Home » 1999 Cross Country Road Trip

Zion National Park, UT

Saturday, July 31, 1999 - 2:00pm by Lolo
162 miles and 3.25 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay


We arrived at Zion Watchman Campground late afternoon and were delighted to find that our campsites were along the beautiful Virgin River. We managed to do a campsite swap with another family so that we could be next to our friends, who were traveling with us.

Herb in Zion NarrowsHerb in Zion NarrowsThe kids thought the sites were great. What could be better for 7, 8, 9, and 10 year olds than a river right outside your door. We all got on our suits and climbed down the banks to the river. The water was cool, but refreshing, and the current was strong enough for the kids to have a great time floating down the river, running back up along the bank, and floating down again. The kids were envious, however, when some people floated by on tubes. Being the only woman in a family of all men, it was, of course, my fault that we didn't have the foresight to bring tubes along. That was the last time I would be caught unprepared. Every trip since then, we have 2 inflatable tubes packed in the outside compartments of the RV, just in case a river comes our way.

The next morning we drove to the Visitor Center and signed up for a tram tour of the Zion Canyon scenic drive. Of course we couldn't go to a Visitor Center without the obligatory stop at the gift shop. After fondling much merchandise, I showed the kids a basket near the cash register with Zion National Park hat pins. The ranger informed them that most of the National Parks sold these pins and that many people made collections of them. As most kids do, ours love the thought of starting a collection, so they went for the idea. The rest is history. Today they have over 120 pins from the various places we've been to.

The tram tour took us on the 7-mile scenic drive winding alongside the Virgin River through the 2,400 foot deep, 1/2 mile wide Zion Canyon. The open-air tram was a good way to experience the truly spectacular scenery on all sides, including up. Our very enthusiastic tour guide, Charlie, informed us that he was new and that this was his first tour. I guess it can get pretty boring for tour guides to have to repeat the same talk over and over again, so maybe we were lucky to catch him on his 1st rather than his 500th talk. His inexperience really came out at the end of the tour when he parked in front of Zion Lodge, got out of the tram car without putting on the brake, and had to chase us down the hill to stop it.

Kid's in Virgin RiverKid's in Virgin RiverMy favorite part of Zion was the Riverside Walk to the Narrows. We got off the tram at the end of the scenic drive by the Temple of Sinawava, and walked the 1-mile paved Riverside Walk to the Gateway to the Narrows. Considering the fact that we had 4 kids along ranging from 7 to 10, the shorter the hike, the better.

At the end of the Riverside Walk, there was a pool in the Virgin River for the kids to swim in. The water was chest deep and there was a slight current so they had to be careful. Of course, the 3 boys immediately waded across the stream to a rock on the other side, leaving Alexis, the youngest and also the only girl, behind. Surprisingly, my Tommy, who was 8 years old at the time, showed that chivalry was not in fact dead and went back and gallantly carried her across.

While this was going on, the dads decided to take part of the hike up the Narrows while the moms watched the kids. The men waded through knee-deep water upstream a few miles through the canyon, which was only 20 feet wide, yet 1000 feet tall. They took some nice pictures to show us. Funny, they looked a lot more relaxed than the moms.

On the way back we decided to take the short hike to Weeping Rock to show the kids the waterfalls, even though what they really wanted to do was go back to the campground and swim in the river. Herb and I had hiked this trail about 10 years ago and the falls were quite pretty. Much to my dismay, the rock was not weeping because of lack of rain. The kids all looked at me in disgust.

That evening we had a very nice dinner at the Zion Lodge and talked anxiously about our next day's stop--the Grand Canyon.

The drive east out of the park along the Zion - Mount Carmel Parkway was almost as spectacular at the drive through the canyon. For 24 miles it winds down six steep switchbacks and through the mile-long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. Because we were an oversized vehicle, we had to pay $10 and wait by the entrance of the tunnel for them to stop traffic so that we could drive down its center.

Oh, I forgot to mention that before we left the campground, we hit another RV milestone--the first dumping of the sewage tanks. I could tell Herb was pretty nervous about this. We waited for the RV ahead of us to finish doing its thing and then we slowly pulled our motor home in place making sure everything was lined up perfectly. Herb then donned his latex gloves and biohazard suit (just kidding) and asked me to join him outside the vehicle. I knew my role--be positioned to be blamed in case things went wrong and poop started spewing indiscriminately. Herb got all the necessary hoses and paraphernalia out of the side compartments and then glanced around slyly to see if anyone was watching this private moment. A few minutes into the process, another RV pulled up and the guy got out to admire our brand-new Lazy Daze. I could tell that Herb was getting pretty flustered, as if the guy had caught him in some private act. Despite that, things went smoothly and we successfully completed our first RV dump. We've come along way since then. Herb can now chat comfortably with coffee mug in one hand and poop hose in the other.


Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin and the Mojave Desert. It has some of the most dramatic scenery in all of Utah, with massive multicolored sandstone cliffs rising 2,000 to 3,000 feet from the canyon floor. Unlike the Grand Canyon which is experienced from the top looking down in the canyon, Zion is viewed from the bottom of the canyon itself looking up at the sheer cliff walls.

Zion RocksZion RocksZion Canyon was formed millions of years ago when rock layers were uplifted, tilted, and eroded forming the Grand Staircase, a series of colorful cliffs stretching between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. A million years of the Virgin River flowing through the area eroded and cut into these rock layers, sculpting deep and narrow canyons and soaring cliffs, creating the dramatic landscape you see today. Early Mormon pioneers named the canyon Zion because they saw these sculptured rocks as the "natural temple of God."

There are two sections to the park: Zion Canyon, which is the main section and the less-visited Kolob Canyon in the northwest corner of the park. The highlight for most visitors is the 7-mile scenic drive through the 2,400 deep, 1/2 mile wide Zion Canyon. In an effort to reduce traffic, the park no longer allows cars on this road. Instead, you must take the free shuttle bus or guided tram tour. The 90-minute informative open-air tram tour takes you from Zion Lodge along the Virgin River through some of the most spectacular scenery in the park to the Temple of Sinawava and back, stopping at all the major view points along the way. You can leave the tram at any stop and catch another tram later.

There are several opportunities to hike along the scenic drive, such as the hike to the Emerald Pools and the one to Weeping Rock. At the end of the scenic drive by the Temple of Sinawava is the paved 2-mile long (round-trip) Riverside Walk, which follows the Virgin River upstream to the entrance to the Zion Canyon Narrows and the start of the 16-mile hike through the Narrows. The 16-mile hike through the Narrows is more of a wading upstream through knee to chest deep water in places where the walls of the canyon are only 20 feet apart and 1000 feet high. This hike is quite strenuous and only allowed when flash floods are not a threat.

Almost equally spectacular to the Zion Canyon scenic drive is the 24-mile long Zion-Mt. Carmel Parkway, which passes through the mile-long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel and winds down six steep switchbacks on its way to the canyons and high plateaus east of Zion Canyon. Vehicles over 7 feet 10 inches wide or 11 feet 4 inches tall must pay a $10 fee for using the tunnel, since traffic must be stopped in order for the vehicle to drive down the center of the tunnel.

There are 3 campgrounds available in the park.

Justin on June 24, 2009


I love your website. My wife and I have been doing at least one road trip per year for the last four years and your site has become the first authority that I consult when planning our trips (well, maybe second to Google Earth). Only one of our trips was in an RV though.

I have one small beef with your top 10 list, however. My all-time favorite destination (Zion) isn't on it. When I see the green, life-filled valley bounded by the red sandstone cliffs, I feel like I must be in heaven. Have you done the Angel s Landing hike? It provides some amazing views. I would definitely recommend it though it s not for the faint of heart.

Unfortunately, I haven t had the chance to visit all the places that you have, Yosemite most notably. It's on our list for this summer. For the sake of comparison, here is my list of Top 10 road trip destinations that we have traveled to:

1) Zion National Park, Utah
2) Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
3) Mackinac Island State Park, Michigan
4) Olympic National Park, Washington
5) Antelope Island State Park, Utah
6) The National Mall, Washington, D.C.
7) Arches National Park, Utah
8) Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Utah/Wyoming
9) Downtown San Antonio with the River Walk, Texas
10) Victoria Island, British Columbia

A couple of these destinations are more urban but we enjoyed them thoroughly on our trips. They provide a lot for the avid explorer.

Best wishes on your future travels

Herb on June 26, 2009

Hi Justin,

Thanks for the comment - Angels Landing is a hike that is still on my list to do,, and maybe it will elevate Zion in the standings. I think we've had some bad luck with Zion which may have come out in the rankings. When Lorry and I first went there, (well before kids), we had planned a 3 day backpacking trip. Unfortunately, I had one of my "unknown fevers", and spent most of the time shivering in a cabin. On top of that, it rained for 3 days. Thanks for your list.. If you don't mind, I'd like to add your e-mail as a comment to the Zion stop (without e-mail and last name) so that it reminds me to do the hike, and to give others an alternative perspective on a Top Ten list.

Victoria Island is and was on the list to do, but we ran out of time.

Thanks again, and safe travels

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