A Guide to Utah’s ‘Mighty 5’ Na­tional Parks

Let's Travel - - DESTINATION UTAH, USA - Words by Shane Boocock

If you’re into visit­ing the ‘great out­doors’ at all, then Utah of­fers some of the finest land­scapes in North Amer­ica in which to ven­ture to. There are five Na­tional Parks, seven Na­tional Mon­u­ments, four Na­tional Trails, one Na­tional Recre­ation Area, two Na­tional Her­itage Ar­eas, four Na­tional Nat­u­ral Land­marks, 14 Na­tional His­toric Land­marks, nine Na­tional Forests and 42 State Parks. How­ever, it’s Utah’s ‘Mighty 5’ we’ll con­cen­trate on, so here is a list of ‘What you need to know be­fore you go’ to: Arches Na­tional Park, Cany­on­lands Na­tional Park, Capi­tol Reef Na­tional Park, Bryce Canyon Na­tional Park and Zion Na­tional Park.

Arches Na­tional Park:

Ad­dress: Vis­i­tors Cen­tre, five Miles North of Moab, Utah on US 191 Open: 24 hours a day, year-round. Vis­i­tor cen­tre hours vary by sea­son. En­trance Fees: (Pri­vate Ve­hi­cle Fee - $25.00) ad­mits one pri­vate ve­hi­cle and all its oc­cu­pants. (Mo­tor­cy­cle Fee - $15.00) ad­mits one in­di­vid­ual on a pri­vate mo­tor­cy­cle. (Per Per­son - $10.00) ad­mits one in­di­vid­ual with no car. Travel Tips: Be­tween March and Oc­to­ber, you may ex­pe­ri­ence long lines at the en­trance gate and lim­ited park­ing spa­ces in the park. To avoid these and park­ing con­ges­tion, plan your visit be­fore 8 am or af­ter 3 pm, as late af­ter­noon and evening vis­its can be the most en­joy­able. The light­ing is bet­ter for pho­tog­ra­phy and view­ing the park fea­tures, tem­per­a­tures are cooler and the park­ing ar­eas and trails are less crowded. An­nual Vis­i­tor Num­bers: More than 1.4 mil­lion vis­i­tors en­ter Arches Na­tional Park each year, and that num­ber is grow­ing. Be­tween March and Oc­to­ber, you can ex­pect lim­ited park­ing at all the pop­u­lar des­ti­na­tions. Park­ing at pop­u­lar trail­heads like The Win­dows, Del­i­cate Arch and Devils Gar­den are usu­ally full most of the day.

How to Avoid the Crowds: Avoid visit­ing on hol­i­days and week­ends (Easter, Me­mo­rial Day, 4th July, Labour Day). Early morn­ing (sunrise) is al­ways less busy than sunset. To beat the crowds, try en­ter­ing the park be­fore 8 am; how­ever you may en­counter groups of early-morn­ing pho­tog­ra­phers at some des­ti­na­tions. Car­pool if you can. Con­sider hir­ing a com­pany to shut­tle you to and from the park (visit www.dis­cov­er­moab.com to see what’s avail­able). Park­ing for over­size ve­hi­cles (RVs, trail­ers) is ex­tremely lim­ited. Leave over­sized ve­hi­cles in town, or in the vis­i­tor cen­tre park­ing lot. Camp­grounds: Lo­cated 18 miles (12.8 km) from the park en­trance, Devils Gar­den Camp­ground is open year-round. There are 50 in­di­vid­ual sites, which are US$25.00 per night and ac­com­mo­date up to 10 peo­ple, as well as two sites for groups of 11 or more. Fa­cil­i­ties in­clude potable wa­ter, pic­nic ta­bles, grills and both pit-style and flush toi­lets. There are no show­ers or RV dump sta­tions. From Novem­ber 1 to Fe­bru­ary 28, sites 1-24 are avail­able first-come, first-served. (Note: Devils Gar­den Camp­ground will be closed 1st March through 31 Oc­to­ber 2017 due to a ma­jor con­struc­tion pro­ject). Camp­ground Reser­va­tions: Phone and on­line reser­va­tions for both group and in­di­vid­ual sites must be made through www.recre­ation.gov (reser­va­tions are NOT ac­cepted by the park and the park does NOT main­tain in­for­ma­tion about site avail­abil­ity). If you have not re­served a site prior to ar­rival at the park dur­ing the busy sea­son, plan on util­is­ing other camp­ing op­tions in the Moab area. Reser­va­tions must be made no less than 4 days and no more than 360 days in ad­vance. There is an ad­di­tional US$9.00 book­ing fee for reser­va­tions. For reser­va­tions visit www.recre­ation.gov or call 1 (877) 444-6777 or 1 (877)-833-6777 Main View­points: La Sal Moun­tain Viewpoint, Bal­anced Rock, The Win­dows, Del­i­cate Arch (one of the most pop­u­lar and fea­tured on Utah num­ber plates) and Devils Gar­den to hike to Land­scape Arch. Main Hik­ing Trails: Arches NP con­tains a va­ri­ety of hik­ing trails, many of which are con­sid­ered easy to mod­er­ate. Trails pro­vide ac­cess to out­stand­ing view­points and arches not vis­i­ble from the road. In some cases, trails travel un­der arches, af­ford­ing quite a unique per­spec­tive on the park’s name­sake fea­tures. There are nine ‘easy’ hik­ing trails most well un­der 2 miles long, there is one ‘mod­er­ate’ 2 mile (3.2 km) long trail, and five ‘dif­fi­cult’ trails be­tween three miles (4.8 km) and seven miles (11.2 km) long. Many trails have lit­tle to no shade. Avoid hik­ing dur­ing the hottest hours of the day (10 am-4 pm), and carry and drink wa­ter through­out your visit

