I love the holidays and I love National Parks, so when I can somehow combine the two, it’s like, well… Christmas! Celebrating a holiday at the Zion Lodge right smack dab in the middle of Zion National Park has been up there in my top 10 bucket list items. The National Park lodges that we’ve had the opportunity to visit so far have been so full of character with so much history. I am a fan! I decided back in September that this was going to be the year we visit Zion NP during Christmas or at least give it a good try. I made reservations for a room for both Christmas eve and Christmas. Their cancellation policies allowed me to cancel two days before, so it was a no brainer just to put it on the books. Winter planning is always a bit tricky when you have to contend with bad weather. Snow storms or rainy weather was a deal breaker, since we wanted to be able to enjoy the outdoors. So with our fingers crossed, we waited out the rest of the months hoping for the best.
In December I became obsessed with a number of weather apps, checking to see if any storms or bad weather were in the horizon for Utah. Nothing but sunshine predicted, albeit the temperatures were going to be COLD. We were still not quite sure the week before the reservations, but with the beautiful weather predicted there was nothing holding us back. So, after my daughter’s last final exam a few days before Christmas, we packed up the campervan, left the Bay Area and headed to Utah.
We camped at Valley of Fire State Park (post here) for one night on the way and left the campground on Christmas Eve day a little later than planned, but still hoping to be able to see Zion NP and all its grandeur when we entered the park. The drive on I-15 along the Veteran’s Memorial Hwy through the corner of Arizona was just beautiful.
It kept getting darker and darker as we got closer to Zion. Just when we thought everything was going right on schedule, the construction in Springdale (the city right outside Zion NP) kept us from getting into the park for 15 minutes. We were still able to see the rock walls and get a sense of the park, but by the time we pulled into the Zion lodge parking lot it was dark. We checked-in and immediately made reservations at the restaurant at the lodge, Red Rock Grill, for dinner, which was very busy Christmas Eve. We had previously made reservations for Christmas dinner, but we were thinking of eating in Springdale for Christmas Eve. The construction kept us wanting to stay close to the lodge instead.
We excitedly woke up the next day to look out the window and see the Zion cliffs, and we were NOT disappointed. FYI, the rooms were warm and cozy, but there were some weird noises that seemed to be coming from the building throughout the night. Since the dinner the night before was so filling, we skipped having breakfast at the lodge and grabbed some lighter fare from the campervan, packed our energy bars and water for the hike, then headed out on the Emerald Pools hike. We were going to hit all of the pools (lower, middle, and upper), continue on to Kayenta trail and then loop back to the lodge on a trail by the Virgin River. It was supposed to be an easy 3 mile hike (the hike to the upper pool was rated as moderate), perfect for an early morning hike. The trailhead, as we were able to see in the morning, was located right behind the campervan! It was still early enough that the sun wasn’t quite hitting the valley which made it quite cold. We encountered a few groups of people, especially on the way to lower emerald pool, but it felt nice, not crowded. The day felt special as we exchanged Christmas greetings with happy people on the trails.
If you follow the trail up a moderate climb to the upper emerald pool area, you will see the upper emerald pool surrounded by some amazing rock walls.
That afternoon, we explored the area, visited the gift store, and hung out on our hotel room patio and in the campervan as we enjoyed the views. There were quite a number of cars in the park, and we didn’t want to lose our parking spot, so we decided against taking a short drive through the park. We had an early 5:15 dinner reservation that we needed to be around for. Before we left for the trip, we tossed around the idea of walking up The Narrows at this time of year because if you rent the correct gear available from a number of outfitters in Springdale, this can be done as long as the water level is not too high. It sounded great, but the places that rent the gear isn’t open on Christmas Day (and they shouldn’t be) and we were too late getting in to rent gear on the 24th. So, this got put on our “To do Next Time” list. Same with a number of hikes because we just couldn’t find parking.
In terms of the population density in the park, the trails felt pretty lightly traveled, but the one road up and down the valley as well as the parking were just not built for the amount of cars that were there. Therefore, unless you traveled early in the morning or walked everywhere, finding parking around the trailheads (some had very limited parking) was pretty tricky. The rangers must have known this because they were out helping people park their cars in tight spots or preventing cars from parking in off-limit areas. It would have been nice if there was a limited shuttle system to help alleviate the parking problem.
We went to bed that night full of gratitude (and food!) for a wonderful Christmas Day at Zion National Park. There was no need to exchange presents, we gave each other the gift of time and created memories that will last forever. Celebrating holidays at National Parks is a special and unique experience. My pictures don’t do this amazing place justice, this is another one of those places that you’ll have to see and feel for yourself. So, Happy Travels to you!!
In case you’re interested in spending a holiday at a National Park, here are some more posts: