- GORGEOUS. Can't stress that enough. We set up the tent at night, so didn't see our surroundings until we opened the window in the morning... and it was amazing.
- Fairly spacious. We definitely had no problem fitting our 10'x15' humongous tent on the site, and there was still plenty of room to park the SUV and let the kids run around.
- TUBING! Bring your own tubes or pay $4-25 a pop at the local grocery store - or, you know, check out the local stores where you could probably rent one, but we didn't see that store before we went! We took the shuttle up to the Zion Human History Museum, then walked down to the river, got in, and floated in inner tubes down to the campsite. It was amazing and so much fun. I'm pretty sure we're crazy - it was myself, my husband, our 11 year old, and two toddlers, 4 and 2 years old (in life jackets) - and while most of it was easy floating, there were several spots that we got stuck on rocks, and at least once where my husband flipped over. And it was AWESOME :) I would highly recommend it. We ran into one gentleman who said that one year (earlier in the summer when the water was higher), he'd started at the Narrows and floated all the way down! This will definitely need to be tried (when the kids are older)!!
- Wildlife everywhere! There are several different kinds of lizards that are all over the place, which we were all pretty fascinated with (especially the kids). There are deer that will come right into your campsite as well. (Obviously you shouldn't feed or touch any of the wildlife, but it was really neat to see it up close.) Lots of different kinds of insects and birds and other wildlife as well.
- Free shuttles make it really easy to go see all the cool stuff. The shuttles are pretty direct and didn't get too crowded. Even if you have to skip one (which we didn't), they come and go regularly, so you won't wait long. There's an audio tour on the way up to the Temple of Sinawava. There's also a bus into Springdale, but we didn't take that.
- Campground is literally right next to the Visitor Center and gift shop. You can catch the shuttle at the Visitor Center.
- There's a dishwashing station outside the newer bathrooms, and a water pump outside the older ones that was good for washing off dirty toddlers (and trust me when I say that if you have a small child, it will get filthy within about ten seconds of being there).
- This might be a positive, but I was sort of on the fence about it: There is limited cell service and even 3G at the campsite. On one hand it was, "Yay, technology!" but on the other, it kind of felt like cheating.
- The newer bathrooms are clean and well-stocked with toilet paper. The older bathrooms are infested with bugs at night, cramped, and while conveniently located, were not worth the shortcut once the lights were turned on. The newer bathrooms (at least the ladies' rooms) are particularly crowded in the early mornings, but you're less likely to have a bug fly into you...
- When the sun comes up over the mountain line, the temperature goes up 15* within ten minutes. We definitely had to make it a point to be up and out of the tent each day before the sun rose, otherwise we roasted alive inside the tent.
- Three of our four nights there, "quiet hours" were respected. It got busy pretty early - I'd say around 6ish, but you needed to get up early in order to beat the heat. Our fourth night there, people in our loop were jerks until well past midnight, and that's about all I have to say about that.
- The ants.
- That gets two lines: THE ANTS. I can't believe I didn't take a picture of it. I am not prone to exaggeration, so let me just say this: there were thousands on our campsite. It was infested. We started our trip in bear country, so we were meticulous about not bringing food into the tent, however after four days, we had ants in the tent. The only "safe" place was the picnic table (we have no idea how), and you had to put your feet up on the bench, otherwise they would crawl up your leg. The worst part is they bit. The would bite your toe and then hold on. It didn't hurt, but it pinched, hard, and drew blood more than once. Ants! Since when do ants draw blood!?! They did not react to ant repellent (yes, I bought some at the local grocery store, and yes, we sprayed it... I'm not sure if that's against the rules or not, but the ants were really That Bad).
- Due to how bad the ants were, we only cooked dinner at the campsite one night out of the four we were there. The other three nights we ate at a restaurant in town, drove up to Bryce Canyon and made dinner up there, and one night we just plain ate whatever we could find while sitting in the car. This was not conducive to our budget.
- No showers. Did I mention the swimming?
- Wind + tents. It got really windy at night (at least, while we were there in early July, it was consistently windy at a particular time of night which died down by early morning), and there's no way to "really" stake down your tent. The sites are bedrock with loose gravel on top. We made due (with some initial help from a kind neighbor) by placing large rocks on top of the stakes.
Observations on specific sites:
- Our site, D Loop #033, had great shade and no back neighbors. When I booked it, I thought it was darn near perfect. And it was...except the ants. NOTHING can make it worth the hordes of ants.
- The site next to ours, D Loop #31, did not have as many ants (how!?!?!), had an awesome, huge rock that the kids (theirs and ours!) loved climbing up and playing on, but had no shade.
- D Loop, Site 34, had some shade, less ants, and was quite spacious, but there's a foot path between sites 32 and 34 that had a decent amount of traffic as it's the direct route to the bathrooms. I would suggest sticking to the outer loops in order to avoid this issue.
- A Loop is closest to the river - I would definitely check out the sites on that loop if you're planning on make a reservation during the summer. Ours had shade, but I'd have preferred the water! (And no ants!)
Springdale (the town outside the South gate):
- The Sol Foods (local grocery store) located past the IMAX theater (there are two; use the one farther from the gate) has a decent selection of foods and supplies. It is, obviously, outrageously expensive compared to a "normal" grocery store, but if you close your eyes and don't look at the total, it's not too bad ;) It's available, and that's what counts.
- There's a good selection of restaurants.
- Supposedly there are pay showers. We looked but nothing was advertised, so we didn't delve much deeper than that.
- Lots of neat little shops.
- The park does not approve of squished pennies (I asked)... however you can find a machine at the local IMAX theater in Springdale (just outside the gate). If you park and walk straight inside, it's to the left of the double doors :)
- There are ranger programs most nights... I'd like to have listened to one, but most nights we were already asleep by that time.
- Definitely drive through the tunnels coming in from the East entrance. It's a long drive in and out, but oh so worth the views.
- We also checked out the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, which are more orange than pink, but definitely worth a stop for the experience. The sand is incredibly fine, and the toddlers kept asking where the water (for the beach) was.
- Bryce Canyon is an easy, scenic two hour drive, and definitely worth the gas to make the day trip.
While Zion was utterly amazing, and the shuttles were very convenient, I think that in the future, we will stay in Bryce and drive into Zion. Bryce was 30* cooler (while we were in Zion, it was over 110* for two days), there were less ants, and it was just as amazing. Downside, no swimming at Bryce, but... We'll see :)
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Consists of 228 campsites with restrooms. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Watchman Campground Hotel Zion National Park
- Watchman Campground Zion National Park, Utah