Cany­on­lands Na­tional Park:

Ad­dress: Is­land in the Sky Vis­i­tor Cen­tre 33 miles from Moab on UT 313 Open: 24 hours a day, year round. Vis­i­tors Cen­tre closed 29th De­cem­ber to early March En­trance Fee: (Pri­vate Ve­hi­cle Fee - $25.00), ad­mits one pri­vate ve­hi­cle and all its oc­cu­pants. (Mo­tor­cy­cle Fee - $15.00) ad­mits one in­di­vid­ual on a pri­vate mo­tor­cy­cle. (Per Per­son Fee - $10.00) ad­mits one in­di­vid­ual with no car. Travel Tips: Cany­on­lands is Utah’s largest park and pre­serves 337,598 acres of colour­ful canyons, mesas, buttes, fins, arches and spires in the heart of south­east Utah’s high desert.

Wa­ter and grav­ity have been the prime ar­chi­tects of this land. Cany­on­lands has four dis­tricts, which are di­vided by the Green River and Colorado River. While the dis­tricts share a prim­i­tive desert at­mos­phere, each re­tains its own char­ac­ter and of­fers dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties for ex­plo­ration and ad­ven­ture. Though they ap­pear close on a map, there are no roads that di­rectly link the dis­tricts. Trav­el­ing by car to get to them takes be­tween two to six hours. An­nual Vis­i­tor Num­bers: The last an­nual vis­i­tors num­ber count was in 2012 when 452,952 re­cre­ational vis­its were recorded. Those num­bers will have prob­a­bly risen to over 500,000 in the last four years, so ex­pect long lines at the en­trance even into Septem­ber when the ‘empty nesters’ make early starts on the road into the park. How to Avoid the Crowds: It’s hard to do at the best of times but Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber and April and May are the best shoul­der sea­son pe­ri­ods to visit the park. You’ll find less peo­ple on the trails, in the car parks and at the camp­grounds. Note: There is no gas, food, or lodg­ing at Is­land in the Sky. Camp­grounds: Cany­on­lands has two camp­grounds: Squaw Flat Camp­ground (26 sites nightly fee US$20.00 at The Nee­dles and Wil­low Flat Camp­ground (12 sites nightly fee US$12.00) at Is­land in the Sky. There are also sites for groups of 11 or more at The Nee­dles. Max­i­mum RV length 28 feet, max­i­mum stay seven nights. Cany­on­lands has ex­ten­sive back­coun­try camp­ing where peo­ple en­joy back­pack­ing, four-wheel driv­ing, raft­ing and bik­ing, how­ever per­mits are re­quired year-round. Camp­ground Reser­va­tions: In­di­vid­ual sites are on a first-come, first-served ba­sis and with so few sites avail­able, aim to ar­rive early and bring all your own sup­plies in­clud­ing wa­ter. Camp­grounds typ­i­cally fill ev­ery day from late March through June, and again from early Septem­ber to mid-Oc­to­ber. Main View­points: The Is­land in the Sky mesa rests on sheer sand­stone cliffs over 1,000 feet (304 m) above the sur­round­ing ter­rain. Ev­ery over­look of­fers a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on this spec­tac­u­lar land­scape. Is­land in the Sky is the eas­i­est area of Cany­on­lands to visit in a short pe­riod, of­fer­ing many pull­outs with spec­tac­u­lar views along the paved scenic drive. Main Hik­ing Trails: Cany­on­lands has hun­dreds of miles of hik­ing trails, which explore the park’s nat­u­ral and cul­tural fea­tures. Both Is­land in the Sky and The Nee­dles pro­vide am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties for short walks, day hikes and back­pack­ing trips. Sev­eral short trails explore the mesa top with min­i­mal el­e­va­tion change, en­joy­ing canyon views from above. Mod­er­ate trails in­volve el­e­va­tion, such as climb­ing a sand­stone fea­ture or de­scend­ing part­way into a canyon. Long trails at Is­land in the Sky be­gin on the mesa top and de­scend via switch­backs to the White Rim bench, or be­yond to one of the rivers. All are con­sid­ered stren­u­ous, with an el­e­va­tion change of 1,000 to 2,000 feet (300 to 600m) and re­quire ne­go­ti­at­ing steep slopes of loose rock as well as sec­tions of deep sand. Avoid hik­ing dur­ing the hottest hours of the day (10 am-6 pm), and carry drink­ing wa­ter through­out your visit.

