This was our first time backpacking in a National Park. In our attempt to venture off of the well-beaten path and enjoy the true, unspoiled beauty of the park, we ventured into Zion’s backcountry wilderness.
Our location was the PERFECT family spot.
One peep at these pics and you can see…Zion National Park shines in the fall! We visited the first week of October…and I do believe that the foliage was at it’s peak for fall beauty.
This brief overnighter was off-the-charts phenomenal! Our only regret…was that we did not plan it for two or three nights…instead of just one. There was so much that we wanted to see in Zion, that we planned for two days in the backcountry, only camping for one night.
We planned in advance to overnight in the park. Being fulltime travelers, we always have our gear on-hand. Backpacking with kids…well…it does require some preparation. I fully recognize that the experiences that my kids have on the trail, will shape their opinion of the outdoors…for a very long time. With that in mind, I always try to kick-up the fun factor.
So we planned our menu and did food prep before heading to Utah…every bit of preparation helps us with corralling this crew. Remember, we are now in the season of the sleepy teenager and middle-schoolers. It kind of reminds me of the toddler years…you never know exactly how much you will accomplish on the day of without getting all crazy, so I prefer to start prepping early, when possible.
Obtaining The Permit
The week before our visit, I reviewed the National Parks website regarding backcountry camping and contacted the Park Ranger’s office. You can find info on obtaining a permit for Zion HERE. I found out that you can secure a permit online (those were all sold out), but the park does reserve a certain amount of sites for walk-ins only. Yes…that is perfect for us.
I will say…that everything the Ranger told me over the phone, pretty much contradicted what another Ranger told me when I arrived at the Visitor Center. Ranger-A had said that the area that I had planned to visit (based on an awesome review I had read on The Outbound Collective) was first-come-first-serve…basically we arrive, obtain a permit and then choose a site on the trail. Well….NO. Ranger-B informed me, that was not the case. That the only site left would be a ten mile strenuous hike each way and had an elevation change of around 1200 feet. I just wasn’t feeling it. Not for one night.
She did tell me that there were other areas in the park to camp…but I would have to look through her assortment of little binders and decide which area of the park to try for. Major stressor! This was a total kill-joy. I anxiously looked through the little page-protected sheets and finally got back in line with my choices.
I decided that the West Rim Trail…seemed to, probably, sort of….maybe….kind of seemed nice????
If you are new to our adventures, let me say this: I am a planner. I spend a ridiculous amount of time researching our adventures. It is just how I work.
So to have me randomly choose a hike, in the middle of no-where, with no guidance or internet help…this made me incredibly uneasy.
Well, there were two sites left. One site was a ten mile hike each way and the second site was a one mile hike each way…with water near by. One mile is way too short for us…but the ranger told me she thought it was a great site and that we could do plenty of day-hikes from that location. Sold!
Camping Permit for a family of 5: $20 (cash or charge)
The Drive In
Little did I know that the drive to the trailhead would be one of the most fabulous drives in our travels. Yes it was that good. In fact…each of you, my fellow adventurers…should drive this road, and be sure to stop and hike from one of the several trailheads on the route.
When we return, I hope to plan an entire day just for this drive and stopping to hike and picnic. Perhaps we were mesmerized by the fall beauty and the changing leaves, as it seriously rivaled our visit to the East Coast last fall…but I would imagine that it is beautiful any time of the year.
The road is Kolob Terrace Road. It begins in the tiny town of Virgin, directly off of Highway 9.
The drive is incredibly dynamic and takes you through an assortment of terrains.
From Highway 9 to Lava Point Road (where you turn for the trailhead), the drive is about one hour without stops.
From Kolob Terrace Road, you turn right on Lava Point Road (if you continue straight, you will head to the reservoir).
Once you see this sign, I would suggest pulling over and maneuvering into 4-wheel drive. We did not switch gears going in…and it is a ROUGH and deep road. You really need a truck or high-clearance vehicle to go past this point. It is mostly a one lane road with deep rivets from the elements. If you get stuck, you will find no cell phone service to call for help.
We did put the truck into 4-wheel on our way out. I will say that the drive in seems VERY long and Chris and I were a bit more relaxed on the drive out. I believe its was between 3-6 miles in…however it is a slow 5 mph drive…BUT….this was the prettiest part of the entire drive. Unfortunately, there is zero place to pull over for pictures once you start down the mountain! I did take a video of the gorgeous & bumpy road…which we will post next!
On your way out, there is a place to pull over and switch gears…with ample room for trucks to get around you:
We parked at the West Rim Trailhead.
Loaded up our gear, and headed out.
A short walk from the parking pull-out is the trailhead sign…this is how you know you have found the West Rim Trail. On the other side of the parking area is a road that continues down a windy road…that is not the way! Although it would be fun to explore…
Even with our map from the Visitor Center…I feel like this area on the map is a bit vague. There is zero cell phone service here and we saw zero hikers on our way to camp…so get your bearings before you start.
