The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Mighty 5

All of these locations add up to unbelievable choices for hiking trails that would take more than a lifetime to complete. So, it’s time to get hiking.

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence”

—Henry David Thoreau

There are thousands of miles of great hiking trails throughout Utah. Some trails are most well-suited to rugged, multi-day backpacking, but there are innumerable “out and back” and “loop” hikes ranging from quick trots to stunning formations, and moderate paths than can be done in a few hours to full-day explorations.

Head to southern Utah where there are five national parks in a relatively small area. Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park are all located here.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helpful Tips

Before setting out on any hike, check with local rangers or guidebooks about a hike’s difficulty ratings, descriptions, and cautionary advice.

Always carry plenty of water in both the deserts and mountains. Each person should carry one liter of water for every two hours of hiking time. For a full-day hike, that adds up to one full gallon per person. It’s important to keep hydrated, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

Bring plenty of high-energy snacks that will help keep your energy up back to your car.

Practice Leave No Trace principles along the trail and respect nature’s desired and needed permanence.

Courthouse Towers, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park Hiking Trails

A day of hiking in Arches National Park pairs world-famous landmark views with a humbling sense of respect for the desolate stretches of sandstone formations. The park is one of Southern Utah’s most famous hiking destinations with an easily accessible network of trails that often culminate right at the base of an impressive sandstone arch.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The Primitive Loop

Found within the park’s Devil’s Garden, Primitive Loop is a fantastic longer hike. The eight-mile trail will help stretch your legs while showcasing a brilliant section of Arches National Park.

The entire garden is a labyrinth of trails that burst off in a variety of directions. But the main trail takes you along thin ledges and some tricky but thrilling rock scrambling with rock cairns guiding the way. Some of the many arches you’ll see along the hike include the gorgeous Double O Arch and Private Arch. Double O is the second biggest in Devil’s Garden with one being 71 feet wide and the other 21.

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Delicate Arch

Starting at Wolfe Ranch Parking Lot, this 3-mile moderate trail takes you to the most beloved parts of Arches National Park. In a park full of natural arches, this one stands alone, free-standing, and utterly breathtaking.

Owing to its length and popularity, the trail can get crowded. It’s one worth getting up at the crack of dawn for sunrise or waiting patiently for sunset. This will help you avoid the crowds while also seeing the arch at the best times of the day. As anyone who’s been around a desert sky would know, the clear horizon, open sky, and arid colors combine to create a kaleidoscopic world of lights and shadows that will fuel you for the rest of your trip.

Park Avenue, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Park Avenue Trail

The natural arches may bring in travelers from around the world but the park’s wide range of intricate rock formations will linger long in your memory. An easy way to see some of the strangest and sometimes confusing formations, hike the Park Avenue Trail.

The 4-mile out and back hike is easy and has minimal elevation gain. Start with the brief trek to Park Avenue with the beguiling rocks reminding hikers of a city’s downtown. Then walk down into the vast canyon, passing endless rows of mesmerizing conglomerates on your way to the memorable Courthouse Towers.

Along the way, enjoy long-range views of the La Sal Mountains as you walk by iconic formations such as the Organ, Sheep Rock, and Three Gossips.

The Three Gossips, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:

  • Windows Primitive Loop (1 mile): A relatively short hike where you’ll find three separate arch formations
  • Double Arch (.8 mile): One of the most popular hikes in the park, this short trail ends beneath a spectacular arch
  • Broken Arch (2 miles): Another popular loop trail that leads hikers through a sandstone arch
  • Landscape Arch (1.6 miles): Consider this trail a must-do hike to see the largest arch in Arches National Park; plus, two more arches are easily reached with a short side trip
Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park Hiking Trails

Canyonlands National Park is an enormous region; in fact, it’s the largest national park in Utah. As a result, the park is divided into three regions: The Needles, Island in the Sky, and The Maze. The Needles District is the park’s hub for well-developed trails and the most popular place to hike. Island in the Sky offers similarly groomed trails, but now they’re nestled high atop a mesa that’s wedged between the Colorado and Green rivers. Last but not least, The Maze is a desolate and disconnected region (there are no services within 50 miles in any direction), and a classic destination for experienced backpackers.

No matter which region of the park you visit first, consider adding these great hiking trails to your next trip itinerary.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Druid Arch Trail

In the Needles District, the 10.8-mile moderate trail takes you off the beaten path. The entire district is great for overnight hiking and this is its crown jewel.

The primitive trail begins at the Elephant Hill Trailhead. Follow the cairns which guide you through a slot canyon before turning right towards Chesler Park. The remoteness of the trail means every blind turn offers a surprise and a magnificent view. You’ll feel like you’re exploring and not merely hiking.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. The Mesa Arch Trail

The iconic hike is only 0.5 miles long and will see some crowds compared to other longer treks. However, it’s worth braving and if you want, come at sunrise for an even more memorable hike.

Mesa Arch could be a rival to Delicate Arch for the most beautiful arch in Utah. At sunrise, the sun peeks through the gap shining sections of the desert in light, the rest becoming a gorgeous silhouette. For an even better vista, head to the left of the arch for a short rock scramble. This will provide a complete view without the frame of the arch.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Murphy Point Trail

Covering 3.6 miles with little elevation, the Murphy Point Trail follows the canyon’s rim with vibrant desert views. The trail begins in a desert field leading up to the canyon. The views continue to get better until you find yourself on the precipice. Then turn and follow the rim. Along the way, you’ll look over the rolling Green River, the White Rim Road, and the impeccable Candlestick Tower. Complete the trek at sunset with a headlamp handy for the best experience.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

Also consider the following family-friendly hikes in the Island in the Sky region:

  • Aztec Butte (2 miles): A somewhat challenging climb to a scenic viewpoint in the Island in the Sky area where you’ll see ancestral Puebloan structures called granaries
  • Upheaval Dome Overlook (1.6 miles): A short, steep hike to get the best view of perhaps the most interesting geological feature in Utah
  • Grand View Point (2 miles): An easy day hike to a magnificent viewpoint overlooking canyon country
Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also consider the following family-friendly hikes in the Needles region:

  • Cave Spring (.6 mile): An opportunity to learn about the park’s cultural history and desert plant life on a short hike
  • Pothole Point (.6 mile): A short, educational hike about what life was like in desert potholes; great for families with small children
  • Slickrock Foot Trail (2.4 miles): A scenic trip through the geology of the park; this trail stays high and gives a great overall perspective of the entire southeastern corner of Canyonlands National Park
Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park Hiking Trails

The seemingly endless stretch of cliffs you’ll see at Capitol Reef are beholden to The Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long ripple on earth’s surface. Millions of years ago, a faultline shift caused a series of uplifts, ultimately creating the daunting stretch of cliffs and canyons you see today. Nowadays hikers from around the world visit the park to experience the geologically spectacular landscape from an easily accessed network of hiking trails.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Cohab Canyon Trail

The gilded Cohab Canyon features honeycomb walls mixed with reds, oranges, and oxidized iron. It’s arguably the most multi-faceted canyon in Capitol Reef National Park. Its captivating beauty was once home to the many wives of the polygamists in Fruita.

As you walk along the 3.4-mile return trail, the canyon makes way for mini archways and dramatic hoodoos that exist within the Kayenta Formation. To lengthen the hike, join a duo of trails that lead to views above the Fremont River and Fruita.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Cassidy Arch Trail

You don’t have to go to Arches to admire nature’s incredible engineering. The moderate trail is 3.4 miles long and takes you to the famous Cassidy Arch.

The hike is beautiful throughout, guiding you along the edge of a canyon with plenty of epic views. Just be warned, you’ll often walk alongside a large drop-off.

The arch isn’t just a beautiful sight; it’s one of the few you can walk across. The memorable experience is sure to get the heart racing but will make for some amazing photos.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Upper Muley Twist Canyon

Those seeking a true adventure should consider the Upper Muley Twist Canyon. The 14.8-mile, difficult trail takes you by arches, through narrow slot canyons, and along an elevated rim.

