8 Incredible Free Camping Spots Near Zion National Park You’ll Love

Glide through the pristine beauty of Zion National Park without spending a dime. Free camping near this majestic national park allows you to enjoy its unrivaled splendor and gorgeous scenery without spending a dime, leaving your wallet intact!

Over the years this amazing place has become one of the most popular outdoor destinations in the country.

That’s unsurprising when you consider everything there is to do in Zion, from wading through the Narrows and summiting Angel’s Landing to shopping in Springdale and fishing in the Virgin River.  

Sadly, it’s difficult to camp inside Zion while exploring the park. You’re required to make a reservation far in advance, pay a fee, and even worse, campfires are prohibited. That means no smores—talk about lame.  

Fortunately, there are plenty of boondocking spots near Zion National Park, as there is a lot BLM land surrounding it. You can find dozens dispersed camping, boondocking and free campsites just minutes away from the southern and eastern entrances to the national park.

Instead of spending hours searching for the best ones, let us share our favorites with places to camp for free with some general tips to help you camp in style.

Tips For Camping In Zion National Park 

Camping in Zion

Due to Zion’s dry climate, but high altitude, its weather can fluctuate dramatically throughout the year.

In the winter it sees snow, and in the summer, it turns into a fiery hellscape as its temperatures rise into the 100s.

Moreover, this extreme weather has done nothing to discourage the crowds.

In recent years, Zion has reached new levels of popularity, resulting in a reservation system for their shuttles and long lines at trailheads.

We’ve learned a lot from visiting this incredible place over the years so we think it’s time to share our top tips and tricks with you to get the most out of Zion National Park:

1: Don’t Go in the Summer

Zion’s busiest time is in June, July, and August. Crowds swell to such sizes that you’ll think you’re at Disneyland rather than a National Park.

Furthermore, the hot weather makes any hike miserable at best, or potentially lethal at worse. Its just not a fun time.

Instead, visit any month from September to May. You’ll see a sizeable reduction in the crowds and thus, less lines for the shuttles and trailheads.

Even in the winter this place is incredible to visit. The snowfall here is light which means you can still hike in the lower levels of the park while marveling at the snow pack on the higher red cliffs.   

2: Avoid Mountain Lions, or Scare One if You Run Into It

Unlike many of the other National Parks in the United States, Zion lacks any bear species—Hurray! Unfortunately, it does have mountain lions.

These incredible predators can reach up to 180 pounds and six to nine feet long from tail tip to nose. Needless to say, you don’t want to tangle with one. 

The best way to avoid seeing a mountain lion is to stick to designated trails. They tend to stay away from areas with high human traffic.

However, if you do come across one do NOT run. Stand your ground and make yourself look as large as possible by spreading your arms.

Use a firm voice and tell the overgrown kitty cat to go away. These timid creatures will usually flee if they think they’re dealing with another predator hence the reason for making yourself intimidating.    

3: Check Fire Regulations

One of the reasons to camp outside the park is that you can still have a campfire.

Inside Zion Canyon National Park all fires are prohibited due to human-created infernos devastating this beautiful landscape in the past.

Always check local fire bans and restrictions when camping outside the park. You can do this by contacting BLM or Forest Ranger Agents. 

4: Bring Waders for the Narrows

Narrow with vergin river in Zion National park,Utah,usa.

One of the most incredible hikes in Zion is The Narrows.

This 7, or so, mile hike meanders through a slow-moving stream—yes, you read that correctly, the hiking trail is completely flooded.

The uneven river bottom can sometimes reach waist level.

In other words, you need waders to traverse this unique trail unless you don’t mind being waterlogged for several hours in a row.  

5: Get to the Kolob Canyon Shuttle Early

In order to preserve the wildlife, and to eliminate traffic, Zion National Park uses a shuttle system to drive visitors into Kolob Canyon, the area with the most popular trailheads.

This is great for RV drivers who often find it difficult to find parking; however, it does lead to long lines forming at the shuttle areas.

