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Monday, March 16, 2015

Guide to Visiting Zion National Park

Zion National Park

Utah's first (and busiest!) National Park.  

Friday morning, we packed up the car around 5:30 am and were out the door by 6 am.  The plan was to head South down I-15 and in Southern Utah cut East and come into the park from the opposite end.  This was a good way to drive a “loop” around Zion instead of heading straight down 15,up the Canyon road, and back the way we came. 


(Take the route not highlighted- coming into Zion from the east and through the tunnel). 
This allowed us to come through the Zion/Mount Carmel Tunnel, drive up and down the National Park Canyon Road, and then out a different way we came.  I think the mileage is pretty similar for both routes and may add a little extra time (worth it!).  We got to Zion around 11:00 am after a stop or two along the route.  It was a gorgeous sunny day in Southern Utah.

(All information taken from the National Park guides handed out at the park ranger station). 

When you come in this "other way", you come through the Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel that connects Zion Canyon to the east side of the park.  There are a series of two tunnels, the larger/longer tunnel  built in the 1920’s.  If your vehicle is 11’4” high or higher, or 7’10” wide or wider, you are going to require one lane traffic control through the tunnel (nearly all RV’s, buses, trailers, fifth wheels, dual wheel trucks campers and boats require this traffic control at cost of $15 per vehicle- good for two trips through during a seven day period). 
 This service is only allowed November 2nd to May 2nd.  I recommend if you are in a large vehicle enter the park the other end (highlighted on the map) and avoid the tunnel altogether. 

It is a very long, very dark tunnel, with a few cut outs in the tunnel that allow for natural light.  Pedestrians and bicycles are NOT allowed in the tunnel because the lane is only wide enough for a car.  If you are walking or biking the road, you will need to catch a ride through the tunnel.  

From November 30th to March 14, the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (the main road through the park where you access all trail heads)  is open to private vehicles.  Be warned, parking may be an issue on weekends on the popular trails when the shuttle is not in service. 

The rest of the season, March 15th to November 29th, you can only access the park through a shuttle system.   You will not be able to drive your car into the park.  The shuttle stops at all trail heads, lodges, and centers, and eliminates all those cars on the one Canyon Road and all parking issues.  Each full shuttle reduced traffic by 28 cars, reducing vehicle miles traveled per day by over 50,000 and reduce CO2 emissions by over 12 tons a day. 

The fee to get into the park is:  $25 per vehicle, or $12 per individual: pedestrian, bicycle, motorcycle, or organized group.  This gives you a seven day access for the park.  Other options include a Zion Annual Pass for $50, an Annual Pass to all federal fee areas for one year (what we did) for $80,  a Senior pass admission to all federal fee areas for LIFE (U.S. citizens 62 years or older) for $10, or an Access Pass to all federal fee areas for permanently disabled U.S. Citizens for free.  Our $80 pass will get us into all National Parks and National Fee areas for the year, which is a great deal if you plan to see a few parks over the course of the year (this is our 3rd National Park already!).

Need To Know:  Even in March, it was very hot hiking in the sun at Zion.  Sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, and plenty of water is a must.  Experts recommend one gallon of water per person per day.  Water is available via water pumps at the visitor center, campgrounds, Zion lodge, and other locations around the park.  According to the Zion newsletter, hypothermia is the number one killer of outdoor recreationists.  It gets quite cold at night in the desert and hiking in the Virgin River in the Narrows can be cold (immersion in water is the quickest way to lose body heat!). 

The Narrows is the famous hike in Zion National Park where you actually hike IN the Virgin River.  The gorge is 16 miles long and up to 2,000-feet deep, with some widths as narrow as 20-30’.  Atleast 60% of the hike is spent wading in water and depths can reach waist to chest deep.  Flash flooding in a major concern for this area.  A dry suit is needed in the winter and a walking stick is recommended at all times for the slippery rocks in the river bed.  There are three ways to hike which I will talk about in my trail post, but what you need to know is two of the ways to hike the Narrows requires a private shuttle and a permit. 

Wilderness Permits are required for overnight trips, through two of the ways to hike the Narrows, and any technical climbing, back country, or overnight trips.  Wilderness permit fees are based on the size of your group:  (10$ for 1-2 people, $15 for 3-7 people, $20 for 8-12 people).  To hike the Subway, the famous section of the Narrows, a permit is required.  40 permits are registered on a reservation basis and 40 are kept for first come first served trips.    
Alright, now you know the basics, and saw some beautiful pictures of the drive into the National Park.  Let's start talking about those iconic hikes!


Most popular Zion Hikes 

Trail head:  Weeping Rock Parking Lot
Distance:  8 miles

Trail head:  The Grotto Picnic Area- Zion Canyon
Distance:   5 miles

Trail head: Zion Lodge
Distance:  3 miles

Riverside Walk 
(gateway to Narrows)
Trail head: Temple of Sinawava
Distance: 2 miles

Trail head: Immediately east of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel by the ranger booth. 
Distance: 1 mile

Pa'rus Trail (biking and dogs allowed)
Trail head:  Canyon Junction - The spur where the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and the Zion Canyon Road intersect. 
Distance: 3.4 miles

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