The trail follows the canyon as it carves its way through the Waterpocket Fold showcasing Wingate and Navajo sandstone along the winding canyon. The rock has eroded creating a swath of interesting formations from arches to honeycombs.

The trail meanders through narrow canyons and by slip rock to dramatic views. The trail is marked by cairns but a map is recommended.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:

  • Capitol Gorge (1 mile): A quick hike through a beautiful, deep canyon that leads hikers to historic inscriptions from pioneers and miners
  • Grand Wash (2.2 miles): A trailhead at the end of The Grand Wash Scenic Drive leads hikers into a deep canyon with spectacular narrows
  • Fremont River Trail (1 mile): While not too long, this hike starts easy but gets relatively steep; expect impressive views of the Fremont River with every step
  • Hickman Natural Bridge Trail (.9 mile): One of the park’s most popular trails, hikers will see artifacts of the Fremont people and an impressive 133-foot long natural arch
The Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park Hiking Trails

Hiking through Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the best ways to see the park’s famous hoodoos, spires, and sandstone fins. An interconnected network of trails makes it easy to keep hiking all day where trails branch off toward new landmarks and discoveries all without ever straying too far from the park’s main road. Whether you’re a family of adventurers or venturing into a solo backpacking expedition, Bryce Canyon’s trails won’t disappoint.

The Rim Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The Rim Trail

To see a lot of the park on a single trek, put on your hiking boots and explore the Rim Trail. 11 miles return, the moderate trail comes with a steep incline to begin. But once you’re at elevation, you’ll have splendid, heart-stopping views in every direction.

Start at Bryce Canyon Point which you can reach on the park’s shuttle. The highlight of the experience is capturing the Bryce Amphitheater in all its glory. Hike into the amphitheater on one of three hikes or continue to admire more of the trail’s prismatic topography.

Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Bryce Point to Sunrise Point

This 8-mile moderate hiking trail provides many of the park’s intriguing geological wonders in one place. The trail begins with a beautiful trek to Sunset Point. After your walk at elevation, descend into the famous amphitheater via the Navajo Loop Trail. Venture down into the aptly named Wall Street with sandstone spires soaring left and right.

The magical vistas continue to get better as you trek beside the hoodoos along the brilliant Queen’s Garden Trail. Here, the rock monuments soar through the pines before being replaced by the Two Bridges Hoodoo. Eventually, you’ll reach Sunrise Point for an awe-inspiring view.

Fairyland Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Fairyland Loop Trail

Beginning at Fairyland Point, a stop along the shuttle route, the Fairyland Loop Trail is one of the best day hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park. Covering 8 moderate miles, the trail will take you to Sunset Point for an enthralling golden hour.

The trail takes you by many spectacular hoodoos but the real highlight is Tower Bridge. Named after the famous bridge in London, the natural phenomenon stands imposingly above the rest of this unforgettable landscape. For many, this is a common turnaround point.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:

  • Navajo Loop Trail (1.4 miles): A popular trail that makes a short 1- to 2-hour loop from the rim at Sunset Point down to the floor of Bryce Canyon; the trail visits favorite hoodoo formations such as Wall Street, Twin Bridges, and Thor’s Hammer
  • Queens Garden Trail (1.8 miles): A short trail descending below the canyon rim that takes hikers to fascinating rock formations including Gulliver’s Castle, the Queen’s Castle, and Queen Elizabeth herself
  • Bristlecone Loop Trail (1 mile): A short loop that stays entirely above the canyon rim as it traverses a subalpine fir forest; the trail is named after the bristlecone pine trees, the oldest tree species in the world which is found more frequently along this trail than along other trails in Bryce Canyon
  • Connector Trails (2 to 4 miles): A series of short “connector” trails that take hikers from the canyon rim to various points along the Under the Rim Trail
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park Hiking Trails

Zion carries a reputation as a bucket list destination for adventurous trail seekers around the world. Here you can gaze down the commanding Zion Canyon from atop Angels Landing, reconnect with nature on a multi-day backpacking expedition, or visit one-of-a-kind destinations like Emerald Pools via easily accessed day hikes. However you imagine a perfect day hiking, Zion National Park has the trails to fill your itinerary. To start planning your trip, browse the park’s trails below.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The East Rim Trail

For an epic full-day trek, don’t look past Zion’s East Rim Trail. The lengthy 22 miles will have you working up a sweat as you venture deep into the park exploring every inch of the eastern canyon. The hike is rated as moderate to difficult.

You can start in two different spots with the East Entrance being the most common. From there, trek up and down into the spectacular Echo Canyon. In the other direction, you’ll hit the fascinating Weeping Rock first.

To get here, jump off at Shuttle Stop 7 readying your legs for 2,400 feet of ascent up the side of Echo Canyon.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. The Narrows

Zion National Park was carved by the Virgin River. The Narrows Trail takes you along the water, deep into the intricate slot canyon. As you wander beside and sometimes through the river, the walls of the canyon rise to either side, curling and rising above your head.

The vibrant colors of the rock cover all shades of browns, reds, oranges, and yellows with some black scars added for good measure. The trek is a sensory experience with each splash of water echoing along the trail.

You can hike the moderate to difficult trail in either direction with a popular choice being the 16 miles down to Chamberlain Ranch to camp overnight. Before arriving at Zion, you’ll need to grab a permit for this hike.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Emerald Pools Trail

The Angels Landing hike may be one of the most popular in the United States. But it’s been written and walked to oblivion. The Emerald Pools trail is an underrated, easy-to-moderate hike that’s as fun for adventurers as it is for families.

The trail’s name promises a certain type of natural grandeur and it certainly delivers. Along the short 3-mile trek, you’ll enjoy a trio of emerald pools sparking under the Utah sun. You’ll reach the first pool in a single mile, one that also features a breathtaking waterfall. A brief stroll will take you to the Middle Emerald Pools Falls, one that will have you sitting and admiring the views for a while yet.

Those feeling adventurous can add in some light scrambling to reach the Upper Emerald Pools. To reach the trailhead, make your way to Shuttle Stop 5.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-Friendly Hikes

Also consider the following family-friendly hikes:

  • Northgate Peaks Trail (4.2 miles roundtrip): This family-friendly hike offers expansive views of Zion and makes for an excellent summer route due to its high elevation
  • Pa’rus Trail (3.5 miles): This easy out-and-back is not only one of the park’s most pleasant strolls, but the paved trail is also open to dogs on-leash, cyclists, and is wheelchair accessible
  • Riverside Walk/Gateway to The Narrows (2.2 miles): A short, paved stroll along the Virgin River to the stunning mouth of Zion’s iconic slot canyon

Worth Pondering…

I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.

—Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel

Summer 2022: 18 Best Things to Do in America

From exploring a hippie paradise to a taste bud tour, RVing with Rex reveals unique and unusual picks for the 18 best things to do in the US this summer. Your US bucket list just got (a lot) longer …

We could all use a break this summer. The last two summer travel seasons have been especially challenging for everyone—travelers, destinations, and small businesses alike. But 2022’s summer could be the biggest one yet for travel within the US and I’m here to help you experience the absolute best of it.

Along Route 66 in Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best things to do this summer include many hidden gems and unique experiences. You’ll find plenty of tried-and-true staples too. But, as is my style at RVing with Rex, I tend to embrace under-the-radar spots as well as famous attractions. You’ll likely find things to do that you didn’t even know existed!

Believing the most authentic recommendations derive from personal experiences, the list highlights the places I’ve discovered and explored on one or more occasions. But, no matter where you plan to travel you’re bound to find something unique and fun to do this summer!