You need to get to the shuttles early, before 10AM, to avoid the major crowds that usually last until around 3PM. The shuttle service stops at 5PM so plan your hikes accordingly. 

For more information on the Zion National Park Shuttle visit HERE.

6: Bring Lots of Water and Sunscreen 

Zion National Park inhabits an area categorized as a high desert climate. Its dry landscape and warmer temperatures make it a year-round hiking destination.

Great, right? Yeah, sorta—except for the summers when Zion can reach temperatures in the 100s.

During this time of year hiking can be dangerous and requires you to bring two very important items: sunscreen and water.

For strenuous activity, on a hot day, you should bring a gallon of water and apply sunscreen every hour.

Though it seems counter intuitive you should also when long sleeve clothing to protect your skin from serious sun damage.

Failure to follow these recommendations can lead to dehydration, sun strokes, or even death. Be careful out their kiddos!

Top 3 Hikes in Zion National Park

Zion stands as one of the greatest hiking destinations in the United States. The canyon offers visitors hikes with a range of difficulties from easy to strenuous; however, no matter its difficulty, almost every hike pays huge rewards.

With so many options within the National Park itself with thought we’d do you a favor and tell you our top three favorite hikes in Zion:  

1. Observation Point 

Zion canyon from Observation Point

Do you want to get the best panoramic view of Zion Canyon in the entire park? Then Observation Point should be your first pick.

You can access this incredible summit from two different trails, one inside the park and one outside.

The former is a trail that starts in Zion Canyon itself and takes hikers up switchbacks on a 2,000-foot elevation gain. Its not for the faint of heart, nor the beginning hiker.

Fret not though greenhorns! The other option is the East Rim Trail, a much easier hike that’s flight most of the way with only some inclines at the end of the trail.

This much easier trail can be accessed on the outside of the park on its Northeastern Edge.

Along the way you get an intimate view of Utah’s wildlife and breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. 

For more information visit the Observation Point website. 

2. Angel’s Landing 

Angels Landing - Zion National Park

Easily, the most iconic hike in Zion Canyon, but also one of the most terrifying.

The hike starts with two miles of steep switch backs until reaching an area called, “Refrigerator Canyon”. Yes, it’s cold, so bring a light jacket that you can wear for this part of the trail.

Afterwards, you’ll meander up another set of tight switchbacks where you’ll finally Scout’s Lookout.

This is a good turn-a-round point for hikers who don’t wish to brave the sheer drop offs of Angel’s Landing.

It offers impressive views of the canyon without the need to risk life and limb. 

For the braver adventurers press onwards! The path now narrows to sit atop a thin rocky outcropping with sheer 700ft drop-offs on either side.

Fortunately, you get to hold on to a chain bolted to the canyon wall while you walk this last part.

You’re relatively safe as long as you stay away from the edge and keep a firm grip on the chain at all times.

People have fallen to their death on this part of the trail so follow every precaution to ensure that you remain safe. 

At the end you’ll be rewarded with an epic view of the Virgin River and the gorgeous canyon surrounding it! 

  • Trail Difficulty: Strenuous, and not for those with a fear of heights 
  • Trail Length: 5 miles round trip. 
  • Pets Allowed: No 
  • Location: Angel’s Landing Trailhead

For more information visit the Angel’s Landing website. 

3. Emerald Pools

 Emerald Pool in Zion National Park, Utah

This hike offers a trail experience for hikers of every difficulty level with a reward at the end of each one.

You can take an easy 1.2-mile roundtrip to the lower pools, a more difficult 2-mile trail to the middle pools, or a strenuous 3-mile hike to the upper pools. Spring water and snow melt keep the pools full year-round. 

All of these trails lead to glittering waterfalls and emerald pools. Breathtaking views can be seen along all the trails as well, including overlooks of Lady Mountain, the Great White Throne, and Red Arch Mountain.

