One of the greatest thing about living close to a national park — and having an RV that’s ready to go in a moment’s notice — is that we can pop in any time we get the urge. Zion on the first cold and dreary weekend in January sounded like a great idea when the inevitable question, “What do you want to do this weekend,” came up.
So we did. The Man loaded up everything and drove the coach to the Watchman Campground while the dog and I finished up work. We joined him a little later that evening after he had everything all set up.
The weather forecast seemed a little iffy, but when I pulled up to the coach, the skies were actually clear (it was cold) and the stars were out in full force. This was our glamping spot for the weekend. The view doesn’t get much better than that.
Despite the frigid temperatures, we were surprised to see so many tent campers in the campground. People are much tougher than we are apparently. But with fires going and parka jackets on, the tent crowd looked rather happy, although they didn’t have satellite and couldn’t watch the NFL playoff games, which is something that I wouldn’t compromise on, but that’s just me apparently. This is why we glamp instead of camp (cough, wimpy, cough).
Watchman campground is right inside the border of the park when you enter from Springdale, Utah. $30 per car gets you in and out privileges to Zion for a week (unless you have an America the Beautiful pass, which we have, that gets you into all the national parks for a year – definitely worth it). Seniors — even cheaper. To glamp in Watchman Campground it’s $30 for an RV, this includes 30 amp electric, and to camp like the hearty folks were doing, is $20 per tent. There’s no water at the sites, but there is a dump station by the check in kiosk with fresh water to fill up your tanks before parking.
Zion in the winter is such a different experience than in the summer months. Summer is very crowded – to the point where it’s difficult to maneuver through town. You’re forced to park either in Springdale or in one of the visitor lots inside the park and catch a shuttle to take you to your destination. The other option is to fight for one of the few parking spaces at the start of the hiking trails (good luck with that, by the way – you have a better chance of hitting the lotto). There’s none of that to combat in the Winter months. You can drive all the way through the park and parking spaces at the hiking trails – while still at a premium, are not impossible to come by. Springdale, the town at the entrance of Zion, was sparse with visitors. We had lots and lots of elbow room that will surely start to shrink in size as the year progresses and the temperatures, and visitor numbers, grow.
Another thing about Zion in winter is that hiking is also hit or miss. We really wanted to hike up to the Emerald Pools to get a winter perspective, although the trail was closed. So instead we drove through the tunnel to the other side of the park and took the Canyon Overlook trail, which, surpringly enough, was open for hearty winter hikers.
Heading up the trail, it was apparent that it was one of the only hiking options in the park, as the snow had been packed down to a point where parts of the trail was nothing but ice. Slick, slippery ice — and when a person like me (read: gravity challenged) has to traverse over ice, well – that can’t turn out well. However (and we had this conversation on the trek) if Sir Edmund Hillary used that old ice excuse, he wouldn’t have made it up Everest, even if he did have crampons. So while this hike sort of paled in comparison, if only slightly, we trudged on. And we did pass a park ranger on the way down who was wearing crampons. Everest next, perhaps? Wonder if they have RV parking.
While no sherpas were spotted on our hike — the long horn sheep were out and about, and didn’t seem to mind the icy conditions. They also didn’t seem to mind the amount of hikers cruising by their dining area – in fact, they seemed to be used to all of the attention. Guy pictured had friends — and I was more worried about one of those long horns bopping one of us off of the trail (and into the canyon that we were supposed to be viewing). Move along….nothing to see here.
There was something to see at the end of the trail. The view in the first photo was the view from the top — a mix of red rock, sparse evergreens and just a hint of leftover snow glistening the valley floor below. What a sight, and nothing you’re going to see other than winter in Zion. We shared the vantage point with quite a few other brave souls who had made the trek over the slippery trail to get to the viewpoint. Truth be told, going down was soooo much worse than going up due to that whole ice/gravity thing. We, inevitably, made it down – slowly.
Surviving the hike meant celebrating life — so we headed to the Zion Brew Pub, which happens to be located right next to the walk-in entrance to the park, and strategically close to the Watchman Campground where we were glamping. They have live music on the weekends and appear to be one of the only signs of life this time of the year in the town of Springdale. They also have Wifi – bonus. Get the Ruben, you won’t be disappointed.
Other notable places to visit if you’re lucky enough visit this time of the year (note – we have no affiliation with anyone in Springdale. Seriously, they have no idea who we are and would probably deny any affiliation if they did):
- David West Gallery – stop in, take a peek. Great Zion photographer who will inspire you to take Walter’s Wiggles.
- Wildcat Willies – to be honest, we have never been in, but they are always open every time we drive by, and it is usually busy. We’ll pop in next time for sure to see what all the hype is about.
- Oscar’s Cafe — another Springdale staple – have always had good food and service here. We’re all about the food apparently.
There are a few rock shops open and some die hard touristy shops that are ready, and happy, for the occasional off-season tourist to come trapesing in. There are some notably new Visitor’s centers that have sprung up in town, and a new market. The Zion Lodge is also open and a red pass isn’t required to visit, which just means you can drive there and park your car without having a special pass or subject yourself to being towed with a $500 fine — so go now while you can. Have lunch and check out the well stocked gift shop.
Bottom line – the lack of crowds alone make this a great time of year to visit Zion. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks for sure – and probably a couple of weeks after that, and after that – until we run out of elbow room.