Skip the Crowds and Explore the East Side of Zion
Zion really is as awesome as everyone says. That is why it is one of the most visited National Parks in the United States. It’s spectacular canyon walls, dramatic hiking trails and turquoise colored rivers create an epic landscape that begs one to explore deeper. Your friends at lostinbeautifulplaces.com spent a week exploring Zion National Park on our four month trip around the Western US this summer. We based ourselves on the East side of the park and wanted to share our experiences with our readers.
East Zion Introductiopn
The Eastern entrance to Zion was established in 1930 in order to improve access to Bryce and Grand Canyon parks. The National Park Service constructed the 1.1 mile long Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel through the colorful sandstone, the largest of its type at the time. Visitors today can pass through the tunnel and access one of the most spectacular drives in the country.
Leaving from the visitors center, Route 9 winds its way up along the Upper East Canyon, passing through the tunnel, past the park’s Eastern entrance kiosk and then cutting through the remarkable Checkerboard Mesa geological area before reaching the upper rim. Upon reaching the top of the canyon, a variety of interesting lodging and hiking opportunities await.
Why East Zion?
Planning a trip to Zion National Park, but don’t have any reservations? If so, check out what the East side of Zion, which many travelers overlook. The East side of the park offers unique lodging and hiking options with
Most visitors choose to lodge in Springdale at the southern entrance to the park. Unfortunately, during high season (June-August) rooms fill up fast and the cost can compare to that of a four-star hotel in New York City. For the more adventurous traveler, there are three official campgrounds within the park. Each is beautiful and functional, but require reservations many months in advance. A few last-minute campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, but it can be a gamble and doesn’t always pay off. Read more about getting last minute campsites in our article about car camping hacks.
While it offers its own lodging, dining and hiking options, all of the trails and attractions in the main valley can still be accessed from the East side via Route 9. In the week we camped on the East side, we were able to hike Angel’s Landing, The Narrows, and The Watchman Trail, in addition to the hikes that are listed in the article below. We HIGHLY recommend hiking the Angel’s Landing trail and then getting a few craft beers and some food at Zion Canyon Brewery located near the visitor’s center. Good times!!!
Lodging in East Zion
From quaint hotels to grand log cabins, as well as smaller cabins, glamping sites, and campgrounds, the East side of Zion has lodging options for all types of travel styles.
Zion Ponderosa Ranch, bordering the eastern border of the park, is an excellent option that the authors of lostinbeautifulplaces.com personally recommends. The 4,000-acre ranch-style property offers cabins of all sizes, tent camping, and various other accommodations. In addition to lodging, the ranch offers 2 restaurants, a swimming pool and a recreation barn that leads 4×4 and canyoneering tours, as well as containing ping pong and pool tables. We opted to camp in one of their tent spots for a week. The sites are well laid out and are shaded by large trees, which can be a huge plus in the summer. The campground has brand new bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities and a small general store. Zion Ponderosa sits above the valley at an elevation of 6,500 ft and is 10 degrees cooler than the valley floor. A nice reprieve after a long day hiking in the park.
Another top contender for lodging on the East side is Zion Mountain Ranch, another ranch-style property that contains a collection of cabins available for nightly rental. Guided hikes, Jeep tours, and horseback riding are offered. The resort features a farm-to-table restaurant that uses produce grown at the ranch. There is also a heard of buffalo roaming the property.
One other unique lodging option that should be mentioned is East Zion Resort. This vacation rental property offers log cabins, tree houses, and modern, farmhouse-inspired tiny homes. The small resort-style property includes beautiful grounds with gardens and picnic areas.
Hiking East Zion
The Canyon Overlook Trail is located on the east side of the tunnel opening. It is a fairly easy stroll to the overlook of the canyon and to enjoy the awesome views of the valley floor you just left behind. The trail follows along Pine Creek Canyon to a large overlook with views of the Mt. Carmel Tunnel windows, Zion Canyon, Bridge Mountain, Streaked Wall, and East Temple. While less crowded than Zion Canyon, this is still a relatively busy route, and the small parking lot often fills quickly. Be sure to arrive early to beat the heat and the crowds.
The East Mesa Rim Trail is a scenic 3.3 mile trail that leads to Observation Point. The trailhead is accessed by parking at Zion Ponderosa Ranch. Follow Route 9 for one and a half miles past the Zion National Park border and turn north onto North Fork Road. Zion Ponderosa will come into view in about five miles. Follow the signs to the parking area for the trail. This hike is relatively flat but is exposed to the sun and wind. Be sure to pack plenty of water, a hat, some sunscreen, and snacks.
Clear Creek Trail is an unofficial trail that offers an opportunity to do your own exploring. Access is located on the east side of Mount Carmel Tunnel. Park at the overlook trail or along Hwy 9 near the east entrance ranger station. This “trail” leads through narrow slot canyons along dry stream beds. The river bed gives you a unique perspective of the colorful rock formations and is a great way to spend the morning or day. Stay on worn trails and be careful about getting lost as many of the canyons look similar to each other.
After spending an amazing week on the East side of Zion, we were off to Park City, Utah next. A few weeks of hiking in the mountains and relaxing by the pool is in order! It has been so much fun exploring Zion National Park. We hope that we provided an insight into a unique part of the park. If you have any questions or comments, we would LOVE to hear them…..
And don’t forget you read about our time in Park City Utah.
Zion Travel Links
Zion National Park Website: https://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm
Zion Vacation Planning Guide: https://utah.com/zion-national-park
Free Camping Directory: https://freecampsites.net/
Joe’s Guide to Zion: https://www.citrusmilo.com/zionguide/
Camper Rentals: https://usarvrentals.com/
Campervan Rentals: https://www.escapecampervans.com/
Zion Tours: https://www.zionadventures.com/
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If you are looking for some tips to get you on the road and exploring the National Parks of the United States, here is everything you need to know.