Summer Road Trip – Utah National Parks
Utah National Parks
This post will summarize our summer 2016 road trip visiting all the Utah National Parks, with pictures and links to individual blog posts for more details. As well as the parks themselves, we enjoyed the drives between them, so these drives deserved their own posts. Some of the most spectacular scenery we saw was found on the roads between the national parks. Each heading is also a link, click for more info on each one.
After flying in to Las Vegas and picking up a rental car, our first stop was Zion. This is a great place to start your tour of Utah National Parks. Unlike other parks, accommodations and facilities here are on the canyon floor. Zion has great hiking, with easy trails for families with kids and challenging multi-day back-country trails for the more adventurous.
The distance from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park isn’t very far, but there is plenty to see along the way. The road out of Zion park passes through a historic tunnel (with viewing windows cut into the side). It also passes the very impressive Checkerboard Mesa, one of the parks most interesting features. Closer to Bryce Canyon, the Red Canyon area of the Dixie National Forest is also worth a stop.
This is probably the most well known of the Utah National Parks, with good reason. The scenery is other-worldly, you’ll definitely take a lot of pictures here. We were lucky enough to get to join a full moon hike, which was a great experience. If your schedule allows, consider timing your visit with a full moon. There are some easy hikes along the canyon rim, but getting down into the canyon is recommended. Proper hiking shoes are recommended as the trails tend to have loose gravel (and steep drop-offs). Bryce Canyon sits at the highest altitude of the Utah National Parks, so be prepared. Stay hydrated, and build in a bit of extra time when planning your hikes to rest along the way.
This segment is worthy of a full day with a lot to see and do along the way. Utah Scenic Byway 12 includes some stunning stretches, with breathtaking scenery. There are places to check out along the way like Kodachrome Basin State Park, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park and the Anasazi State Park Museum. Hell’s Backbone Grill is conveniently located for a lunch stop and serves healthy and tasty food.
Capitol Reef is the least visited of the Utah National Parks, but is definitely worth a visit if you have time. As well as great scenery and hiking (without the crowds), Capitol Reef offers insights into the (hard) lives of the early Mormon settlers. There are still historic orchards in the historic Fruita district. These are now run by the National Parks service, so you can pick your own fruit if you’re there at the right time of year.
Arches and Canyonlands are two highlights of any tour through Utah National Parks. Neither of them has any accommodation inside park boundaries, and Moab is the logical place to stay while visiting these two parks. There are some great restaurants and shopping in town. There are also other things to see around town outside the parks. With lots of adventurous activities you can do with one of the many outfitters in town, it’s worth scheduling an extra day or two here.
This park contains some of the most iconic scenery in the Utah National Parks. This park is very accessible with many sights that can be seen with only a short walk from their parking area. There are also more challenging hikes for the keener hikers. This park is compact, and gets a lot of visitors. This can result in long lines to get in, so best to arrive early in the day. In summer this is a good idea in any case, to beat the heat.
Canyonlands is in some ways the opposite of Arches. Instead of Arches’ individual sights, Canyonlands is mostly about the wide vistas. This park is huge, and some parts are seriously remote. We chose to join an organized tour (combination 4X4 and rafting) which helped us see parts of the park we wouldn’t have been able to get to by ourselves.
Check out this post for a gallery of photographs from our road trip through the Utah National Parks. With so much to see, we couldn’t fit all the pictures we took in the individual posts.