campground is full every night during the reservation season.”

Why You’ll Love It: This park is so close to the visitor center. In fact, we stayed at Watchman Campground and rarely used our vehicle. You can hop on hiking trails straight from the campground.

There’s a bathroom onsite and water available throughout the campground.

What’s The Word: WatsonsWander on Campendium says, “When visiting national parks we love staying inside the park. The convenience of being able to walk to the visitor center, shuttle stop, and even into town for supplies and tasty pizza is hard to beat. But then you throw in a scenic campground with generously sized sites alongside a river and things get even better. Love this campground!”

Zion National Park Camping Vibes: 9.5/10 Awesome scenery, easy access to park and electricity available.

South Campground

Price: $20 a night. No electric hook ups on site

Reservations: If planning six months in advance is too far out, South Campground might be a better choice. You can only book these spots two weeks in advance.

Why You’ll Love It: If you don’t need electric hookups, South Campground can save you $10. It’s location is just as good as Watchman Campground. You have direct access to the visitor center and trails.

There aren’t RV hookups here, however you can dump your tanks and fill up with fresh water near the entrance.

What’s The Word: Bob on Campendium says, “This campground having no electric keeps it a darker and quieter campground. So far, we have not had many people running generators, pretty restrictive hours for them. Roads are narrow and beat to hell, it was a little tough to get back to our site but definitely worth it.”

Zion National Park Camping Vibes: 8.4/10 Great spot for dry camping near the action!

The Lava Point Campground

Price: FREE

Reservations: First Come First Served

Why You’ll Love It: Let us begin with – this campground is FAR away from all the Zion tourist activities. It’s at least an hour from the visitor center. Also, vehicles longer than 19 feet aren’t permitted.

Lava Point Campground offers a unique off-grid Zion experience, meant for seasoned campers. The higher elevation of this campground will mean cooler days, and potential very cold nights.

We only recommend this for experienced dry-campers who can comfortable self sustain.

What’s The Word: A recent Campendium reviewer says, “No water, electric or dump so come prepared. Recommend to have a short camper, signs say vehicles over 19′ are prohibited. There are vault toilets and a total of 6 spots each with picnic tables.”

Zion National Park Camping Vibes: 8.1/10 Unique camping, but challenging conditions.

Free Camping Outside of Zion | Near The Main Entrance

If you’re looking for a free campsite near Zion National Park, these might be great for you. In addition to the sweet price, you’ll most likely have a lot more room to spread out at these campgrounds.

If you’re in an RV we highly recommend a quiet inverter generator. They’re affordable and can provide enough power to run your AC on a hot day.

North Creek Campground

Miles to Visitor Center: 15 miles

Ideal For: Tents, vans, and small RVs

Why You’ll Love It: We love this campsite! It has plenty of shade trees, a creek running through it and a wonderful community of campers.

You’ll be a short drive from the National Park. Close enough to take multiple day trips inside the park with ease.

What’s The Word: Waz on Campendium says, “For the time of year we were here it was perfect. Heaps of spots to camp in our minivan and there are fire rings (which saves our propane for cooking dinner) and even a portaloo (which my mrs always appreciates). Closest free spot to Zion, only 15-20 min drive. The creek was running so we could wash ourselves after some hiking in the park.”

Smithsonian Butte

Miles to Visitor Center: 9 miles

Ideal For: RVs or vans – not much shade for tent campers

Why You’ll Love It: The views are amazing! But, they come with a price…the road in can be quite bumpy and rutted. You may not need a 4wd to get to Smithsonian Butte, it definitely wouldn’t hurt to have it though.

Cell connectivity for all major networks has been reported here!

What’s The Word: Phyllis on Campendium says, “Not recommended for trailers or larger R.V’s due to steep and rough terrain. Our Sprinter Revel 4×4 had no problem but we used every bit of its abilities. Amazing view from the top but posted no camping signs. So we went on a back road which ended up looking out over a huge canyon and snow capped mountains beyond.”

Gooseberry Mesa

Miles to Visitor Center: 43 miles (there may be a much shorter 4×4 route)

Ideal For: 4X4 Vans & Trucks

Why You’ll Love It: This site will get you far away from the crowds. You’ll be able to spread out and set up a good basecamp for your Zion adventures. Unlike most Zion National Park camping spots, you’ll get good cell connectivity at Gooseberry Mesa.

What’s The Word: Chris on Campendium says, “We were really excited to stay here but the roads were nearly impassable for a 31 Class C RV. it was like driving over a road full of speed bumps. Unfortunately if you are in an RV I’d suggest you go to the road across the street down about 1/2 mile to a pull off. Beautiful views and quiet.”

Zion National Park Camping Pro Tips

We’ve spent a lot of time exploring Zion National Park and have camped at many of these sites. Here are 10 pro tips to elevate your Zion camping trip!

  1. Hike Angels Landing (if you can): Angles Landing is the most epic trail in Zion. You can hike part or all of it – you’ll love it either way!
  2. Watchman Campground for Newbies: If this is your first visit to Zion, Watchman Campground will give you a proper introduction. You’ll have electricity for comfort and perfect proximity to make the most of your time.
  3. Pa’rus Trail is a Must: This beautifully maintained, paved trail can be easy to skip. It connects to the visitor center and, at times, feels more like a sidewalk. Hike it EVERY evening. You’ll see amazing sunsets and it’s a great way to end the day. Dogs are allowed on this trail.
  4. Listen to the History Lesson on Shuttle: The shuttle ride isn’t exactly fun…but, it does provide awesome history lessons as it takes you to your destination!
  5. Doggy Dude Ranch: If you’re traveling with your pup, and want to hike an awesome (dog-unfriendly trail), bring him to Doggy Dude Ranch. It’s a fun environment for the pups and allows you to hike without worrying.
  6. Enter from the South: We’ve entered Zion from both the north & south entrance. If at all possible, enter from the south. Some RVs won’t even fit through a tunnel near the north entrance!
  7. Get Your Day Started Early: The early bird gets the worm. Get out early and enjoy a few hours of solitude!
  8. Bring Your Patience: The National Park is AWESOME and lots of people want to experience it. Come with a little extra patience…it’ll keep the vibes high!
  9. If possible, extend your trip: There’s so much to do and see! Even if you stay a week, you’ll probably leave without exploring everything you wanted.
  10. Visit The Big Five: Zion is just one of the “Big Five” Utah National Parks. Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef are the others. They’re all AMAZING!

The Best Free Camping in the Entire USA

We love camping across this amazing country. And, we really love it when its free. Here’s our list of the 20 Best Free Campsites in the USA.

If you haven’t tried free camping before, also known as boondocking, take a look at our beginners guide to boondocking filled with everything you need to know to get started.

Become a FREE CAMPING INSIDER and join the 100,000 campers that love to score the best site! Simply enter your email below.

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