3 Days in Zion National Park

This has been my FAVORITE National Park so far. There is a lot to see and a lot to do. Here are our suggestions for an amazing 3 days in Zion NP.

FYI Utah Drinking and Eating Fact: In order to drink alcohol at a restaurant, you’ll need to order food. It’s a real law. You’re unfortunately not able to walk into a place and buy a beer or order a glass of wine without ordering some form of food.

Lodging

We stayed in Zion NP at the Watchman Campground. It’s right next to the Visitor Center and is electric hookups for RVs. It was the perfect location for us and our R-Pod 180 HRE named Bandit. Others option include the South Campground which has no hookups but great location near the Virgin River. There is also the town of Springdale right outside the gates where several RV parks and hotels have lodging. There is a Springdale shuttle that goes from various stops in town to Zion NP.

Day 1

Stop at Zion NP Visitor Center and get your naps, advice on trails, shuttle schedules, and hop on the shuttle for a nice ride to get an overview of the park. The Zion Canyon shuttle will take you from the Visitor Center 6.6 miles down Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to the Temple of Sinawava stop and back in about 1.5 hours. On the way you’ll also see the major geographic formations along the Canyon walls: Court of the Patriarchs, the Watchman, Angel’s Landing, and the Great White Throne.

View from the canyon floor

Be sure to stop at the Human History Museum and watch the park orientation video. It’s only 22 minutes and gives you basic information on the park’s natural and human history. While you’re out, get off the shuttle at stop 5 to make reservations for your day 3 trailride on horseback and day 3 dinner at the Zion Lodge.

At the end of your first day you can take a drive down the Zion-Mt Carmel Hwy (Hwy 9) through the tunnel and to the park’s eastern boundary. On this route you can see the Checkerboard Mesa and Canyon Overlook.

A short drive up from Canyon Junction (Shuttle Stop 2) lies Zion Mount Carmel Highway. Proceed up the highway East along the winding roads. Eventually, you’ll hit your first tunnel carved directly through the sandstone. Drivers are required to turn their headlights on as there is no lighting inside the tunnel. It takes about 2 minutes to go through. When you come out, you’ll soon go through one last dark, but much shorter tunnel. At the end you’ll pass a ranger post that doesn’t require a stop.

Now, get ready to experience a true feeling of freedom. This is one of the most scenic drives you’ll ever take. The roads will continue to wind in switchback style through the pink canyons and rock structures. There are plenty of small alcoves where you can park your car on the side of the road to get out and explore by foot (highly recommended!). One highlight includes Checkboard Mesa near the park exit. You’ll understand the name once you see it.

Day 2

Zion Canyon is starting point for Zion’s most popular hikes, including the easy Riverside Walk and Weeping Rock trails, and the more demanding Watchman, Angel’s Landing, and The Narrows Trail. The box below gives a few tips on the Angel’s Landing hike.

Angel’s Landing is rated one of the 10 most dangerous hikes in the world. That’s because after a strenuous 2 mile uphill climb (though mostly paved), you now have less than a half a mile to the “summit”. It’s not until this point that the hike begins to get difficult. If you made it this far, you’re sitting on a sandy plateau catching your breath and drinking some water.

But you’re not done. Now, you get to traverse sandstone rock structures that will make your hair stand on end. And they should. For the next half mile, your conditioning, foot placement and hand placement may determine whether or not your survive the next hour of your life. You’re going to have to leave behind the well manicured, paved trail and trade it for sheer cliff.

Luckily, much of the remaining trail now has well-positioned chains that allow for an easier climb through the difficult and dangerous junctures. A signifiant number of people were dying on a yearly basis until these were put in place. Now that the chains are there, it’s been over 5 years since there’s been a death. Note, however, that you are NOT tethered, so your safety really relies on how much you “grab, grab, grab.” Try not to look down, and take it one step at a time.

