How To Start Planning a Trip to Utah’s National Parks

Trip planning needs to be done in stages. Start with the broad questions and then narrow it down to the specifics as the trip begins to take a true shape in order to create an itinerary all your own. If you’re looking for a starting point in planning your trip to Utah’s National Parks, you’ve come to the best place!

Where Are Utah’s National Parks?

The parks are in the southern half of the state; Arches, and Canyonlands to the East and Capitol Reef, Zion and Bryce Canyon to the West. The best airports to fly into include Las Vegas, Nevada and Salt Lake City, Utah. You may choose to do a loop or fly into one airport and out of another! It all depends on how you would like to structure your trip.

Utah National Parks Location
Photo Credit: myutahparks.com

What time is best to visit Utah’s National Parks?

Spring/Fall

The milder seasons tend to draw large crowds to Utah’s National Parks. The daytime temperatures range from 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit with lows in the 40-60’s. It might be the most comfortable weather to explore in, but be prepared to deal with large crowds.

What should I wear?

Fall and Spring weather can vary. I would dress in and/or pack layers each day! A combination of short sleeve tops, a fleece, a windbreaker, and a down vest should be adequate wear for the shoulder season weather. Bottoms could vary with each day. On a warm, late spring day you may find yourself in shorts during the day and pants at night when the temperature drops; convertible hiking pants could solve all of your wardrobe concerns since they can be shorts or pants at any given time. Always have a hat and gloves packed in your day pack in case the temperature drops unexpectedly. Plan ahead!

LAYERS TO BE WORN AND PACKED FOR SHOULDER SEASON HIKING
APPROPRIATE LAYERS FOR SHOULDER SEASON HIKING

Summer

If you choose to visit any of these Utah National Parks in the summer months, expect daytime temperatures to reach over 100 degrees. Complete summer hiking in the morning so you’re not competing with the mid-day sun or the visitors. Hiking in the early morning or late evening helps you to avoid temperatures as well as visitors considering it is still quite busy.

WHAT SHOULD I WEAR?

The sun is strong and hot. Because of this, I suggest a light long sleeve shirt such as Columbia’s Performance Fishing Gear. I wore my PFG almost every day and it kept me both cool and protected from the sun. The option is entirely up to you; my best friend wore a tank top every day. Head protection such as a ball cap or a bucket hat will help you keep cool while also keeping harmful rays off your scalp, face, and (depending on the hat) your neck. I wore shorts every day and Chaco sandals for most of my hiking!

TWO GIRLS IN VERY DIFFERENT SUMMER HIKING ATTIRE ON THE SLICKROCK OF UTAH
TWO GIRLS IN VERY DIFFERENT SUMMER HIKING ATTIRE

Winter

With temperatures in the 30-50’s during the day, you will have a lot of the park to yourself. Low temperatures also mean certain trails and seasonal roads may also be closed due to snow or other natural hazards; always check trail conditions before you head out. The potential of enjoying these beautiful desert landscapes with a dusting of snow is enough to convince me to head out there in January! Be prepared for below-freezing temps at night. As a result, hotels and hostels might be a better option than camping

WHAT SHOULD I WEAR?

You should definitely be layering depending on the temperature and current weather conditions. A wool base layer is the key to your comfort due to its ability to wick the sweat from your body and keep you warm. I prefer a Kari Traa wool long sleeve top and matching bottoms. A packable down jacket is the perfect travel mid-layer for all seasons; summer night temperatures can drop, autumn mornings and evenings are chilly, and winter months might require a down coat at all times. Your outer most layer should be water resistant/proof depending on the current weather conditions. Warm socks, hiking boots, and winter hats and gloves will also help to keep you comfortable in winter months! Don’t forget you can always take layers off.

Where will I sleep in Utah’s National Parks?

Lodging in and Around Utah’s National Parks is fairly abundant. Each of the five parks is home to a campground, at minimum. Some parks have multiple campgrounds, and Bryce and Zion are both home to beautiful lodges within the park boundaries. Moab (Arches and Canyonlands), (Bryce), and Springdale (Zion) have plenty of hotel options. Although there are a few lodging options just outside Capitol Reef National Park in the town of Torrey, the opportunities are certainly more limited. All of the parks have ample opportunities for backcountry camping as well; you may simply need to reserve a permit.

