Celebrating Christmas in Zion National Park

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.

Veteran’s Memorial Hwy through Arizona (I-15)
Vista closer to Zion National Park

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.

Nice lodgey rooms
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The lobby was small and cozy with Christmas decorations everywhere
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Red Rock Grill entrance is in the lobby
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Started off with a prickly pear cactus peartini, a nice sweet start to the meal
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Artichoke dip with flatbread appetizers, which we finished in record time
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Christmas Eve dinner of bison burgers with chipotle sauce and sweet potato fries, not a traditional christmas eve, but very tasty

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.

Merry Christmas Mr. turkey
Our first view from the “trail” (the bridge crossing the Virgin River)
“Whoa, we are celebrating Christmas in Zion!” moment
Easy paved trail to the lower Emerald Pool
The hike was slow going for us, too many beautiful views to snap a picture of
The sun was making its way on the cliffs
Only 0.6 miles to lower emerald pool
So cold that the water was still frozen in areas, the color of the pool was not as “emerald” at this time of year (but still beautiful!)
Enjoying the waterfall mist
So beautiful in the morning light
Walking along the “weeping” rock face bathed in the morning sunshine
Looking back at the weeping rock wall with its evidence of water cascades
Continuing on to Middle Emerald Pool
Loved this face of the cliff, I called it Frosting mountain
Interesting trail
Beautiful views along the way
Looking out above the lower emerald pool area
Water falling off the edge in the middle emerald pool area. Is this scenery for real?

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.

Upper Emerald Pool reflected the impressive cliff walls surrounding it
Cliffs surrounding the upper emerald pool
Taking a moment on Kayenta Trail
We hardly saw anyone on this trail
One of the many breathtaking views from Kayenta Trail
Zion Valley in December looks serene
The Grotto
Making our way back to the lodge on a trail next to the Virgin River
The Zion Lodge
Sitting on the patio enjoying the view

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.

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Christmas Dinner Buffet at the Red Rock Grill
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Homey surroundings
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Dessert buffet items… that we shared!

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:

Seeking Solitude in Zion National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park
Driving Tour of Bryce Canyon National Park

Death Valley Christmas Trip
part 1, part 2, part 3 (Mesquite Springs Campground and Furnace Creek Inn), part 4 (Furnace Creek Inn)

How About Celebrating Thanksgiving at the Grand Canyon?

20 replies to “Celebrating Christmas in Zion National Park

    1. Zion was beautiful, but just a bit too car congested. I “studied” your post about Zion before we left and was planning on doing the Hidden Canyon trail, but there was no parking and we didn’t have time to hike there from anywhere else. There’s a bunch of hikes I still want to do, but I have to prep myself for all that congestion next time. Thanks for all the great info!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hear ya! The congestion really put a damper on our time there. There are several hikes I’d like to go back and do someday, but not sure if there is ever a good time to go. After visiting all 5 of the Utah national parks, we enjoyed that one the least due to the crowds. Did you say you went to Bryce also? If so, I’m looking forward to reading about how that was. Hopefully not nearly as crowded.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Great photos. Especially like the photos of the falls. Glad to hear there were few crowds so you could enjoy in solitude. Wishing you many happy adventures in 2018!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A Sun eve and time to pull up a great travel log. The scenery looked unreal and stunningly beautiful!! The cliffs were crisp and clear but seeing weeping granite in real time would seem the best!! How to choose pics?! Thanks for sharing another special Christmas 🎄

    Liked by 1 person

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