After conquering Angel’s Landing (the peak in the background)

I would suggest alternating a strenuous or moderate hike in the morning (6-8am) with a few easy hikes after lunch. You can ride your bike to the trailhead at at daybreak and be done before the heat of the day sets in. There is a quick grill and a sit-down restaurant that are both open for lunch at the Zion Lodge which is shuttle stop 5. On especially hot days be sure to include a hike that takes you along the Virgin River for a quick dip. It’s recommended that in the semi-arid climate you drink a gallon of water daily.

The Virgin River

At the end of this day I suggest you take a trip into Springdale for dinner at one of their several restaurant choices. My favorites are Switchback Grill and the Thai Palace.

Day 3

For this final day I would fill in with the hikes you didn’t accomplish on day 2. Plan any strenuous ones for the early morning. Stop with a packed lunch along the Virgin River in a shady spot. Finish out your day getting the last photos of the amazing scenery and take a trail ride on horseback from the Zion Lodge (shuttle stop 5). Reserve a dinner table at the Zion Lodge and watch the sunset as you enjoy the views of ancient cottonwood trees and striated Canyon walls.

View from Zion Lodge’s restuarant

What To Pack For Hiking

Spring:

  • Insulated, light jacket or fleece for the mornings and evenings
  • Gloves
  • Warm hat
  • T shirts
  • • Pair of shorts
  • • Pairs of pants
  • • Long sleeve shirts (to layer if needed)
  • • Bathing suit
  • • Hiking Boots
  • • Sneakers
  • •Water shoes / sandals
  • • Neoprene socks
  • • Dry pants
  • • Walking stick
  • • Dry bag
  • •Camelbak or Water Bottle

Summer:

  • Windbreaker
  • T shirts
  • Shorts
  • Bathing suit
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hiking sandals
  • Pair of light pants
  • Walking stick
  • Dry bag
  • Camelbak or Water Bottle

Fall:

  • Fleece or insulated wind breaker
  • T shirts
  • Shorts
  • Bathing suit
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hiking sandals
  • Pairs of pants
  • Walking stick
  • Dry bag
  • Camelbak or Water Bottle

I’ll definitely be back to Zion NP soon!

SOURCES

Zion National Park Brochures and website

WineTraveler Blog at https://www.winetraveler.com/travel-resources/4-day-zion-national-park-itinerary-utah/

Navajo National Monument

After driving through Four Corners we headed for the Navajo National Monument. We had heard there were free campgrounds there so that was our initial reason for stopping. It was the halfway point between Pagosa Springs, CO and Zion National Park. I’m so glad we stopped there because it was such a great experience that we would have missed.

The free campgrounds are Canyon View Campground and Sunset View Campground. There are no RV hookups at these sites. Sunset View has spaces for small RVs, but no RVs longer than 28′ are allowed because there is limited turnaround space. Our truck and r-pod fit in the pull through space perfectly.

Road view of our campsite

The views at this campground are lovely. The campground also has flush toilets, a potable water station, and picnic tables/grills at each campsite. It was well maintained and very clean. It was also super peaceful and serenely quiet.

Canyon side view of our campsite, with wild Chianti growing out of the rocks

We walked to the visitor center to view the videos on the Anasazi and Dineh (Navajo) people. There are 3 videos that cycle through and take about 45 minutes. We did a little shopping, too, picking up a hat with 50 SPF shade for hiking and a few medicinal balms.

The medicinal balms are made by Navajo healers and contain natural botanical ingredients from the flora of the area to treat things like insect bites, sore muscles, sunburn, eczema, dry lips, and dry skin. I bought several and can’t wait to try them all. They are the “Medicine of the People” brand.

On the way to Aspen Trail

Next we walked the trails. There are three short trails that originate at the visitor center and take you to different views of the canyon and of the 13th-century Betatakin alcove dwellings of the Anasazi. There are two longer hikes that are lead by a ranger. The first is a 5-mile hike to the Betatakin dwellings that takes 3-4 hours. The second is a 17-mile hike to the Keet Seel archaeological site that can be an overnight trek.