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Hit All the Roadside Attractions on Arizona Route 66

Location: Oatman to Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Originally running from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 is easily one of the most recognizable and iconic highways in the world. It has endless cultural references and was a popular way for travelers to get from east to west and back for decades. The route has mostly been taken over by the I-40 but the stretch of Route 66 in Arizona is especially exciting and alluring. Dotted with ghost towns, Route 66 iconography, local diners, and one-of-a-kind shops, you’ll be delighted every inch of the way.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Admire Breathtaking Red Rock in Sedona

Location: Sedona, Arizona

Due to its distinctive culture, Sedona is truly a place unlike any other. Visitors can navigate remote canyons, rejuvenate at an energy vortex site, and experience the ancient culture of the Sinagua people. Throughout the red rock are multitudes of secluded viewpoints, cliff dwellings, and well-preserved petroglyphs. In downtown Sedona, you’ll find a vibrant art community dense with unique shops and galleries. Hikers and adventurous types will enjoy the various trails in Red Rock State Park and the renowned Pink Jeep off-road adventure tours.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Hit All Five of Utah’s National Parks

Location: Utah

Plan a road trip to visit “The Mighty 5,” an unforgettable journey through Utah’s colorful Canyon Country. Utah is home to five remarkable National Parks—Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. To see all of them on a road trip, start from Zion if you’re coming from the west or Arches if you’re coming from the east. On this beautiful drive, you’ll pass alien-like rock formations, sheer cliffs, and graceful arches. Note that in the summer, afternoon temperatures can be extremely hot.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Explore the Hippie Paradise of Woodstock

Location: Woodstock, New York

Located near the Catskill Mountains, this charming town lives up to its iconic namesake. People from all over the world recognize the name “Woodstock” yet most of them associate it with the crazy, free-spirited music festival. Fun fact: the festival wasn’t actually held in Woodstock but rather more than an hour away in Bethel. Though the name is famous, few people are familiar with the actual small town that boasts loads of personality. Somehow, it’s the perfect place to do a million activities or absolutely nothing.

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Plunge into the Depths of the Earth at Carlsbad Caverns

Location: Carlsbad, New Mexico

Descend nearly 800 feet below ground into a series of completely dark, breathtaking caves.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is hidden within the remote parts of southeastern New Mexico. More than just a cave, Carlsbad Caverns is a completely immersive experience. Beginning with a several-mile descent from the cave opening, travelers will emerge into massive caverns full of magnificent rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites, and more. The paved decline is steep but accessible for most people. There is also an elevator available to transport visitors as needed.

Chihuly glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Observe Stunning Artwork at Chihuly Garden and Glass

Location: Seattle, Washington

At Chihuly Garden and Glass, vibrant colors and organic shapes come together in spectacular visual exhibits. The long-term exhibition features a Garden, theater, eight galleries, and the breathtaking Glasshouse. The impressive glass art was fashioned by the institution’s namesake, Dale Chihuly, a prolific and talented artist.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Explore Historic Mansions along the Newport Cliff Walk

Location: Newport, Rhode Island

Come for the jaw-dropping mansions and stay for the scenic walking tour along the Rhode Island shoreline. Newport is best known for its sailing regattas and historic manors that run along the seaside Cliff Walk. The walk is a National Recreation Trail that spans 3.5 miles with multiple scenic overlooks along the way. Take a tour of The Breakers mansion along the walk and learn how New York’s elite families used to spend their summers. If you watched HBO’s The Gilded Age, then you’re probably planning your trip to visit the historic summer “cottages” already. 

Mississippi Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Experience Southern Coastal Charm in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Location: Ocean Springs, Mississippi

This quaint, coastal town along the Gulf Coast is the perfect small-town beach getaway. The Mississippi Gulf Coast advertises itself as “The Secret Coast,” and Ocean Springs is a treasure. The quiet town has white sand beaches, a vibrant art scene, and a beautiful downtown area with restaurants, shops, and nightlife. Every fall, Ocean Springs hosts the famed Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival but during the rest of the year, visitors can get a taste of the art scene at multiple galleries and museums in the area. If you’re looking for a summer 2022 beach getaway with a side of history and culture, then Ocean Springs is for you.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Wander Cobblestone Streets and Shoreline in Charleston

Location: Charleston, South Carolina

It’s easy to be transported back in time while exploring Charleston, the oldest city in South Carolina. Bordering the cobblestone streets are enormous trees and centuries-old Colonial and Victorian homes. Horse-drawn carriages clop through the moss-draped historic district. You can wade in Pineapple Fountain at Waterfront Park or through waves on Folly Beach. Over on Wadmalaw Island, Deep Water Vineyards offers six tasting pours and a souvenir glass for just $15. Even better, the top attraction in Charleston is the ambiance, free of charge.  

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Travel Back in Time at Mesa Verde National Park

Location: Cortez, Colorado

Marvel at the Mesa Verde National Park cliff dwellings that were once occupied by the Ancestral Pueblo people. Located in southwestern Colorado, this UNESCO World Heritage Site will transport you back in time almost a thousand years. Many archeological sites can be explored independently but Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, requires a guided tour. Purchasing a ticket is worth it, but be aware that Cliff Palace won’t open to the public until July 1st due to road construction. 

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Experience the Magic of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Location: Virginia and North Carolina

There’s something about being on the Blue Ridge Parkway that instills a sense of calm and puts everything into perspective. The parkway, which is nearly 500 miles long, runs through the Appalachian Mountains and valleys of Virginia and North Carolina. The parkway is perfect for families and outdoor enthusiasts since it’s filled with endless trails, camping, and waterfalls. Drive through the winding roads and see for yourself why these rolling hills and lush greenery make the Blue Ridge Parkway “America’s Favorite Drive.”

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Explore an Active Volcano at Mount Saint Helens

Location: Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington

If you want to explore an active volcano, go to Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. There are several visitor centers in the area for people who want a deep dive into the mountain’s fascinating geological history. They help tell the story of the eruption in the ’80s that gave Mount St Helens its distinctive crater-shaped top. 

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Climb a Mountain 

Location: Mount Lemmon, Catalina Highway/Sky Island Scenic Byway

Mount Lemmon, an oasis in the middle of the desert, is 20 degrees cooler than Tucson on average. Driving up the mountain, the plants slowly change from cactus and shrubs to oak and ponderosa pines. The area offers hiking, camping, and fishing. While you are up there, consider stopping by the Mount Lemmon Cookie Cabin for cookies, pizza, chili, and sandwiches. While you’re at 9,000 feet, check out the Arizona stars at the Mount Lemmon Skycenter.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Tube down the Guadalupe River

Location: Guadalupe River State Park, Texas Hill Country

Tubing down the Guadalupe River is about as Texan as it gets, and this state park welcomes you with four miles of river frontage. Just one hour from San Antonio and two hours from Austin, Guadalupe River State Park is also one of the more popular camping destinations in the state, particularly during the summertime when swimming in its cool waters is extra appealing for families and kids. When you’re not tubing, paddling, or taking a dip, embark on its hiking and biking trails. 

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Escape to San Antonio’s Riverwalk

Location: San Antonio, Texas

A century ago it started as a flood management project, but today San Antonio’s Riverwalk is a flourishing urban waterway and one of the most cherished attractions in Texas. Visitors can drift underneath cypress trees by hopping on board one of the iconic riverboat tours that ply the nearly 15 miles of waterway. The banks of the river come alive all day (and all night) with musical performers, endless shops and boutiques, and numerous dining options. Plan your visit during the week of July 4th to experience the Bud Light Stars, Stripes, & Light exhibition when one thousand American flags will line the banks of the river. 

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Feel the breeze at Madera Canyon

Location: Madera Canyon, Arizona

With an average high of 102, June 29 has historically been Tucson’s most often hottest day of the year. So says Weatherspark.com. From June through August, Madera Canyon’s average summer high in the low ’90s may still seem warmish but a typical light breeze and the shade from its dozen or so unique Oak species make it nice enough to bust out the cooler and camp chairs and head down I-19.  The coolest low-key adventure there is the Madera Canyon Nature Trail; it’s 5.8 miles out and back with a 921-foot elevation gain, easy for hikers. Take your binoculars because Madera Canyon is rated the third-best birding destination in the US.