Capi­tol Reef Na­tional Park:

Ad­dress: The Vis­i­tor Cen­ter is at the junc­tion of Scenic Drive and Utah High­way 24 Open: The park and camp­grounds are open year-round. En­trance Fee: (Pri­vate Ve­hi­cle Fee - $10.00), ad­mits one pri­vate ve­hi­cle and all its oc­cu­pants. (Mo­tor­cy­cle Fee - $7.00) ad­mits one in­di­vid­ual on a pri­vate mo­tor­cy­cle. (Per Per­son Fee - $7.00) ad­mits one in­di­vid­ual with no car. Travel Tips: If you have one hour or two hours stop at the vis­i­tor cen­tre and watch the park movie. Pick some de­li­cious fruit when in sea­son or take a short hike, such as Hick­man Bridge. Visit the pet­ro­glyph panel, his­toric school­house, or the Gif­ford House Store and Mu­seum to en­joy fresh baked pie when in sea­son! With a full day take a longer hike, such as Co­hab Canyon. Join a ranger-guided walk, talk, evening pro­gram or as­tron­omy pro­gram. Oth­er­wise take a tour Cathe­dral Val­ley or the Water­pocket District. An­nual Vis­i­tor Num­bers: In 2010 the park at­tracted nearly 750,000 vis­i­tors each year - that will have cer­tainly in­creased over the last six years. How to Avoid the Crowds: Try and visit in Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber or April and May as these are the best shoul­der sea­son pe­ri­ods to visit. You’ll find less peo­ple on the trails, in the car parks and at the camp­ground. Camp­grounds: The 71-site Fruita camp­ground is the only de­vel­oped camp­ground in the park, lo­cated south of the vis­i­tor cen­tre in the Fruita His­toric District. Sites are US$20.00 per night and all sites are first come, first served, with the ex­cep­tion of the Group Camp­site. Note: The de­vel­oped Fruita Camp­ground often fills daily from spring through to autumn, how­ever there are camp­ing al­ter­na­tives within an hour’s drive of the vis­i­tor cen­tre. Camp­ground Reser­va­tions: In­di­vid­ual sites are on a first-come, first-served ba­sis and with so few sites avail­able, aim to ar­rive early and bring all your own sup­plies. Fruita Camp­ground typ­i­cally fills ev­ery day from late March on­wards un­til late Septem­ber. Main View­points: The park is ap­prox­i­mately 60 miles (97 km) long on its north–south axis but an av­er­age of just 6 miles (9.7 km) wide. The park was es­tab­lished in 1971 to pre­serve 241,904 acres. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery­one takes a tour on the Scenic Drive (ap­prox­i­mately 90 min­utes round trip). It’s also worth a visit to the pet­ro­glyph panel, his­toric school­house, or the Gif­ford House Store and Mu­seum or visit the small town of Fruita in­side the park has more than 2,500 fruit trees, some of which were orig­i­nally planted by Mor­mon pi­o­neers. To­day the town is fed­er­ally owned, and vis­i­tors can stroll through the or­chards and eat fruit fresh off the trees. Main Hik­ing Trails: If you have a full day take a longer hike, such as Co­hab Canyon or if you have sev­eral days to explore hike the shorter trails and routes in the Water­pocket District or Cathe­dral Val­ley. The Hick­man Bridge Trail leads to Hick­man Bridge, a mas­sive nat­u­ral arch. The trail is two miles round trip, with a 300-foot (91 m) in­cline.