However, for the largest pool with the most epic waterfall, hikers should head to the Upper Emerald Pools. Either way, you’ll enjoy a day at this trail!

  • Trail Difficulty: Lower pools: easy; Middle pools: moderate; Upper pools: strenuous
  • Trail Length: Lower trail: 1.2 miles; Middle trail: 2-miles; Upper trail: 3 miles
  • Pets Allowed: No 
  • Location: Emerald Pools Trailhead

For more information visit the Emerald Pools website. 

8 Lesser-known FREE Campsites Near Zion National Park

Alright, you’ve got the essential information every camper needs when visiting Zion, except one part—where to camp! We’ve already told you why camping inside Zion stinks: crowded, pricier, and no fires.

The better alternative is to park outside the National Park. There’s a lot of choices though, so we’re going to slim down you options, and make it easier for you to choose, by sharing with you our favorites.

Here are the 8 best free, first-come-first-served camping spots near Zion National Park.

1. Leeds Canyon Dispersed Camping – Southern Entrance

Before you go too far take a detour into Dixie National Forest. That’s where you’ll find the Leeds Canyon Dispersed Camping area.

This beautiful spot gives visitors access to the nearby Leeds Creek and the Silver Rim Trail, a great hike that overlooks the surrounding desert beauty. 

How far is it from Zion Canyon Visitor Center? 

  • 32.2 miles, or roughly 45 minutes of travel time.

Why is it an amazing camping option?

Unlike other free camping spots near the Southern Entrance this one actually carries some vegetation with it.

That’s important when you consider the heat that can swelter in a desert landscape.

Still hot? Walk down to the nearby Leeds Creek and cool off, or just have a picnic.

Plus, the green fauna intermixed with the red hues of the desert sands makes for a majestic site, especially at sunset.

Location: Forest Rd 032, Leeds, UT 84746

Campsite Information

  • Maximum RV length reported: 32 feet
  • Number of sites: Up to 8, perhaps more
  • Amenities: Fire Ring

Rules and Regulations

  • Max Stay: 16 Days
  • No fires allowed
  • No littering, or dumping. Pack it in and pack it out
  • Human waste needs to be buried 6-8 inches deep

For more information on camping in Leeds Canyon Dispersed Camping visit HERE

2. Smithsonian Butte Dispersed Camping – Eastern Entrance

Smithsonian Butte

The desert has a serenity that’s hard to explain unless you’ve seen it for yourself.

Now you can, at the Smithsonian Butte! This impressive mesa offers grand views of the entire area.

A word of warning however: Camping is prohibited within 1/2 mile of the road along the Smithsonian Butte National Back Country Byway.

Upon reaching the plateau you can head down one of the side roads and use that for camping.

How far is it from Zion Canyon Visitor Center? 

  • 8.5 miles, or roughly 28 minutes of travel time.

Why is it an amazing camping option?

If you came to Utah to go off-roading than this is a great spot! 4×4 trails zigzag through this beautiful landscape offering endless opportunities for exploration.

Furthermore, the views from your campsite will be sure to amaze you, and provide excellent photo opportunities both day and night. One look at the starry sky and you’ll see what I mean. 

Location: S Bench Rd, Hurricane, UT 84737

Campsite Information

  • Max RV length reported: 37 feet – however big rigs not recommended 
  • Number of sites: 25
  • Amenities: None, zilch, nada. 

Rules and Regulations

  • Max Stay: 14 Days at a campsite
  • Low Clearance Bridge: 13’ 4” 
  • 4×4 Recommended
  • Only collect firewood from dead and down trees.
  • No littering. Pack it in, pack it out. 

For more information on camping in Smithsonian Butte Dispersed Campground visit HERE

3. Hurricane Cliffs Campsites – Southern Entrance

Hurricane Cliffs

A popular destination for mountain bikers in search of a good trail, Hurricane Cliffs can be found right outside Zion National Park.

It places you smack dab in the middle of gorgeous red cliffs and on the doorstep of the Virgin River.

