While it’s difficult to match the magic of Zion National Park, there are camping trip alternatives that offer epic red rock landscapes, bucket list trails, and myriad outdoor adventures in Southern Utah and beyond.
Zion is the third most-visited national park in the U.S., which means it can often be crowded. You may have to use a busy shuttle system to reach parts of the park, and due to its popularity, you’ll need to apply for a permit if you want to hike the famed Angels Landing trail.
Other than overcrowding, other conditions may affect your access to Zion. The Narrows, a popular hike through the Virgin River, is closed when water conditions aren’t safe. Plus, the summer heat may prevent you from enjoying Zion’s many outdoor activities. The region is also occasionally affected by wildfires and flooding.
Despite these concerns, Zion swells with visitors who come for unforgettable views of the park’s technicolor landscape, unique hiking opportunities, and other adventurous activities that embrace this scenic region of Utah. But, if you’re worried about encountering inclement weather conditions and crowds, or if you’ve already visited Zion and fallen in love, here are some camping alternatives to Zion National Park to consider.
Zion Camping Alternatives With Red Rock Landscapes
Zion’s eye-popping views come on a grand scale, with multi-hued mountains. If you want to explore a similar grandness without the confines of a national park, consider Sedona, Arizona. Sedona’s red rocks emanate a glow, much like Zion’s, and its Oak Creek creates a lush river canyon cutting through the high desert, like Zion’s Virgin River.
Sedona’s scenic landscapes can be explored in a variety of locations, including Red Rock State Park, Slide Rock State Park, Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness, and nearly 2 million acres of the surrounding Coconino National Forest.
In addition to hiking, Sedona’s red rock landscapes host a variety of recreational opportunities, including mountain biking, all-terrain vehicle touring, kayaking the whitewater section of the Verde River, and making a splash at the natural water slide at Slide Rock State Park. The outdoor adventures are complemented by an artsy downtown, featuring galleries, shops, and sophisticated restaurants.
Interesting red rock formations can also be explored in locations other than Zion or Sedona. Check out Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument; Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park, near Las Vegas; and Garden of the Gods and Red Rock Canyon Open Space in Colorado’s Colorado Springs.
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Zion Camping Alternatives With Bucket-List Hikes
Since Zion is home to two of the most popular treks in the U.S., Angels Landing and the Narrows, many visitors come to the park for hiking alone.
If you’re looking for bucket-list hikes comparable to Zion’s trails, consider Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome trail. Like with Angels Landing, those who fear heights need not apply. Compared to Angels Landing, Half Dome involves a much longer hike, coming in at nearly 15 miles instead of 5. While scaling the “ladder” using the cables attached to the granite face of Half Dome is a challenge, the payoff is a panoramic view above Yosemite Valley.
For more locations with awe-inspiring hikes, check out the Precipice Trail at Maine’s Acadia National Park, the Franconia Ridge Loop at New Hampshire’s Franconia Notch State Park, or The Wave (Coyote Buttes North) in Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness near the Utah and Arizona border—permits are required and can be difficult to obtain.
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Zion Camping Alternatives With Outdoor Recreation
While hiking is one activity that brings visitors to Zion, it’s just one of many recreational opportunities. Zion offers canyoneering, rock climbing, bicycling, and more. You can find similar activities at many national parks; however, one truly unique option can be found in Northwest Arkansas.
In recent years, Northwest Arkansas has become a focal point on the mountain biking scene, offering more than 250 miles of trails—many of which are considered among the best in the U.S. If biking isn’t your thing, hit the hiking trail to Whitaker Point, also known as Hawksbill Crag. This is Arkansas’ version of Angels Landing, with an iconic promontory jutting out 150 feet over the valley below. The region has several other popular trails to explore as well.
Leave the land and hit the waters of Buffalo National River for a scenic paddling adventure. Kayak the Upper Buffalo in spring or early summer for some of the best whitewater rapids, or opt for a lazier stroll downriver. Towering bluffs rise over the turquoise waters, and the highest waterfall between the Rockies and the Appalachians is found here. While the 209-foot Hemmed-in-Hollow is reachable from both water and land, the hike is shorter from the river.
After burning energy in the great outdoors, you can head to Bentonville, Arkansas, for fine dining and world-class art at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Or, embrace the quirky charm of Eureka Springs.
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Zion Camping Alternatives in Southern Utah
While Zion might be the most popular of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks, it’s not the only one worth visiting. In fact, the surrounding parks offer unique landscapes and fewer crowds. In 2022, Zion saw 4.7 million visitors, while nearby Bryce Canyon National Park had 2.5 million, Arches National Park had 1.5 million, Capitol Reef National Park had 1.2 million, and Canyonlands National Park had less than 780,000 visitors.
The region also has some spectacular state parks. Less than an hour from Zion, Sand Hollow State Park takes Zion’s beautiful red rock scenery and adds a turquoise lake, perfect for all kinds of water sports. Located nearly 100 miles northeast of Zion, Kodachrome Basin State Park is another unique option. The landscape is so colorful this state park was named after Kodak’s famed film.
Venture further to Monument Valley on the border between Utah and Arizona to find Hollywood-worthy views from films like National Lampoon’s Vacation, Forrest Gump, and several classic Westerns. Red rock formations rise like skyscrapers from the expansive desert plains. Gooseneck State Park offers highly-rated camping within an hour’s drive. The surrounding Dixie National Forest has more than 2 million acres to explore, offering maintained campgrounds and dispersed camping amid otherworldly landscapes similar to those found in Zion, Bryce, and beyond.
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While Zion may truly be incomparable, these destinations can give you a taste of the landscapes, trails, and recreation found there.