Blue Bell ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Take a Taste Bud Tour at Blue Bell Creameries

Location: Brenham, Texas and Sylacauga, Alabama

Learn what all fuss is about at one of the most iconic creameries in America. Can’t decide which flavor is for you? Try them all because, hey, it’s only $1 a scoop! Since 1907, Blue Bell Ice Cream has won a special place in the heart of Texans. Many would say it’s the best ice cream in the US. For anyone caring to dispute that claim, you can’t know until you try it for yourself and there is no better place to do that than straight at the source. See how the scrumptious stuff is made and learn about the history of the iconic brand before treating yourself to a sample at Blue Bell’s ice cream parlor. At just $1 a scoop, it’s one of the best things to do in the US to beat the heat this summer! 

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Refresh and Relax at Patagonia Lake

Location: Patagonia Lake State Park, 400 Patagonia Lake Road, Nogales

Whether it’s an ocean, river, or lake, water is the break everyone needs from the hot Arizona sun. Patagonia Lake State Park is an escape offering shade, water, boating activities, camping, picnic tables, and grills for summer barbecuing. The park has fully equipped cabin reservations available but these sell out fast. If you’re late to the reservation game, check out their boat-in campsites or pick from 105 of their developed campsites.

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

Tales from the Road: Best Road Trip Ideas

Choose your own adventure through stunning national parks, Arizona’s Red Rock Country, and the Deep South

Who doesn’t appreciate winding drives through the lovely countryside? But for a truly memorable road trip choose a location and route that aligns with your passions.

To help, I’ve put together itineraries for specific interests from a national parks tour to a spiritual journey to a southern odyssey.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stunning national parks

Where to: Utah

I have a hundred favorite road trips but I always come back to Utah and the “Mighty Five” which is what they call the five magnificent national parks you can visit on a loop around the southern part of the state.

Itinerary: Starting from anywhere on Interstate 5, the first park to visit is Zion, the oldest and arguably most beautiful park in Utah and that’s a big statement. Zion is huge and mystifying and you understand immediately why it awed early travelers who left these rock faces and canyons with place names like Angels Landing and the Great White Throne.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many visitors combine Zion with a trip to Bryce Canyon which is more of a pocket park. Stare down into the park’s stunning natural amphitheater—the technical term used by geologists (rather than a canyon)—to discover fanciful windows, jutting daggers, chiseled spires, and exquisite bracelet-thin archways seemingly erupting from the fantastical landscape.  

Because of the park’s smaller size, you can achieve a lot here in a day or two. Several novice trails by the park’s main entrance offer a glimpse of the area’s glorious mountain scenery and profusion of flora and fauna.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you continue north from Bryce there’s Capitol Reef, the second largest of the Mighty Five but one that too often gets overlooked. Its most recognizable feature is the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile-long monocline warp (or step-like dip) in the Earth’s crust. These tilted sandstone layers eroded over time to form an extraordinary landscape of serrated peaks, surreal domes, deep-slot canyons, and mesmerizing formations that straddle different elevations and ecosystems.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park is Utah’s largest and you could spend days getting lost in the 527 square miles of river canyons and mesas but the Island in the Sky area is the most accessible. Pick almost any spot and just gawk at the miles of mesas and sandstone cliffs.

The town of Moab is a fantastic base for exploring this area. It’s considered the adventure center of the Southwest because there is so much to do: bike riding and hot-air ballooning and biking and its proximity to Canyonlands and Arches.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s 18-mile-long Scenic Drive showcases an array of delicate sandstone arches, deep gorges, rock catacombs, and open valleys among other natural wonders. The most recognizable red stone monoliths and monuments have official names and monikers but sometimes it’s best to skip the guide books and maps in favor of finding a trailhead and letting the awe-inspiring landscape stir your imagination. Balanced Rock needs you to get up close to take a look. The boulder on top resembles a mushroom cloud.

Plan your trip to the Utah parks with these resources:

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A deeper consciousness

Where to: The healing energy spots of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

Sedona is a well-known hotbed of energy—one that’s conducive to both meditation and healing—and this is one of the reasons 4.5 million travelers flock here annually. That and the region’s red rocks: stunning sandstone formations that jut upward thousands of feet and change colors from orange to rust to crimson as the sun passes through the sky.

Airport Mesa, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The desert areas have been a sacred space for centuries for Indigenous populations and you can still experience the mind-body power of those rituals and ceremonies in whatever way you choose even if it is simply by driving and noticing what’s around you.

Chapel of the Holy Cross, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is a city of psychics, tarot readers, reiki healers, and crystal dealers. Retail stores like Center for the New Age cater to a very specific kind of tourist: those drawn to the area for its supposed metaphysical and spiritual assets. According to these truth-seekers, Sedona is one of the world’s greatest hotspots for psychic energy: whirling and vibrating, creating portals that enhance consciousness. The energy is that strong—so overwhelming that juniper trees twist and bend themselves over it. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Itinerary: Even if you’re not an adherent of the New Age movement, plan on visiting at least one of Sedona’s famous vortexes. They’re at some of the most gorgeous spots around town. Vortexes (the proper grammatical form “vortices” is rarely used here) are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to spiritual healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Believers identify four primary vortexes: Boynton Canyon, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Airport Mesa.

Bell Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built into the red rocks, The Chapel of the Holy Cross was actually inspired by a visit by Marguerite Brunswig Staude to the Empire State Building. It overlooks Sedona and despite it being a Christian place of worship it’s believed to be full of vortex energy. Either way, it’s a stunning place to visit.

Plan your trip to Sedona with these resources:

La Fayette Square, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Deep South

Where to: Savannah to Charleston road trip

Driving from Savannah to Charleston is pretty straightforward. If you’re starting in Savannah, you’ll take I-95 North to US-17 North. But along the way, some interesting stops are worth a visit.

Historic River Street, Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I recommend several days in Savannah before beginning the drive to visit attractions like Forsyth Park, the Bonaventure Cemetery, and the River Street waterfront area.

Itinerary: Just a 15-minute drive north of Savannah, you’ll find the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. This 30,000-acre wildlife refuge is home to birds, alligators, and other marsh-dwelling flora and fauna. You could easily spend an entire day hiking, biking, and kayaking at this nature-lovers paradise.

St. Helena Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next, you’ll drive about an hour northeast to St. Helena Island, South Carolina. St. Helena Island is the perfect place to immerse yourself in natural beauty and learn about Gullah culture.

In the center of the island, surrounded by Spanish moss-draped oak trees, you’ll find the Penn Center, a 50-acre historic district comprising 25 historic buildings and structures.

Hunting Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From St. Helena, continue driving one island further and you’ll arrive at Hunting Island State Park. This State Park is known for having five miles of amazing beaches and a lighthouse that dates back to the 19th century. You can even climb the lighthouse stairs for a panoramic view of the surrounding islands and wetlands. After visiting the lighthouse, you can spend time exploring the beach or head down to the Nature Center where you can learn about local wildlife.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Backtrack through Hunting Island and St. Helena Island to the coastal town of Beaufort. Next, we’re heading inland to the Old Sheldon Church Ruins. Sheldon Church dates back to the mid-1700s. Today, the ruins are hauntingly beautiful and surrounded by a lush landscape. The property is located right off Old Sheldon Church Road and has informational markers.

From the Old Sheldon Church Ruins, head northeast to Edisto Island. Edisto is a peaceful vacation island south of Charleston that’s perfect for a bit of relaxation.

Edisto Beach has long been a spectacular place to enjoy all of nature’s beauty while enjoying outdoor activities to keep your heart (and mind!) healthy.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head to Edisto Beach State Park to stretch your legs on one of the many hiking paths or visit the environmental education center to learn more about the island. The park has an impressive array of camping sites in oceanfront and maritime forest habitats and most can accommodate RVs, some up to 40 feet.