A great place to catch some quiet relaxation or adrenaline pumping fun! 

How far is it from Zion Canyon Visitor Center? 

  • About 17.1 miles, or roughly 28 minutes of travel time.

Why is it an amazing camping option?

You get the relaxation of primitive camping coupled with the comfort of modern society.

You’re right outside Virgin, UT where you can access dining, shopping, and more.

Plus, you still get to enjoy nature amidst the red cliffs that surround you and the nearby Virgin River.

Go fishing in its running waters, swimming, or just have a picnic on its shores. 

Location: Virgin, UT

Campsite Information

  • Max RV length reported: Any size RV
  • Number of sites: 15
  • Amenities: trash receptacles, campfire rings

Rules and Regulations

  • Max Stay: 14 Days at a campsite, and 28 total days in a year
  • Only collect firewood from dead and down trees.
  • No camping outside of designated areas 
  • No littering, or dumping.

For more information on camping in Hurricane Cliffs Dispersed Campground visit HERE

4. Meadows Dry Lake Bed – Eastern Entrance

You get a two for one deal at this free campground. It puts you on the doorstep of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and within an hour drive of Zion National Park.

The open sandy lot on which it sits is used by off-roaders so expect some noise and traffic in the high season (winter).

You’ll wake up among pink-hued sand dunes, surrounded by impressive red cliffs. 

How far is it from Zion Canyon Visitor Center? 

  • 37.3 miles, or roughly 1 hour of travel time.

Why is it an amazing camping option?

As I mentioned before, you get to experience a unique State Park and a National Park in one.

Go hang out at Zion all day and then return to your campground and marvel at the fading sunset as the plays over the pink sand surrounding you.

At night, you get to see a truly dazzling sight, some of the best starry skies in the country. Why go to one fun travel destination when you can visit two?

Location: Kane School District, UT

RV Campsite Information

  • Max RV length reported: Any size RV
  • Number of sites: Open area with plenty of space
  • Amenities: None

Rules and Regulations

  • Max Stay: 14 Days 
  • Only collect firewood from dead and down trees.
  • No littering. Pack out what you pack in.

For more information on camping in Meadows Dry Lake Bed Camping visit HERE

5. Two Hollows Canyon Dispersed Camping – Eastern Entrance

Two Hollows Canyon Dispersed Camping

A nice stretch of BLM land set between two rolling hills. It’s a favorite for equine lovers who use the nearby corrals to stable their horses.

That’s not the only recreation available at this campsite though! You can camp right along the Virgin River and go fishing or check out the nearby cave systems.

It can get cold here in the winter, and even see snow, so be cautious using the roads during this time.

How far is it from Zion Canyon Visitor Center? 

  • 25.5 miles, or roughly 47 minutes of travel time.

Why is it an amazing camping option?

If you get tired of crowded Zion National Park this is the perfect alternative for a fun day.

You can cool off in the nearby Virgin River, go exploring at The Belly of the Dragon Cave, and hike, bike, or horseback ride along one of the nearby recreation trails.

At night, cook smores by the fire and gaze at the stars. If camping needed a poster child, it would be Two Hollows Canyon!

Location: Mt Carmel, UT 84755

RV Campsite Information

  • Maximum RV length reported: 44ft
  • Number of sites: NA
  • Amenities: Horse corral

Rules and Regulations

  • Max Stay: 14 Days at a campsite, and 21 days in a given ranger district
  • Check HERE for current fire restrictions 
  • No littering, or dumping
  • Human waste needs to be buried 6-8 inches deep

For more information on camping in Two Hollows Canyon Dispersed Camping visit HERE

6. Lava Point Campground – Northern Zion

Lava Point Campground
@codetender

This campground opens May to September, as long as weather stays dry.

It’s situated 7890 feet above sea level, off the Kolob Terrace Road, which winds its way through the forest 25 miles of Virgin, Utah.

Its one of the few forested campsites on this list as well as one of the only ones that offers toilets. 

