Thunder Mountain Trail, Red Canyon, UT


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"This spacious piece of paradise has been owned and operated by the Ferber family since 1973 . . .  
After a long day [exploring Zion National Park] come back to your site and freshen up for
dinner with a choice of a dozen local eateries from casual to upscale, all within a
 shuttle ride from our campground. After dinner sit outside and watch the
sunset under The Watchman, a truly breathtaking sight." 
~ Description of Zion Canyon Campground and RV Park on the Ferber Resorts website

Like the older campgrounds in many of our country's other national parks, there are only a few sites in the campground inside Zion that will accommodate a 36-foot 5th-wheel coach and truck -- let alone a third vehicle like our Odyssey minivan -- and the ones that do are snapped up within minutes when reservations open online for the time period you want.

So for this visit to Zion National Park we opted to camp at this private RV park just half a mile from the park's west gate in Springdale, Utah.

We checked it out last fall when we were staying at Red Canyon and made a day trip to Zion specifically to decide where we would camp this spring if we decided to spend several days here. This was our favorite of all the campgrounds and RV parks in the area, primarily for its location so close to the park.

View of The Watchman rock formation from my desk window in the Cameo

Before making reservations we already knew that Zion is one of the most heavily-visited of our national parks and that spring and fall are the busiest times. We hate crowds but really wanted a spring and possibly also a fall visit this year because of the milder temperatures in those seasons and how well it would fit in with the rest of our tentative RV travel schedule.

When I called the RV park six months ago to request a reservation, I asked when would be the least busy time to visit Zion this spring.

The woman I talked with was quite helpful. She gave some windows of time in April and early May that would avoid various spring break weeks and Easter, times when visitation to the park soars. We settled on this week and were able to reserve a site large enough for all three of our vehicles. Then we scheduled some of our other, more flexible destinations around the dates we'd be at Zion.

Our site at the end of a row, under the watchful eye of "The Watchman"

This entry will focus on 1) the drive from Las Vegas, NV to Springdale, UT; 2) Zion Canyon Campground & RV Park; and 3) some insight into this bustling little town that is the western gateway to Zion National Park.

Subsequent entries will focus on the park itself, our hikes and bike rides in the park, and two day trips we took from Springdale.


We left the RV Park at Nellis AFB in North Las Vegas at 8 AM Pacific Time and arrived at Zion Canyon RV Park in Springdale, UT at 11 AM -- oops, no, it was noon their time. We forgot we "lost" an hour going east from Pacific to Mountain Time.

Welcome to Utah!  Jim is being passed by a Class A motorhome and toad.
I wonder if they are going to Zion, too?

Our 153-mile route was very scenic but quite hilly, with a net elevation increase from about 1,500 feet to 3,900 feet. It was dry and sunny the whole way.

The map section below shows most of our route north on I-15 from Vegas and Mesquite, Nevada, then through the northwestern corner of Arizona and into far southwestern Utah. I highlighted the route in yellow:

I love the part of this route through the Virgin River Gorge in the far northwestern corner of Arizona:



The Virgin River flows through Zion National Park, past the city of St. George, Utah, and along part of I-15 though Arizona as it courses southwest for about 162 miles to the northern end of Lake Mead in Nevada.

It is officially designated "Wild and Scenic," and it truly is after either a downpour or just normal spring snowmelt in the Utah mountains. Because of high, fast-moving water in The Narrows this week, we won't be able to wade up through this iconic canyon in the park while we're here. 


Entry to The Narrows; no one allowed past here this week.

When we were over at Red Canyon, UT last October a group of seven middle-aged canyoneers from California and Washington died in one of the other canyons in the eastern part of Zion when they got washed away unexpectedly. They were experienced and knew the risks but proceeded anyway. It was the same storm -- but a different stream -- that also resulted in the deaths of several women and children in a canyon near Hilldale, Utah.

Flash floods in canyons can be unexpected and deadly. The National Park Service doesn't want to take any chances this year.

Back to I-15 through the Virgin River Gorge: This is not the easiest freeway to navigate a big rig --either a large RV or a semi truck -- especially driving north in the uphill direction. Jim can tell you it was a lot more fun in the minivan when we drove up to Montana and back in February from Yuma than it was today hauling the fiver.


Jim did a great job, though, even through the one-lane construction areas in the gorge. The speed limit was reduced to speeds that large rigs can handle so traffic didn't get backed up too badly behind us when they couldn't pass for several miles.

I-15 is scenic for almost all of its length from California through Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Montana to the Canadian border, but is probably the best through this section of northern Arizona and southern Utah because of all the colorful rock walls in this gorge and past the western edge of Zion National Park.

Snowy peaks in the Pine Valley Mtns. west of St. George, UT

Not in Zion's boundary yet , but typical of the layered rocks within the park

A little north of St. George we turned east on UT 9 and followed it through the small towns of Hurricane, LaVerkin, and Virgin . . . to the small town of Springdale.

The last few miles we skirted just south of the national park boundary; the rock walls got larger and more impressive as we traveled east:



A multi-use path extends beyond Springdale to the west.

Outskirts of Springdale; the town is surrounded on three sides by the park's picturesque rock walls.