Perhaps in the future when I’m in better shape I can take the longer hikes. We definitely plan to return to the Navajo National Monument when RVing through this area.

Anacortes, Washington & San Juan Islands

My BFF since first grade now lives in Anacortes, WA. I miss her terribly and hope one day she gets sick of the PNW and moves back to south Louisiana. Well, at least I thought that before I got to know where she lives now. She has invited us to visit several times but we hadn’t made the trip.

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So, after a year or two of invites we have finally made the trip and boy should I have gone sooner! First off, it’s GORGEOUS there.

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We stayed in the uplands and had Norweigan Fjord Horses for neighbors. I found the whole town (of just 16,000 people) to be cute, quaint, and full of little gems that I found during my stay. Compass Wines become my new favorite wine shop as the owner loves Lambrusco… and I love anyone who also loves my favorite wine.

 

I even got to try Ferry Witnessing for the first time. The Friday Harbor Ferry has pretty views, including some of Mount Baker.

 

 

Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink… but the mountains that pop up out of the water and make up these islands offer much to do in the way of hiking and biking so we took advantage of that while there. Use the Washington Trails Association website to find trails near you (wta.org)

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Cap Sante Park is just up from the town marina and has lovely views.

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Sharpe Park has several trail loops to take you to an amazing view of the San Juan Islands. I will caution you to choose wisely as some of the trails are steep.

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Deception Pass State Park is breathtaking. We will be sure to camp there on our next trip.

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Mount Erie is part of Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL) and offers several great trails with outstanding views.

 

Mount Erie ACFL (from wta.org)

 

Fragrance Lake Trail was a bear! It’s so steep, so skip the Fragrance Lake Trailhead and go the easy route from a trailhead on Cleator Road or one on Fragrance Lake Road that is a mile from the lake… use the WTA website for directions and reviews. The lake is worth the hike either way, though 🙂

 

Lady of the Sea statue is a must see. It’s a quick drive to the marina for this one.

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Rooftop dining at the Majestic Inn & Spa.

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We visited the mainland towns of Mukilteo, Bow, and Edison (make sure to get coffee at Tweet’s in Edison!).

 

Titan had a good time, too.

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We took the Port Townsend ferry to Port Angeles and drove over to the Olympic National Park visitor center. There is nothing about the Olympic Peninsula that I don’t like 🙂

 

This picture sums up Anacortes. It’s a shabby chic, rustic place just bursting with evergreens and wildflowers in July. I will definitely be back.

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R-Pod 180 HRE Named “Bandit”

I want to introduce you to Bandit, our R-Pod. We bought her in Arizona right after our trip to the Grand Canyon. She is a 180 Hood River Edition (HRE) model, 180 meaning she has a kitchen slide and a dry bath up front with lots of storage for a ultra-light micro travel trailer. HRE means she was made in Oregon, has more ground clearance (via axle risers) for off-road travel, 15″ all-terrain tires/wheels, two steps, and diamond plating on the front.

In this post I’ll list out our decor changes, mods, and RV accessories that we have found to be of great use on this road trip (6,000 miles and counting!).

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Smokey (our 1999 Ford Expedition) and Bandit (our R-Pod)

 

She has a grey/blue exterior with seaglass (read: brown, grey, and slate blue) interior.

 

I (CityGirl or CG for short) decided to decorate the inside with a coral and aqua palette with some shades of grey and blue.

Coral and Aqua

 

We also decided to add some more storage using our favorite stores; Amazon and IKEA. First we added the GRUNDTAL series kitchen rails, s-hooks, and a magnetic rack. Next, we installed a BEVKÄM wooden spice rack using 1/2″ screws (r-pod walls are 1 5/16″ thick and the door is 1 1/2″ thick) that we bought from Lowe’s. We also hung a key rack (Command Quartz Key Rail) that you can get at Target, but we found it at Camping World. We ordered hanging baskets for inside the bathroom door and inside the kitchen cabinet door from Amazon. We put suction cup accessories from the STUGVIK series on our bathroom mirror. We also installed the famous “over the bed” shelf using just a simple board from Lowe’s that we will paint when we return home (we are on a 3-month road trip as we are modding the pod). Lastly, we ordered a hanging storage system in grey to go over the outside of the bathroom door.

