Ultimate Guide to Dispersed Camping near Zion National Park – Developed & Dispersed Campgrounds

Having celebrated its 100th birthday a couple of years ago, Zion National Park dispersed camping area is a place of biblical proportions, epic biblical scenery, and even a biblical name from ancient Hebrew.

This incredible place consists of red rock cliffs, awe-inspiring canyons carved over many eons, mysterious sandstone villages, and stunning arcs that look like masterworks of ancient architects.

In this article, I will list my five favorite dispersed camping spots around Zion and mention some developed campgrounds in and around Zion for good measure. 

Overview of Zion National Park Dispersed Camping

Dispersed campers in Zion National Park sitting next to a campfire and tent

Home to ancient peoples for at least 10,000 years, the canyons of Zion hold many secretive messages on the walls of their many caves. The Virgin River at the base of this canyon starkly contrasts the tall cliffs that rise and stand as tall as 1,488 feet (The height of the famous Angel’s Landing, a rock formation with a unique shape and plenty of hiking trails surrounding it).

Only the most experienced and the pluckiest of hikers are willing to take a stab at the short but hazardous trail that circumnavigates the canyon cliffs.

Treacherous sand and slick rock sections, many exposed edges, and tall and tough drop-offs all make this camping ground a significant issue for anyone with little experience (Sudden avalanches are also a peril, by the way).

The payback is a once-in-a-lifetime experience with spectacular views of the entire canyon, complete with beige and red cliffs, the winding Virgin River underneath, and the lush vegetation around it.  

Other than the challenging hiking trails, Zion and its vast general area are well-known for being home to some of the best free campgrounds in Utah. The massive BLM territory is open for exploration, giving you more than enough options to get to know this scenic region of the US.

Besides the beautiful nature, Zion National Park is also home to Mojave Desert Tortoise and Mexican Spotted Owl and a rich array of foxes, mules, and elusive rock squirrels. The endangered California Condor, one of the giant flying birds in the world and certainly the biggest in North America, can be seen circling the red cliffs of Zion, too.

Best Dispersed Campgrounds in Zion National Park

If you like to daydream about visiting the settings of movies such as Avatar, King Kong, or Star Wars, there is a place in the US with a biblical name and stunning natural beauty unsurpassed by anything else you can see in the world.

The Zion National Park is a true gem in the US state that is already known for its immense natural beauty. You will encounter fantastic tall red, beige, and pink cliffs that soar towards the sky, with solitary roads running hundreds of miles in between, with only cacti and tumbleweeds around and an occasional coyote howling at the moon when the night falls. 

As if dream-like otherworldly canyon terrain wasn’t enough, the general area in and around Zion is also home to splendid lakes, scenic winding roads, and unique mixtures of deciduous and evergreen trees that pepper the hillocks all over this region.

Regarding camping, virtually all the territory surrounding Zion National Park is BLM Utah land, with some patches being private property. This overwhelming prevalence of BLM land means that if you follow their rather lax rules surrounding camping and steer clear of privately-owned land, you can set up your tent or park your RV wherever you desire.

Here’s the map showing what BLM district offices are responsible for in what part of Utah.

To find out more about dispersed and other camping opportunities on BLM land in the broader Zion region and the whole of Utah, you can check out this official BLM-made interactive map.

In the sections below, I will present my five favorite dispersed camping destinations near Zion National Park. As you will see, there are plenty of camping options for both folks with RVs, as well as for tenting enthusiasts and other outdoors people.

Gooseberry Mesa

Rock formations at Gooseberry Mesa near Zion National Park, Utah
  • Map
  • Visitor frequency: high
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no

At an hour’s drive from the Park’s southern entrance, Gooseberry Mesa is a must-visit campground for anyone looking for a dispersed campground as close to the National Park as possible.

Suppose you’re interested in capturing breathtaking photos of the canyon and tall red cliffs. In that case, Gooseberry Mesa can be a fantastic starting point where you can rest and prepare for a full day of exploration. What makes this beautiful place unique is its tremendous views of the canyon underneath, with only some shrubbery and trees that serve as guardians of the canyon’s rim.