How far is it from Zion Canyon Visitor Center? 

  • 34.9 miles, or roughly 1 hour of travel time.

Why is it an amazing camping option?

Don’t like the desert landscapes you’ve seen on the list so far? Well, at Lava Point Campground you get sites heavily forested by pine trees.

This means shade and thus cooler weather. Despite the primitive nature of this site, you also get pit toilets, a huge plus if you don’t like pooping in nature.

Lastly, the surrounding wilderness offers plenty of opportunities for birdwatching, hiking, and other recreational activities. 

Location: Kolob Terrace Rd, UT

RV Campsite Information

  • Max RV length reported: 19 feet
  • Number of sites: 6
  • Amenities: Pit toilets and trash cans

Rules and Regulations

  • Max Stay: 14 Days at a campsite, and 28 total days in the forest a year.
  • Closed in the winter; open from May to September 
  • During Spring and Fall check road conditions as they change daily.
  • Only collect firewood from dead and down trees.
  • No littering. Pack out what you pack in.

For more information on camping in Lava Point Campground visit HERE

7. Kane Dispersed Camping – Eastern Entrance

Kane Dispersed Camping

Head down a gravel road for several miles off Utah Highway 9, and you’ll find Kane Dispersed Camping among the high desert vegetation.

When you step out of your vehicle, you’ll hear the babbling song of complete silence.

Spin around and in every direction will be gorgeous desert pines and monolithic red cliffs. 

How far is it from Zion Canyon Visitor Center? 

  • 19.7 miles, or roughly 40 minutes of travel time.

Why is it an amazing camping option?

Another good quiet spot. If you’re an introverted at heart, Kane Dispersed camping will make for a great escape.

You get the benefit of having dry air and no bugs, along with the tall trees for shade.

In case, you get bored around your campsite you can access the nearby Little Meadow Creek for a sunset dinner. You can’t lose at this campsite!

Location: Kane School District, UT

RV Campsite Information

  • Max RV length reported: 42ft
  • Number of Campsites: 15
  • Amenities: A vault toilet and untreated water is available from river 

Rules and Regulations

  • Max Stay: 14 Days at a campsite, and 28 total days in the forest a year.
  • Only collect firewood from dead and down trees.
  • No littering. Pack out what you pack in.
  • Human waste needs to be buried 6-8 inches deep

For more information on camping at Kane Dispersed Camping visit HERE

8. Gooseberry Mesa Dispersed Camping – Southern Entrance

Gooseberry Mesa Dispersed Camping

Gooseberry Mesa rises above the surrounding landscape offering incredible views of the distant cliffs.

The trees that cover its upper plateau provides shade for weary travels in search of respite.

At night, the high elevation and clear desert air gives visitors a clear line of sight to the starry heavens above. 

How far is it from Zion Canyon Visitor Center? 

  • 43.4 miles, or roughly an hour and 5 minutes of travel time.

Why is it an amazing camping option?

You get more fantastic views of the gorgeous area surrounding Zion National Park.

There’s something truly enchanting about green pine trees scattered across deep red sands.

Especially when you get to view it all by a smoldering fire at sunset. Bring some booze, a good blanket, and share this beautiful landscape with a loved one.

You’ll really love this one if you’re an introvert at heart, it’s quiet, primitive, and far from any civilized society.

Location: Hurricane, UT 84737

RV Campsite Information

  • Max RV Length Reported: 36
  • Number of Campsites: NA
  • Closed in the Winter
  • Amenities: None

Rules and Regulations

  • Max Stay: 14 Days at a campsite
  • Only collect firewood from dead and down trees
  • Possibly inaccessible for larger RVs. Check with ranger station first
  • No littering, or dumping

For more information on camping at Gooseberry Mesa Campground visit HERE

Zion National Park draws in millions of visitors every year, and we hope our article has made you decided to be one of them! Which of these campsites sounds the best to you? Tell us in the comments below.

Last Updated on by Aaron Richardson

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