20 Amazing Campgrounds Worth the Road Trip

Sleep under the stars

Camping is great but camping in a one-of-a-kind site with unique features (saltwater pools, sweeping views, horseback riding, we could go on) is even better. The next time you decide to venture into the great outdoors be sure to first consult this list. From campsites nestled in legendary state parks to options located on warm, sandy beaches, here are 20 campgrounds in the worth the road trip.

Shenandoah National Park campgrounds, Virginia

All of the five campgrounds at Shenandoah are open seasonally from early spring until late fall. Reservations are highly recommended on weekends and holidays. 

Mathews Arm Campground (mile 22.1) is the nearest campground for those entering the park from Front Royal in the northern section of the Park. All sites include a place for a tent or RV, a fire ring, and picnic table. Mathews Arm has a combination of reservable and first-come, first-served sites.

Big Meadows Campground (mile 51.2) is centrally-located in the park. All sites include a place for a tent or RV, a fire ring, and a picnic table. All sites at Big Meadows Campground are by reservation only.

Other campgrounds in Shenandoah include Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5) and Loft Mountain (mile 79.5).

Here are some helpful resources:

Devils Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park, Utah

Camping in Arches is only allowed in Devils Garden Campground. The demand for campground sites is extremely heavy and the park service recommends making reservations as early as possible. Reservations can be made up to 6 months before arrival and must be made at least 4 days before you arrive. If you don’t have a reservation, plan on camping outside the park. Between November 1 and February 28, 24 sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. 

By the way, I have a series of posts on Arches:

Potwisha Campground, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park campgrounds, California

There are fourteen campgrounds in the parks including two that are open during all four seasons. Campsites hold up to six people. Each has a picnic table, fire ring with grill, and a metal food-storage box. Nearly all campgrounds require advance reservations; sites fill quickly.

Except when weather or safety conditions require a closure, Potwisha Campground is open year-round with a four-month advance booking window. The campground sits at 2,100 feet elevation along the Middle Fork of the Kaweah River under an open stand of oaks. Hot and dry weather in the foothills often require fire restrictions in the summer. In the winter, the campground is usually snow-free.

If you need ideas, check out:

Joshua Tree National Park campgrounds, California

The majority of the 500 campsites in the park are available by reservation. 

You can camp among these truck-size boulders at Jumbo Rocks, one of the park’s eight campgrounds. Only two campgrounds (Black Rock and Cottonwood) have water, flush toilets, and dump stations. Cottonwood is especially popular with RVers. At the Hidden Valley and White Tank campgrounds, RVs are limited to a maximum combined length of 25 feet (RV and a towed or towing vehicle); in the other campgrounds, the limit is 35 feet, space permitting.

Here are some articles to help:

Cedar Pass Campground, Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park campgrounds, South Dakota

Badlands National Park offers two campgrounds. The Cedar Pass Campground is a paid campground with 96 sites total, some designated for RV camping with electric hookups. Reservations for the Cedar Pass Campground can be made through contacting the Cedar Pass Lodge online or by phone at 877-386-4383. Sage Creek Campground is a free, first-come first-serve campground with 22 sites and limited to RVs 18 feet in length or less.

Read more:

Cottonwood Campground, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument camping, Arizona

Cottonwood Campground is managed by the Navajo Parks and Recreation Department. Nightly fee with 93 sites available first-come, first-serve. No showers or hookups.

Here are some helpful resources:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park camping, North Carolina and Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park maintains developed frontcountry campgrounds at 10 locations in the park: Abrams Creek Campground, Balsam Mountain Campground, Big Creek Campground, Cades Cove Campground, Cataloochee Campground, Cosby Campground, Deep Creek Campground, Elkmont Campground, Look Rock Campground, and Smokemont Campground. Camping is popular year-round and the park has a variety of options to enjoy camping throughout the year. Cades Cove and Smokemont Campgrounds are open year-round. All other campgrounds are open on a seasonal basis.

If you need ideas, check out:

White Tank Mountains Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountains Regional Park camping, Arizona

With nearly 30,000 acres, White Tank Mountain Regional Park is the largest park in Maricopa County. White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 40 individual sites for tent or RV camping.

Most sites have a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45 foot RV and offer water and electrical hook-ups, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and nearby dump station. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers.

Read more: A Hiker’s Paradise: White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jekyll Island camping, Georgia

Park your RV or pitch your tent under the magnificent oaks on the northern tip of Jekyll Island. Located opposite the Clam Creek Picnic Area you are near Driftwood Beach, the fishing pier, and fascinating historic ruins. For your convenience, there are camping supplies and a General Store for those pick-up items and bike rentals so you can explore all that Jekyll Island has to offer.

The Jekyll Island Campground offers 18 wooded acres on the Island’s north end with 206 campsites from tent sites to full hook-up, pull through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL Internet is free for registered guests.

If you need ideas, check out: Celebrating 75 Years of Jekyll Island State Park: 1947-2022

Mesa Verde National Park camping, Colorado

Spend a night or two in Morefield Campground just four miles from the park entrance. With 267 sites there’s always plenty of space and the campground rarely fills. Each site has a table, bench, and grill. Camping is open to tents and RVs including 15 full-hookup RV sites.
Morefield’s campsites are situated on loop roads that extend through a high grassy canyon filled with Gambel Oak scrub, native flowers, deer, and wild turkeys. Several of the park’s best hikes leave from Morefield and climb to spectacular views of surrounding valleys and mountains.

Here are some articles to help:

Kayenta Campground, Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park camping, Utah

Nestled within a grove of junipers, Kayenta Campground offers a peaceful, shaded respite from the surrounding desert. All 21 campsites offer lighted shade structures, picnic tables, fire rings, and tent pads. All sites are also equipped with RV electrical hookups (20/30/50 amps). Modern restroom facilities are available and hiking trails lead directly from the campground to various points of interest within the park including the West Rim Trail, East Rim Trail, Wingate Campground, or the Visitor Center.

New in 2018, the Wingate Campground sits atop the mesa with far-reaching views of the area’s mountain ranges and deep canyons. This campground contains 31 campsites, 20 of which have electrical hookups that support RVs or tent campers while 11 are hike-in tent-only sites.  All sites have fire pits, picnic tables under shade shelters, and access to bathrooms with running water and dishwashing sinks.  RV sites will accommodate vehicles up to 56 feet and there is a dump station at the entrance to the campground. The Wingate Campground also holds four yurts. 

Read more:

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park camping, Arizona

Picacho Peak State Park’s campground has a total of 85 electric sites for both tent and RV camping. Sites are suitable for RVs and/or tents. Four sites are handicapped-accessible. No water or sewer hookups are available. Access to all sites is paved. Sites are fairly level and are located in a natural Sonoran Desert setting.

Here are some helpful resources:

Grand Canyon National Park camping, Arizona

Mather Campground is located in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Open year-round, there are 327 sites. Each includes a campfire ring/cooking grate, picnic table, and parking space. There are flush toilets and drinking water throughout the campground. No hookups are available but a dump station is available.

Situated within a picturesque high desert landscape, Trailer Village RV Park park offers paved pull-through full hookup sites designed for vehicles up to 50 feet long. Trailer Village RV Park is open year-round.

The North Rim Campground is open from mid-May 15 through mid-October, weather permitting. The canyon’s rustic and less populated North Rim is home to abundant wildlife, hiking trails, and unparalleled views of this natural wonder. The facility is at an elevation of 8,200 feet with pleasant summer temperatures and frequent afternoon thunderstorms.

Here are some articles to help:

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake State Park camping, Arizona

Campground A offers 17 basic sites with both back-in and pull-through sites. Campground B has expanded to 42 mixed-amenity sites. Campground F has 15 full-hookup sites. Campground C offers 40 water and electric sites. Dry camping is located in Campgrounds D and E and each site has a picnic table and fire ring.

Read more: Alamo Lake State Park: Fishing, Camping, Wildflowers & More

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park camping, Mississippi

Buccaneer State Park Campground has 206 premium single-family campsites and is located in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks and marshlands on the Gulf Coast. All of the 206 develop campsites have full hookups (water, electric, and sewer). There are also an additional 70 sites (with water and electric) that are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and 25 primitive (first-come, first-serve) sites located in the back of Royal Cay camp area.

Fruita Campground, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

The Fruita Campground is often described as an oasis within the desert. Adjacent to the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards this developed campground has 71 sites. Each site has a picnic table and firepit and/or above ground grill but no individual water, sewage, or electrical hookups. There is a RV dump and potable water fill station near the entrance to Loops A and B. Restrooms feature running water and flush toilets but no showers. Accessible sites (non-electric) are located adjacent to restrooms.

Here are some helpful resources:

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park camping, Alabama

Gulf State Park Campground offers 496 full hookup sites with paved pads. All full hookup camping pads are at least ~45 feet (most back-ins) to ~65 feet (most pull-through) long with more than enough room for RVs with pullouts, have picnic tables, and pedestal grill tops There are 11 modern, air-conditioned bathhouses throughout the campground.

Meahler State Park camping, Alabama

Meaher State Park has 61 RV campsites. Each site is paved, roughly 65 feet in length and has 20, 30 and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hookups. You have a grill and picnic table at your site and plenty of space between you and the next guest. The park has 10 improved tent sites with water and 20-amp electrical connections. All tent sites have a grill/fire pit and picnic table available. The campground features an air conditioned/heated main shower house equipped with laundry facilities for overnight campers and a smaller bathhouse equipped with restrooms only.

Read more: Where the Rivers Meet the Sea: Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and Meaher State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park camping, Arizona

The campground has 135 sites and three group camping areas: 68 sites with electric (50/30/20 amp service) and water and the remainder non-hookup sites on paved roads for tents or RVs. Every site has a picnic table and a fire pit with an adjustable grill gate. There are no size restrictions on RVs. Well-mannered pets on leashes are welcome but please pick after your pets.

Goose Island State Park camping, Texas

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Goose Island also has 25 walk-in tent sites without electricity and a group camp for youth groups.

Read more: Life by the Bay: Goose Island State Park

Worth Pondering…

As you go through life, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.

—Yogi Berra

The Grand Circle Tour

11 days, 1,500 miles, 6 National Parks, Monument Valley, adventure towns, lakes in the desert, and something about a Dead Horse Point? Yes, please. Strap your seat belts on for this one.

Millions of years of erosion have created a spectacular display of cliffs, canyons, arches, natural bridges, red slickrock, hoodos, and mountains that you will experience during your two-week travels.

The canyons, sunsets, trails, colors, and rock formations will keep your camera busy so bring lots of flash memory and batteries. And don’t forget your hiking boots.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day One: Zion National Park

Drive from Las Vegas (168 miles) or Salt Lake City (314 miles) to Springdale, gateway to Zion National Park.

Park Fees: I recommend that you buy the $80 America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Lands Pass that covers entrance fees at lands managed by the National Park Service (NPS) and US Fish & Wildlife Service and standard amenity fees (day use fees) at lands managed by the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Army Corps of Engineers.

Hike Canyon Overlook Trail (1 hour, 1 mile round trip)

This short moderate hike on a well-marked trail leads to an overlook offering incredible views of lower Zion Canyon. If you time it right, the sunset will light up the whole canyon. The trailhead is at the parking lot just beyond the east entrance of the tunnel. Cross the road and begin the easy 1 mile hike. This hike is great for people who want to see a beautiful overlook of Zion that don’t necessarily like long hikes and it’s great for kids.

