Editor’s note: A familiar name to many RVers, Sue Bray has worked in the RV industry for 35+ years. Over the summer, Sue, her husband Mel, and their boxer Harley took off to tour the country in their 31’ fifth wheel, with no exact plans except to have an adventure. She’ll be chronicling their trip as well as sharing lessons learned along the way in this new ongoing blog series.
We made it! And what a beautiful drive it was!
Day One on the road has taught me that this trip may not really be about the destinations – it’s the journey. The breathtaking scenery we found driving through northern Arizona and southern Utah was overwhelming. I had recently asked a very well-traveled RVer (49 states in seven years) which was his favorite state to travel, and he immediately answered “Utah.” I was shocked, but now I see why. Fortunately, we live close enough to go back – many times, I’m sure. As we were visiting in the peak summer months, we elected to stay in a private campground just outside of Zion where we could get reservations. And here’s what we learned about visiting this amazing national park:
Shuttle buses. You can only drive through the main road at Zion National Park – they no longer allow vehicles on any of the side roads. Regardless, there are many overlooks with incredible views for some great photo opportunities. When you get to the visitor center on the far west side of the park, you need to find parking (I suggest going early for this) and take a shuttle bus which circles through the park, stopping at all the attractions and trail heads. Regardless of how you feel about shuttle buses, Zion’s fleet works! (It’s almost as if someone from Disney helped the Park Service put the program in place…) In fact, a bus will pull in to each stop every seven minutes – and in our experience, there were usually buses lined up at most stops, waiting for passengers.
Trails. Due to the heat in mid-July, we only hiked a couple of the shorter trails, which were well-defined, but quite crowded. We truly enjoyed hiking through the Narrows, not only because of the amazing steep canyon walls surrounding us, but because we were actually wading in the Virgin River. Just bring lots of water, sunscreen, and a hat – although all of these are readily available at the various gift shops and visitor centers in the park. The park also has numerous water stations available for refilling water bottles.
Pets. Pets are not allowed on the shuttle buses, and on only one trail, right by the east gate of Zion. Consequently, Harley the boxer had to spend the day in the rig. Thank goodness we were in a park with electric hookups, so he could relax in air conditioned comfort.
Tunnel. There are a couple, but the main one (which opened in 1930!) cannot accommodate today’s large vehicles, and the Park’s rangers control one-way traffic flow. As a result, you will wait at each end for the Ranger to allow you to enter, and will need to drive down the center of the tunnel. It’s really not a problem – the scenery surrounding the tunnel is awesome, and there are even big cut out windows as you journey through, allowing you to see even more spectacular sandstone cliffs and scenery.
RVs and Zion. We only took our tow vehicle, but did see a number of small motorhomes and very small trailers make the trek through the park. Be aware that any vehicle 13 feet or higher cannot pass through the aforementioned tunnel. Length restrictions in Zion are 40 feet for a single vehicle and 50 feet for any vehicle combination. And any vehicle 11 feet 4 inches high or higher and 7 feet 10 inches wide or wider is subject to an additional $15 oversize vehicle fee, which allows two trips through the park.
Crowds. Yes, it was very crowded, but the Park handles it well. And there’s certainly plenty of room for everyone.
An international experience. I’m convinced there were more foreign visitors at Zion than there were Americans. We met people from Germany, France, Thailand, Italy, Mexico, Japan, England, and more. It was fun to sit on the shuttle bus and just listen to all of the languages and accents.
Access pass. And lastly, and this goes for ALL National Parks, get an access pass! America the Beautiful passes provide you with entrance to all National Parks, plus other federal lands, including the Forest Service, BLM, etc. We’re over 62, so we qualify for the America the Beautiful senior pass – just $10, and it lasts for a lifetime. If you’re not 62, an annual pass is $80 – and when you consider that the more popular parks (like Zion) are now charging $30 for a daily pass, you only need to visit for three days to recoup the investment. Active military and permanently disabled citizens can get free passes, and you can also earn a pass by volunteering on federal lands. And by purchasing a pass, you’re supporting our country’s most treasured resource – our public lands – and ensuring that they remain in place for future generations.
For more information on Zion National Park, and to plan your own RV adventure there, visit their website at www.nps.gov/zion.
Until next time…
Related Blog: RVing Basics for Visiting National Parks