Some of the most dramatic natural landscapes you can find in the entire world can be found at Zion National Park. Located just outside of Virgin, UT, Zion is a massive network of slot canyons and red sandstone pillars. Every year, millions of people visit Zion National Park to enjoy the beauty that its borders hold.
Zion is best visited when you have several days to explore the park. And one of the best ways to enjoy all the park has to offer is through camping! We’ll discuss the options you have for camping at and around Zion National Park, so you know how to pick the best location to camp.
We’ve found that there aren’t a lot of options for backcountry camping within the park itself, but there are a lot of great options we’ll go over that are near the park. You’ll be prepared for your camping adventure in Zion National Park by the end of this article.
Best Times to Go Camping In Zion National Park
|Month||Average High Temp.||Average Low Temp.|
As you can see from the chart above, Zion National Park stays fairly moderate in temperature making it easy to camp there for most of the year. While the campsites have some restrictions, you can find places to camp in and around the park all year long.
The most comfortable months for camping in Zion are May through September when the temperatures stay above freezing at night.
According to Visit Utah, the busiest season in Zion National Park is between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The busiest times are Memorial Day weekend, Easter week, Labor Day weekend. So, if you are wanting to avoid a crowd, you should avoid these times in particular.
Dispersed Camping Inside Zion National Park
The proper definition of dispersed camping is that you’re camping away from an established campground. There usually aren’t amenities like fire pits, parking lots, flush toilets, potable water, or electric hookups.
You usually aren’t within close proximity to others unlike within a designated campground. To us, that’s the best part of dispersed camping. However, it isn’t an option everywhere you go.
Due to the nature of a national forest or national parks, there are very few opportunities for dispersed camping. The main mission of the National Park Service is to keep the park preserved for as long as they can. This means that camping is only allowed in established campgrounds for the most part. Because of this, we will go over the camping area options provided by the park’s three campgrounds too.
Campgrounds in Zion National Park
In terms of campgrounds that are available inside of Zion National Park, you have three options:
- Watchman Campground
- Lava Point Campground
- South Campground
The only campground that is open year-round in Zion is Watchman Campground. There are a few options when it comes to securing a camp spot at Watchman. The best way to ensure you have a spot is to reserve one through recreation.gov for the dates that you plan on visiting the park. Walk-up sites are available, but they are reserved on a first come, first served basis.
Watchman campground has 176 individual campsites to choose from when making your reservation. Standard campsites are generally $30 per day.
Lava Point Campground
Lava Point Campground is located about an hour outside of Zion Canyon along Kolob Terrace Road. Lava Point Campground is open from around May to September, but that season can vary depending on weather and park staffing.
Lava Point used to offer free campsites. Reservations were not needed for this primitive campground until the 2022 camping season. Now, it has 6 primitive campsites that are available for booking. There are pit toilets and trash cans but you have to bring your own water.
The final campground available in Zion is South Campground. Just like with Lava Point, you must make a reservation before camping here as the campground is always full during the heart of the camping season. You can make reservations here 2 weeks in advance of your trip, so be sure to hop on the website sooner than later to secure your place for the dates you want!
This campground has 117 total sites to choose from when making your reservation. Standard campsites are generally $20 per day while group sites are $50. There are no free campgrounds in Zion National Park anymore, but $20 per night is one of the more affordable options.
Dispersed Camping in Zion National Park
Now, keep in mind that the campground spots are for folks that are car camping. For a dispersed camping experience away from the busy campgrounds, you will need to pack your gear into a pack and hike it into the wilderness! Backpacking is the only way to enjoy dispersed camping inside of Zion National Park.
Overnight Backpacking in Zion National Park
There are two areas that allow for at-large dispersed camping for overnight backpackers. These are:
- East Rim Camp Area
- Wildcat Canyon Camp Area
The other overnight backpacking options are designated campsites in these areas:
- Hop Valley
- La Verkin Creek
- The Narrows
- Southwest Desert
- West Rim
You need to have reservations for overnight camping spots as well as obtain a wilderness permit. The reservations reserve your campsite and the wilderness permit is a contract between you and the park to help preserve and protect the wilderness. Reservations are made ahead of time online. You’ll need to pick up the wilderness permit at the visitor center.
Reservations can be made online here. If there is availability, you can camp in the same spot for multiple nights. Or if you are backpacking through, you will need to plan ahead and make separate reservations for each night.
Because of it being a National Park, there are no free camping options. However, reservations are extremely affordable for backpack camping. Each reservation is only $5 for your group per night. The number of people allowed in a camping group varies from area to area.
Wilderness permits are an additional expense. Only the person who booked the camping reservation needs to purchase the permit. That person is essentially the group leader and is expected to plan and prepare their group.
The permit cost varies depending on the size of your group:
- 1-2 people is $15
- 3-7 people is $20
- 8-12 people is $25
Research Before You Go
There are several different trails of different difficulty levels. Be sure that you have the proper experience and skills before reserving a backpacking spot in Zion National Park to ensure you camp responsibly and safely.
Backpacking carries additional risks compared to traditional camping. For starters, you will be farther away from roads which will make it difficult to get help if something goes wrong. You’re also at a higher risk for getting exposed to natural forces like flash floods and rock falls due to the remoteness of backpacking locations within the park.
You’ll want to do adequate research to ensure you bring the right supplies and are prepared for all parts of the trail you choose. For example, if you are hiking the narrows, you should know ahead of time that you’ll have to hike through the Virgin River since there isn’t a trail. This wouldn’t be ideal without the proper gear and planning.