Return back to your accommodations by following State Route 9 back into Springdale.

Check into your campground in or near Zion National Park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 2: Zion National Park

Stop at the local market to get water and (healthy) snacks for the day. You will want a day pack to carry things in since you will be gone for the entire day.

Explore Zion Canyon (all day)

During the summer months, the shuttle runs from 6:30 am to 11:00 pm. Since parking at the Visitors Center inside the park can be difficult from May-October, riding the shuttle from Springdale is a better option. November through March you can actually drive in the canyon.

Shuttle stops:

  • Court of the Patriarchs (5 minutes, 0.1 mile)
  • Zion Lodge: Emerald Pools trailhead (1-3 hours; lower, 1.2 miles; middle, 2 miles; upper, 3 miles)
  • The Grotto: Angels Landing trailhead (4-5 hours, 5 miles)
  • Weeping Rock: Weeping Rock trail (½ hour, 0.4 mile)
  • Big Bend: View the Angels Landing ridge trail
  • Temple of Sinawava: Riverside trail, gateway to the Narrows (1.5 hours, 2 miles)

Add a little extra adventure and incredible scenery by walking up the Virgin River Narrows a mile or two. You might want to bring an extra pair of shoes and a walking stick. The trail is the river and you are walking on slippery rocks as you go up the Narrows.

Find my complete guide to Zion National Park here.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park

Leave for Bryce Canyon National Park (86 miles). Enjoy the scenic drive through Utah State Route 9 and U.S 89. Pass through historic towns and the beautiful Red Canyon.

At Bryce Canyon, visit some of the scenic overlooks. If you’re looking to relax a little, stay in or near the park. There are three options located inside the park: the North Campground (open year-round), Sunset Campground (high season), and the 114-room Bryce Canyon Lodge which was built from local timber and stone in 1924-25. 

Any non-park related activity—sleeping, eating, shopping, fueling up, or learning about the local history—will almost surely bring you to Ruby’s legendary roadhouse.

For sunset, I recommend Inspiration Point, Paria View, or Sunset Point and plan to arrive one-and-a-half hours before sunset for the best lighting. If you want to see mostly all of Bryce Canyon, drive or take the shuttle on the scenic loop. Its 38 miles (one way) of pure beauty and you will cover many viewpoints.

View points of the Scenic Loop:

  • Swamp Canyon
  • Piracy Pointe
  • Fairview Point
  • Aqua Canyon
  • Natural Bridge
  • Ponderosa Canyon
  • Black Birch Canyon
  • Rainbow Point
  • Yovimpa Point

Check into your campground in or near Bryce Canyon National Park.

Eat at Ebenezer’s Barn and Grill and enjoy great Cowboy Entertainment. Or check out other restaurants in the area.

Find my ultimate guide to Bryce Canyon National Park here.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park and Scenic Byway 12

Get up early and see the sun rise over Bryce Canyon. The two most popular viewpoints for sunrise are Sunrise Point and Bryce Point.

Hike the Navajo Loop Trail (1.3 miles round trip)

This is hands-down the greatest way to see the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon from the canyon floor. You start by hiking down Wall Street a narrow canyon with high rock walls on either side.

Drive All American Road Scenic Byway 12 (4 hours)

This drive cuts through a corner of Bryce Canyon National Park and then follows a breathtaking scenic route through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is a good, paved highway but steep in spots. It descends into the Escalante Canyons region and then climbs over Boulder Mountain. From Boulder Mountain you can see the Waterpocket Fold section of Capitol Reef National Park. Stop at scenic turnoffs as time permits. Scenic Byway 12 ends in Torrey near the Capitol Reef National Park entrance.

Highlights of Scenic Byway 12:

  • Mossy Cave, a sneak peak of Bryce (drive past Bryce toward Tropic and there is a pullout on the right; play in the small cave and waterfall down a short half mile path
  • Kodachrome Basin (22 miles from Bryce)
  • Escalante State Park (44 miles from Bryce)
  • Calf Creek Falls (67.6 miles from Bryce)
  • Anasazi Indian Village (80.8 miles from Bryce)

Check into an RV park in Torrey or the 71-site Fruita campground in Capitol Reef National Park.

Check out the restaurants near Capitol Reef too. Torrey is so small that all you need to do is drive down the main road (SR 24) and you’ll see all of the restaurants.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 5: Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is amazing in its own special way. The formations you see here you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Drive the scenic drive south from the Visitor Center.

The Scenic Drive is a 10 mile mostly paved road with dirt spur roads into Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge that weather permitting are accessible to ordinary passenger vehicles. In every direction the views are fascinating. From the road you can see sheer sandstone cliffs, uniform layers of shale and rocks that have been lifted and folded and carved into shapes that stir the imagination. The Scenic Drive is not a loop, so you must return on the same road. Entrance fees of $5 per vehicle are charged for the Scenic Drive.

Find my ultimate guide to Capitol Reef National Park here.

In the afternoon begin your drive to Moab, Utah’s Adventure Capital (144 miles).

Check into an RV park in Moab or Devils Garden Campground in Arches National Park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 6: Arches National Park

In the morning, pack a lunch and plenty of water and drive to Arches National Park to watch the sunrise over the world’s largest concentration of natural stone arches (2,000 and counting). Drive North on U.S. Highway 191 from Moab for 5 miles. The turnoff for Arches will be on the East side of road. For the more adventurous, get up 1 hour before sunrise and hike the 1.5 mile trail to Delicate Arch and watch the sun rise.

Main points of interest:

  • Park Avenue
  • Balanced Rock
  • Windows Section
  • Delicate Arch Viewpoint
  • Devils Garden
  • Landscape Arch

Eat lunch in route.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the afternoon drive to Dead Horse Point State Park and to the scenic overlooks in Canyonlands National Park.

Dead Horse Point State Park offers spectacular vistas with views of Canyonlands National Park and the Colorado River. From Arches, drive back to U.S. 191 and head north for about 6 miles to State Route 313 and take the signed turnoff to Dead Horse Point. Follow SR 313 for about 22 miles as it winds to the top of the plateau and then south to Dead Horse Point.

Tour Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky District (2-3 hours)

Island in the Sky comprises the northern portion of Canyonlands National Park. From Dead Horse Point, return north on SR 313 for 7 miles to the junction with the Grand View Point Road and then drive the Grand View Road south into Canyonlands. Stop at the Visitors Center to pick up a map and information before continuing to the lookout points.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Main Points-of-interest:

  • Mesa Arch
  • Grandview Point
  • Upheaval Dome
  • Green River Overlook

Return to Devils Garden Campground (Arches National Park) or Moab for the night.

Here are some helpful resources:

Day 7: Moab

Engage in one of Moab’s many adventure activities; whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, horseback riding among the red cliffs, mountain bike the slick rock trails, take a Hummer 4×4 ride over red rock trails or hike to Corona and Bow Tie Arches.

If you need ideas, check out: Moab’s Scenic Byways

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 8: Monument Valley

Drive to Monument Valley (150 miles)

This is a scenic drive; plan to stop at the historic towns and viewpoints and take some pictures.

Eat lunch en route. Drive to the Visitors Center and sign up for a Navajo guided tour through Monument Valley at Sunset. Check out the amazing overlooks East and West Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. Unique sandstone formations, red mesas and buttes surrounded by desert were used in hundreds of western movies. There is only one hiking path called Wildcat Trail (3.2 miles) that starts at the Visitors Center and loops around West Mitten Butte. At night the stars are absolutely amazing because of the remote area and no city lights.

Check into The View Campground or lodge at Monument Valley and eat dinner.

For more tips on exploring this area, check out these blog posts:

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 9: Lake Powell

Leave for Lake Powell (132 miles) in the morning. Lake Powell offers one of the most beautiful views of water and red rock cliffs. Take a boat tour to Rainbow Bridge, the largest natural stone bridge in the world. I recommend bringing hiking shoes for the trail to Rainbow Bridge (3 miles round-trip). Click here for more information on boat tours: Eat lunch before the tour in Page, Arizona or pack one for the boat tour.

Check into Wahweep Campground and RV Park centrally located at Wahweap Marina about ¼ mile from the shore of Lake Powell. Wahweap offers plenty of fun with a wide variety of powerboats and water toys from which to choose. You can also enjoy the restaurant, lounge, and gift shop at the Lake Powell Resort. 

Read more: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area: Lake Powell and So Much More

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 10: Kanab and the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park

Drive 110 miles to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The North Rim has the most spectacular views and is surrounded with forest of Ponderosa Pines. The North Rim averages 1,000 to 1,500 feet higher than the South Rim! Perfect for hiking and great photos! Eat lunch and enjoy the view at the North Rim Lodge. Be aware that that State Highway 67 leading to the North Rim closes from about mid-October to mid-May due to heavy snow.

From here you can drive to Las Vegas (266 miles) for the night or stay in lodging near the Grand Canyon (77 miles).

Points of Interest on North Rim:

  • Point Imperial is often considered the greatest viewpoints on the North Rim. It overlooks the Painted Desert and the eastern end of Grand Canyon and different than other viewpoints.
  • Bright Angel Point, south from the visitor center, can be reached via a 1 mile round trip hike with a grand view of the canyon.
  • Cape Royal (0.6 miles round trip) is a long peninsula extending from the North Rim out over the Grand Canyon. It offers a phenomenal view perhaps the most sweeping view of any Grand Canyon vista. You can see much of it from your vehicle but the best views await those who take the short, easy stroll to the end of the cape.

Check into accommodations near the Grand Canyon.

Day 11

Drive to Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, or destination of your choosing. Need ideas?

Worth Pondering…

RVing and imagination—both take you anywhere you want to be.

The 10 Best National Parks That Need to Be on Your Bucket List (2024)

Craving some American beauty? Reconnect with nature by visiting the best national parks in America.

Sometimes—and let’s not beat around the bush, quite a lot recently—it feels like society itself is unravelling. And when that happens, we all need to take a deep breath, pause…and go somewhere nearby to just appreciate nature.

And once you’ve realized how well that works, you might want to ponder taking this enlightening experience one step further and plan either a road trip that incorporates one or two of the best national parks in the U.S. or even a dedicated visit to one a little bit further away.

See the forces of nature at work at stunners like Arches and Bryce (two of Utah’s Big Five), witness the power of water that carved out the Grand Canyon over thousands of years, or unique wildlife viewing like the bighorn sheep and pronghorns at Badlands National Park.

Visiting a national park can be as easy or challenging as you want. For diehard backcountry types, there are trails and rustic campsites that can keep you out in the wilderness for days. For the average visitor, paved roads through the parks offer the opportunity to easily see the best views and features of the park in a short amount of time.

There are 63 major national parks (in addition to hundreds of smaller sites) spanning the entire country including Alaska and Hawaii. Next time you hit the road, pick up an America the Beautiful pass and check out the best national parks in the country (but trust us, all of the parks are amazing and all should be on your list).

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Grand Canyon National Park

This natural wonder cradles two billion years of geologic history with 40 layers of rock shaped into buttes, spires, and cliffs. Carved by the Colorado River, the 277-mile gorge is magisterial from any perspective but it’s thrilling to venture below the rim. The safest place to start is the well-maintained Bright Angel Trail which follows an ancient route past sculpted sandstone to a cottonwood oasis.