Botany Bay Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to see the South Carolina coast the way the original settlers did, take a step back in time to Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve located adjacent to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast corner of Edisto Island. The 3,363-acre preserve includes almost three miles of undeveloped, breathtaking beachfront.

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The last stop on this Savannah to Charleston road trip is Folly Beach. Take a stroll along the Folly Beach fishing pier or spend some time meandering through the beachy downtown neighborhoods.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After you’ve had your fun in the sun, head north for about 20 minutes and you’ll be in the heart of Charleston. You may have reached your destination, but the adventure isn’t over. Charleston has tons of things to see and it’s a great destination to explore for a few days. You won’t want to miss walking along the waterfront park or strolling past one of Charleston’s most colorful streets, Rainbow Row. Hop aboard a historic harbor cruise for a guided tour of the city or try some of the best local flavors on a guided food tour.

Plan your trip to the Deep South with these resources:

Worth Pondering…

If we set aside time each day to be in a peaceful environment, to walk in nature, or even just to look at a flower or the sky, then that beauty will penetrate us and feed our love and our joy.

Thích Nhất Hạnh, Vietnamese monk and Zen master, How to Love

Utah’s Mighty 5 Broke Visitation Records in 2021: Is it Time to Try Other Parks?

Utah wanted all the tourists. Then it got them.

If it felt like Utah’s Mighty 5 were more crowded than ever last year, that’s because they were. All-time visitation records were broken at four of Utah’s five national parks in 2021, according to preliminary data made available by the National Park Service.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There were at least 11 million visitors at Utah’s five national parks in 2021—far exceeding the 7.7 million recorded visitors in 2020, a year when visitation plummeted as a result of pandemic-related park closures and travel restrictions.

Related Article: Everything You Need to Know about the Mighty 5

The final 2021 visitation figure has yet to be calculated because Zion National Park has not submitted its December visitation. Even so, visits to Utah’s national parks jumped by at least 43 percent last year and Zion is one of the four parks that broke visitation records in 2021.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion again led all of Utah national parks in visitation last year. The southern Utah nature preserves reported over 4.8 million visitors through November besting its previous record of 4.5 million in 2017. The park is still reviewing its numbers before it submits its final 2021 visitation statistics.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion needs a little over 172,000 to reach 5 million visitors for the year—a rare feat that only three national parks have ever reached. Recent visitor trends suggest that Zion will be close to that number. The park has averaged 162,000 December visitors in the previous five years; however, it also recorded 227,244 people visits in December 2020.

Related Article: Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks & Must-See Hidden Gems

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches (1.8 million), Canyonlands (over 911,000), and Capitol Reef (1.4 million) national parks also broke all-time visitation records in 2021. While Bryce Canyon National Park fell short of its visitation record, more than 2.1 million people visited the park last year—the second-most of the five parks and an increase of nearly 640,000 visitors from 2020.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While 2021 produced an eye-popping leap from 2020 because there were no shutdowns and fewer COVID-19 concerns, 2021 also far exceeded the state’s previous total park record of 10.6 million recorded in 2019.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rise in visitors meant more people were enjoying Utah national parks but it also led to an uptick in resources needed to support the public lands. This has been true since the sudden rise of the parks’ popularity over the past decade—the issue came to a head in 2021 because of the dramatic increase in park visitation from the previous year.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The year ended with Arches National Park implementing a timed entry ticket pilot program and Zion announcing a permit process to hike Angels Landing both set to begin in the spring. Bryce Canyon National Park officials also increased its backcountry permit fees and implemented a partial campground reservation requirement to match the spike in popularity at the park over the past decade.

Related Article: Utah Wanted All the Tourists. Then It Got Overrun.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With more than 2,000 arches, as well as rock fins, pinnacles, and balancing rocks, visiting Arches National Park is like escaping to a wonderland of ancient sandstone. Visitors cherish the soaring red rock features—clad in rock formations of red, orange, brown, and purple hues—set against an often-bright blue sky.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To maximize your enjoyment, consider visiting during off-peak times. The park is most active from March through October and especially around Easter, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. The busiest time of day is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Early morning and late afternoon typically offer fewer crowds, shorter lines, easier parking, cooler temperatures, and golden light for photographers. Winter in Arches National Park also offers stunning scenery during the quiet season.

Related Article: The Aftermath of Mighty Five…and Beyond

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s national parks feature some of the most astonishing landscapes in the world. But other lands in Utah promise just as much allure including state parks, national monuments, and national recreation areas. It may be time to try other Utah parks and other natural areas because the state has much more to offer than just the five national parks. Those are all things that the state’s newest campaign, Forever Mighty strives to accomplish.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southeastern Utah is anchored by Arches and Canyonlands national parks and the active tourism basecamps of Moab and Green River. Further south, travelers can explore the vast stretch of land known as Bears Ears country which includes active and ancient Native American communities and historic sites such as Monument Valley and Hovenweep National Monument.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument, located 42 miles west of Blanding or 47 miles north of Mexican Hat. These stunning rock bridges have Hopi Indian names: delicate Owachomo means ‘rock mounds’, massive Kachina means ‘dancer’, while Sipapu, the second-largest natural bridge in the state, means ‘place of emergence’. A nine-mile scenic drive has overlooks of the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The majority of visitors to southwestern Utah focus their efforts on the Mighty 5 national parks. And, for good reason, these parks are spectacular. However, seasoned travelers and savvy locals know that fun southern Utah activities, remarkable scenery, and memorable adventures aren’t limited to national park boundaries. In fact, by stepping off the beaten path, many travelers have found their favorite memories were created in these hidden gems, parks that may leave you breathless but are less likely to leave you standing in line.

Related Article: Awesomeness beyond the Mighty 5 in Southern Utah

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hidden within the mountains above Cedar City is the brilliant geology and vibrant environment of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The geologic amphitheater and surrounding environs are home to cool hiking trails, ancient trees, high elevation camping, and over-the-top views along the “Circle of Painted Cliffs.”

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

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is phenomenal. Sun-drenched Utah backcountry spreads out well beyond the visible horizon from the road whether you’re traveling along Scenic Byway 12 or on Highway 89. This area boasts a mixture of colorful sandstone cliffs soaring above narrow slot canyons, picturesque washes and seemingly endless Slickrock, prehistoric sites, and abandoned old Western movie sets, among many other treasures

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

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers more than 1.2 million acres of unparalleled opportunities for land- and water-based recreation. Within the recreation area, Lake Powell is the second-largest man-made lake in the U. S. and is widely recognized as one of the premier boating destinations in the world.

Read Next: Photographic Proof That Utah Is Just One Big Epic National Park

As you plan your next road trip through Utah, look for opportunities to visit less-crowded destinations. While the national parks are open, so are many less crowded and equally brilliant nearby destinations. 

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

Awesomeness beyond the Mighty 5 in Southern Utah

Recommendations for extended adventuring around each of southern Utah’s Mighty 5 national parks

Southern Utah has enough panoramic mountain views, striking red-rock formations, and dark-sky zones for a lifetime of adventure. But sometimes it’s better to settle in to explore one place than try to do everything in one trip. In this post, I’ll look at a few favorite spots for going beyond the parks and staying for a week or longer.

Thanks to some highly successful promotion by the Utah Office of Tourism, people across the globe now know that “Mighty 5” refers to national parks in Utah and not a group of superheroes.

Unfortunately, that heightened awareness carries a price. Utah’s five national parks are often so busy that visitors wait hours to enter or are even turned away. If you’ve been stalled in traffic at Zion, Arches, or Bryce Canyon, you understand.

On holidays or other times when you know the parks will be jammed with tourists, a good alternative is to visit one of Utah’s spectacular national monuments or state parks. Many offer breathtaking scenery to rival that of the Mighty 5 but with much smaller crowds.