Dispersed Camping Outside Zion National Park
One of the best parts about Zion National Park is that it’s surrounded by millions of acres worth of public land. Most of the land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). What this means is that there are many more options when it comes to dispersed camping, since the missions of the National Park Service and the BLM are very different from each other.
BLM Land Near Zion National Park
While the National Park Service’s mission is preservation, the BLM’s mission is more conservation. What this means is that the land the BLM manages is meant to be used by the public. The restrictions as to where to camp and what you’re allowed to do on BLM’s public lands are much lighter compared to the National Park land. That’s not to say that you can be reckless on BLM land and not follow things like Leave No Trace Principles, but the rules on use are more lax. For example, primitive camping is a lot easier to find on BLM land.
Camping on BLM Land Near Zion National Park
There are tons of areas to dispersed camp on the BLM land outside of Zion. Basically, you can pull over on the side of any of the dirt roads outside of the park and camp! Now, the best thing you could do is go prepared with all of the amenities you’d expect to see inside of a developed campground within the park, so plan accordingly.
In terms of vehicles that are best for dispersed camping outside of Zion, bringing along a high clearance 4×4 vehicle will increase the availability of spots as you’ll be able to get further away off of graded dirt roads to where there are much more isolated areas that are difficult to get to.
Dispersed Camping Spots Near Zion National Park
In terms of finding camp spots, it’s best to check out a layered map to view where the roads are that keep you within BLM designated lands. Apps like Onyx are great for seeing where the public and private land boundaries are as well as where the roads are. This will ensure that you know exactly where you are at all times.
BLM also offers a layered map that shows you where the public lands are surrounding Zion National Park. This is a good way to find dispersed camping that is close to the park. Below is a screenshot of what you’ll see on the map. Zion National Park is in purple. The surrounding orange/yellow areas are BLM land where you can find great dispersed camping opportunities.
Best Places for Dispersed Camping Near Zion National Park
Beartrap Canyon Wilderness
This 40 acre BLM area shares a western boundary with the Kolob Canyon portion of Zion National park. Beartrap is located just 6 miles west of Kolob Reservoir and campground. You can access the canyon from the LaVerkin Creek Trail in Zion National Park.
Latitude and Longitude: 37.42564361, -113.0889694
Gooseberry Mesa is at an elevation of 5,200 feet and offers incredible views. Several trails and primitive camping opportunities can be found here.
Latitude and Longitude: 37.14441447, -113.1772179
Hurricane cliffs is mostly known for its camping spots along Sheep Bridge Road where there are over 40 primitive camping spots that are marked and include a fire ring. This area is loved for its incredible mountain biking opportunities within the trail system.
Latitude and Longitude: 37.19551897, -113.2375566
Canaan Mountain Wilderness
Canaan Mountain Wilderness shares Zion Park’s southeast boundary. It comprises over 44,000 acres of the most gorgeous scenery. You can ride horses on the trail, go canyoneering, camping, and hiking here.
Latitude and Longitude: 37.01513361, -112.9812556
Spring Creek Canyon
One of the more popular areas, Spring Creek Canyon, stays busy with people who visit to camp, fish, hike, and take in the beauty of the wildlife and vegetation. However, being over 4,400 acres, this area offers enough space to find yourself alone. You’ll want to check out Kanarra Falls and Spring Creek Canyon while here as well as the beautiful waterfalls that can be found near Kanarra Creek.
Latitude and Longitude: 37.53691156, -113.1526672
Birch Hollow is a beautiful natural area located near Zion National Park. This region offers unparalleled natural beauty and plenty of opportunities for outdoor exploration and recreation. The area is extremely popular among hikers, campers, and other outdoor enthusiasts, due to its easy access to the surrounding mountains.
Latitude and Longitude: 37.30976145, -112.8563421
Eagle Crags Trail
Eagle Crags Trail is a part of BLM land and is located close to Zion National Park. The trail offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, and is a great place to enjoy a day of hiking with friends or family. There are also several campsites located along the trail, making it a great option for overnight camping trips.
Latitude and Longitude: 37.14751415, -113.0310796
Can you disperse camp in Zion National Park?
There is no real dispersed camping in Zion National Park. When camping, you must make reservations and camp in designated campsites. There are primitive camping areas that you can get to by backpacking, but those require a permit and reservation. However, there are many dispersed camping areas just outside of the park.
Can you camp anywhere in Zion National Park?
No, just like with most other national parks, you cannot camp anywhere you’d like inside of Zion National Park. You must reserve a spot in one of the designated camping areas.
Is there free camping at Zion National Park?
No, there are no free campsites in the park. Free camping used to be offered at Lava Point Campground. As of 2022, you must pay for campsites here.
Can you camp in Zion without a reservation?
You need to pay for and reserve a campsite in order to camp in Zion National Park. If you didn’t make a reservation online, you can check in when you get there to see if there are any available campsites. If not, you will need to find other accommodations.
Does Utah allow dispersed camping?
Yes, you can go dispersed camping in Utah. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages a lot of public land in Utah that you can camp within.
Can you camp for free on BLM land Utah?
Yes, BLM camping is free in Utah. Unless otherwise stated depending on the area you camp in, it is free to camp on public BLM land.
As you can see, while dispersed camping isn’t available inside the park, there are plenty of opportunities for dispersed camping outside of Zion National Park. If you’re looking to save money and also increase your chances of getting a spot, dispersed camping is the way to go! Dispersed camping does come with its own challenges, such as having less access to amenities. However, the solitude you get from being away from large campgrounds often makes up for the lack of creature comforts.
Whether you choose to camp at a campsite within the park or outside of it in a primitive camping area, we’re sure you’ll have a good time. The area around Zion National Park is truly beautiful and has a lot to offer.