Look for elk, mountain lions, and condors along the way plus the 1,000 species of plants that survive in this semi-arid desert.

Here are some helpful resources:

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Zion National Park

You’ve seen Utah’s wild landscape in almost every John Wayne western but now its time to see it for yourself. The incredible thing about Zion National Park is that it hasn’t changed an iota over the years—you’ll see the same massive sandstone formations, twisty caves, and dark skies bursting with stars that Wayne himself walked through and people have been admiring for thousands of years.

Mosey to spectacular overlooks, hike to Emerald Pools, walk to Weeping Rock, or stroll on Riverside Walk and you’ll get a sense of the grandeur of this spectacular national park.

That’s why I wrote these four articles:

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Arches National Park

Located north of Moab, Utah, Arches National Park is so named for the 2,000 wind-sculpted sandstone arches gracing the area—the largest such concentration in the world. The most famous of these is the iconic 52 foot-tall Delicate Arch whose image has been depicted on Utah license plates but Arches will amaze you with its sheer range of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks. 

Arches is also one of the few national parks where many of the top formations can be seen from the comfort of your car—perfect for those who want the sights without the sweat.

If you need ideas, check out:

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Bryce Canyon National Park

Red rocks, pink cliffs, and endless vistas await at this Insta-famous national park in Utah. People travel to Bryce Canyon from around the world to see the largest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) in the world but the park’s high elevation also makes it a great place for star gazing.

One of the country’s more compact national parks, you don’t need a ton of time to hit the highlights like Thor’s Hammer, Inspiration Point, and the Queens Garden Trail.

For more tips on exploring Bryce Canyon, check out these blog posts:

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park

Between them, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks contain some of the oldest trees on the planet—and just standing in their presence is a humbling experience. Many of these ancient wooden giants have been on Earth for 3,000 years and there are even a couple of trees where you can actually drive your car through. There are some gorgeous hiking trails here in addition to a small number of campsites.

If you’re on a road trip, try to allocate a reasonable amount of time to explore these wonderful parks.

Read more:

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Badlands National Park

This bizarre moonscape was created millions of years ago when ash deposits and erosion sculpted sedimentary rock into rippled peaks. Fossils show that rhinos and camels once roamed here but today these 244,000 acres are home to bison, bobcats, pronghorns, and bighorn sheep.

As long as they stay hydrated, the park’s 800,000 annual visitors find the Badlands fascinating to explore. Hikers scale the rocks to take in otherworldly views of the White River Valley and cyclists coast by colorful buttes and grass prairie. At night, the pitch-black sky reveals 7,500 stars and a clear view of the Milky Way; telescopes provide close-ups of moons and planets.

Here are some helpful resources:

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. White Sands National Park

White Sands takes up 275 square miles of breathtaking landscape in New Mexico. Its most noticeable feature: miles of undulating dunes made of blindingly white gypsum crystals which were formed 10,000 years when shallows sea that had existed for millions of years dried up leaving the gypsum behind. Though long a National Monument, White Sands was elevated to park status in December 2019.

Four marked trails allow hiking and since gypsum, unlike sand, reflects the sun’s heat, the dunes are easy on your feet. And if you’re so inclined, you can rent plastic sleds to slide down them.

If you need ideas, check out:

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Capitol Reef National Park

You’ll probably notice that Utah features quite prominently in this list and there’s good reason—its natural geology and geography make it arguably the most exciting state to visit if you’re the outdoors type. This particular park is not one of the Beehive State’s most well known but that’s precisely why it’s on my list.

As you’d expect there’s plenty offer here including 15 hiking trails to explore along with four-wheel-drive road tours, mountain biking, and rock climbing. Or you could just marvel at the colors, canyons and rock formations, and even harvest fruit from orchards in the Fruita Historic District in the summertime.

Read more:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The most visited national park in the country, Great Smoky Mountains is also home to the highest number of animal species—1,778 species of animals, including a notable populations of black bears and elk and more than 2,600 different plant species call this national park home.

But you might be most familiar with the parks’ famous fireflies. Every year, the synchronous fireflies, Photinus carolinus or Elkmont fireflies put on a synchronous light display in order to find a mate. They are the only species in America whose individuals can synchronize their flashing light.

For more tips on exploring Great Smoky Mountains National Park, check out these blog posts:

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Joshua Tree National Park

Despite the millions that flock here every year, many don’t realize that Joshua Tree National Park is actually made up of two different deserts; the southern tip of the Mojave Desert makes up its western edge and the Colorado Desert covers its eastern and southern areas.

And as such, The Joshua trees for which the park is named are more prevalent in the higher elevations on the Mojave side but here’s the funny thing, they’re not actually trees. The plants are a member of the Yucca genus and they can grow up to 70 feet tall, though they can take up to 50 years to reach their full size.

If you need ideas, check out:

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Camping In Utah: Explore the Mountains, Lakes, and Red Rock Country

Some of America’s most spectacular camping spots are in Utah

Whether you want to experience the wonders of red rock country, the many activities in the mountains, or the sparkling shores of the Great Salt Lake, you’ll find there is a little something for everyone in Utah.

When is the best time to go camping in Utah?

There are activities to enjoy year-round in Utah. In the warm spring and summer months, you can hike miles of trails through red rock country or go canyoneering through slot canyons. By winter, the mountains provide a wonderland for activities like skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing.

Spring is the perfect time to go camping in Utah when the temperatures are more comfortable, there are fewer crowds than in the summer, and the wildflowers are blooming. 

Driving in Utah

Utah has some of the most scenic roads in the country but not all routes are suitable for RVs. Make sure you have an RV-safe GPS to get turn-by-turn directions based on your vehicle’s specifications. Current weather and traffic conditions are regularly updated on the UDOT website. 

Some of the major highways in Utah include:

  • Interstate 15 runs north-south all the way through Western Utah and connects most of the state’s major cities including Salt Lake City, Ogden, Provo, and St. George
  • Interstate 70 branches off I-15 in the western half of the state near the Cove Fort Historic Site and continues to Maryland on the East Coast
  • Interstate 80 spans east-west in Northern Utah through Salt Lake City, over the Wasatch Mountains, and northeast into Wyoming
  • U.S. Route 6 runs east-west through Central Utah. Stretches of the route are concurrent with the other major highways including I-15, I-70, and US-50.
  • U.S. Route 191 runs north-south through Eastern Utah and passes through Moab and serves as the gateway to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
  • U.S. Route 89 spans north-south through Central Utah’s Wasatch Mountains
Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic drives in Utah

Although many roads in Utah provide beautiful views some routes have been designated as Scenic Byways. However, not all of these routes are RV-friendly.

Utah Scenic Byways include:

Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway

This scenic route twists and turns through the towering cliffs in Zion National Park. It follows up a series of switchbacks and through a tunnel built right into the rock cliff. Keep in mind the road has a vehicle length limit of 40 feet (or 50 feet for vehicle combinations) and is not suitable for large RVs. 

Scenic Byway 12

Scenic Byway 12 is a designated All-American Road that connects Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Park. The byway leads over Boulder Mountain Pass and through Red Canyon tunnels.

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 24

This scenic stretch of US Route 24 runs through Capitol Reef National Park. The route begins in Torrey and heads east through the park passing by the visitor center. It continues through a remote area before reaching the small town of Hanksville and then follows north to connect with I-70. 

Mt. Carmel to Long Valley Scenic Byway

This byway follows a beautiful stretch of US-89 for about 60 miles. It begins in the town of Kanab and leads north toward Mt. Carmel Junction. Several roads branch off the byway and provide access to Grand Staircase National Monument. The road winds through red rock canyons and a forested mountain landscape until it comes to an end at the US-89 and US-12 junction.

Logan Canyon Scenic Byway

If you’re camping in Utah during the fall, the Logan Canyon Scenic Byway is the perfect route to take to see the seasonal foliage. The route runs east-west on US-89 from Logan to Garden City and on to Bear Lake. This area provides access to all kinds of outdoor activities like hiking, camping, fishing, and skiing.

National Parks in Utah

Utah is best known for its Mighty Five National Parks. The parks are all within a relatively short drive of one another and some can be connected via the scenic byways listed above.

If you plan on visiting at least several of the parks purchase an America the Beautiful Pass ahead of time. This annual pass is $80 and good for the entire year. Considering the entrance fee to these national parks are $35 for each location the annual pass pays for itself after visiting just three parks.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Zion is the westernmost national park in Utah located 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas. The landscape is dominated by giant sandstone cliffs and slot canyons providing ample opportunities for outdoor adventures. Hike the park’s scenic trails such as the famous Angels Landing, climb or canyoneer in the slot canyons, or enjoy tubing on the Virgin River.

There are three campgrounds in Zion including South Campground and Watchman Campground. There are also several campgrounds and RV parks within a short drive of the park.

Bordering the eastern entrance to the park is Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. This vast, 4,000-acre ranch offers spacious RV sites, a variety of glamping accommodations such as cabins, yurts, and Conestoga wagons as well as on-site activities available through East Zion Adventures.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Less than two hours east of Zion, Bryce Canyon is known for its massive hoodoos and spires. At 9,100 feet in elevation, Bryce Canyon is nearly double that of Zion (at just 4,000 feet). The landscape becomes blanketed in snow during the winter and one of the two campgrounds in the park closes for the season. 

Sunset Campground is open April 15–October 31 with three loops of campsites. Reservations are required during the peak season May 20–October 15. North Campground has 99 campsites that are available all year on a first-come, first-served basis.

You can get sweeping views of Bryce Amphitheater from both Sunrise and Sunset Points. If you want a closer look hike the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop to make your way down into the canyon. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is perhaps Utah’s most underrated National Park. The park is 116 miles northeast of Bryce Canyon via the Scenic Byway 12. Much like Zion, the landscape is centered round the massive red rock cliffs.

There is only one developed campground in Capitol Reef and it is open year round: Fruita Campground accepts reservations during the peak season March 1–October 31. The campground has spacious sites for all types of RVs as well as a dump station and potable water. The area is remote with no cell service, so come prepared and be ready to unplug. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is not only the most iconic park in Utah but one of the most famous national parks in the country. The park is home to the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. The natural arches and giant rock formations provide amazing views. Stop by the viewpoint overlooking the famous Delicate Arch or take the 3-mile hike to see the arch up close.

As a relatively compact national park, Arches does not have the acreage of some of the other national parks for guests to spread out. As a result, a timed program is in place to manage the crowds that the park sees between April and October. For additional information refer to 10 National Parks That Require Early Reservations for 2024 Visits.

There is one campground located in the park, Devils Garden Campground. Due to the park’s popularity, reservations are essential if you want a spot. There are numerous full-service RV parks in the Moab area and BLM land for boondocking just a short drive from the park entrance.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands National Park is about an hour’s drive from Moab. The park is divided into four districts; the Island In The Sky District is the most popular and the easiest to access. The Needles District is located in the southeastern part of the park with scenic hiking trails, a campground, and a visitor center. The Maze is the most remote district in the park. Those visiting the Maze will need to be completely self-sufficient as there are no services available. Lastly, the Rivers District provides access to the Colorado and Green Rivers which carve the park’s massive canyons.

One of the best known highlights in the park is the Mesa Arch. This iconic rock formation is located in the Island In The Sky District just off Grand View Point Road. The arch is easy to access from the trailhead at just a half-mile walk with minimal elevation gain.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah State Parks

While the Mighty Five National Parks get all the attention, there are several Utah State Parks with equally impressive views. Some notable parks include:

  • Dead Horse Point State Park is just a short drive from Moab and Canyonlands National Park. The park also has two RV campgrounds along with hiking trails and beautiful canyon views.
  • Deer Creek State Park sits about an hour away from Salt Lake City on the shores of Deer Creek Reservoir. The park has great views of the Wasatch Mountains, a campground with waterfront sites, and opportunities for fishing and boating. 
  • Goblin Valley State Park located about an hour from Capitol Reef has hiking trails, unique rock formations, as well as an RV-friendly campground with about 23 sites.
  • Jordanelle State Park makes a great home base just 40 minutes from Salt Lake City. The park is located on the shores of Jordanelle Reservoir and offers several activities like hiking, biking, swimming, boating, and fishing.
  • Rockport State Park is also just 40 minutes away from Salt Lake City on the shores of Rockport Reservoir. The park has five developed campgrounds with both RV and tent sites available. 
  • Utah Lake State Park is Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 square miles. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and jet skiing.  Anglers will find channel catfish, walleye, white bass, black bass, and several species of panfish.
  • Located just 15 miles east of St. George, Sand Hollow State Park offers a wide range of recreation opportunities. With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, it is one of the most popular parks because it has so much to offer. Boat and fish on Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV, or tent camp in the modern campground.
Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping near Salt Lake City

There are numerous campgrounds and RV parks to choose from in the Salt Lake City area.

This includes Salt Lake City KOA Holiday, Sun Outdoors Salt Lake City (formerly Pony Express RV Resort), nearby state parks, forest campgrounds, and private RV parks like the highly rated Mountain Valley RV Resort in Heber City.   

Camping on the Great Salt Lake

If you’re camping in Salt Lake City, you’ll be close to all kinds of attractions, restaurants, and businesses. However, if you want to camp even closer to the Great Salt Lake, there are a few state park campgrounds that will put you just a stone’s throw from the beach.

Antelope Island is the largest island on the Great Salt Lake. The island is preserved as a state park with a few RV-friendly campgrounds, beach access, and several hiking trails that overlook the lake.

Great Salt Lake State Park also has a campground open year-round. The campground can accommodate RVs up to 40 feet in length. The sites include water and electricity and have access to the park’s dump station. The park additionally offers boat slips and public viewpoints overlooking the lake.

Camping on Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Powell camping

Lake Powell is located in Southern Utah and stretches into Northern Arizona. It is located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area as part of the Colorado River. There are several RV campgrounds in the area including NPS-managed campgrounds and privately operated parks that provide spacious RV campsites and access to the river for activities.

Bullfrog RV & Campground is operated by Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas on the north end of Lake Powell. The campground has spacious tent and RV sites with full hookups and concrete pads. They have a camp store as well as a dump station, potable water, and a launch ramp.

Camping near Moab

Moab is a prime destination in Eastern Utah for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to its close proximity to the iconic Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and several other parks and trails.

The city has a wide variety of restaurants, guided tours are available, and there are numerous RV camping accommodations to choose from. One of the best options in the area is Moab Valley RV Resort with spacious RV sites, tiny home rentals, and all the amenities needed for a comfortable stay.

Boondocking in Utah

Did you know that nearly 42 percent of Utah is public land? According to the BLM, the bureau manages over 22.9 million acres of public land in the state. This provides endless opportunities for RVers to go boondocking off the grid away from the crowded campgrounds.

Plan your Utah camping trip

Camping in Utah is a great adventure to experience in your RV. For more tips check out these blog posts:

Worth Pondering…

…the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth—there is nothing else like it anywhere.

—Edward Abbey, American author and former ranger at Arches National Park, on Canyonlands

The Best National Parks to Visit by Season

Best season to visit each national park

When planning a trip to the national parks one of the most important things to consider is the time of year that you are planning your visit. Most national parks have an optimal time to visit based on factors such as weather, crowd levels, and road closures.

In this article, I cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by two lists that illustrate the best months to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to visit the National Parks by month

Below is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year. Each national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times.

These guides take many factors into consideration: weather, crowd levels, special events, fall colors, the best time to go hiking, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at least one occasion.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best National Parks to visit by month:

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Complete list of the National Parks

This guide covers the best time to visit each national park based on weather, crowd levels, and my personal experiences in the parks. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month by month. I list each of the national parks we have visited in alphabetical order and indicate the best months to visit each of these parks.

This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels.

There are two different ways to use these tables.

If you have a particular month or season that you are planning your trip, you can look at that column (for example: May) and the parks that are listed for that month make great options for your trip.

If you have a park that you would like to visit (for example, Bryce Canyon National Park), scroll down to Bryce Canyon and the months listed are the best times to visit this park.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best parks to visit by month

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to visit national parks by month

  • Arches National Park (Utah): January, March, November, December
  • Badlands National Park (South Dakota): April, October
  • Big Bend National Park (Texas): March, April, November
  • Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah): March, April, November
  • Canyonlands National Park (Utah): March, April, November, December
  • Capitol Reef National Park (Utah): March, April, November, December
  • Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico): February, July, August, September
  • Congaree National Park (South Carolina): March, May, November
  • Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): January, April, June, November, December
  • Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina & Tennessee): May, September, October
  • Joshua Tree National Park (California): January, February, November
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park (California): June, July, August
  • Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado): May, September
  • New River Gorge National Park (West Virginia): June, October
  • Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona): February, April, November
  • Pinnacles National Park (California): March, April, November
  • Saguaro National Park (Arizona): January, February, May
  • Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks (California): June, July, August
  • Shenandoah National Park (Virginia): May, September, October
  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota): June, July, September, October
  • White Sands National Park (New Mexico): February, March, November
  • Zion National Park (Utah): January, October, November, December

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock

Utah’s Most Visited Park in 2023 Wasn’t One of the Mighty 5

Visitation to Utah’s Mighty 5 appears to be stabilizing after a rapid decline in 2020 and an uptick in 2021 tied to the pandemic. But one other park in the state bucked all the trends last year.

A little more than 10.6 million people visited Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion National Parks in 2023 representing an increase of nearly 1 percent from the previous year per recently updated National Park Service (NPS) visitation data. Last year’s total also finished slightly below the 10.7 million visitors recorded in 2019.

Three of the five national parks did experience year-over-year growth though none of the parks broke any visitation records like what happened at four of the five parks in 2021. A record 11.3 million visited the park during a revenge travel surge as pandemic-era restrictions were lifted, a 45 percent increase from figures posted in 2020.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimately, Glen Canyon National Recreational Area located along the Utah-Arizona border led in visitation among all NPS entities in Utah last year bringing in a record 5.2 million visitors. Its visitation surged by a whopping 83 percent over 2022 visitation figures and it bested Zion National Park’s total by close to 600,000 visitors.

Some people say that Lake Powell offers some of the finest water recreation opportunities available. Lake Powell is the second largest man-made lake in the United States and visitors can bring their watercraft or choose to rent houseboats, personal watercraft, powerboats, kayaks, and other water toys.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Behind the 2023 trends

Glen Canyon which includes Lake Powell previously hit a record high of 4.5 million in 2017 but it failed to reach 4 million after 2019 between a mix of the COVID-19 pandemic and Lake Powell’s record-low water levels amid an ongoing drought.

Its popularity surge is likely a byproduct of record snowpack levels that helped the reservoir gain dozens of feet in elevation over the spring and summer last year. Its rise allowed more boat ramps to reopen.

Encompassing over 1.25 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based and backcountry recreation. The recreation area stretches for hundreds of miles from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah encompassing scenic vistas, geologic wonders, and a vast panorama of human history.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area was established on October 27, 1972, to provide opportunities to explore and enjoy Lake Powell and surrounding lands stretching from Northern Arizona through Southern Utah.

Tucked among the red rocks canyon and mesas on the Colorado Plateau, Glen Canyon’s unique desert region is characterized by expansive areas of exposed and uplifted rocks. Their beauty is carved out by the Colorado River, its several tributaries, powerful wind, and time.

The park preserves a record of more than 10,000 years of human presence, adaptation, and exploration—a story that highlights the connections of people with the landscape.

Wahweap RV Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Best camping sites at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is an ideal place for camping adventures of all kinds. There are tons of nearby hikes, adventurous activities, and sights to see. You’re sure to find the perfect spot for your RV camping adventure.

Campgrounds Operated by NPS

These campgrounds do not take reservations and do not have phone numbers.

Lees Ferry Campground

Camping fee: $20 per site/per night

Designated sites: 54

Details: No hookups, RV dump station, grills provided, modern bathroom/comfort station, potable water available, launch ramp 2 miles, gas and supply store at Marble Canyon about 5 miles away

Lone Rock Beach Primitive Camping Area

Camping fee: $14 per vehicle/per night

Details: Primitive camping is on a sandy beach or in dunes, no designated campsites, open fires permitted (must be within four foot squared area), 4 micro flush toilets, 6 vault toilets, 1 comfort station/wheelchair accessible, outdoor cold shower, Off Road Vehicle area, dump station, potable water (seasonal), and day use area

Stanton Creek Primitive Camping Area

Details: Designated primitive camping areas that are accessible by vehicle and sometimes by vessel as well, no designated sites, no potable water, when pit toilets are unavailable campers must bring portable toilets for use and proper disposal into the sewer system

Beehives Campground

Camping fee: $14 per night

Designated sites: 6

Location: Across the highway from Wahweap South Entrance

Details: Picnic table at each site, no hookups, no dump station, no restrooms, portable toilets required, no campfires or glass containers, 3 night camping limit

Wahweap RV Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Campgrounds Operated by Park Concessioners

Book your campsite through the consessioner.

Wahweap Campground & RV Park

Location: Wahweap developed area

Operated by: Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas

Camping fee: Fees vary

Designated sites: 112 dry campsites (no hook-ups), 90 full hook-ups, and 6 group camping sites Reservations: Visit www.lakepowell.com or call 800-528-6154.

Details: Facilities include restrooms, laundry, showers, store, phones, dump station, and potable water; amphitheater, picnic area, and swim beach nearby

Bullfrog RV & Campground

Location: Bullfrog developed area

Operated by: Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas

Camping fee: Fees vary

Designated sites: 78

Details: Facitities include restroom, phones, dump station, and potable water station; ½ mile to laundry, store, post office, and launch ramp.

Reservations: No reservations

Note: The concessioner also operates a separate RV park with 24 sites, full hook-ups, restrooms, showers, ½ mile to laundry, store, post office, launch ramp; for reservations visit www.lakepowell.com or call 800-528-6154

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Halls Crossing RV & Campground

Location: Ride the ferry located at Bullfrog Marina and Halls Crossing, stop at the Village Store to check-in – and don’t forget to pick up food and beverages while you are there

Details: With Halls Crossing RV Park & Campground, you’re just steps from food, fun, and the Village Store.

Antelope Point RV Park

Designated sites: 104 full hook-up spaces, 15 pull-through spaces

Note: While the Antelope Point RV Park is not physically within the boundaries of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, it is adjacent to the Antelope Point Marina, restaurant, and gift shop

Details: This site is for RVs only, maximum length is 70 feet, 2 RV dump stations

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most recent Utah travel stories

Worth Pondering…

So we have a curious ensemble of wonderful features—carved walls, royal arches, glens, alcove gulches, mounds, and monuments. From which of these features shall we select a name? We decide to call it Glen Canyon.