The result: we increased our storage and made it more efficient for our needs.

 

Some things I don’t know about yet are: tablecloths that actually fit the table and stay on, a comforter or quilt that doesn’t remain too bulky for the size of the bed, and more coral accents like this tea towel set from Cynthia Rowley.

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Additionally, my sweet Country Boy (CB for short) used the time we spent at a friend’s home in Olympia, Washington to install:

  • dual propane tanks,
  • a dual battery system with boxes,
  • a tongue mounted dual bike rack,
  • an under-trailer tire rack for Bandit,
  • and a Zamp 200-watt solar panel system.

While in Oregon we stopped in Lincoln City and purchased a Honda generator and companion so we could start the a/c if necessary while not on shore power and also jump off our tow vehicle if we got stuck out in the mountains with a dead battery. Couple that with lots of sun out west and we can boondock for 4 days at a time (or more if we conserve food and water).

 

When we set up, we use a few extras for protection of our r-pod travel trailer and for our peace of mind at campgrounds:

Whew! I think that is all for this post. We will cover reviews of these components in a later post.

 

Grand Canyon Weekend On A Budget

I say we start a petition to change the name of Grand Canyon National Park.

The current name doesn’t really prepare you for the experience of looking over the south rim for the first time. Maybe SPECTACULAR Canyon or perhaps even SUPERCALAFRAGILISTICEXPIALADOCIOUS Canyon would be more appropriate? When I first walked through the Visitor’s Center to see the movie and walk to Mather’s Point lookout I thought I was prepared. But no! I was left speechless as I peered out over the rim into a Canyon of ridges, plateaus, buttes, water, shrubs, Ponderosa pines, and a veritable rainbow of rock layers showing shimmery sandstone, light limestone, and a myriad other sedimentary rock cross sections.

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Canyon

We stayed the whole weekend at Maswik Lodge in the south rooms which were a great budget price of $112 nightly. Maswik Lodge is in the Grand Canyon Village where rooms can run upwards of $400 per night. Maswik is a cute lodge in a Ponderosa Pine forest just a 7-minute walk to the Rim Trail and Bright Angel Trailhead. The Maswik Lodge registration building has a gift shop, park information desk, food court, and pizza bar just a minute walk from your room door. The shuttle bus for the Park also stops right at the registration building.

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Maswik Lodge

If you bring your bikes, then you can bike the roads and trails. If not, there are bikes to rent and even bike tours.

On this road trip a stop at the Grand Canyon was NOT planned (or packed for). So let me tell you how we managed a pseudo-luxury weekend (for two) there for less than $500.

Where to stay: Maswik Lodge has rooms for as low as $112. Maswik is a 5-7 minute walk to the rim. Bright Angel has nice cabins for $140 and partial view rooms for $184. Bright Angel is on the rim. Call Xanterra for reservations or visit grandcanyonlodges.com for online booking.

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Basic Maswik South Room

What to do: Stop at the Visitor’s Center to see the introductory movie (it explains the geology, weather, and life in the Canyon over the ages). While you’re there get your first glimpse of Grand Canyon by walking 2 minutes to the rim at Mather Point. Take a selfie! After that you can linger at the Visitor’s Center to rent bikes, reserve a bike tour, buy a latte, and/or get maps of the park as well as information on all the activities available there.

After check in make plans to hike the Bright Angel Trail. It starts right outside the Bright Angel Lodge and offers a blood pumping 3 mile round trip hike down into the Canyon to the first rest stop with water and restrooms. It takes 2-4 hours to complete. When you’re done treat yourself to an ice cream cone at the Bright Angel Fountain.

brightangel
Bright Angel Lodge

Hike the Rim Trail. It offers you amazing views along a pretty flat rim hike that can take you from one end the Park to the other.