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond Bryce Canyon and Zion

For a week of exploring around Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks, head to St. George, where you can camp within a short drive of hundreds of miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails. The national parks are stunning but the many state parks in Utah are also not to be missed. One favorite is Snow Canyon; the trails there wind through striking red rock and streams of black lava are frozen in time against the canyon walls. Another one of this corner’s lesser-known gems is Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park where you can hike or go four-wheeling among pink dunes formed over the last 10,000 to 15,000 years by eroding Navajo Sandstone cliffs. You’ll also want to visit Red Cliffs BLM Recreation area to hike and marvel at the distinctive landscapes that cover this relatively unknown public area. 

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The reservoir at Quail Creek State Park boasts some of the warmest waters in the state plus a mild winter climate. It is a great place to boat, camp, and fish. Water sports are popular here during the long warm-weather season and boaters and fishermen enjoy the reservoir year-round. Anglers fish for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, crappie, and other species.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red rock and red sand meet warm, blue water at Sand Hollow which is one of the most popular state parks in Utah. This is a great place to camp, picnic, boat, fish, and ride ATVs. ATV trails run over sand dune access to Sand Mountain in the park and additional trails are located nearby. Sand Hollow Reservoir’s warm water makes it ideal for skiing and other water sports. Anglers fish for bass, bluegill, crappie, and catfish.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hidden within the mountains between Zion and Bryce Canyon is the brilliant geology and vibrant environment of Cedar Breaks National Monument. The geologic amphitheater and surrounding area are home to hiking trails, ancient trees, high elevation camping, and over-the-top views along the “Circle of Painted Cliffs.” Cedar Breaks’ majestic amphitheater is a three-mile-long cirque made up of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone. The monument sits above 10,000 feet. The Amphitheater is like a naturally formed coliseum that plunges 2,000 feet below amid colorful towers, hoodoos, and canyons. Stunning views are common throughout so keep your camera nearby.

Beyond Capitol Reef

The Capitol Reef Region is a relatively uncrowded landscape with seemingly endless public land to explore. The town of Torrey—an official International Dark Sky Community—is just a 15-minute drive from Capitol Reef National Park and a great base camp for exploration.

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

Snag a campsite in Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. There are plenty of options to contemplate in this Martian-like landscape. If you’re just passing through, Goblin Valley State Park famous for wind-shaped rock formations called hoodoos is a popular stop for families.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is also within easy driving distance of Grand Staircase and offers plenty of opportunities to cool off in Lake Powell with water sports you might not expect to find amid Utah’s high-desert landscapes.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Escalante Petrified Forest is among the most underrated, surprising, and all-around best state parks for escaping the crowds. If you want to be away from people, it’s pretty easy to find lots of remote space to camp while still having easy access to the main rock formations. Escalante Petrified Forest is located at Wide Hollow Reservoir, a small reservoir that is popular for boating, canoeing, fishing, and water sports. The park includes a developed campground with RV sites. There is also a pleasant picnic area.  On the hill above the campground, you can see large petrified logs. A marked hiking trail leads through the petrified forest. At the Visitor Center, you can view displays of plant and marine fossils, petrified wood, and fossilized dinosaur bones over 100 million years old.

Beyond Arches and Canyonlands

One of my favorite things about southern Utah is the way the landscapes transform from lush riverscape to shaded slot canyons to desert all in a short drive. For a week in the Arches and Canyonlands region start in Green River at the foot of Desolation Canyon Wilderness. Swasey’s Beach has developed camping and a great beach.

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

The scenic overlooks of Dead Horse Point State Park are often compared to views of the Grand Canyon. Just over 30 miles from Moab, it’s a worthy destination when Arches is overly crowded. The park gets its name from a gruesome legend. Around the turn of the century, the point was used as a corral for wild mustangs roaming the mesa top. One time, for some unknown reason, horses were left corralled on the waterless point where they died of thirst within view of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below.

Bears Ears National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From there, head to the lesser-visited west side of Canyonlands National Park for a guided 4×4 tour. Spend ample time in the Bears Ears National Monument area with a scenic drive through Valley of the Gods and visits to Goosenecks State Park and Natural Bridges National Monument—both of which are certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument located 42 miles west of Blanding or 47 miles north of Mexican Hat. These stunning rock bridges have Hopi Indian names: delicate Owachomo means ‘rock mounds’, massive Kachina means ‘dancer’ while Sipapu, the second-largest natural bridge in the state means ‘place of emergence’. A nine-mile scenic drive has overlooks of the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins. Moderate to difficult trails some with metal stairs lead down to each bridge. A longer trail follows the stream bed beneath all three bridges.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wild canyons and mountains of southern Utah have been around for over 2.6 billion years. Help to protect them for a few billion more.

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

Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Bryce Canyon is a must-see national park and I’ve highlighted the best viewpoints, hikes, and places to camp

Like many of America’s national parks, Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park has many cool pockets to explore. Nothing compares, though, to the feeling you get when standing before the hoodoos that make up the Bryce Amphitheater.

Bryce Canyon is home to the largest collection of hoodoos on Earth. It is not a canyon at all, actually, but a 6-square-mile field of intricately carved statues that were crafted over the course of millions of years by the forces of erosion. Facing east and south, vast mazes of high promontories, deep canyons, jagged spires of balancing rocks, and other mysterious formations are adorned by bold colors of red, coral, pink, and white.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The landscape at Bryce Canyon is totally unique—entirely different than nearby Zion as well as other Utah national parks—partly attributed to its high elevation location ranging from 8,000-9,000 feet. The air is thinner, the environment colder, and the wind much stronger. These elements come together to create an otherworld on the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Stepping onto any lookout you will almost certainly feel as though you are stepping foot onto the edge of another world. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park is a world-famous park with hundreds of sights to see. Hiking trails, swimming holes, hidden caves, rocky crags, and a plethora of natural wonders dot the landscape and invite visitors to explore and discover the natural beauty of Utah. The park encompasses thousands of acres meaning every time you visit there’s a chance to see new things and find new vistas to lay your eyes on.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Tour

Hitting the scenic auto trails in the national parks is often the best place to start to gain an understanding of the lay of the land. Many of the park roads were developed and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the early days of the park service in an effort to provide access to the most interesting features. A scenic tour along the 38-mile (round trip) Bryce Canyon National Park Rim Road provides access to 13 viewpoints that peer over the amphitheaters. It is a perfect first outing to get acquainted with the park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking Trails

A 1-mile walk between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point offers panoramic views of the amphitheater and is suitable for anyone. Each overlook is situated at a trailhead where you can descend into the hoodoos to explore deeper.

Sunset Point is usually the first stop on everyone’s list and is a top spot to capture shots of a golden forest of stone. There is no shortage of onlookers capturing selfies and panoramic shots of the amphitheater but you’ll likely find yourself distracted only by the geologic wonder. This area is called the Claron Formation and is made up of deposits from the Claron lakebed comprised of 50-million-year-old limestone that shows rich and vibrant color created by its iron oxide mineral compounds. Whether you are intrigued by geologic processes or just want to marvel at the area’s undeniable beauty, all visitors stop in their tracks at this famed overlook particularly when the sun falls onto the canyon spires.

The Rim Trail

There are multiple trails to try for your first time visiting this iconic national park with the most well-known and well-traveled being the Rim Trail. The Rim Trail allows visitors to gaze into the park’s natural amphitheater and shouldn’t prove too difficult for the less-exercised members of your hiking party. It’s rated easy and while long, there aren’t too many elevation changes. The most famous piece of imagery in the park, Thor’s Hammer” is viewable in its most iconic state from this trail.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This trail is about 10.7 miles long and features opportunities to view wildlife in its natural state. Utah wildlife you might encounter includes rocky mountain elk, pronghorns, migratory hummingbirds, and even nesting peregrine falcon (the world’s fastest bird).