—John Wesley Powell, 1869 Colorado River Exploration.

The Best National Parks to Visit in March

If you are seeking the best national parks to visit in March, this guide’s for you! It will detail eight beautiful National Parks to visit in March, why you should go to them, and what to expect during this month.

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashores, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

Planning a trip to America’s national parks in March but don’t know which ones to visit? March brings warmer temperatures to most of the US. Travel begins to pick up during this month both because of the warmer weather and because families are hitting the road for spring break. There are many great national parks to visit in March which I cover in this guide plus eight bonus parks and two road trip ideas that links several of these national parks together.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This guide is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information I provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures since these dates are constantly changing. Roads can close in the national parks at any time so I recommend getting updates on the NPS website while planning your trip. 

Visiting the National Parks in March

March is a great month to visit the national parks. With the warmer temperatures and the beginning of spring, the list of parks that you can visit without braving freezing temperatures gets larger. The days are getting longer, flowers start to bloom, and in some parts of the US, trees begin to get their first leaves.

Overall, park visitation still remains low for the year but there are a few hotspots that get busier as people visit the national parks for spring break. Even so, crowds are still quieter than the summer which is the busiest time to visit most national parks.

Best National Parks in March

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Arches National Park

Location: Utah

This small, easy to visit national park is a joy to explore. It’s also the feature photo for this post.

You can see several arches and unique rock formations without ever stepping out of your car. With just a little bit of walking you can visit many of the top sights in Arches National Park such as the Windows and Double Arch. And for those who like hiking don’t miss the Devils Garden Trail, a thrilling hike where you get to see eight arches and hike on a primitive trail.

Why visit Arches in March: March is a great time to visit Arches National Park because the weather is getting warmer and crowds are still relatively low for the year. In 2022, Arches National Park had 142,000 visitors in March. Peak visitation for that year was in May when 172,000 people visited the park. If you want to visit Arches with even lower crowds plan your visit from December through February but be prepared for freezing temperatures.

Weather: In March, the average high is 62°F and the average low is 37°F. Rainfall is very low. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 7:25 pm.

Top experiences: Hike to Delicate Arch, see Balanced Rock and the Fiery Furnace, visit Double Arch, Turret Arch, and Windows Arch, hike Park Avenue.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Devils Garden Trail. To reach Landscape Arch, one of the most iconic arches in the park, it is only 1.6 miles round trip. But for the ultimate adventure, continue past Landscape Arch to Double O Arch and Dark Angel and return on the Primitive Trail.

How much time do you need? One day in Arches is all you need to see the highlights but it will be a very busy day. With two to three days, you can visit the park at a more leisurely pace or go off the beaten path.

Plan your visit

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Canyonlands National Park

Location: Utah

Canyonlands National Park is one of my favorite national parks. Why? The landscapes, the hiking trails, and the off the beaten path experiences make this one of the top parks for those who crave adventure.

Journey below the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa for an unforgettable experience. Drive the twisting Shafer Canyon switchbacks onto the White Rim and then spend a few days driving through remote landscapes. Called the White Rim Road, this is one of the best experiences in the national park system.

You can also explore The Needles, where zebra-striped rocks form one of the most unique hiking destinations in the US.

Why visit Canyonlands in March: Just like Arches, park visitation remains relatively low and the warmer temperatures make March a better time to visit than the winter months. Canyonlands only gets a fraction of the visitors that flood Arches National Park so this park will feel delightfully empty compared to Arches. March is also a good time to drive the White Rim Road since permits are a little easier to get than late spring through early fall.

Weather: The average high is 54°F and the average low is 35°F. Rainfall is low. Even though Canyonlands sits next to Arches National Park it is at a higher elevation so the temperatures are a bit lower here.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 7:25 pm.

Top experiences: Visit the overlooks on Island in the Sky, watch the sunrise at Mesa Arch, go hiking in The Needles, drive Shafer Canyon Road, hike below the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa, and explore The Maze.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Drive or mountain bike the White Rim Road. This is a 100-mile unpaved road that makes a loop around the Island in the Sky mesa. It takes 2 to 3 days to do this drive. It can be done in the winter but snow can close Shafer Canyon Road and cold temperatures will make camping uncomfortable for some people.

How much time do you need? You need at least two full days in Canyonlands National Park. Spend one day in Island in the Sky and one day in the Needles. But even more time is better if you want to venture deeper into the park.

Plan your visit

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Capitol Reef National Park

Location: Utah

Capitol Reef National Park is an underrated gem in the national park system.

This national park is full of many wonderful surprises. With an amazing scenic drive, hiking trails that rival those in Zion, rugged, remote areas to explore by 4×4, short, easy slot canyons, historical landmarks, and even delicious pie, this is another one of my favorite national parks.

Most people drive right through the heart of the park visiting the sights along Highway 24 which are nice. But those who venture farther into the park either on the hiking trails or the backcountry roads are rewarded with incredible views of remote, rugged landscapes.

Why visit Capitol Reef in March: Temperatures are finally getting a bit warmer and crowd visitation is relatively low. You could still have some cold mornings but Capitol Reef warms up nicely during the day and the cooler temperatures make this a great time to go hiking.

Weather: In March, the average high is 57°F and the average low is 34°F. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:40 am and sunset is at 7:30 pm.

Top experiences: Drive the 16-mile round-trip drive along Scenic Drive, drive Capitol Gorge Road, hike to Hickman Bridge, and watch the sunset from Sunset Point, hike to Cassidy Arch, and Loop the Fold.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure, drive the Cathedral Valley Loop. This rugged, remote district of Capitol Reef National Park is one of the best backcountry experiences in the national parks if you like exploring by 4WD.

How much time do you need? Plan to spend three to four days in Capitol Reef. This gives you enough time to explore and hike the trails in the core of the park (along Scenic Drive and Highway 24) and venture into the backcountry, either in Cathedral Valley or by looping the fold.

Plan your visit

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Bryce Canyon National Park

Location: Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is a fantasyland of hoodoos, bizarre rock formations, and sandstone pillars.

This is an extraordinary place to visit and its unique landscape sets it apart from other national parks. Although Bryce Canyon may not have the same sweeping, expansive vistas as the Grand Canyon, it’s still a breathtaking experience the first time you see this view.

Why visit Bryce Canyon in March: For the chance to see Bryce Canyon with a dusting of snow. Temperatures are a bit warmer than January and February but snowfall is a possibility especially at the beginning of the month so you don’t have to brave frigid temps for the chance to see Bryce Canyon covered in snow.

Weather: In March, the average high is 46°F and the average low is 23°F. There is a good chance of snow and on average Bryce Canyon receives about 13 inches of snow in March. Bryce Canyon has the highest elevation of the parks in Utah’s Mighty 5 making this the coolest one to visit (pun intended).

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:40 am and sunset is at 7:35 pm.

Top experiences: Some of the best viewpoints are right along the rim which is easily accessible by car or the shuttle (mid-April to mid-September): Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point. Hike the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop, a 3-mile hike past some of the best scenery in the park. Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point are also nice viewpoints.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Fairyland Loop Trail, an 8-mile strenuous hike.

How much time do you need? One day is all you need to see the views from the rim and hike one to two short trails in the park. I recommend another day or two for additional time to hike into the canyon. You won’t regret it.

Plan your visit

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Pinnacles National Park

Location: California

Pinnacles National Park preserves and protects the mountains on the eastern end of Salinas Valley. These mountains are the remnants of an extinct volcano. The rocky pinnacles are a popular rock climbing destination and wildflowers in the spring draw the biggest crowds of the year. This park is also one of the few locations where you can spot the California condor in the wild.

This is one of the newest national parks (it became a national park in 2013) and least visited national parks (it was the 15th least visited park in 2022 with 275,023 visitors).

Why visit Pinnacles in March: March through May is the peak blooming season for the flowers in Pinnacles National Park. 

Weather: The average high is 68°F and the average low is 38°F. March is the end of the rainy season getting about 3 inches of rain during this month.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 7:12 pm.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: See the wildflowers in the spring, hike the High Peaks Loop, hike the Bear Gulch Cave Trail, explore the Balconies cave, spot California condors, enjoy the view from Condor Gulch Overlook, and go rock climbing.

How much time do you need? Pinnacles National Park can be visited in one busy day but for the best experience spend two days here which gives you enough time to visit both sections of the park.

Plan your visit

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Big Bend National Park

Location: Texas

Isolated, remote, wild, and rugged…this is Big Bend National Park.

Located in the southwestern corner of Texas within the Chihuahuan Desert is an extraordinary mountain range that is a haven for hikers, backpackers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

This is one of the most remote parks in the lower 48 states so crowd levels tend to be low all year. Even when it is at its busiest, Big Bend feels rather quiet.

Why visit Big Bend in March: We visited Big Bend in March and had a great experience. The weather was warm and in early March, crowds are low. The second and third weeks in March get busy because this is when Texans go on spring break. If you can, plan your visit for the first week in March to take advantage of great weather and low crowds.

Weather: The average high is 74°F and the average low is 47°F. Rainfall is very low especially this time of year. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 8 am and sunset is at 8 pm.

Top experiences: Hike the Lost Mine Trail, go star gazing, hike Santa Elena Canyon, go for a drive on Maxwell Scenic Drive, visit Boquillas del Carmen, hike to Balanced Rock, and hike to Emory Peak, the highest peak in the Chisos Mountains.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate Adventure: For the ultimate adventure in Big Bend go on a half-day to multi-day canoeing trip on the Rio Grande.

How much time do you need? Spend at least three to four days in the park. Because of its large size and remote location, it takes a while to get here and you need a few days to explore it, so four days should work for most people.

Plan your visit

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Congaree National Park

Location: South Carolina

Congaree National Park protects the oldest old-growth bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States.

This is one of the smallest, least visited national parks in the United States (it was the 12th least visited park in 2022 with 204,522 visitors). A visit here is quick and easy to plan.

Walk the boardwalk trail through the forest, go kayaking or canoeing on Cedar Creek, go birdwatching and fishing, and, if you like, venture farther into the park on a number of other woodland trails.

Why visit Congaree in March: This is a good time to visit Congaree because it’s warm and mosquitoes aren’t too much of an issue (the worst time for mosquitoes is from late spring through summer). March is one of the wetter months to visit Congaree so there is also a good chance that you will see some flooding in the forests which is a very unique sight to see (the peak time for flooding is the winter months).

Weather: In March, the average high is 68°F and the average low is 43°F. Rainfall is above average for the year with park getting about 4 inches of rain this month.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 7:30 pm.

Top experiences: Walk the Boardwalk Loop Trail, go canoeing or kayaking on Cedar Creek, hike the Weston Loop Trail, and hike to the General Greene Tree.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure go on a multi-day canoe trip on the Congaree River.

How much time do you need? One day in Congaree is all you need to see the highlights. Walk the boardwalk trails and go for a canoe trip on Cedar Creek.

Plan your visit

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. White Sands National Park

Location: New Mexico

White Sands is a small, easy, fun park to visit. This national park protects the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Sledding on the dunes is one of the best things to do here but you can also hike out farther into the dunes on several different hiking trails or take a ranger-guided tour.

Why visit White Sands in March: White Sands is one of the warmer national parks to visit in March and with temperatures in the low 70s the weather is great for hiking and exploring. We visited White Sands in March and had a wonderful experience. It’s cool enough to do a long hike without getting hot and the mild midday temperatures make this a great time to spend all day on the dunes. Just be aware that March is the busiest month to visit the park.

Weather: In March, the average high is 71°F and the average low is 33°F. This is one of the driest months to visit the park.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 7:15 pm.

Top experiences: Drive Dunes Drive, go sledding in the gypsum dunes, walk the Dune Life Nature Trail, take a ranger-guided hike, and go backcountry tent camping. 

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Alkali Flat Trail. This trail makes a 4.5-mile loop through the gypsum dunefield. It’s the longest, toughest hike in the park but your treat is stunning views of untouched dunes.

How much time do you need? For the best experience, plan on spending one full day in White Sands National Park. Hike the Alkali Flat Trail first thing in the morning, before the crowds arrive and the temperatures climb. Midday, go sledding on the dunes and have a picnic lunch. You can also do one of the shorter hiking trails. At the end of the day, take the ranger-guided Sunset Stroll.

Plan your visit

4 more parks to visit in March

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

I would have included Zion as a top pick for March since the weather is gorgeous this time of year, but, and this is a big but, crowd levels skyrocket in March. In 2022, about 170,000 people visited Zion in February. In March, that number grew to 446,000 people. And that wasn’t even the highest month for visitation…June was a busier month with 570,000 visitors! 

The trend for traffic to jump from February to March is not unique to 2022. This has been occurring for the last 20 years.

If you plan to do a Mighty 5 road trip in March (it’s a great one!) you can include Zion, just be prepared for large crowds.

Grand Canyon National Park

In March, temperatures are beginning to warm up and with that the Grand Canyon begins to draw more crowds. Even though visitation picks up in March, it’s still a lot quieter to visit the park now than during the busy summer months.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

The weather is pretty much perfect in Saguaro in March with daily highs of 75°F and low rainfall. But this is the by far busiest month of the year to visit the park so keep that in mind while planning your visit.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Like Saguaro, March is the busiest month to visit Carlsbad Caverns. But the weather is pleasant and this is a great time for a Texas-New Mexico road trip so if you also have plans to visit Guadalupe Mountains, White Sands, and/or Big Bend, it is worth including Carlsbad Caverns in your travel plans.

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in March

Chiricahua National Monument

The most noticeable natural features in the park are the rhyolite rock pinnacles for which the monument was created to protect. Rising sometimes hundreds of feet into the air, many of these pinnacles are balancing on a small base, seemingly ready to topple over at any time.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Carved into a cliff 1,500 feet above the ground and featuring more than 20 rooms constructed in multiple stories, it’s a remarkably example of Sinaguan architecture. Today a short trail takes you to a viewing spot below the ruins, and museum exhibits help you imagine what life was like in this unforgiving desert landscape.

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot is an ancient village or pueblo built by the Sinagua. The pueblo consisted of 110 rooms including second and third story structures. The first buildings were built around A.D. 1000. The Sinagua were agriculturalists with trade connections that spanned hundreds of miles. The people left the area around 1400.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

You can see many of Canyon de Chelly’s top sights from the rim roads but you’ll get a deeper understanding of its significance on a jeep tour with a Navajo guide. The only self-guided hike, the White House Trail, zigzags 600 feet down (and back up) to the spectacular White House ruins. Don’t miss the staggeringly tall spire known as Spider Rock; it rises 830 feet from the canyon floor.

March road trip ideas

Here are two great road trip ideas for March. The best time for both of these is in early March to avoid spring break traffic. If you are planning your visit for spring break, make your reservations well in advance because this can be a busy time to visit some of these national parks.

Texas & New Mexico

Combine Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, and White Sands into one big road trip. Start in Las Cruces, New Mexico or El Paso, Texas and drive this loop.

Utah’s Mighty 5

Visiting all of Utah’s Mighty 5 (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks) is one of America’s best road trips. To do this, you need 10 days or more.

Saguaro

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock

A Guide to Utah’s Public Lands

Two-thirds of Utah is public land managed by federal agencies

An abundance of public lands helps make Utah a great place for an RV road trip with plenty of beautiful places to roam free of No Trespassing signs in every corner of the Beehive State.

Federal agencies manage two-thirds of the state for various uses, from wilderness preservation to strip mining to weapons testing. With 42 percent of Utah’s land under its umbrella, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controls the lion’s share of public land (22.8 million acres) followed by the U.S. Forest Service (8.15 million acres) and National Park Service (NPS)  with smaller pieces held by the Department of Defense, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Reclamation.

All that public land leaves plenty of things to fight over. Conservative rural leaders want to see these lands moved from federal to state control to make them more available for mining, drilling, and livestock. Others believe more of this land should be managed for recreation and to preserve their natural values.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah is best known for its Mighty 5 national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef all enshrining specific elements of southern Utah’s red rock geological wonders. Other big landscapes enjoying special protection are Bears Ears National Monument, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and the San Rafael Swell but southern Utah has several lesser destinations including numerous state parks established on former federal land.

Among the amazing resources embedded in these landscapes both protected and unprotected are vast troves of dinosaur fossils and artifacts that continue to shed light on worlds lost to time. Ancient Native Americans left a rich record of rock art, dwellings, and cultural items in places like Nine Mile Canyon, San Rafael Swell, and Bears Ears.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping and hiking

Rules are tighter for national parks than they are for other pieces of public land. In a place like Arches, for example, hikers are not supposed to veer off-trail, and activities like climbing and canyoneering require permits. The rules are different depending on which national park you’re at so reading over the regulations before going is a good rule of thumb.

Rules on other public lands like those owned by the BLM are not as strict. If you want to spend a night on BLM land, you have options. There are numerous developed campgrounds on Utah’s BLM lands which typically require a fee to maintain those facilities.

However, if you want to rough it a little you can also try dispersed camping away from developed areas—this means camping in places with no services like trash removal, toilets, or running water. Many dispersed camping sites may have a fire ring but others may not be marked at all. Typically these sites are along secondary roads and dispersed campers should camp on bare soil and stay at least 100 feet away from water sources.

Regardless of the type of public land you’re at you should follow some some basic rules. For example, anyone on public land should expect to minimize their impact on the environment like disposing of any waste or trash properly. Another good rule of thumb is don’t approach wildlife. It may make for a cool photo but things like feeding a chipmunk or approaching a bison can either harm the environment or cause harm to yourself depending on the situation.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mighty 5 national parks

If you do decide to head to one of Utah’s Mighty 5 you’ll have to pay a fee to enter but you have a few options. For a short-term visit, you can buy a standard entrance pass at the gate of any national park in Utah which will change from park to park. If you’re trying to visit busier places like Arches you’ll need to register to get in as part of the timed entry systems.

If you want to make more frequent visits to national parks or national monuments an annual pass is your best option. An annual pass that covers day-use fees for national parks and other public lands is $80 for a year. Veterans and seniors can get free or discounted passes. Passes can be purchased online or at national parks.

There are also dozens of state parks throughout Utah which range from Bear Lake to the north to Sand Hollow to the south. As with national parks, you’ll need to pay for a day-use pass or an annual pass. Passes can be purchased online or in person at state parks.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skiing

Closer to Utah’s population centers are national forests that hum year-round with outdoor recreation. Home to the Cottonwood canyons outside Salt Lake City, the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache (UWC) National Forest encompasses five major ski areas and abuts at least four others that operate on private land.

Utah has a total of 15 ski resorts. Beaver Mountain and Cherry Peak are located just outside Logan. The Ogden area has three resorts: Snowbasin, Powder Mountain, and Nordic Valley. Around Park City, a legendary ski destination, the resorts are Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, and Woodward.

Resorts near Salt Lake are found in two areas: Big and Little Cottonwood canyons. Big Cottonwood is home to Brighton and Solitude while Little Cottonwood has Snowbird and Alta. The Provo area has Sundance. Southern Utah has the final two resorts: Brian Head and Eagle Point.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Local leaders chafe against federal control

Because public land cannot be taxed, the federal government awards counties millions of dollars every year under the Payment instead of Taxes (PILT) program according to the amount of public land within their borders. Last year, Utah counties received a record $43.5 million in PILT money but state leaders say they are still getting short-changed.

To raise money for public schools, the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) oversees 3.4 million acres of state land largely in the form of square-mile sections scattered around a sea of BLM land. Some of this land is the subject of complicated swaps with the federal government to remove SITLA holdings inside protected landscapes such as Bears Ears and the San Rafael Swell in exchange for federal land in less sensitive areas.

In 2012, the Utah Legislature passed a law ordering the federal government to hand 31 million acres of mostly BLM land to the state. A decade later, not much has come of the state’s demands although an economic analysis committed by Utah officials concluded the state would likely spend more administering these lands than it would reap in revenues absent a massive run-up in oil and gas production.

However the controversy persists with numerous lawsuits seeking to advance greater state control over public land within Utah. The most significant is Utah’s effort to invalidate President Joe Biden’s 2021 order restoring the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase monuments which President Donald Trump had reduced by a combined 2 million acres.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Growing interest

Today, visitors are flocking to Utah’s public lands in such great numbers to the point that it is overwhelming the federal agencies. The state’s 13 national park units saw 11 million visitors a year while its 44 state parks also drew nearly 11 million.

But it wasn’t just parks that were popular destinations. Hit particularly hard are the Wasatch Mountains where skiers, mountain bikers, and hikers explore Little and Big Cottonwood, American Fork, Mill Creek, and many other canyons resulting in traffic jams and overcrowding on trails.

Proposed solutions include a gondola up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta, tolls on drivers, and recreation fees collected at developed sites.

Quail Gate State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why we LOVE Utah

If you have never been to Utah, make sure and put it on your list of places to visit! We fell in LOVE with Utah for so many reasons. Number one is all of the National Parks in the state like Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. But also so many state parks and the beautiful Scenic Byway 12. The scenery is constantly changing and each place has its unique beauty. From high in the mountains with aspens and cooler temps to down in the canyons or red or white rock faces and warmer temps. Utah is an adventurers’ paradise!

That’s why I wrote these five articles:

Worth Pondering…

As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, “Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.”

—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

The Best National Parks to Visit in January

If you are seeking the best national parks to visit in January, this guide’s for you! It will detail five beautiful National Parks to visit in January, why you should go to them, and what to expect during this winter month.

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or at lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashores, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this article.

Planning a trip to the US national parks in January but don’t know which ones to visit? In January, much of the country is cold and covered in snow but there are plenty of parks you can visit to escape the wintry conditions. In this article, I cover the five best national parks to visit in January plus several bonus parks.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This guide is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information I provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures since these dates are constantly changing. Roads can close in the national parks at any time so I recommend getting updates on the NPS website while planning your trip. 

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in January

Despite cold temperatures and snow along much of the northern half of the United States, January is still a wonderful month to visit the national parks.

January has one of the lowest numbers for park visitation for the entire year. Many people just took time off for the winter holidays so travel is light in January.

On this list, most of these parks are geared towards escaping the cold weather and visiting some warmer, less snow covered destinations in the US.

Best National Parks to visit in January

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Saguaro National Park

Location: Arizona

This national park is named for the Saguaro Cactus which only grows in the Sonoran Desert.

Saguaro National Park is located in southern Arizona. Temperatures in January are relatively warm making this a great time to visit this park.