We were headed to campsite 9 on the West Rim Trail. So once we saw the trailhead post, we just continued on the path…not turning until we saw a marker for site 9.
Once you turn off of the main trail, just keep meandering and you will find 2 or 3 signs directing you to site 9, you definitely have to work to find this site. We loved that it was so far off of the main trail! It was truly private. Not that there are a lot of people back here….but we were looking for peaceful…and we found it!
This is what our site looked like:
We were surrounded by beauty, no matter which way you looked!
Remember how I said that the ranger had verified that there was water nearby? Well, we found it. We realized that it was close to our site…just about a quarter of a mile up the trail.
After setting up camp, we all went for a walk to gather water. Even though it was such a short hike, we still need hydration and water for minimal washing…not to mention extra agua for rehydrating my kids favorite trail meals and our morning coffee, oatmeal and hot cocoa.
Well…there was water. There was an itty bitty teeny tiny spring that had just enough to scoop a little up. The problem was, that since the water was so shallow, the boys had to sit there patiently and gather a little at a time. No problem, right? Well…kind of. You see, there happened to be an ginormous colony of ground wasps that were calling this water-hole their home. Yeeks! The longer we were there, the more fiercely they swarmed. We finally had to wave the surrender flag and accept the fact that it was simply not safe to gather any more water.
We did have a little bit of water to run through our Sawyer Water Filter…but we required a bit more that night for our meal needs.
We scouted out other areas off of the main trail…but no luck.
Daddy to the rescue! Since we were so close to the truck, he decided to hike back and fill up our collapsable water cube from the the awesome water jug we keep on hand for emergency. We keep this water container in our truck filled with filtered water from our Berkey Water Filter and love having it onhand at all times!
Exploring the West Rim Trail
In search for water, we explored the West Rim Trail a bit.
The views are gorgeous!!
Did you know that I love Pinterest? Honestly…I am one of those housewives that its creators had in mind when finding their target audience for this creative online information hub. I love it. So obviously when we started to tinker around with the idea of backpacking…I created a Pinterest folder entirely for our Outdoor Adventures and found some amazing recipes for backcountry meals.
Has that happened…have we made one of those meals? Nope. Why not you ask…Well, in 2015, Chris and Lexi did a weekend backpacking trip across Santa Cruz Island in Channel Islands National Park. Along with all of the wonderful memories…their favorite meal was the silly Freeze Dried Spaghetti. They raved about the memory of savoring every bite after twelve miles of hiking one day…and well, my other two kids were 100% convinced that this would be there favorite backpacking meal also…and honestly, it still is. So until we start planning longer trips, why mess with their favorite trail meal? And actually…it really is satisfying and quite tasty on a cool night.
We love to pair it with a chunk of aged cheese, a sliced baguette and some wine for the parents. One of our favorite items for savoring the backcountry is our GSI Soft Sided Wine Carafe that I bought Chris for Father’s Day (we bought it HERE). It holds almost a bottle of wine and is durable, washes easily and is ultra lightweight.
We have also discovered these yummy olives from Trader Joe’s that are super lightweight with minimal trash to haul out.
An easy appetizer for the kids is always a sliced cucumber sprinkled with Pink Himalayan Salt. Salted cucumbers were a snack that that takes me back to my waitressing days in hight school and college. It was something we could always get from the cooks on the salad bar line during a long shift. All these years later I was reminded of how easily an un-cut cucumber transports, with zero trash, by our friends at Currently Wandering, in one of their backpacking posts.
It pairs nicely with a game of cards…
While we are talking about favorites, I should probably mention our favorite way to store our kitchen items on the trail…it’s on the line!
I just LOVE our Sea To Summit Clothesline! The line is not super long…but it is crazy light and compact…and it has a genius system so that you do not need anything to attach your stuff. We usually take a few carabiners off of our packs to help us fit everything on the line for five people. Obviously in this photo we did not have everything on the line!
And what adventure would be complete without dessert? There is nothing like hot Cinnamon Apple Crisp on a cold evening!
My kids had a blast on this trip and they enjoyed every inch of our awesome campsite.
Chris and I loved watching them get silly. It seems like we always get good use out of our hammock.
That night the temperature dropped down to about 35° so the sleeping bags got a little extra use before bedtime!
Totally In-Love with Zion’s Backcountry!
Can you see why we loved it up there? At an elevation of 7,900 feet…the views are amazing. There is hardly anyone else around! We were there mid-week and only saw one couple day-hiking on our first day. The second day, we did see several groups of hikers on our way out, who appeared to be going for the long haul along the Trans-Zion Trekking Route. In all, there were probably four different vehicles at the trailhead that we saw. So it is crazy peaceful up there!
And….this is a gorgeous location to hike with a camera. Special thanks to my girl Lexi for helping me out with so many awesome pics in this post. She truly has a gift with the lens…and I see her developing into a better photographer all of the time. If you have not checked our her work, you should! You can see it HERE on her National Explorers account on Instagram.
This was exactly the sort of trip we needed! A vast open space to unwind and regroup. There is something so freeing about being removed from so much.