The National Parks of Utah have some of the most surreal and other wordly landscapes in America. Utah quite rightly belong on the “must see” list of any RVer and boondocker. Magnificent and towering red sandstone cliffs, deep, wooded canyons, unusual rock formations and ancient petroglyphs attract visitors from all over the world. Below are the five national parks in Utah, all definitely worth a visit!
Zion National Park
If you come into Utah from Nevada, Zion will be your first park to visit. There are three campgrounds inside the park, several RV parks on the west side, and a few on the east side.
Taking a route around the park, instead of driving through it in your RV, is highly recommended. The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway tunnel, built in the late 1920’s, has size restrictions that limit most RVs; Any vehicle 11′ 4” high or higher, and 7′ 10” wide or wider needs the one way traffic control service. This will cost you $15, in addition to the fee to get into the park. Any vehicle 13′ or higher cannot pass through the tunnel, which means, most large 5th Wheels.
Also, the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway and other the roads within the park can be steep, twisty, and hairpin.
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, the main road to most of the trails, is closed to private vehicles most of the year. During the main tourist season, there are free buses running from the early morning into the evening, every 5-10 minutes.
Angel’s Landing is one of the most popular hiking trails in Zion National Park. It’s a steep, strenuous 2 ½ miles, up narrow paths with sheer drops. However, if you can make it, you’ll feel like you’re standing on top of the world! Try Angel’s Landing trail early in the morning, rather than the afternoon, to avoid the heat and crowds.
If Angel’s Landing sounds too tough, Zion has many more beautiful hiking trails, so there’s something for everyone. The Canyon Overlook Trail on the east side of park, is only one mile, with spectacular views at the end! You may even see Big Horn Sheep scaling the rocks on the east side of the park. There is a lot to see and do in Zion National Park. As a result, you’ll probably want to spend at least two days, or more, there.
Bryce Canyon National Park
There are two campgrounds in Bryce Canyon, and several RV parks in the surrounding area. This part of Utah is much cooler than Zion, because of the elevation. But as you descend into Bryce Canyon, it will get warmer again.
Although cars are not restricted at Bryce Canyon, there are buses. The bus can make it easier to get around.
Sunset Point is perhaps the best place to get your first look into the canyon. It’s full of oddly shaped, red sandstone pillars called “hoodoos”. You must experienced it live, pictures do not do Bryce Canyon justice!
You can go down into the canyon at Sunset Point, by hiking the Navajo Loop Trail. Along the way, you’ll see hundreds of balanced rocks. As you hike down into the canyon, the contrast between the blue sky and the orange rocks is stunning. When you get to the bottom, you can continue on the Navajo Loop Trail, or you can go on to the Queens Garden trail.
You can drive the 18 miles from the Ampitheater area to Rainbow Point. There are many spectacular view points along the road, each offering amazing views of the canyon below.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is a 2 hour drive from Bryce Canyon. It’s probably the least visited of the Utah national parks. It is in one of the most beautiful areas in Utah; the area around Capital Reef can be quite lush with vegetation. The many different colors within the rocks are also amazing.
There is a campground inside the park. Torrey is a small town near the park, with basic amenities, and a few RV parks. There are also popular boondocking areas just outside the park’s entrance.
The Visitor Center in the Fruita Historic District has orchards with apple, peach, cherry pear, plum, and apricot trees. You can pick the fruit free of charge. The Fruita District also has a schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, and the Gifford House museum and store. There is also a horse pasture.
Capitol Reef National Park is known for Native American petroglyphs, with a few close to the Visitor Center. There are also petroglyphs along the Scenic Drive Road to the Capitol Gorge Trail. You can see petroglyphs, as well as hundreds of historic pioneer signatures in the rocks along the one mile trail.
Because Capital Reef is a less popular national park, it is less crowded. Consequently, it’s a relaxing place to spend a few days. There are easy hikes, like Hickman Bridge, where you’ll see a 133-foot natural arch, as well as beautiful canyon views.
Arches National Park
It’s about a 2 hour drive from Canyon Reef to Moab, UT and Arches National Park. The park has one campground; you can reserve a space from March 1 through October 31. The rest of the year it’s first come, first served. There are also many private RV parks in and around Moab.
Arches has many beautiful sites, that you can easily walk to, such as Balanced Rock, North and South Windows, and Double Arch. All of these spectacular formations are easy to get to.
Delicate Arch is the most famous rock formation in the park; it’s the one on the Utah license plate. You can hike the Delicate Arch Trail, which takes you right up to it. It’s a 3 mile round trip, but don’t underestimate it’s difficulty. The Devils Garden area is a hiking loop which can be customized for distance and difficulty. If you complete the entire loop, almost 8 miles, you’ll see seven natural arches.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is about a 40 minute drive from Moab. It’s split into three parts; Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze, which are separated by the Colorado and Green Rivers.
The Island in the Sky has spectacular viewpoints, such as the Grand View Point, and Buck Canyon Overlook. Both of these offer dramatic views of the canyons.
Aztec Butte is a 1.8-mile round trip hike. It canvasses grasslands, and climbs up a steep slope to a dome shaped butte. There is a side trail to ancient Puebloan granaries, which early Native Americans used for grain storage.