The national park is divided into two sections. The Tuscon Mountain District which is located to the west of Tucson has the denser population of cacti and it is the more popular area of the park to visit. To the east is the Rincon Mountain District. You won’t see quite as many cacti here but the mountains form a nice backdrop for photography.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Saguaro in January: This is one of the warmest parks to visit in January. And if you are planning a January road trip, a visit here can be combined with the Grand Canyon, another park that makes our best national parks in January list. However, January is one of the busiest months of the year to visit Saguaro National Park so expect some crowds on the hiking trails and scenic drives.

Weather: In January, the average high is 66°F and the average low is 40ºF. Rainfall chances are very low. 

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:20 am and sunset is at 5:40 pm.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top experiences: Drive Bajada Loop Drive and hike the Valley View Overlook Trail and the Desert Discovery Nature Trail, see the Signal Hill Petroglyphs, and drive the Cactus Forest Drive. Just outside of the park (Tuscon Mountain District) is the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum which is worthy of a visit.

How much time do you need? You will need two days to see the highlights of Saguaro National Park; one for each unit. With more time, you can go backpacking or hike the longer, more challenging hiking trails and visit the above mentioned Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum.

Plan your visit

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Zion National Park

Location: Utah

Angels Landing and the Zion Narrows are two bucket-list worthy hikes that attract thousands of visitors every year. Angels Landing is one of the most popular destinations in Zion. Everyone who hikes Angels Landing requires a permit. You also need a permit to hike the Narrows from the Temple of Sinawava going upstream in the Virgin River. Since high water may prevent travel in the Narrows, check the park’s current conditions before you start your day.

But there are also numerous short, family-friendly hikes to choose from as well as multi-day backpacking adventures and hikes that require canyoneering experience.

In 2022, Zion National Park was the second most visited park in the U.S. with more than 4.6 million visitors. Crowds are huge from early spring through fall so for the best experience I recommend visiting during the off season.

January is the month with the fewest numbers of visitors to Zion. So, if you want to hike the trails with low crowds, January is the best time to go.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Zion in January: To avoid the crowds. This is the quietest month to visit the park in terms of visitation. You can even drive your car on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive since the park shuttle does not operate at this time.

Weather: The average high is 54°F and the average low is 30°F so Zion is chilly in January. There is a small chance of snow…but wouldn’t it be beautiful to see Zion with a light dusting of snow?

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:45 am and sunset is at 5:40 pm which gives you 10 hours of daylight. That’s plenty of time to hike a trail or two. Plus, you can stick around for sunset and then have a nice dinner in Springdale.

Top experiences: Hike Angels Landing, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Riverside Trail, Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Canyon Overlook. One of the best experiences in the park is hiking the Zion Narrows.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: In January, you can hike the Zion Narrows from the bottom-up, just be aware that water temperatures are going to be very cold at this time.

How much time do you need? If you like to hike, plan to spend at least 3 to 4 days in Zion National Park. You can do three big hikes (one each morning) or use two of the days for a multi-day backpacking adventure. This also gives you time to explore Kolob Canyons at the northern section of the park.

Plan your visit

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Arches National Park

Location: Utah

Just like Zion, January is the quietest month of the year to visit Arches National Park. This is a good thing because Arches is another extremely popular park to visit in the US with over 1.4 million visitors in 2022.

Arches National Park is a beautiful wonderland of arches, rock formations, and short hiking trails. Not only will you find over 2,000 arches here but you will also see hoodoos, fins of sandstone rocks, massive mesas, and balanced rocks.

You can see the highlights of the park right from your car or by taking short hikes but for those who want to venture deeper into the park there are several very cool hikes to choose from.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Arches in January: To take advantage of lower crowd levels. In January 2022, about 40,000 people visited Arches in January. Two months later, in March, that number rose to 140,000. June saw the most visitors hitting 170,000 people in just that month.
For some people braving chilly temperatures could be worth it to visit the park with just a fraction of the people who visit later in the year.

Weather: The weather is a little bit cooler in Arches than Zion in January. The average high is 42°F and the average low is 22°F. There is a chance a few inches of snow can fall in January.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 5:20 pm.

Top experiences: Hike to Delicate Arch, see Balanced Rock and the Fiery Furnace, visit Double Arch, Turret Arch, and Windows Arch, hike Park Avenue.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Hike the Devils Garden Trail. To reach Landscape Arch, one of the most iconic arches in the park it is only 1.6 miles round trip. But for the ultimate adventure, continue past Landscape Arch to Double O Arch and Dark Angel and return on the Primitive Trail.

How much time do you need? One day in Arches is all you need to see the highlights but it will be a very busy day. With two to three days, you can visit the park at a more leisurely pace or go off the beaten path.

Plan your visit

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Grand Canyon National Park

Location: Arizona

Words and photos cannot accurately describe what it is like to look out across the Grand Canyon for the first time. This is a place that needs to be seen in person to truly appreciate the immense beauty of this place.

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited parks in the US. The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In the Grand Canyon, there are several rims to visit. The South Rim with its overlooks and hiking trails is the most popular to visit and the views from here are some of the best. Most visitors spend their time on the South Rim when they visit the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit the Grand Canyon in January: The Grand Canyon is busy all year but January and February are the quietest months to visit this national park (July typically gets the most visitors). January is also the coldest month of the year to visit the Grand Canyon so keep that in mind. Even though it is located in Arizona, the South Rim is at a high elevation and this keeps temperatures lower than places like Saguaro National Park and Phoenix. But if you want to visit the Grand Canyon with low crowds, January is one of the best months to go. 

Weather: The average high is only 44°F and the average low is 20°F. Snow is also a possibility this time of year.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 5:30 pm.

Top experiences: Visit the South Rim viewpoints, watch the sunrise and/or sunset, hike below the rim on the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail, and take a flightseeing tour by airplane or helicopter.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: In the winter, hike the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails as one big loop. This is a big day hike and only those who are very fit with lots of hiking experience should attempt it.

How many days do you need? I recommend spending three to four days on the South Rim to visit the highlights. Four days gives you enough time to visit the best overlooks on the South Rim, go on a helicopter ride, and spend some time hiking below the rim.

Plan your visit

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Joshua Tree National Park

Location: California

With its desert scenery, hiking trails, rock climbing routes, hidden oases, scenic drives, and trees that look like they have been plucked from the pages of a Dr. Seuss book, Joshua Tree National Park is a joy to explore.

Hike the Arch Rock Trail, learn about the plants that thrive in the Mojave Desert on the Cap Rock Nature Trail, see Skull Rock, and go hiking in Hidden Valley. A favorite experience is hiking the Hall of Horrors and searching for the hidden slot canyon.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Joshua Tree National Park in January: This national park is located in southern California so even in January, temperatures are relatively warm. Park visitation tends to be high from November through April but crowds thin out just a little bit in January making this month a great time to visit if you want mild temperatures and slightly lower crowds. You can also combine a visit to Joshua Tree with Palm Springs, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Julian, and/or San Diego (more great spots to visit in the winter).

Weather: The average high is 60°F and the average low is 35°F.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 5:20 pm.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Top Experiences: Hike the Hall of Horrors, see Skull Rock, explore Hidden Valley, hike to an oasis, hike to Arch Rock and Heart Rock, drive Geology Tour Road, visit the Cholla Cactus Garden, and go stargazing.

How much time do you need? Ideally, you need at least two full days in Joshua Tree National Park. This gives you enough time to visit the highlights, go rock climbing or take a lesson, hike a few trails, and go on the scenic drives.

Plan your visit

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2 more National Parks to visit in January

Here are two more great national parks to visit in January. Cooler temperatures in these parks kept them off the main list above but they still make excellent wintertime destinations.

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park is located in Utah not far from Zion and Arches (mentioned above). This park tends to be colder with the average high just getting up to 40°F and the average low at 20°F. Snow is likely this time of year. But if you are planning a Utah’s Mighty 5 road trip, Capitol Reef is worth the visit even in January but bring plenty of warm clothes.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Just like Capitol Reef, Canyonlands National Park was left off of the main list above because it is cold in January. It’s actually a few degrees colder in Canyonlands than Capitol Reef and snowfall is higher (Canyonlands on average receives 6 inches of snow in January). But if you have plans to visit Arches, Canyonlands is just a short drive away and worth it if you have the time.

Bonus! 3 NPS sites to visit in January

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiricahua National Monument

The most noticeable natural features in the park are the rhyolite rock pinnacles for which the monument was created to protect. Rising sometimes hundreds of feet into the air, many of these pinnacles are balancing on a small base, seemingly ready to topple over at any time.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

The Hohokam people built these structures when they were near the height of their power some 700 years ago. They created villages that extended from the site of modern-day Phoenix to southern Arizona.

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month:

January: Best National Parks to Visit in January
February: Best National Parks to Visit in February
March: Best National Parks to Visit in March
April: Best National Parks to Visit in April
May: Best National Parks to Visit in May
June: Best National Parks to Visit in June
July: Best National Parks to Visit in July
August: Best National Parks to Visit in August
September: Best National Parks to Visit in September
October: Best National Parks to Visit in October
November: Best National Parks to Visit in November
December: Best National Parks to Visit in December

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock

The Best National Parks to Visit in December

Wondering where to travel in December? Why not opt for a nature getaway and visit one of America’s National Parks in December!

The national parks are a treasure—beautiful, wild, and full of wonders to see. But there’s more to experience than taking in gorgeous scenery from your vehicle or at lookout points. National parks are natural playgrounds, full of possible adventures.

The most famous offerings of the National Park Service (NPS) are the 63 national parks including ArchesGreat Smoky Mountains, and Grand Canyon. But there are 424 NPS units across the country that also includes national monuments, national seashores, national recreation areas, national battlefields, and national memorials. These sites are outside the main focus of this guide.

Which are the best national parks to visit in December? In this guide, I list five beautiful national parks plus six bonus parks and a road trip. Whether you are planning a family getaway during Christmas break or a vacation before the holiday season rolls around, I have lots of great ideas for you.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

This article is part of a series about the best national parks to visit each month. In this series, every national park is listed at least once and many are listed multiple times. It is a series of 12 articles, one for each month of the year.

These articles take into account weather, crowd levels, the best time to go hiking, special events, road closures, and my personal experiences in the parks. Based on these factors, I picked out what I think are the optimal times to visit each park. Since I haven’t been to all of the national parks I include only the parks we have visited on at lease one occasion.

For an overview of the best time to visit each national park, check out my Best National Parks by Season guide. This guide will cover the best time to visit each national park based on these factors. First are the links to my posts about the best parks to visit, month-by-month. This is followed by a list that illustrates the best time to visit each national park based on weather and crowd levels. Please note this overview will be posted following the completion of this 12 month guide in February 2024.

And at the end of this article, I have links to the other guides in my Best National Parks by Month series.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in December

December is a unique month to visit the national parks. The month starts out quiet. Many people are shopping, decorating, and getting ready for the upcoming holidays at the end of the month. This makes early December a very quiet time to visit the national parks.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is a very popular time for people to travel and the national parks get a big spike in visitors. It’s one of the biggest travel weeks of the year. It can be considerably more expensive to travel the last week of December than the first week of December and camping reservations are difficult to find.

If you have flexibility for your travel dates it’s best to plan your trip for early December or wait until January.