The trail­head is two miles east of the vis­i­tor cen­ter on High­way 24. The Chim­ney Rock Loop Trail is a 3.5-mile (5.6 km) loop with a fairly steep el­e­va­tion gain at the be­gin­ning. The loop of­fers panoramic views of Chim­ney Rock and the Water­pocket Fold. The trail­head is lo­cated three miles east of the vis­i­tor cen­ter. The Cas­sidy Arch Trail is a 3.5-mile (5.6 km) round trip trail that climbs 1,000 feet (304 m) to an over­look above Cas­sidy Arch. It’s named for the out­law Butch Cas­sidy, who used the area as a hide­out. Avoid hik­ing dur­ing the hottest hours of the day (10am-4pm) - carry and drink wa­ter through­out your visit.

Bryce Canyon Na­tional Park:

Ad­dress: 4.5 miles (7.25 km) south of the in­ter­sec­tion of Hwy-12 and Hwy-63 or 1.5 miles (2.4 km) in­side Bryce Canyon’s north­ern bound­ary. Open: The park is open 24 hours per day through­out the year. There may be tem­po­rary road clo­sures dur­ing and shortly af­ter win­ter snow­storms. Roads will stay closed un­til plow­ing is com­pleted and con­di­tions are safe for vis­i­tor traf­fic. En­trance Fee: (Pri­vate Ve­hi­cle Fee - $25.00), ad­mits one pri­vate ve­hi­cle and all its oc­cu­pants. (Mo­tor­cy­cle Fee - $15.00) ad­mits one in­di­vid­ual on a pri­vate mo­tor­cy­cle. (Per Per­son Fee - $10.00) ad­mits one in­di­vid­ual with no car. Each ad­mis­sion fee is for seven days and in­cludes un­lim­ited use of the Shut­tle Bus ser­vice dur­ing its op­er­at­ing sea­son. Travel Tips: Leave your ve­hi­cle near the Vis­i­tor’s Cen­tre and ride the free Bryce Canyon Shut­tle Ser­vice that takes vis­i­tors to the park’s most pop­u­lar view­points, trails and fa­cil­i­ties. Us­ing the shut­tle is en­cour­aged but not re­quired. Shut­tle bus sched­ule is sub­ject to change. An­nual Vis­i­tor Num­bers: For its rel­a­tively small size, 56 square miles (145 sq km), Bryce Canyon re­ceives an un­usu­ally large num­ber of vis­i­tors, with over 50% of its visi­ta­tion from abroad. The park re­ceives close to 1.75 mil­lion vis­i­tors an­nu­ally. How to Avoid the Crowds: Visi­ta­tion peaks from June through Septem­ber, so ex­pect to wait in line at the en­trance as at the height of the sea­son the lodges and camp­grounds often fill be­fore lunchtime, so book early. Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber and April and May are the best shoul­der sea­son pe­ri­ods to visit the park. You’ll find less peo­ple on the trails, in the car parks and at the camp­ground. Camp­grounds: Bryce Canyon of­fers two camp­ground sites (only one in win­ter) North Camp­ground and Sunset Camp­ground, lo­cated in close prox­im­ity to the vis­i­tor cen­tre, Bryce Canyon Lodge and the ge­o­logic won­der that is the Bryce Am­phithe­ater. Camp­sites fill by early af­ter­noon dur­ing the sum­mer months. RV sites are US$30.00 a night and tent sites are US$20.00 a night. There are no hook-ups in the camp­grounds, but a fee-for-use dump sta­tion is avail­able for RV users at the south end of North Camp­ground. Lodg­ing is avail­able at the Bryce Canyon Lodge dur­ing the sum­mer sea­son. Dur­ing win­ter, ho­tel rooms are avail­able in the park at the Sunset Ho­tel.

Camp­ground Reser­va­tions: Reser­va­tions for camp­ing and lodg­ing are rec­om­mended. Camp­ing fees are in ad­di­tion to en­trance fees, and are charged per night. A lim­ited num­ber of camp­sites may be re­served from early May to late Septem­ber and reser­va­tions fill up fast (the re­main­ing camp­sites are first-come-first-serve). Reser­va­tions can be made up to six months in ad­vance. Main View­points: Any­where on the Rim Trail is great for view­points, how­ever Sunset Point is a pop­u­lar choice for vis­i­tors of­fer­ing great evening views, fas­ci­nat­ing plant and wildlife op­por­tu­ni­ties, a touch of ge­ol­ogy and a wealth of cul­tural his­tory - what more could you want? Main Hik­ing Trails: Bryce Canyon of­fers sev­eral day-hik­ing trails. Be­cause many of these are in­ter­con­nected, the most pop­u­lar hikes are com­bi­na­tions of two or more of these ba­sic trails. The hik­ing trails are di­vided into three cat­e­gories of dif­fi­culty: Easy, Mod­er­ate and Stren­u­ous. The eas­i­est routes are: Mossy Cave Lo­cated out­side of the am­phithe­atre on high­way 12 go­ing to­ward Tropic, this trail is a stream­side walk up to a mossy over­hang and small wa­ter­fall - 0.8 mile (1.3 km round trip). Rim Trail 11 mile (17.7 km round trip) and Sunset Point to Sunrise Point Trail 1 mile (1.6 km round trip). Ob­serve the am­phithe­atre and its hoodoos along the rim and if planned right, visit all the main view­points. Bristle­cone Loop is a mile (1.6km) round trip. Hike through spruce-fir forests to cliffs with bristle­cone pines and ex­pan­sive vis­tas. Queens Gar­den is a (1.8 mile/2.9 km round trip) This is the least dif­fi­cult trail into the canyon. Avoid hik­ing dur­ing the hottest hours of the day (10 am-4 pm), and carry and drink wa­ter through­out your visit.

Zion Na­tional Park:

Ad­dress: 1 Zion Park Blvd. State Route 9, Spring­dale, UT Open: Zion Na­tional Park is open 24 hours a day, ev­ery day of the year. Some ser­vices and fa­cil­i­ties may close or re­duce hours dur­ing parts of the year. En­trance Fee: (Pri­vate Ve­hi­cle Fee - $25.00), ad­mits one pri­vate ve­hi­cle and all its oc­cu­pants. (Mo­tor­cy­cle Fee - $15.00) ad­mits one in­di­vid­ual on a pri­vate mo­tor­cy­cle. (Per Per­son Fee - $10.00) ad­mits one in­di­vid­ual with no car. Each ad­mis­sion fee is for seven days and in­cludes un­lim­ited use of the Shut­tle Bus ser­vice dur­ing its op­er­at­ing sea­son. Travel Tips: Full Shut­tle Ser­vice in Zion Canyon and Spring­dale will re­sume on March 11 2017 and run into the autumn sea­son. Dur­ing this time the scenic drive will be closed to ve­hi­cles. When the Shut­tle is in op­er­a­tion park­ing is lim­ited in­side Zion, and park­ing lots at the Zion Canyon Vis­i­tor Cen­ter com­monly fill by mid-morn­ing. To avoid park­ing has­sles, park in the town of Spring­dale and ride the free town shut­tle to the park. You can park any­where along the road in town that does not have a park­ing re­stric­tion. To find the shut­tle stops, look for the ‘’Shut­tle Park­ing’ signs through­out town. If you are stay­ing at a lodge or mo­tel, sim­ply leave your car there and take the shut­tle to the park. An­nual Vis­i­tor Num­bers: Visi­ta­tion to Zion has in­creased to over three mil­lion vis­i­tors a year, how­ever, dur­ing high visi­ta­tion there are long lines at the en­trance gates and lim­ited park­ing in­side the park. Dur­ing non-shut­tle sea­son, Zion still ex­pe­ri­ences crowd­ing. The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive will close to traf­fic once all le­gal park­ing spa­ces are full to en­sure that emer­gency ve­hi­cles are able to ac­cess trail­heads and vis­i­tors ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an emer­gency. How to Avoid the Crowds: Avoid visit­ing on the hol­i­days/week­ends listed above. Park in Spring­dale and ride the free shut­tle to the park and en­ter though the pedes­trian

