Plan a Trip to Utah’s National Parks

THE VIRIGN RIVER AT ZION NATIONAL PARK

Trip planning needs to be done in stages. Sometimes, this is a seriously daunting task. I like to start with the broad questions and then narrow it down to the specifics as the trip begins to take a true shape. This helps you 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.

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!

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. H 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

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


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.

A LITTLE ROCK SCRAMBLING 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!


In the towns surrounding Utah’s National 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

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

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

If you have two weeks on your hands, use this two week Utah itinerary to see it all. The whole state and all 5 of their National Parks are at your fingertips.

Published by expeditioneducation

Hi there, I'm Kati! I'm an outdoor recreation loving public school teacher who plans epic adventures on her school breaks. If you like to explore and experience beautiful new places on a budget, then let me help you plan your next trip!

19 thoughts on “Plan a Trip to Utah’s National Parks

  1. L (Elle) H of Saitama With Kids – Japan – Official Google Local Guide for the Greater Tokyo Area. Blogging about things to do, see and experience in the Greater Tokyo Region, especially with children. http://insaitama.com
    L (Elle) H of Saitama With Kids says:

    Such great and detailed information. I love that you include information on what to wear. So necessary and practical. Lynda Hogan

  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. Adriana Martin – Adriana Martin is a home chef and founder of adrianasbestrecipes.com. She is a Latina food writer specializing in recipe development influenced by Mexico's culinary culture and European cuisine. Her grandmother taught her how to cook, and now her mission is to inspire others to make homemade meals. She has a passion for baking Mexican artisanal bread and classic desserts. Adriana also teaches online cooking classes and is a trained food stylist and photographer. She has published thousands of recipes online and is the author of "The Best of Mexican Cooking – 75 Authentic Home-Style Recipes for Beginners" and "The Super Easy Taco Cookbook." LATISM has recognized Adriana as the Top 100 most influential Latina bloggers due to her contributions to the blogosphere, social media influence, and involvement with the community to raise awareness about child hunger in the Orlando area. In addition, Hispanicize and Telemundo awarded Adriana with the TECLA Awards under the category of best food creator. The Tecla Awards is a national awards program that honoring top multicultural content creators' achievements.
    Adriana Martin says:

    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?

    1. expeditioneducation – Hello! My name is Kati. I am currently a Middle School Teacher and three season sports coach in upstate New York. If you take a look at my blog you will learn that I love being outside, exploring places near and far, and aspire to create this website into something that inspires others to connect with what's around them. My hope is that you read something here that inspires you to learn more and challenge yourself every day. Don't be afraid to leave your comfort zone for that is where true growth​ begins! Thank you so much for reading!
      expeditioneducation says:

      amen! But the fall would probably be an amazing time to visit as well!

    1. expeditioneducation – Hello! My name is Kati. I am currently a Middle School Teacher and three season sports coach in upstate New York. If you take a look at my blog you will learn that I love being outside, exploring places near and far, and aspire to create this website into something that inspires others to connect with what's around them. My hope is that you read something here that inspires you to learn more and challenge yourself every day. Don't be afraid to leave your comfort zone for that is where true growth​ begins! Thank you so much for reading!
      expeditioneducation says:

      I also hate the heat! But it’s a dry heat unlike the east coast so it’s much more bareable.

  6. Mr. Straight and Narrow – If anyone was to tell me what my life would look like at this age, I would have run away screaming. Well maybe laughing. OK, possibly in stunned silence. Has anyone run away in stunned silence before? I wonder what that would look like. But I digress. So who am I? I am a middle aged white guy who isn't balding. Wait . . . that describes half the white guy population? Hmmm. . . . In truth I am just a guy trying to make his way on the planet just like everyone else. And ultimately share some of life’s adventures with people. Because somehow an adventure doesn’t feel like it happened unless someone else knows. Be honest, we’ve all asked the question if a tree falls in the forest and doesn’t make a sound, does it really fall. Because it’s at that moment of impact that the tree falling has meaning. And so does life. As we impact those around use is when our life takes shape. I won’t always do it perfectly. But to be perfectly imperfect and be vulnerable is the key. And so here I am, sharing life’s adventures and those rules along with you. There is a path out there for all of us. We just have to find out. And hopefully my sharing my path helps you with yours.
    toastycritic says:

    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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