In addition to making unique photos of the surrounding canyonland, Gooseberry Mesa can serve as a great base camp for tackling the surrounding exciting hiking trails, which are plentiful and somewhat easily accessible if you assume this campground is the starting point.

You only get a few amenities at Gooseberry Mesa, so self-sufficiency is necessary. Given the vicinity of Zion National Park and the nearby town of Apple Valley, just off Highway 59, you will have zero issues fetching everything you need – even if you run out of supplies while camping.

Last but not least, it’s important to remember that the best spots nearest to the canyon rim usually get occupied rather quickly. Other excellent areas are nearby, though, so even if you don’t secure a rim site, the other ones will still offer a fantastic camping experience.  

Dalton Wash Road

Zion National Park South Entrance near Dalton Wash Road
  • Map 
  • Visitor frequency: medium 
  • Toilets: no 
  • Water availability: no

Representing another fantastic campground close to the Park’s south entrance, Dalton Wash Road offers scenic views of the surrounding nature. The difference between this road and the campground from above is that you will find fewer canyons here, but you will find a vast desert with mountains in the distance and red dirt roads that navigate the hilly terrain.

The scenery around Dalton Wash Road will make you think you were teleported to Africa and driving towards Mt. Kilimanjaro while negotiating red mud and dirt roads that stretch for endless miles.

The only significant difference would be the absence of giraffes along the way and the fact that the road is typically dry and dusty rather than wet and muddy (For this reason, expect a bumpy ride, especially if you plan to penetrate farther than a couple of miles down the road).

Dalton Wash Road roadside pullouts are a fantastic opportunity for tenting or fashioning a small encampment by placing one of those makeshift awnings on your SUV’s roof (Arriving here onboard a high-clearance 4×4 is always a good idea).

Regarding boondocking, you’ll be better off visiting another campground as the road is relatively narrow. Navigating a large rig or towing a trailer can be tricky.

Dalton Wash Road is entirely under the jurisdiction of BLM. That said, some sections adjacent to the road are private property, so be careful not to set up a tent in someone’s backyard accidentally. To be on the safe side, you can consult the local BLM St. George Field Office to learn more about the current status of this and other nearby campgrounds.   

Kolob Reservoir

Kolob Reservoir campground near Zion National Park
Photo by Brendan J. O’Toole via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
  • Map
  • Visitor frequency: medium
  • Toilets: vault toilets
  • Water availability: no (but you can filter some from the reservoir)

North of Zion, you will find a campground that is no longer fee-free and costs about $50 a night but offers a dispersed camping experience in every other way.

Kolob is now a semi-developed campground that you have to pay for because of the sheer popularity of the place among dispersed campers. Despite the newly-added price tag, more needs to be done regarding amenities. Unfortunately, a couple of vault toilets are all you get here when it comes to facilities.

First of all, the nature around Kolob Reservoir is stunning. The gorgeous mixtures of deciduous and evergreen forests that stretch as far as the eye can see, the hilly terrain, and the mild, pleasant climate make Kolob a significant destination for campers and hikers alike.

The drive to this place can be considered a significant sightseeing opportunity. Simply looking out of your car’s window and observing the enchanting forests and the hilly terrain covered in trees and brown, yellow, and dark green low-growing vegetation can make for a great outdoor experience.

Once you reach the campground, you can set up your tent on lakeside campsites next to the water. The reservoir gives this campground a special touch that only a still body of clear, fresh water can produce.

If you like fishing, you can also bring your fishing tackle and cast the bait. You have to follow the local fishing rules, though. There are specific weight limits and sizes of fish that you must release depending on the season, so you must acquaint yourself with the instructions issued by the local Utah fishing authorities.

Sheep Bridge Road 

Hurricane Utah near Sheep Bridge Road
  • Map 
  • Visitor frequency: high
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no

Representing a dispersed campground near Zion National Park with probably the best location of any dispersed campground, Sheep Bridge Road is a super popular place you want to take advantage of if you’re near Zion’s south entrance.