We didn't see very many flowers in bloom while driving on I-15 except yellow creosote but the Virgin River Valley was so lush between Hurricane and Springdale with flowers and bright green spring leaves that Jim commented on it while driving (via walkie-talkie, not cell phone).

There are some unusual trees at our site with large dark pinkish-purple clusters of flowers:


I don't know what they are but they sure are pretty.

I'll show more photos of flowers in subsequent entries about our hikes and bike rides in the park.


Visitors to this campground/RV park register at the Comfort Inn at the front of the property; it's all part of the Ferber Resort complex:

All the campsites are between the back of the motel and the Virgin River, with many of the tent and small RV sites situated on the waterfront.

Because of this RV park's prime location just half a mile from the west entrance and visitor center of Zion National Park, it's relatively expensive -- more than we usually pay. Since we weren't able to reserve a site in the park's campground that was large enough for our rig, this campground was our next best option for exploring the park this week.

Lots of empty sites Monday morning but the campground was always nearly full by evening

The rate was $49/night + tax for our site with full hookups, including WiFi and cable TV connections. The WiFi signal was weak in the evenings when more people were back in the campground so we used our private Verizon MiFi connection then.

We saved some $$ with the weekly rate of $331.93 (pay for six nights, get the seventh night free). Folks in the campground can use the laundry room, pool, and other facilities in the motel.

We got a good pull-through site with plenty of room for all of our vehicles:


I love the view from our doorside (dining and living room windows) facing toward The Watchman formation. You can see it in several of the photos in this entry. In the picture above it is lit up in the early morning sun.

We are at the end of a row with no one on our off-doorside. We lucked out with no one on our doorside all week, either. There isn't much room on that side. During the week a few of the sites were vacant in the campground but on weekends it was mostly full.


The Virgin River, which is running fast, high, and brown, curves around the east and south sides of the campground.

Some of the tent and short back-in sites are right next to the river:

There is a mix of every type of campground accommodation possible:  people sleeping in cars and vans, pop-up tent campers, truck campers, rental and privately owned Class Cs, a few nice Class As, and lots of travel trailers and fifth wheels. There is also a good mix of nationalities, based on all the different languages I've heard when walking the dogs through the campground this week.

The location of this RV park is excellent for accessing the park. Instead of driving into the park and trying to find a spot at the crowded visitor center, we either walked, rode our bikes, or took the free town shuttle to the pedestrian entrance each time we went into the park. 

Before we left the area we drove through the campground inside the national park to note numbers of sites that would be suitable for our 5th-wheel and truck. If we come back, we might try to get one of those by going online on the first available date and time (usually midnight!) to try to make a reservation. Zion Canyon RV Park is convenient but the park campgrounds are even more so!


The town of Springdale has only about 500 residents but the population swells to many thousands for much of the year with visitors like us who come from all over the USA and the world to visit Zion National Park:

Jim guides the Cameo through town on the way to the Zion Canyon RV Park.

Pretty little house with colorful roses blooming in front

Like many tourist towns close to popular national parks or other attractions, Springdale has lots of different types of overnight accommodations, restaurants, gift shops, and art galleries.

Although we aren't into shopping as a recreational activity (!), I did take a walk one afternoon to check out some of the art galleries. My favorite was the Worthington Gallery, where dozens of handsome metal art pieces displayed outside were twirling in the breeze


That's just a few of the sculptures for sale. Too bad we're full-time RVing because I would have been sorely tempted to buy one of them if we had a yard to put it in.

I also liked this metal bighorn sheep sculpture in front of the West Gallery. It reminded me of the real bighorn ram I saw near the trail during my favorite hike in Zion National Park this week:

I don't know if the sculpture was for sale or not. I'll show pictures of the live ram I saw on the Observation Point Trail in one of the journal pages dated April 14.

Springdale also has the Virgin River running through town, and a handy bike path that stretches from several miles out into the country to the west gate of the park:

We visited a grocery store, got a couple things at an outdoor shop, and ate lunch one day at a Thai restaurant.

We also went a couple times to Springdale River Park, a nice city park where Jim could play ball with Casey in a large grassy field while I walked Cody off-leash on trails across the river:




Note that during busy seasons at Zion, and on most weekends year-round, it is very difficult to find a place to park a vehicle inside the park unless you get there early in the morning. Visitors are encouraged to park in town and either walk or ride the free shuttle buses to the park entrance. The buses are comfortable and come by at frequent intervals.

The next picture shows the back of one of the city's shuttle buses. Jim is riding toward me on his bike with Casey:

It's a good idea to get to Springdale early, too, because parking spaces are somewhat limited along the city streets and you may have to park a mile or more from the park entrance. Some businesses also post signs in front with limited time allowed so patrons can find a spot to park while shopping.

We lucked out with mostly dry weather and mild temperatures ranging from the upper 40s or low 50s F. to mid-70s the week we were here. Although the Virgin River was running too high and fast from recent rains and snowmelt for The Narrows to be open, we were otherwise able to hike and ride our bikes as much as we wanted in Zion National Park.

The elevation in town and Zion Canyon is approximately 4,000 feet so it warms up faster in the spring than at higher elevations where we went on two day trips this week. I'll describe those in subsequent entries.

Next entry:  introduction to uber-popular Zion National Park

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup

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2016 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil