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