Another thing to note is that in December, the days are the shortest of the year. In some places you may have less than eight hours of daylight. If you are planning long day trips or long, busy days in the national parks keep in mind that by 4:30 pm it could be getting dark giving you very limited sightseeing time. I provide the sunrise and sunset times for each park, a very important detail to note this time of year.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information I provide for each national park does not include temporary road closures since these dates are constantly changing. Since roads can close in the national parks at any time, I recommend getting updates on the NPS website while planning your trip. 

Best National Parks in December

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Zion National Park

Location: Utah

If you have been reading these guides, you might notice by now that I recommend Zion primarily for the shoulder-season months (late fall through very early spring). Zion National Park is the third most popular national parks in the US with over 4.6 milluin visitors in 2022 so for the best experience I recommend it for the months when crowds are at their lowest.

In December, the weather is chilly in Zion but there are several advantages to visiting the park at this time.

Early in the month, not only are crowds lower but you can also drive on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in your own car. For most of the year, private vehicles are not permitted on this road. December, January, and February are the three months that you can drive on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (with the exception of the period between Christmas and New Year’s).

Since visitation is low, scoring a permit to hike Angels Landing is also easier.

For those of you who want to visit the park when it is the least crowded early to mid-December is a great time as is January.

Angels Landing and the Zion Narrows are two bucket-list worthy hikes that attract thousands of visitors every year. Angels Landing is one of the most popular destinations in Zion. Everyone who hikes Angels Landing requires a permit. You also need a permit to hike the Narrows from the Temple of Sinawava going upstream in the Virgin River. Since high water may prevent travel in the Narrows, check the park’s current conditions before you start your day.

But there are also numerous short, family-friendly hikes to choose from as well as multi-day backpacking adventures and hikes that require canyoneering experience.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Zion in December: To avoid the crowds. Early December is one of the quietest times to visit the park in terms of visitation (but crowds skyrocket between Christmas and New Year’s). You can even drive your car on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive since the park shuttle does not operate at this time (except for the week between Christmas and New Year’s).

Weather: The average high is 53°F and the average low is 30°F so Zion is chilly in December. But during periods of unusually warm weather it can get into the 70s.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:40 am and sunset is at 5:15 pm.

Top experiences: Hike Angels Landing, Observation Point, Hidden Canyon, Riverside Trail, Emerald Pools, Weeping Rock, and Canyon Overlook. One of the best experiences in the park is hiking the Zion Narrows.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate Adventure: In December, you can hike the Zion Narrows from the bottom-up, just be aware that water temperatures are going to be very cold at this time.

How much time do you need? If you like to hike, plan to spend at least 3 to 4 days in Zion National Park. You can do three big hikes (one each morning) or use two of the days for a multi-day backpacking adventure. This also gives you time to explore Kolob Canyons at the northern section of the park.

Plan your visit

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Grand Canyon National Park

Location: Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park is wonderful in December. Yes, it is cold. And yes, it can snow but that makes it even more beautiful.

Winter is sometimes called the secret season at the Grand Canyon. It’s the season when the skies are the clearest, the temperatures are the coolest, and the tourist numbers are at the lowest—meaning it’s an excellent time to visit.

The first thing to know about visiting Grand Canyon National Park in winter is that the North Rim is NOT open to vehicles between October and May. But the South Rim (where the majority of people go anyway) is still fully operational.

December is also a great time to go hiking.

The Grand Canyon is a magical place to visit all year long but around the winter holiday season it becomes even more special.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit the Grand Canyon in December: Crowds are low early in the month and then really pick up between Christmas and New Year’s. The Grand Canyon makes a great winter break destination and you can combine it with Las Vegas or destinations in Arizona such as Sedona or Monument Valley.

Weather: The average high is only 43°F and the average low is 18°F. Snow is also a possibility this time of year. If you hike below the rim, the temperature gets considerably warmer the closer you get to the Colorado River.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 5:10 pm.

Top experiences: Visit the South Rim viewpoints, watch the sunset, hike below the rim on the Bright Angel or South Kaibab Trail, and take a flightseeing tour.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: In the winter, hike the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails as one big loop. This is a big day hike and only those who are very fit with lots of hiking experience should attempt it.

How much time do you need? I recommend spending three to four days on the South Rim to visit the highlights. Three days gives you enough time to visit the best overlooks on the South Rim, go on a helicopter ride, and spend some time hiking below the rim.

Plan your visit

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Capitol Reef National Park

Location: Utah

Capitol Reef National Park is full of many wonderful surprises. With an amazing scenic drive, hiking trails that rival those in Zion, rugged, remote areas to explore by 4×4, short, easy slot canyons to hike, and historical landmarks, this is one of my favorite national parks.

Most people drive right through the heart of the park visiting the sights along Highway 24 which are nice. But those who venture farther into the park either on the hiking trails or the backcountry roads are rewarded with incredible views of remote, rugged landscapes.

If you don’t like cold temperatures, you might want to avoid this park (and visit Saguaro instead) but this is a great time to road trip through Utah’s Mighty 5 and have lower crowds.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Capitol Reef in December: Crowds are low since the weather is so cool. Capitol Reef is a great place to add onto a Utah road trip throughout the month of December.

Weather: In December, the average high is 40°F and the average low is 21°F. There is the chance that light snow can fall in December.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 5 pm.

Top experiences: Drive the 16-mile round-trip drive along Scenic Drive, drive Capitol Gorge Road, hike to Hickman Bridge, and watch the sunset from Sunset Point, hike to Cassidy Arch, and Loop the Fold.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: For the ultimate adventure, drive the Cathedral Valley Loop. This rugged, remote district of Capitol Reef National Park is one of the best backcountry experiences in the national parks if you like exploring by 4WD.

How much time do you need? Plan to spend three to four days in Capitol Reef. This gives you enough time to explore and hike the trails in the core of the park (along Scenic Drive and Highway 24) and venture into the backcountry either in Cathedral Valley or by looping the fold.

Plan your visit

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Canyonlands National Park

Location: Utah

Canyonlands National Park is made of up several districts. Island in the Sky which is located west of Moab is the most popular district to visit. This is the place to see Mesa Arch, hike to Upheaval Dome, and enjoy the many viewpoints with sweeping views from the top of the Island in the Sky mesa.

The Needles is an awesome place to go hiking. Located farther away from Moab than Island in the Sky, fewer people venture here. But with zebra-striped sandstone spires and a cool slot canyon to explore, this is a unique, less crowded area of the park to visit.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Canyonlands in December: If you have plans to visit Arches National Park (mentioned next), Canyonlands is well worth adding on to your visit. It will be colder here due to its higher elevation but this is a beautiful park to see with a dusting of snow. For warmer temperatures, spend your time at the Needles District, rather than Island in the Sky (it will be about 5 degrees warmer).

Weather: The average high is 37°F and the average low is 23°F at Island in the Sky. Precipitation is low and typically falls as snow. Even though Canyonlands sits next to Arches National Park it is at a higher elevation so the temperatures are a bit lower here.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 5 pm.

Top Experiences: Visit the overlooks on Island in the Sky, watch the sunrise at Mesa Arch, go hiking in The Needles, drive Shafer Canyon Road, and hike below the rim of the Island in the Sky mesa.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate adventure: Drive or mountain bike the White Rim Road. This is a 100-mile unpaved road that makes a loop around the Island in the Sky mesa. It takes 2 to 3 days to do this drive. It can be done in the winter but snow can close Shafer Canyon Road and cold temperatures will make camping uncomfortable for some people.

How much time do you need? You need at least two full days in Canyonlands National Park. Spend one day in Island in the Sky and one day in the Needles. But even more time is better if you want to venture deeper into the park.

Plan your visit

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Arches National Park

Location: Utah

Arches National Park with its iconic arches and unique rock formations is one of the most recognizable parks in the US. Delicate Arch is the number one landmark to see inside of the park but lots of other wonderful adventures.

Drive Scenic Drive for beautiful views of the park, gaze up at Balanced Rock, hike through Park Avenue, and photograph the Windows Arches and Turret Arch.

The best hike in the park is Devils Garden. You can keep the hike short and sweet, turning around at Landscape Arch. But for those who want to venture farther you can see eight arches in just one hike.

November is another fantastic month to visit Arches National Park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why visit Arches in December: For low crowds, at least early in the month. However, I think Arches and Canyonlands makes a great winter break destination since these are fun parks to take the kids. If you have warmer than average days, that’s great, but to see the parks with a little bit of snow is magical especially around the holidays.

Weather: The average high is 42°F and the average low is 24°F. On warmer than average days, the temperature can get into the 60s. There is a chance a few inches of snow can fall in December.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:30 am and sunset is at 5 pm.

Top experiences: Hike to Delicate Arch, see Balanced Rock and the Fiery Furnace, visit Double Arch, Turret Arch, and Windows Arch, hike Park Avenue.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ultimate Adventure: Hike the Devils Garden Trail. To reach Landscape Arch, one of the most iconic arches in the park, it is only 1.6 miles round trip. But for the ultimate adventure, continue past Landscape Arch to Double O Arch and Dark Angel and return on the Primitive Trail.

How much time do you need? One day in Arches is all you need to see the highlights but it will be a very busy day. With two to three days, you can visit the park at a more leisurely pace or go off the beaten path.

Plan your visit

Two more parks to visit in December

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Temperatures are mild in Joshua Tree National Park in December with the average high coming in about 58°F. This is a great park to escape the cold, wintry conditions and makes a great add-on to a visit to Las Vegas, Death Valley, Palm Desert, or San Diego.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon did not make my December list since it is so cold this month. In December, the high temperature struggles to get above freezing with the average high in the mid 30s and the average low in the teens. Snowfall is likely.

If you don’t mind the cold weather and like the idea of seeing Bryce Canyon with a dusting of snow, December makes a great time to visit this park. It also completes the road trip to Utah’s Mighty 5 since the other four parks made my December list.

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in December

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historic Park

The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chiricahua National Monument

The most noticeable natural features in Chirichua National Monument are the rhyolite rock pinnacles for which the monument was created to protect. Rising sometimes hundreds of feet into the air, many of these pinnacles are balancing on a small base, seemingly ready to topple over at any time.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument contains an imposing four-story building dating from the late Hohokam period probably 14th century and contemporary with other well preserved ruins in Arizona such as the Tonto and Montezuma Castle national monuments. The structure was once part of a collection of settlements scattered along the Gila River and linked by a network of irrigation canals. 

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. The organ pipe cactus can live to over 150 years in age, have up to 100 arms, reach 25 feet in height, and will only produce their first flower near the age of 35.

December road trip ideas

The American Southwest

Spend 7 to 10 days road tripping through the American Southwest visiting the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon (if you don’t mind the very cold temperatures here). This road trip also includes Sedona, Monument Valley, and Antelope Canyon. It can be chilly/cold particularly in the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon but some places warm up very nicely midday such as Monument Valley.

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month

January: Best National Parks to Visit in January
February: Best National Parks to Visit in February
March: Best National Parks to Visit in March
April: Best National Parks to Visit in April
May: Best National Parks to Visit in May
June: Best National Parks to Visit in June
July: Best National Parks to Visit in July
August: Best National Parks to Visit in August
September: Best National Parks to Visit in September
October: Best National Parks to Visit in October
November: Best National Parks to Visit in November
December: Best National Parks to Visit in December

Worth Pondering…

Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.

—John Lubbock