The Rim Trail is located closest to the Sunset Campground in Bryce Canyon National Park which has hundreds of sites suitable for an RV. The Sunset Campground doesn’t have as many amenities as the North Campground but it is much more conveniently located to all of the most popular hiking trails.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Navajo Loop Trail

Standing inside of the amphitheater allows you to become a part of the landscape. The Navajo Loop trail is the park’s most popular hiking trail because of its accessibility and amazing beauty. Descending first into the Wall Street section you are thrust upon an iconic scene in the park, a 700-year-old Douglas fir tree that arises in the midst of a slot canyon searching for sunlight in the sky (see photo below). Hiking farther, you will find a vast network of trails leading into the hoodoos where you can chart your own course. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Peekaboo Loop Trail

Despite its child-friendly name, this trail may not be as fun for younger members of your party. With a medium rating, this 5.2-mile trail has elevation changes and rough terrain alike and might not be the best option for a fun family hike. However, that doesn’t mean there still isn’t plenty going for it. Utah’s natural rock formations and wildlife are able to be seen in all their glory easily.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Horseback riding is an option on this trail for party members who might have some experience riding on rocky and uneven terrain. Trotting over the red rock and gravelly paths makes for a unique experience. With a river running aside this trail which can flood in the spring and fall wildlife naturally gathers along this trail and virtually pose for photo ops.

This trail is located close to the Sunset Campground which has multiple campsites which can house RVs. That means the walk from your campsite to the beginning of the trail won’t make you tired before you even start out exploring.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairyland Loop

Fairyland Loop is a trail that sees fewer hikers due to its sheer difficulty. With 8.2 miles of trail running over steep and difficult terrain, the Fairyland Loop is no joke. Be prepared for limestone hoodoos in all their glory as well as nesting falcons and other sites of natural beauty to absorb. This trail is definitely difficult but that means more open air for you. Plus, it is pet-friendly so suit up Fido and bring him along.

The Fairyland Loop connects with other trails in the park meaning you can branch out and explore instead of taking the same route that others have done before at one point or another. The Fairyland leads to a lesser-known overlook of the park’s canyon and “Thor’s Hammer” in all their majestic beauty.

Since the Fairyland Loop is located closer to Sunset campground I recommend camping there if you’re planning on doing the entire Fairyland Loop in one day—it’s a tough trail and you’re going to need all the energy you can muster.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Camp in Your RV

Bryce Canyon has two campgrounds: North Campground and Sunset Campground. Both campgrounds contain hundreds of sites with different amenities and rules and permissions. The fee varies from site to site but typically it doesn’t go higher than $25-$35.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amenities that are included at the campsites include laundry, power hookups, swimming pools, showering facilities, electricity, Wi-Fi, animal care, freshwater, and even food! If you’re looking for a comprehensive hiking experience but still want to get everything you like at a moment’s notice, both campgrounds should do it for you.

While the North Campground is further away from hiking trails, it’s also the campground with more modern amenities. If this is of note to you, then you’ll do well to remember it. The Sunset Campground is more stripped-down but it offers prime access to hiking trails around the park as it’s much closer to trailheads. It’s basically up to you: do you want more amenities or do you prefer to be closer to the trailheads?

Fact Box

Size: 35,835 acres

Date Established: September 15, 1928 (dedicated a National Monument in 1923)

Location: Southwestern Utah

Recreational visits in 2020: 1,464,655

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How the park got its name: The national park was named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Scottish immigrant who homesteaded there in 1874. He was sent by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) who first scouted the area during the 1850s to determine its viability for settlement and development. Ebenezer Bryce considered to be the first true pioneer of the region lived at the foot of a canyon and herded cows; after a herding mishap he once famously declared that the area is “a hell of a place to lose a cow.”

Did you know?

The Bryce Amphitheater is 12 miles long, 3 miles in width, and 800 feet deep.

As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

Worth Pondering…

It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.

—Ebenezer Bryce, early homesteader at Bryce Canyon

Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks & Must-See Hidden Gems

Sheer beauty on an awe-inspiring scale and plenty of wide open space to enjoy it: this is what travelers search out in the months to come. And Utah has it.

From A to Z, Utah’s five national parks include some of the best-known favorites in the U.S. There might also be one or two that aren’t on your radar—yet.

Here’s a look at The Mighty 5.

MIGHTY FIVE

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visits in 2020: 1,238,083

Just like its name suggests this stunning national park is famous for its natural sandstone arches—over 2,000 of them. There are photo ops galore as the warm golden hues of the rock formations provide a striking contrast with the endless blue skies. Visitor favorites include Delicate Arch and the Landscape Arch. There’s also Balanced Rock which is exactly what it sounds like and must be seen to be believed. Arches is located just north of Moab near Utah’s eastern border.

BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visits in 2020: 1,464,65

Standing like sentinels and witness to millions of years of the Earth’s existence, the jagged hoodoos of Bryce Canyon are as haunting as they are beautiful. The towering red rocks also provide a playground for the many varieties of wildlife—from Rocky Mountain elk to the Utah prairie dog—that call Bryce Canyon home. At elevations of up to 9,100 feet, this park offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter—and hiking and horseback riding in the summer.

CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visits in 2020: 493,914

Canyonlands features a unique landscape of canyons, mesas, and buttes formed by the Colorado and Green rivers. At more than 337,597 acres, this is Utah’s largest national park. It’s also where visitors will find Mesa Arch, the star of so many photographs in Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district. Take the road less traveled and visit Canyonlands’ Needle District where you are on the canyon floor looking up at astonishing rock formations.

CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

Recreational visits in 2020: 981,038

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ve heard of a wrinkle in time—but how about a wrinkle on the earth? Also known as a geologic monocline, the 100-mile long Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef has cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges. Also of note: the 21-mile Capitol Reef Scenic Drive has vistas galore.

ZION NATIONAL PARK

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visits in 2020: 3,591,254

It was Utah’s first national park, and it’s also one of the top three most-visited national parks in the U.S. Larger-than-life Zion has a lot to live up to and it delivers with soft-hued sandstone cliffs glinting pink, white, and red in the brilliant sunshine. Zion’s other charms include Angels Landing, The Narrows, and the Emerald Pools Trails.

Beyond the Mighty 5, Utah has an additional seven national monuments, two national recreation areas, and 46 state parks including gems like Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, San Rafael Swell, and Snow Canyon State Park.

MUST-SEE HIDDEN GEMS

NATURAL BRIDGES NATIONAL MONUMENT

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon at Natural Bridges National Monument located 42 miles west of Blanding or 47 miles north of Mexican Hat. These stunning rock bridges have Hopi Indian names: delicate Owachomo means ‘rock mounds’, massive Kachina means ‘dancer’, while Sipapu, the second-largest natural bridge in the state, means ‘place of emergence’. A nine-mile scenic drive has overlooks of the bridges, canyons, and a touch of history with ancient Puebloan ruins. Moderate to difficult trails, some with metal stairs lead down to each bridge. A longer trail follows the stream bed beneath all three bridges.

LITTLE GRAND CANYON

San Rafael River Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Canyon is a destination on many people’s bucket lists. But did you know Utah has its very own version of the Grand Canyon? Little Grand Canyon is located in the deepest part of the San Rafael River canyon located directly beneath the Wedge Overlook in the San Rafael Swell. The Swell covers a large area and until modern times posed a formidable barrier to east-west travel. Only two roads actually cross it including I-70 (from Salina to Green River) which cuts right through its middle. Several rest stops are provided in scenic areas. You’ll have breathtaking views into Eagle, Devils, Black Dragon, and several other deep, sheer-walled canyons.

San Rafael River Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Wedge Overlook you can look out over the Little Grand Canyon of the San Rafael. It’s a majestic viewpoint that does indeed resemble the world-famous Colorado River chasm. When you approach the edge—carefully—and peer over the side, the river hundreds of feet below and then gaze out at the distant mesas, you realize there is nothing “little” about this canyon. The big difference between The Wedge and other scenic vistas is the solitude. You will probably be the only one on the rim.