You won’t find anything here besides a couple of fire rings in terms of amenities. That said, the fantastic location that this place boasts means you have easy access to supplies you can fetch from a couple of neighboring towns – Virgin, La Verkin, and the cheekily-named city of Hurricane (For the record, all of these small and charming settlements are approximately at the same distance from this campground).

The entire campground spreads along the Sheep Bridge Road, which connects two major highways that pass through this area – Highway 59 to the south and Highway 9 to the north.

The road is dry, dusty, and sometimes tricky to navigate. That said, it’s not so bumpy that you cannot approach this campground onboard an RV or while towing a trailer.

Due to the immense popularity of this area among dispersed campers, the local BLM office decided to limit the roadside sites to 56, as the place was getting too crowded. On top of that, the areas are now designated and can be told apart, so simply placing your tent or parking anywhere you want is no longer allowed. Still, other than this intervention by the BLM, dispersed camping here is a fantastic experience (As long as you arrive early enough to secure a site). 

The Hurricane Cliffs Recreation Area is close to this place, so you can stop by and explore this scenic area and its rich hiking trail system to your heart’s content.   

Burnt Flat Gulch

Zion National Park East Entrance near Burnt Flat Gulch
Photo by James Marvin Phelps via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
  • Map
  • Visitor frequency: medium
  • Toilets: no
  • Water availability: no

Just east of the National Park is a large expanse of nothing but excellent BLM land with numerous fantastic camping opportunities. The campsites are multiple, roughly following Highway 9 and the area within its curve. Also, you will find a vast territory of BLM roads everywhere around the highway, with even more excellent roadside pullout-style campgrounds along the way.

Similarly to other BLM areas in this region, one thing to pay attention to would be private property. To be on the safe side, contacting the local BLM office can be a great way to determine what are the no-go zones when it comes to dispersed camping.

The many byroads intersecting this area are relatively well-connected and well-maintained regarding vehicle access. Some sections of the road can get a tad rough, but you can navigate them quickly with careful driving. If you plan to visit this place onboard an RV or have a 4×4 with a large trailer, you can rest assured that all of the campsites on this rather large campground will be available.

For more cool dispersed camping opportunities in Utah, check our list of the best free campgrounds in Moab.

Glamping near Zion

Cactus and flowers in Zion National Park visitor center

The Zion National Park and its immediate and broader surrounding areas are well-known for their natural beauty – a fact that’s attracting millions of tourists from all over the world.

While nature’s sheer beauty and uniqueness are more than enough to attract visitors, what if you could add fine dining, excellent wines, Wi-Fi, and cabins that look like tepees that ancient natives used to live in?

Glamping, a cheeky portmanteau made up of words’ camping‘ and ‘glamourous,’ is a way of camping reserved for those more interested in beautiful nature and sightseeing than rugged outdoorsmanship and sleeping on the ground among gophers, roadrunners, and burrowing owls.

While glamping may not be the best way to get in touch with nature, it’s still a preferred way of appreciating nature for many people.

In the broader Zion National Park area, one glamping location stays head and shoulders above others, which is why I will describe it briefly in the section below.  

Under Canvas – Zion National Park

Under Canvas glamping campground in Zion National Park
  • Map
  • Visitor frequency: medium
  • Toilets: yes
  • Water availability: yes

Situated next to the Kolob Terrace Road, Under Canvas is near Zion National Park, which is only a couple of miles southwest of Zion’s main entrance.

This place is not called ‘Under Canvas‘ for no reason. This campground is only half an hour away from Zion National Park and is fashioned in the style of ancient tepees (with a modern twist, of course). So, if you’d like to have a glamorous vacation close to the entrance to one of the most beautiful national parks in the world, making a reservation for an Under Canvas cabin is an idea you should consider.

The scenery around this campground is such that you can easily confuse it with a movie set. The beautiful red cliff mountains in the distance, a hilly valley in the middle, retro tepees, and the most transparent, most beautiful bright blue sky above all make this place an absolute must-visit if you have the means and a desire for an Old West-themed glamping excursion.

