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/

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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.

Taos New Mexico

So, let me begin by saying we arrived in Taos, NM on May 3rd and the overnight low was 31 degrees. Come mentally prepared for this. We were not, as we left New Orleans with balmy 89 degree days.

We stayed for just one night before heading to boondock in Pagosa Springs, Colorado so we wanted hookups to dump and add a little fresh water.

We found Taos Valley RV Park to be clean, comfortable, easy to find, and a great location with lovely views. I highly recommend it for short or long stays in Taos. Just down the block from the RV Park on the main highway there is a restaurant called Guadalajara Grill with yummy tacos. My husband was tickled that he got to eat “Tacos in Taos”.

We hooked up and then took an Uber into the downtown area for dinner at the famous Taos Inn. They have a great bar, a fabulous restaurant, and live music most nights in the lobby. We had the Cowboy Buddha margarita and it was well made with no shortcuts on the ingredients or the tequila.

We slept well as the RV Park was quiet and woke up the next morning to head to Pagosa Springs. We planned four morning stops: Carson National Forest headquarters for a map, Albertsons on the main highway for Starbucks coffee, a boutique called Substance of Taos to sample their Vapour organic beauty products, and the historic Taos Pueblos.

We nixed the Pueblo because it was 40 degrees and we didn’t want to be outside. Our southern skin wasn’t acclimated enough to the cold yet.

We got maps for the trails because next time we come this way we will boondock in Carson NF.

Coffee in hand we found Substance and waited for them to open as 10am. It was SO worth the wait. Monica was very knowledgeable about Vapour organic cosmetics and they had a great sample display so I could test out the colors and shades. I’ve been interested in this cosmetic company because they are organic, mineral based with not a lot of water in the products so bacteria doesn’t grow as fast. They have natural-looking buildable multi-use pigmented products that I think would be great for a travel beauty routine. I was not wrong! Monica walked me though their primers, their “multi-use stick” colors, their foundations (which I ended up buying even though I usually don’t wear makeup), and their lip glosses.

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I bought a multi-use stick in the color called “Lure”, a velvet lip gloss, and a soft-focus foundation. Monica threw in a few freebie samples for me to try on our trip.

The boutique was amazing in other ways, too. They sold other bath soak salts, soaps, lotions, jewelry, clothing, and hair salon services. If you visit Taos do stop in. You won’t regret it. It’s on the corner of La Placita and Rancheritos.

Leaving Taos and heading north on US 64 you cross the Rio Grande River Gorge and Rest Area. Make plans to stop.

 

 

The gorge views are SPECTACULAR.

 

After the rest area there is the world headquarters of Earthship Biotecture and you can tour their off-grid sustainable homes.

New Orleans to Washington State 2018

Our 2018 TransAmerican road trip in our R-pod 180 HRE will take us from New Orleans to the Pacific Northwest (PNW) again. We loved it up there last year and have decided to become reverse snowbirds this year from May to October 🙂

On the way to the PNW we will stop along this route:

  • Dallas
  • Albuquerque
  • Zion National Park
  • Salt Lake City
  • Yakima
  • Olympia
  • Anacortes (San Juan Islands)

Follow us @countryboy_citygirl on Instagram for photos of our travels and tips on free camping spots.

Montana Hi-Line: Highway 2 Across MT & ND

From Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs we traveled east on Hwy 2. After Hinsdale, MT look on left for dinosaur figure statues by Buck Samuelson.

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Next is Glasgow where you can get gas, fast food, or shop at Albertsons. Glasgow and west on Hwy 2 is called the Montana Hi-Line. Glasgow begins gentle rolling hill country.

Wolf Point, MT has Exxon gas, McDonald’s, Carquest, and Homestead Inn. It gets hilly and lovely after Wolf Point. About that time the sun set so it was too dark to see. Really, though, I wouldn’t recommend driving at night.

The names of the waterways along this Highway were fun. For instance, there was Big Muddy Creek and Little Muddy Creek 🙂

Highway 2 gets bumpy after Culbertson.

This is about where we started listening to the radio. 101.1 out of Williston played an eclectic mix of music that I really enjoyed. within a couple hours I heard Kenny Chesney, Garbage, Pink Floyd, Bon Jovi, the Black Eyed Peas, R.E.M., Billy Joel, Collective Soul, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, and Gnarls Barkly. Crazy, right? I loved it!

We crossed the state line into South Dakota and Hwy 2 became a 4-lane highway with a large median. I still would refrain from driving at night due to poor visibility (It gets super dark).

