Note: Zion National Park is a crazy busy place with over 3 million visitors a year…With that kind of volume, you need to nail down your sleeping arrangements well in advance. Cheap, comfortable and convenient, Watchman Campground is an ideal launch point for doing the Tour De Zion.
Zion National Park is an absolutely stunning example of American Southwest landscape and is one of the most visited places in America. Anyone from outside of the area can expect to see sights they’ve never seen before.
A shorthand tour of Zion on the tour shuttle will only take most of a day; to see it in detail can take multiple days or even weeks. With that in mind, Zion National Park’s Watchman Camping area provides a great option for a multiple-day stay. Watchman is located directly adjacent to the park shuttle (about a 2 minute walk) and it is also very conveniently located to hop the shuttle to get into Springdale. The campsite itself has a direct view of the Watchman Peak which is an outstanding backdrop to wake up to in the morning.
Campsites at Watchman can be reserved well in advance which is essential to making base camp arrangements. The other campsite in Zion Park, South Campground, operates on a first come, first serve and fill up in the early morning during peak seasons. The reservation system for Watchman avoids that hassle and ensures you have a place to stay during your entire visit.
There are 176 total camping sites at Watchman which includes 18 tent “walk in”, and 95 sites that have electricity available.
Facilities at each site include:
Fire Pits --- bring your own wood (you can buy some in Springdale)
Parking for 1 vehicle (except Tent Walk In…but the parking lot is nearby)
Room for up to three small tents or one large one
Most of the sites have a shade tree but partial and full sun does hit the sites
Facilities in the campground include
Sink to brush your teeth
Sink to wash dishes
Electrical hookups for RV sites (none on tent sites)
No Showers (available hotels in Springdale)
No Sewage disposal for RVs
No Firewood gathering (available grocery stores in Springdale)
Generator use is prohibited
From the south (Las Vegas/St. George): Head North to Exit 16, Go East on State Route 9 for 32 miles (watch out for speed traps!) --- Follow the signs for Zion National Park through Springdale. Pay the $25 at the Park entrance, Take the first right in the Park past the visitors center and follow the signs to Watchman Campground. You’ll go through another checkpoint where the ranger confirms your reservation and directs you to your site. He’ll give you a campground map and instructions how to check out when you leave.
From the North (Cedar City, Salt Lake City): Head south on I-15 to Exit 27. Turn East on State Route 17 for 6.1 miles to State Road 9. Turn left on SR 9 and follow the signs for 23 miles for Zion National Park through Springdale. Pay the $25 at the Park entrance, Take the first right in the Park past the Visitors Center and follow the signs to Watchman Campground. You’ll go through another checkpoint where the ranger confirms your reservation and directs you to your site. He’ll give you a campground map and instructions how to check out when you leave.
From the East: From State Route 9 Zion’s East Entrance, follow the road for 13 miles through the park to the Visitor Center---Follow the signs to Watchman Campground. You’ll go through another checkpoint where the ranger confirms your reservation and directs you to your site. He’ll give you a campground map and instructions how to check out when you leave.
From the West. Exit on I-15 Exit 40 and pay the entrance fee at the Kolob Canyon Visitor Center. Drive to the Hop Valley Trailhead, hike east for 2 days.
West Rim Hiking
Re-provisioning arrangements for extended expeditions are excellent at Watchman. The campsite is located within walking distance (a 2 minute walk) of Springdale which has most assets available for resupply including 2 grocery stores, a gas station, and emergency services. There is a convenient shuttle that frequently runs (every 15 minutes) from the park to downtown and back.
Springdale also has a large array of restaurants, bars, and shopping available.
Within the park, water is available at the Zion’s Visitors Center, at the restroom buildings in the campsite and at several of the shuttle stops inside the park. The only dining facility available inside the park is at the Zion Lodge stop; two restaurants “The Red Rock” (sit down dining) and the “Castle Dome Café” (snack bar).
In the Park
Red Tape Overview
$16 tent site, $18 for a trailer site with hookups in addition to $25 for 7 day park pass
Max stay 14 days in high season 1 Apr – 1 Nov, 30 days in winter 2 Nov – 30 Mar
Max number of people per site is 6, including children
6 group sites available
Park Maps are provided upon entry into the park
The NPS sometimes restricts fires during the dry season
Dogs---Keep your pets on a short leash. There are limited areas of the park where you can walk your dog (Pa'rus Trail, a paved walking and biking trail that runs alongside the river, and the only trail in the park that allows dogs.). For dog safety, don’t lock them in your car as they will die from heat exposure. The Park will also eject you if your dog is barking and/or annoying other campers.
From The NPS Website:
Tent-only, non-electric sites do not permit vehicles 19 feet and over or in combined length. Group sites are also tent-only and can accommodate between nine and 40 people. Standard electric sites have electrical hookups and most can be used for either tent or RV camping (two are wheelchair accessible). There are no full-hookup campsites; a dump station is available for campers. Use of OHVs and ATVs is prohibited in Zion National Park.
• Between the busy season of April 1 through November 1, campers may stay a maximum of 14 days total in Watchman Campground. Between November 1 through March 31, campers may stay a maximum of 30 days total. This includes the non-reservation, self-registration season of December through February.
• Sites with electric hookups allow no more than three tents in addition to one RV (motorhome/fifth-wheel/pop-up)
• Generators are not permitted at any time in the campground
• A separate park entrance fee of $25 per vehicle is required; pass is valid for seven days; interagency passes are accepted
• Single or combined vehicles over 50 ft. long are prohibited from traveling through the park between the east entrance and the campground; if your total length is greater than 50 ft., you must enter the park through the south entrance near the town of Springdale
• Vehicles taller than 13 ft. are prohibited from traveling through the park. Additionally, trees in the campground are not trimmed to accommodate vehicles of this size. Camping equipment may experience significant damage for which the NPS is not responsible.
• Vehicles 7'10" in width or 11'4" in height or larger require one-lane traffic control through the Zion Mt. Carmel Tunnel, located between the East Entrance and Zion Canyon; nearly all RVs, trailers, fifth-wheels, dual-wheel trucks and campers require traffic control; visitors requiring traffic control must purchase a $15 tunnel permit per vehicle; each permit is valid for two trips through the tunnel for the same vehicle during a seven day period; the Zion Mt. Carmel Tunnel is open for over-sized vehicles from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., May through September with reduced hours October through April
• If using an Interagency Lifetime Pass for a camping fee discount, the pass must be present upon check-in
• Check out time is 11:00 a.m.
• Quiet hours are 10:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. Generators are not permitted at any time.
• Do not move picnic tables.
• Tents and vehicles must not be on vegetation.
• Food must be stored in a vehicle or hard-sided lockable container. Feeding wildlife is prohibited.
• Black water must be disposed of at the dump station, not on ground, in river, or in irrigation ditches.
• Grey water (dishwater and solar shower) must be dumped down drains near the water spigots outside
for a complete list of regulations
Go to the US Government’s reservation website www.recreation.gov
or Call 877-444-6777 to make your reservations.
I’m not sure where they got the people to man the phones but they are motivated, courteous and helpful---what kind of government are we running here?
Campground-Only Information: (435) 772-3837 Park-Related Information: (435)772-3256
Springdale UT 84767
Emerald Pools...it's Iconic!
Like anywhere else that tourists congregate, there are a number of “gotta do” points you need to visit to establish your credibility to prove you’ve actually visited the place. Your boss doesn’t have a point of reference for climbing that 5.13 wall, but he does know where Angels Landing is…Here’s a quick list of mandatory hikes that must be included in any Zion National Park visit:
West Rim trail
Deer...they're everywhere in Zion
The squirrels at Watchman present a hazard. We were warned by the ranger that the squirrels were of the pack/tent shredding variety and will aggressively seek any food let outside…they may look cute but they bite. Avoid feeding and store all food in squirrel proof containers.
Deer in the area wander as if they own the place. Watch out when driving.
During the spring, Watchman gets a serious Tent Caterpillar infestation and they get everywhere. They fall from the trees onto your table, dinner, tent and significant other. Not dangerous, just creepy.
Ants become a problem in the summer and after heavy rainstorms. You are on your own dealing with them as Insecticidal treatment by visitors is not permitted.
The unique weather in Southern Utah presents a whole different set of hazards. First, heat is a consideration spring thru fall. Temperatures will routinely hit 100+ in the summer and a constant water supply is a must. From a practical camping perspective, the sites are mostly unshaded during the day; naps in your tent will be uncomfortable and leaving pets in un-air conditioned vehicles, RVs and/or tents is simply inhumane. Strongly recommend making your day plans with deadly hot temps in mind.
Temps swing to the cold side of the spectrum during winter, spring and fall. Pack for the whole range of temperatures... from shorts to overcoats. Watchman is in a canyon and the sun goes down fast. One minute you are sweating over a bar-b-q, the next you are in a dark refrigerator. The wind picks up at sunset and screeches all the way until dawn. The Boy Scouts have it right on this one...be prepared.
Smart phones work at the campground but there isn’t any Wi-Fi. Phones and messaging capabilities seem to cut out at Museum of Human History (1st stop) – Cell phones go into “emergency call only” mode in most of the park areas so don’t count on them for quick rescue. Cell phone mapping applications sort of work in the park but tend cut out and add in random info. I didn’t get accurate elevation readings from my Cell phone GPS.