Use the bus/shuttle system. It’s free! It will take you to view points that you’re not allowed to drive to, like Hermit’s Rest and Yaki Point, or to amazing views 20 miles from the Village, like Desert View and the Watchtower.

Sunrise view is best at an east facing site like Hopi Point. Sunset view is best at a west facing point like Yaki Point.

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Bright Angel Trailhead

Where to eat: The food court at Maswik Lodge has dinner specials each night for about $8 and pizza for $3.25 a slice. The Canyon provides spring water and the park offers it for free everywhere. You’ll need to drink a lot of it, it’s very arid up there.

Journey over to the Arizona Room Restaurant at Bright Angel Lodge for meals from $10-$30 a plate. I had the $10 super filling Heritage Tacos (one chicken and one carnitas pork) for lunch one day and dinner the next. A half salad runs $6-$7. Get the house wine, which will run you $6-$8 per glass.

Bring rations! We brought supplemental meals and snacks with us so we didn’t have to eat out every meal. For breakfast we took our oatmeal cups to the food court eating area at Maswik Lodge and used the free hot water and plastic spoons there for a hearty breakfast. We brought the coffee cups from our room and used them to get gratis coffee at the food court, too. For snacks we brought Kind bars, apples, and baby carrots. We also had flat and sparkling water as well as wine in our car cooler. The room had a fridge so we used that too. We had our hydro flasks to keep the water we took cold all day. We also had some protein powder and blender bottles so we could have a quick meal replacement by filling then is with 10 ounces of water and adding two scoops of powder.

What to wear: Layers!! A good base layer t-shirt (I wore ultra lightweight wool t-shirts from Woolly Company), a long sleeved tee, and a three season jacket or windbreaker will take you from morning to night comfortably. Start out with all three in the chilly a.m., shed the jacket and long sleeved t-shirt mid day when the sun is at its highest, and then add them back in as the day goes on and the sun goes down. It’s super windy so a hooded long sleeved t-shirt would be a plus.

I wore wool Capri leggings by WoolX. I found them on Amazon for cheap. Wool is the best activity fabric because its insulates you when you’re cold, wicks swear away from your body when you get warm, and resists odor. It can be hand washed in the hotel sink at night and dry by morning. Plus you only need to wash it every three days or so EVEN IF YOU SWEAT IN IT. Just hang to let it air out and I swear you’ll be amazed. God made wool and it is miraculous!

Also:

  • Take a brimmed hat for full sun hiking.
  • Carry your refillable water bottle everywhere (free spring water offered at all trail heads).
  • Wear sunscreen.

Itinerary & Budget Breakdown For Two:

  • Pack your cooler with wine, sparkling water (or soda if you prefer), baby carrots, and apples
  • Bring water bottles, instant oatmeal cups, blender bottles, and meal replacement shake powder
  • Arrive Friday at 11am
  • Go to Visitor’s Center & Mather Point
  • Go to Maswik Lodge for pizza lunch = $15
  • Check in at Maswik at 3pm
  • Fri/Sat nights @ $112 = $224
  • Friday Maswik dinner for two = $25
  • Friday drinks are free from your cooler
  • Saturday (6am) breakfast is oatmeal you bring
  • Walk to Bright Angel trailhead and hike the 3 mile trail (7am – 11am), have your snacks and water in your daypack
  • Go to the Bright Angel Restaurant for lunch and to the Fountain for an ice cream cone dessert = $30
  • Walk back to your room and rest, change shoes, make reservations for dinner a the Arizona Room
  • Walk (or drive or bike) to Bright Angel Lodge for dinner at the Arizona Room = $50
  • Sunday (7am) breakfast is oatmeal
  • Drive to Desert View (8am) and climb the Watchtower
  • Drive back, check out, load your car
  • Have a meal replacement shake for lunch
  • Drive to Kachina Lodge and walk some (or all) of the Rim Trail as a goodbye to the Canyon before you head home
  • TOTAL = $344
  • Leaves some room for souvenirs and splurging on treats!

