How to Avoid the Massive Crowds at Zion National Park… Kolob Terrace Part 1

Today, our full time RV adventure of exploring North America takes us to Zion National Park in Utah.

Kolob Terrace, a part of Zion National Parks located a few short miles from the Canyon. It features great beauty without the crowds.
This was one of many delightful monuments Peggy and I found when we explored Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park. Note the lack of traffic!

Peggy was reading an article in the Washington Post a few days ago on Zion National Park. Bring your patience, the article urged. Over 5 million people are projected to visit in 2022. The majority will be from April through September. Expect massive crowds if it is on your vacation itinerary. Parking spots will be difficult to find. Shuttles will be full. There will be long lines to get in, long lines at the restrooms, long lines to visit major sites, and long lines to get food. Finding a place to stay in or near the park will be close to impossible unless you already have a reservation— or get lucky. 

It’s my idea of a nightmare.

Peggy and I were fortunate to arrive in late April for our visit. But even then, the crowds in the canyon exceeded my ideal by a factor of 10, or is that 100. Grin. I’ll tell that story at the end of my series on Zion. (Spoiler alert: it was still worth it.) But, for now, I am going to let you in on a little secret, there is more to Zion National Park than Zion Canyon. A lot more. And much of it matches and may even surpass the canyon in beauty. Peggy and I are going to take you on three short road trips to various sections in the park outside of the canyon to prove our point: Kolob Terrace, Kolob Canyon, and the east side of the park. Plus a ghost town.

I am going to start with the Kolob Terrace. Peggy and I were staying at an RV campground on the Virgin River in the small town of the same name 14 miles from the canyon. The road into the terrace was less than a mile from where we were camped. We drove up it for 15 miles before turning around, stopping frequently on both our way up and back. We met a dozen cars along the way. There may have been 30 parked at the various trailheads and overlooks. Compare that with the 14,000 or more people who were exploring the canyon on that day! Following are the photos Peggy and I took. I am going to divide them into three posts since there are too many for one. (Note: I take five times as many photos as Peggy. :))

National park sign announcing the entry to Kolob Canyon.
The beginning of our journey up to Kolob Terrace. It was obvious from our initial view that we were going to enjoy the ‘detour’ from Zion Canyon.
There are several distinctive monuments in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park that equal the sights seen in Zion Canyon. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
I think this striking monument was Peggy’s favorite. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo from the Kolob Terrace section of Zion Nat tonal Park taken by Peggy Mekemson.
She even took more than one photo! I always think that things like the trees in the left foreground add interest and help draw viewer’s eyes into the picture. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Photo of sandstone monument in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park taken by Curt Mekemson.
I took at least six of this monument on Kolob Terrace featured at the top of the post! Most of the rock structures in Zion are made from sandstone, which, on its own, tends to be white. Like I mentioned in my Death Valley posts, it is oxidized iron that leads to the reds, oranges and pinks.
A variety of monuments are found on Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
This distant road shot gives an idea of the numerous shapes and colors of the various monuments on Kolob Terrace.
A wonderful variety of shapes are among the rock formations of Kolob Terrace in Zion National Park. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Here’s an example of the variety of shapes. I always think of these rock formations as a fairy community, or maybe a troll town. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Sheer cliffs like these found in Kolob Terrace will eventually be eroded by the forces of water, ice, wind and gravity. Different types of rocks erode at different speeds leading to the wonderful shapes found throughout Utah and the Southwest. Note the extensive talus slopes seen beneath the cliff.
Erosion is responsible for the shapes of stone formations in Kolob Terrace and throughout the southwest. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
This distant formation provides an example of the erosive forces at work.
Erosion at work creating rock formation in Kolob Terrace, Zion National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.
A closer view of the same formation. the layer of rock on top is eroding faster than the layer beneath it. like the triangular face of the rock.
Photo of massive rock formation in the Kolob terrace of Zion National Park. Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
This massive formation in Kolob Terrace shows a rounded character to the erosion. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The Kolob Terrace road runs through national park and private land. Signs warn that you might find cattle along the way. We did. They had the grace or good sense to stay on the side of the road.
Photo of red rock formation in Kolob Terrace, Zion National Park, by Curt Mekemson..
I’ll conclude today’s post with a shy rock formation that is hiding among the trees….
Photo by Curt Mekemson taken in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park.
Caught it. On Friday, Peggy and I will continue to explore the beauty of the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park.

28 thoughts on “How to Avoid the Massive Crowds at Zion National Park… Kolob Terrace Part 1

  1. Huh! 😯 I remember a trip we took during Xmas break 1980…. the gate to Kolob was closed and locked. We hiked in a ways… never saw a single soul. 😉
    You do realize you may be part of the thing that will eventually bring crowds to even this canyon…🤨
    Just sayin’… 😏 The good old days!
    A friend who grew up in Utah recently told me that since the pandemic it’s become nearly impossible to find places that are less crowded even on hikes that once were less visited.