Regarding amenities, it’s easier to cite things you won’t get around these parts. Organic baths, bedside USB battery packs, on-site dining, cool fire pits, and many awesome additional activities such as live fireside music, morning yoga sessions, and kids-friendly entertainment – the list of cool stuff you can do at the campground itself goes on.

Best Developed Campgrounds in Zion National Park

Yellow tent and a bottle at a campground in Zion National Park

The general areas around Zion are gorgeous and feature stunning nature wherever you look, so dispersed camping is prevalent in these parts.

If you can’t find a site at a dispersed campground, look for a developed campground instead. Multiple excellent campgrounds are inside and outside the National Park, so you have some exciting options.  

Watchman & South

Virgin River near Watchman & South Campgrounds, Zion National Park
  • Map 
  • Visitor frequency: high 
  • Toilets: yes
  • Water availability: yes

Zion features two main designated campgrounds in Watchman & South. These two places are close to the Visitor’s Center, so if you need more info about the surrounding nature or a fishing permit, you can get all that and more at this institution (You can also get physical maps of the area at the Visitor’s Center).

What makes these two campgrounds so unique is their location. Both sit adjacent and on the banks of the gorgeous Virgin River. The scenery here is mesmerizing, and the surrounding cliffs and the vegetation against the blue sky offer endless photo ops, even for a complete amateur with a camera.

You need a reservation for the Watchman campground, while the South one functions on a relatively simple first-come-first-served basis. For the record, making a reservation for the Watchman campground should be done well in advance, as the sites get booked quickly once the season starts. In terms of amenities, you can count on well-maintained bathrooms and shuttle buses you can use to get around.

A significant upside to camping at either campground in the vicinity of the Visitor’s Center – especially if you’re a hiker. Getting a backcountry permit is essential for accessing the gorgeous and, at times, challenging canyoneering and hiking trails.  

Hi-Road Campground 

Hi-Road Campground, Utah
  • Map 
  • Visitor frequency: low 
  • Toilets: yes
  • Water availability: yes

In the category of campgrounds just outside of the National Park, you will find a rather interesting walk-in-only campground called Hi-Road Campground. Even though this place sits just outside the East entrance, it rarely fills up with people to the point where you can’t find a free spot.

The views you can witness here may not be the same as the ones at the campgrounds inside the Park proper, but you still get to see breathtaking canyons and the many surrounding BLM roads with roadside pullouts.

One thing that sets this campground apart from the others in its vicinity is the privacy you enjoy around these parts. In contrast to Watchman & South campgrounds, where you will have quite a few possibly noisy neighbors, Hi-Road represents a campground with considerably more privacy and where you can enjoy some peace and quiet.

Another major plus would be the amenities when this campground is in question. A community building complete with showers, laundry room, bathrooms, and a great general store makes this place a joy to spend time in. Add to that Wi-Fi coverage, and you can see that the Hi-Road campground provides both modern-day necessities to its visitors and fantastic views of the surrounding nature. 

Conversely, some campsites look a tad derelict during the off-season. Plenty of dead shrubs and leaves in this area between late fall and early spring may make the sites look a tad tacky.

Of course, if you visit this place during summer and fall when the leaves are in full bloom, you can rest assured that you will witness gorgeous vegetation and stunning cliffs. Well, the cliffs are there year-round, but still.

Last but not least, the Hi-Road campground is a rather large place. You can choose from multiple options in terms of altitude and approach, but some of the best campsites are those overlooking the valley. Reaching these can be challenging, so you might need a high-clearance 4×4 to pull it off.

Conclusion

Backpacker in Zion National Park

All in all, whether you’re interested in exploring Zion National Park and are looking for a free campground nearby that you can use as your basecamp, or you like to put your backpack on or stack your RV with supplies and ride out – the broader area around Zion will not disappoint.

Gorgeous views of the red cliffs everywhere around you, fantastic lakes with clear water full of trout and Utah cutthroats of various colors and subgenera, and lonesome roads that go through canyons that will make you think you’re in Tanzania – this is what camping near Zion national park is all about. 

Leave a Comment