It’s An RV Life For Us!

So… this happened 🙂

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R-Pod 180

While at Grand Canyon we saw amazing sights and felt tremendous awe at the natural landscape around us. We envied those in the campgrounds that got to sleep even closer to nature. We started thinking about boondocking and RVing and, well, we decided to look for an RV.

We *had* actually done a ton of research on living in an RV a year or two ago. We decided that we would really like to have a truck and truck camper set up… which would run us about $75K. So we put that dream aside.

Now, though, since we are planning to take 3-month road trips on a regular basis we thought that looking at an ultra light travel trailer to pull behind our first generation Ford Expedition would be a good idea. We live in the southeast where a myriad of outdoor experiences are available. We also would rather travel in a way we don’t have to load and unload our gear and our service dog’s gear every day or two.

It actually is the perfect time of year to look at 2017 models they are discounting to make way for 2018s. We have long admired the Forest River R-pod, the Travel Lite Falcon, and the Livin’ Lite Camplite travel trailers. Fortunately we were still close to the Camping World at Bellemont, Arizona.

We fell in love with the R-pod 180. It has a good bit of storage, a slide, a dry bath, and it comes with high ground clearance for off road camping in the Hood River Edition.

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2018 R-pod 180 Floorplan

We named her “Bandit”. Our Expedition is already named “Smokey”, so it seemed uber appropriate.

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Smokey & the Bandit

They had just sold their 2017 model but discounted their 2018 to be close enough in price that we decided to buy. The salesmen, finance manager, and store staff were so great. We give Camping World Bellemont, Arizona the highest recommendation!

Now, we head west to California and north to Oregon!

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Free Camping and Boondocking Websites and Apps

In our new Forest River R-pod 180 we hope to be able to camp on solar power out under the stars away from RV parks.


Honestly, the amount of food we can store may be the only limiting factor. We already have a dual battery system, solar hook ups, a small generator, and an inverter…  we just need to modify our plans for boondocking up to three days at a time.

rpod 180 layout
2018 R-pod 180 Floorplan

Almost all small travel trailers can boondock, some for a night, others a couple days.


But how do you find out where? The writer at Roadtreking (http://roadtreking.com/apps-websites-help-find-perfect-boondocking-spot/) has a few good suggestions, that I’ve listed along with links below in this post.

There are several Internet sites and apps to help you find places to boondock:

rpod boondocking

AllStays (www.allstays.com) has apps for iPhone, iPad and Android devices. They list more than 22,000 commercial campgrounds, state/national parks and boondocking spots (think KOAs and Walmarts, state and federal forests, military and BLM land). This is a great app and website that offers a lot of detailed information.

Other resources?

Free Campgrounds for RVs (http://www.freecampgrounds.com) has a big database, sorted by state, of state, federal and county land open to camping, most without hookups or services.

For boondocking and camping information about National Forests, check out the very useful U.S. National Forest Campground Guide (http://www.forestcamping.com).

Free Campsites website (http://freecampsites.net). There’s an interactive map as well as comments and reviews of boondocking spots.

You can also check the site http://boondocking.org. It’s a database of free boondocking spots based on GPS coordinates. Enter in your location’s latitude and longitude and it will tell you whether the closest boondocking spot may be.

I also found a site where you pay just a $44 annual fee to stay overnight at over 500 scenic wineries and farms. You must arrive early, before dark, to meet your contact and find out where to park. That day or the next day you can tour the farm/winery, pick your own fruits/veggies, or do a wine tasting. Visit harvesthosts.com to sign up. If you sign up please let them know that countryboycitygirl username “CBCGblog” referred you 🙂

What are you favorite boondocking resources? Comment below!

boondocking