VIEW OUT BALCONY DOOR FROM MAJESTIC VIEW LODGE
VIEW OUT BALCONY DOOR FROM MAJESTIC VIEW LODGE


Bringing your camping gear or renting a camper van in SLC or Las Vegas is often seen as an economical option for staying in and around the parks. Keep in mind that certain campgrounds take reservations up to 6 months in advance and fill up quickly! There is no need to worry if someone else beats you to a campsite because there is a ton of free dispersed camping right outside the National Parks on BLM land. Dispersed camping means outside of a designated campground which generally means no services, such as trash removal, and little or no facilities such as tables and fire pits, are provided. However, there are plenty of Campgrounds within the surrounding National Forest areas with amenities such as bathrooms, running water, picnic tables and fire pits that will charge you only a small fee.

View of two tents in a wooded campground
A LITTLE ROCK SCAMBLING FOR SUNSET TO LOOK DOWN ON OUR CAMPSITE

What will I eat in Utah’s National Park?

This is entirely up to you, and largely, what you choose to pack for your adventure! If you will be camping, many campsites within the parks include campfire rings with cooking racks. With the proper cooking utensils, almost any meal is possible; using a cooler and keeping up with the ice is a great way to keep your food items refrigerated in the warmer months. Try to find a spot in the shade for your cooler and cover it with a towel or blanket. Camp stoves are a great alternative to campfire ring cooking as well and their portability allows you to use them just about anywhere.

COOKING BREAKFAST AT THE TRAILHEAD FOR AN EARLY MORNING START!
COOKING BREAKFAST AT THE TRAILHEAD FOR AN EARLY MORNING START!


In the towns surrounding Utah’s National Parks there are plenty of dining opportunities. We used a combination of TripAdvisor and local suggestions to help us take our pick! The Bryce Lodge and Zion Lodge provide dining options within their respective park’s borders. From the casual Valhalla Pizza in Bryce to Zion’s Red Rock Grill, you can chomp on some delicious eats without even leaving the beauty of Canyons you’re exploring. The surrounding towns have phenomenal dining opportunities for every pallet.

SWEETS AND TASTY TREATS AT SWEET CRAVINGS BAKERY AND BISTRO
SWEETS AND TASTY TREATS AT SWEET CRAVINGS BAKERY AND BISTRO

What can I do in Utah’s National Parks?

Many of the national parks have AMAZING visitor centers with awesome gift shops and tons of pertinent information. Learn about the natural history of the beloved landscape of Arches National Park through interactive exhibits or watch the award-winning film, “Shadow’s in Time”, to learn about the unique geology of Bryce Canyon. Be sure to talk to the park rangers and staff members for suggestions inside and outside the park.

ZION NATIONAL PARK VISITOR CENTER WITH CANYON WALL BEHIND IT
ZION NATIONAL PARK VISITOR CENTER

After grabbing, at minimum, a map from the visitor center or ordering all 5 National Geographic Parks in advance from Amazon, head out to see the sights! There are hikes for all levels and amazing drive up photo opportunities. Look no further than Expedition Education’s U.S. National Parks Page if you’re looking to hike in Arches, Bryce, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, or Zion National Park. Some parks, such as Arches, have ranger-guided tours/hikes and ranger programs that you can look into as well.

HIKING THE SLICK ROCK OF CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

18 thoughts on “How To Start Planning a Trip to Utah’s National Parks

  1. National parks are always a great idea! Your guide to planning is very helpful. Always great to come back to basics and have everything in one place

  2. Helpful tips here. Things to keep in mind which we may not know. I wish to go here someday. The spring season makes holidays much better.

  3. It is incredible the amazing parks that the United States has, I have been to a few here in Florida but now need to visit Utah for sure, looks fantastic.

  4. I would absolutely love to spend some time in these park’s! They look so beautiful and camping/hiking is probably some of my favorite ways to spend a vacation. Thanks for the tips,I’ll definitely keep them in mind for the future!

  5. We haven’t really spent much time considering national parks! This looks like it would be an educational opportunity for my kids. I am not much on hiking — how far can you drive?

  6. Good tip on the soaring temperatures. It wouldn’t stop me from going, but I’d definitely want to be prepared.

  7. I don’t live far from Utah. It’s a beautiful place to visit in general. I can’t wait to go back after this!

  8. It has been such a long time but Utah definitely has some great national parks. This reminds me I need to go back in the near future. I was unaware that some of them had interactive exhibits. It would be awesome I think.

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