en­trance. Con­sider visit­ing dur­ing the off-sea­son when tem­per­a­tures are cool and visi­ta­tion is lower. Visit less crowded ar­eas of the park. Avoid long lines at vis­i­tor cen­tres by plan­ning your trip ahead and down­load a map and guide or ride a bi­cy­cle on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is an en­joy­able op­tion. There are also other places to explore in the park that are not as busy as Zion Canyon, such as Kolob Canyons, the Kolob Ter­race Road and the east side of the park. Camp­grounds: Zion Na­tional Park has three camp­grounds. South Camp­ground and Watch­man Camp­ground are in Zion Canyon. The Lava Point Camp­ground is about a one-hour drive from Zion Canyon on the Kolob Ter­race Road. There are no camp­grounds in Kolob Canyons. Camp­ing is per­mit­ted in des­ig­nated camp­sites, but not in pull­outs or park­ing lots. Camp­ing is pop­u­lar; all camp­grounds are often full by noon on week­days and in the morn­ing on week­ends. From mid-March through Novem­ber the camp­grounds are full most nights. Camp­ground Reser­va­tions: Reser­va­tions at Watch­man Camp­ground (There are 176 reg­u­lar sites, 2 wheel­chair ac­ces­si­ble sites and 6 group sites) are rec­om­mended if you would like to guar­an­tee a camp­ing spot. If you are un­able to make a reser­va­tion, the ear­lier in the day you ar­rive, the bet­ter your chance of get­ting a camp­site. Reser­va­tions for camp­sites at Watch­man Camp­ground may be made six months prior to your ar­rival date on­line at www.recre­ation.gov or by call­ing 1-877-444-6777. Main View­points: The main view­points along Zion Canyon are Court of the Pa­tri­archs, The Grotto, Weep­ing Rock, Big Bend and Tem­ple of Si­nawava which all have hik­ing trails. If you at­tempt the hike to An­gels Land­ing, it will re­ward you with one of the finest view­points in the park. Main Hik­ing Trails: There are too many hik­ing trails to list, how­ever there are 6 easy hikes, 7 mod­er­ate hikes and 5 stren­u­ous hik­ing trails to choose from. If you do visit dur­ing peak sea­son, ex­pect to see a lot of other peo­ple on the trails and shut­tle bus. It is not un­com­mon for hun­dreds of peo­ple to hike to some of the most pop­u­lar trails such as An­gels Land­ing or The Nar­rows. Avoid hik­ing dur­ing the hottest hours of the day (10 am-4 pm), and carry and drink wa­ter through­out your visit. The fol­low­ing hol­i­days and week­ends are es­pe­cially busy: Me­mo­rial Day (last Mon­day in May), Easter (date varies - usu­ally in April), Labour Day (first Mon­day in Septem­ber) and Utah Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion break (4 days in Oc­to­ber).

Arches Na­tional Park

Arches Na­tional Park

Cany­on­lands Na­tional Park

Capi­tol Reef Na­tional Park

Capi­tol Reef Na­tional Park

Bryce Canyon Na­tional Park

Bryce Canyon Na­tional Park

Zion Na­tional Park

Zion Na­tional Park

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