    • “You do realize you may be part of the thing that will eventually bring crowds to even this canyon.” Sigh. I realize that. It’s hard not to share the beauty, however. 🙂
      My first journey into Zion would have been in the early 70s. I backpacked uo and over the rime to explore the backcountry. Good old days, indeed. 🙂

      • Hmmm… dredging up memories…. my first visit to Zion was ’78… a stop on a trip from Pollock Pines to San Antonio. I felt really brave venturing on a hike down the paved trail from Sinawava to the Narrows! City girl that I was, alone in my Orange VW bug before I had a pup to guide me… 😏 The next year I headed from P’ville to MA by way of Canada. This time I had my trusty Husky… (I blogged that trip. It was a truly memorable adventure.)
        So glad you two kids are having fun!!! 🤗

    • October is a good month to see the Canyon, Andrew. The summer crowds have gone home and winter is yet to set in. Travel patterns have changed with the pandemic. So many bought RVs and hit the road. In 1995 approximately 2.5 million people visited the park. Those numbers have doubled today. –Curt

    • I’ve always been able to do that by putting on my backpack, Peggy. 🙂 But its rare that you can find a place of such beauty on a road and people not exploring it. They have been brainwashed to see the Canyon. Thanks. –Curt

  2. Fortunately, most people seem to need to be told where to find beauty, and they are only told about the canyon.
    A ad from “The Great Courses” came in my junk mail. “Wonders of the National Parks: A Geology of North America” was on sale and I bought the DVDs preferring that to downloading. Having some time on my hands now, I have enjoyed learning more than what’s on the signs in the parks. The “professor,” like most of my college professors, tends to put me to sleep. But you might enjoy looking at them as you wander to these parks, Curt.

    • Thanks for the tip, Ray. I went so many of the Great Courses series when I lived in Sacramento, they asked me to become a reviewer. I didn’t. There was wandering to do. I did find that many of the professors were quite good, however. –Curt

  3. Thanks to my latest post I’ve got pyramids on the brain, so guess what I saw when I looked at your first few pictures? Looks like a pretty section of the park. I doubt I was in Kolob on my one visit to Zion back in 77, but the memories are dim. I wonder if the pandemic mobs will ever dissipate?

    • I was there in the 70s as well, Dave. I backpacked up over the canyon wall and into the back country. That, I remember! Fortunately I’ve been back enough times to refresh my memory on the beauty of the canyon. It’s been a kick exploring different parts of the park this time. –Curt

    • Dave, that’s a good question about whether the pandemic mobs will dissipate. I live near Portland, Oregon and around here it’s the waterfall hikes in the Columbia Gorge that draw the most people. Prior to 2020 they were popular, but never so many people as to prevent a hike. Two years on, it’s only getting worse, and the old highway to get to the waterfalls is actually closed to people who don’t make a reservation. I can hardly believe that in 2022 the crowds are still as strong or stronger than in Spring 2020. I’m glad so many people are enjoying our beautiful outdoors, but I hope they soon discover more trails and spread out, ha ha.

      • I’m also in Portland, and rue the loss of freedom to visit my own backyard. It’s not like I have a history of knowing two weeks in advance I’m going to visit the scenic highway at X time of day. Why so many people? Doesn’t anyway work for a living anymore?

    • Thanks, Sylvia. I am always amazed at how beautiful Zion is and how, in less than a day’s drive, we can be at Bryce and the Grand Canon, two other very different but equally beautiful areas. They guarantee lots of posts. 🙂

  4. It still perplexes me that I didn’t see any of these sights when I lived in Utah. Of course, I had other concerns and other interests then, and there certainly was plenty to see in the Wasatch range around Salt Lake City. Those alpine meadows can’t be beat! Now that I’ve developed an interest in geology, and have come to love rocks even more than I did as a kid, I’d love to see this. It won’t happen at this point, I’m sure, but at this point I’d love to visit any place at all. Since my last gripe about gas prices, I’ve found something even more frustrating: a need to replace a $50 part on my car that simply isn’t available. Supply chain problems, don’t you know… It’s been ten days, and I’m told I could be without a car for up to another month. I haven’t been this grounded since I was sixteen, and I’m not happy! (Although I have found a way to get to work. I’m not renting a car at $500/week, that’s for sure.)

    • Possibly a chip problem, Linda. They’ve caused a major backup in the whole automobile industry. Sorry. I know how irritated I’d be if our wings were clipped. At least in Oregon, I could walk out our back door and be in the woods. The Southwest is a geologists dream. No doubt about it. And, I might add, a photographers dream. –Curt

  5. The rock formations are like art, and I love both your favourite monument and Peggy’s. I like how the cream-coloured rocks in the background help highlight the reds, oranges, and pinks in the foreground. Something green always sets off the red too.

  6. I’m so excited about your new adventures! This post says it all: you’re traveling, enjoying life and sharing it with all of us. Thank you. Thank you. And best wishes for safe travels. Now about this place: wonderful formations, excellent lighting in your photos. More, please. I’m looking forward to it!

    • Much appreciated, Rusha. 🙂 As always. We loved our journey through the Southwest. It was exactly what we were hoping for. Now we have to rush off to Virginia where we will be leaving from to make a trip up the Rhine River with kids and grandkids. We had planned it for Peggy’s 70th birthday. Unfortunately, Covid hit. Starting in August/September, we will be back on the road. –Curt

      • We envy you this time together traveling. I am developing a fear of interstates. All those cars/trucks rushing past me. So, we travel the backroads — and I admit to liking the scenery, the people, the Mom-and-Pop restaurants, etc. much better. Best wishes to you for safe travels. I love seeing America through your eyes.

      • I’m certainly no fan of Interstates, Rusha. Part of it is the truck traffic, but I don’t mind them rushing around me, as long as they do it safely. But I do miss the pleasures of backroad driving: The things you see, the friendliness of the people you meet, the slow mode of travel. Cities can be a real pain, especially in rush hour. Peggy and I get around that by leaving after rush hour in the morning and before rush hour at night. We also try to avoid cities at lunch hour… anything to reduce the traffic on the road. Another strategy we use is to keep our traveling days to under four hours. That way we don’t get too tired.
        We have also had to get used to driving a trailer. It’s a lot easier now we have a few thousand miles behind us.
        Thanks for your nice words. Comments like that make our efforts at blogging worthwhile. —Curt

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