Williston, ND is officially the city of the truck… I saw like 1 car. We stayed overnight, or in RV lingo we boondocked overnight, at the Williston Walmart. A security guard patrolled the parking lot all night, which was nice. We also boondocked overnight at the Walmart in Grand Forks, ND.

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“Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end”

Next up, Minnesota!

 

Avenue of the Saints

Avenue of the Saints is a highway system that goes from Saint Paul, Minnesota to Saint Louis, Missouri.
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When we left the Chippewa National Forest from Walker, Minnesota we headed towards Waterloo, Iowa. We didn’t know if we would make it in one day of driving but in our haste to get back home to Louisiana so our dog could get treated for the ACL tear he suffered while in Sleeping Buffalo, Montana we had to try.
Heading to Waterloo our trip meter read 7289 miles (on 7/21/17). So 7,000 miles in less than 3 months for the #transamericanroadtrip !!
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The Mississippi “Great River Road National Route” is what we drove for a bit of the way after Saint Louis. The “Great River Road” is a well-marked series of different roads and highways that roughly follow the winding course of the Mississippi River. All along the Great River Road, travelers will find white signs displaying the green pilot’s wheel logo. The familiar pilot’s wheel symbol denotes which roads are part of the designated route. The route has been selected for its natural, cultural, historical, recreational and scenic properties.
Illinois River Road was marked from about from Quincy, Illinois to Hannibal, MO. We could see corn and bean crops everywhere along the routes in Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois. On July 22 we hit 7550 miles!
From Hannibal, MO to St. Louis, MO on Hwy 61 there is a Mark Twain Cave and Campground. We will likely visit there next time we drive that route.
We stopped at Cozy C Campground in Bowling Green MO. It was good for overnight. Clean restrooms/ showers, plus ice cream in the office.
We had to make a pit stop in Ste Genevieve, MO to visit The Cave Winery and it was worth it. They have seating for 100 down below the main buidling in a cool cave.
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Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs in Montana

2 Perfect Days in Sleeping Buffalo, MT

The Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs has humble origins. A wildcat oil rigger testing for oil in the 1920s struck hot water at 3,100 feet, according to a 1962 Phillips County history.

“During these years when bathtubs were not as plentiful as now, cowboys in the vicinity made use of the hot water for a ‘Saturday night bath.'”

Then Saco rancher Elbert Davison, whose son had polio, had the idea of building a pool for his son to soak in, which proved popular for others, too.

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The American Legion posts in Saco, Malta, and Hinsdale worked together to capture the natural gas in the water without shutting down the water. No longer would the water ignite at the “burning well.” The resort aspect began as a New Deal, Depression-era project, launching the Legion Health Resort.

While we were there, a vanful of Saskatchewan Hutterites arrived and I got to talk with one of them. Very interesting to meet them and hear about their religion. The handful of other visitors who came were either from Canada or from nearby in Montana. We basically had the whole area to ourselves for most of our visit. I took advantage of swimming/wading while the pool filled up on the first day we were there.

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In recent years the old site, a very run down and stinky place, closed. The reviews we saw on the web were pretty bad so I almost didn’t go. BUT, I found a couple of articles about a Bozeman couple who bought the place and renovated it. I’m so glad we stopped!

The Sleeping Buffalo has three pools, a large one at a comfortable swimming temperature, a smaller hot pool and a cold plunge pool next to the sauna. The pools drain nightly, which prevents staining. In the hot tub, water flushes through every 20 minutes, and in the big pool it’s every three hours. The mineral-rich water flows from the well at 108 degrees and 750 gallons a minute.

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Just a warning that the hot tub is super hot, but relaxing. There is also a sauna.

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Ten motel rooms are under construction, and the Sleeping Buffalo will have a KOA campground with 20 cabins and 75 camping spots. Very soon, Simpson will start work on outside pools. Right now there are three cabins and at least 35 RV spots with hook ups.

The resort isn’t planning a restaurant right now but does offer snack food, pizza and hot dogs. There is also a bar next door.

Be sure to stop at the sacred Sleeping Buffalo rock that marks the turn to the resort off US Highway 2 and know that fishing is available at the nearby Nelson Reservoir.

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The Sleeping Buffalo is between Malta and Saco, Montana at 669 Buffalo Trail. Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday. An adult swim is $8.50. Snacks and towel, etc., rentals are available.

We stayed for three days and had a great time!

 

Next up: East on Hwy 2