San Rafael River Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to get to know the Swell on a more personal basis—and still remain in your car—drive the Buckhorn Draw Road, designated as one of Utah’s Scenic Backways. Also, drive the spur down to the Wedge Overlook. These are maintained gravel/dirt roads, washboardy in spots, but nothing which will pull your muffler off. They will guide you through the changing faces of the Swell from dry desert to juniper and pinion trees to streambeds where a trickle of water enables lush vegetation in the canyon bottoms.

This is a hot, dry country and you need to be prepared for emergencies. Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return. Carry water, food, and emergency supplies. If your vehicle breaks down on a backroad it may be days before someone happens along that way.

San Rafael River Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ideal time to hike the Swell is during spring or fall when temperatures are moderate. Morning or evening hikes are enjoyable during the summer. Carry water if you are hiking any distance.

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

The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

This 76,000-acre wonderland is less a park and more a sandstone sculpture garden of sunset-hued arches and domes. Here’s how to outsmart the crowds.

Good morning. Your friendly reminder that with the summer solstice arriving tomorrow, this weekend will have the most daylight of any weekend this year (in the Northern Hemisphere). Enjoy it!

Before earning its spot as one of Utah’s five national parks in 1971, this fantastical landscape spent over 40 years as a national monument. It was during this time that esteemed writer and environmentalist Edward Abbey worked at Arches as a seasonal ranger documenting both his love for the area and his disdain for people’s poor treatment of it in the classic Desert Solitaire. Abbey spent only two years at the park.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What You Need to Know Before Visiting 

Watch the mercury (and your H20 intake). Heat-related illness is a common affliction for those who fail to respect both the weather and their own bodily needs. Park guidelines suggest consuming a gallon of water per day year-round to stay hydrated during your time at the park and after my hiking experiences in the Southwest desert areas I’d say that advice is pretty spot-on. You’ll find water at the visitor center and at the Devils Garden Campground and trailhead. Since the shade is even harder to come by than water packing a wide-brimmed hat is good advice (I recommend a Tilley).

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy—and respect—the power of wind and water. The park’s incredible formations wouldn’t exist without the power of Mother Nature at her most intense. These same erosive forces continue to shape Arches today. Visitors have been stranded on trails and roads when flash floods overtake low-lying areas. Sandstone fins (narrow walls that remain after surrounding rock has been eroded away) are no place to be near during high winds. Skyline Arch doubled in size after dislodging a hefty boulder in 1940, Landscape Arch gave up some of its innards in 1991, and Wall Arch disintegrated in 2008. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park feels crowded but it actually isn’t. Relatively speaking, Arches is a fairly compact park (at roughly 76,000 acres) with very few named routes. This means that viewpoints and trails (not to mention front-gate traffic) can often feel jammed. You can still beat the crowds, however, by going the extra mile—literally and figuratively. Arrive before dawn. Not only is it absolutely awe-inspiring to watch the sunrise light up the sandstone (along with the La Sal Mountains to the southeast) but you’ll nab some solitude on the park’s most popular trails. You can also branch out on Arches’ network of unpaved roads. Developed areas make up only a tiny portion of the park’s acreage and there’s so much more to see once you leave the pavement behind. 

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to Get There

Arches National Park is located off U.S. Route 191, just north of Moab which is centrally situated near Utah’s border with Colorado.

When Is the Best Time of Year to Visit Arches National Park?

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter

Snow isn’t uncommon during the winter months when temperatures hover in the forties during the day and routinely dip below freezing at night. But if you’re prepared with the proper gear, it’s a real treat to see the vivid red-rock landscape all snow capped. This time of year the park experiences its lowest visitation and you’re sure to snag a site at its sole campground.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring

Welcome back, humans! Between the thawed-out trails and crowd-drawing events to Moab, prepare to jostle for space at popular viewpoints and trails. It’s hard to beat Arches this time of year—the mercury begins to rise with daytime highs topping off in the sixties and seventies and tiny wildflowers start to sprout from the desert crust.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summer

The best way for most folks to experience Arches in the summertime is from inside an air-conditioned vehicle or toward nightfall when temperatures slide into the sixties. That said, you’ll see just as many people crawling along its trails in July as you will in April—and that is a lot. I can’t say it enough: carry lots of water and drink said water, no matter the kind of activity. And come prepared for the monsoon season which is marked by intense thunderstorms prone to causing flash floods; this season begins in July and can last through September.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall

Sweet relief! Temperatures dip back down to mirror springtime conditions and come November, the hordes begin to do the same. I have toured Arches in November and it’s been an amazing experience due to the pleasant weather and lack of crowds. Darkness arrives more quickly this time of year but that just leaves more time for stargazing.

Devils Garden Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Camp in and near Arches

The only camping option inside the park is the Devils Garden Campground, a slickrock-flanked oasis at the end of the park’s main road. Reservations are available and recommended via Recreation.gov, March through October and are available up to six months in advance; its 51 sites are first come, first served the rest of the year. 

Devils Garden Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you strike out, there are plenty of other options scattered around the greater Moab area including an endless parade of RV parks and resorts stuffed with equally endless amenities. For more rustic surrounds, bunk down at one of 26 different BLM camping areas all of which are first come, first served except for the reservoir-adjacent Ken’s Lake Campground which requires advance reservations from March through mid-November.

What to Do

Along the 18-mile scenic drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sightseeing

Get the lay of the land by driving the park’s 18-mile scenic drive which rolls past a handful of pull-outs and overlooks that showcase the park’s wild landscape. A spur marked by signage for the park’s Windows Section—so named for the portholes that have been gouged from the rock—is not to be missed.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day Hiking

Yes, it’s worth the hype—you really should see Delicate Arch while you’re at Arches. You don’t have to make the somewhat strenuous three-mile round-trip to do so; instead, bypass the trailhead and drive a little farther down to a pair of viewpoints. The lower one is only 50 yards from the parking lot along an accessible path while the upper one rewards a half-mile climb with a closer look.

Balanced Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another accessible and very worthy stop is the gravity-defying Balanced Rock which can be seen from its parking lot or from a 0.3-mile loop, roughly half of which is paved. Nearby, the Windows Area is a popular stop especially at sunrise when you can scamper around the back side of North Window to look through and spot Turret Arch bathed in reddish glow. The mile-long Park Avenue Trail which connects its namesake overlook with the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint is a quieter option (though just as beautiful) especially at sunrise and sunset. 

Landscape Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Deeper into the park the impossibly thin Landscape Arch (1.8 miles round-trip), the longest such span in North America at 306 feet, is a must-see. If you’re feeling adventurous continue past this point to complete a 7.9-mile loop of the Devils Garden area. The route travels across sandstone fins and requires good navigation skills.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving

While you can’t go off-roading (or use off-highway vehicles) anywhere in the park, you can get off the beaten path by driving around its quiet interior via a network of unpaved roads, one of which—Salt Valley Road—is accessible to two-wheel-drive vehicles. This route travels between the Devils Garden area and the park’s northeast boundary; a 2.6-mile round-trip near the latter deposits you at Tower Arch situated in the fantastically lumpy Klondike Bluffs. If you have four-wheel drive visit Herdina Park, an even more remote area home to several arches and zero crowds. Keep an eye on the weather no matter where you drive and stay off backcountry roads right after a rain when they turn into mush. 

Cycling

Moab is arguably one of the best mountain-biking destinations in the U.S. but you can’t get your fix inside the park where it isn’t allowed. That said, you can still cruise along any of its roads. Just know that you’re going to share space with a lot of cars if you stick to pavement; making the steep, narrow, winding climb from or descent to the visitor center not without its risks especially.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyoneering

A journey through the Fiery Furnace, an unmarked sandstone labyrinth that requires quality boots, a good sense of balance, and an even better sense of direction. While it’s possible to purchase a permit for a self-guided trip ($3 to $6 via recreation.gov), it’s better to buy a ticket for a ranger-led tour ($10 to $16) unless you have previous experience navigating the mazelike canyons or are traveling with someone who does. (Note: The Fiery Furnace has been closed throughout the COVID pandemic.) 

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If You Have Time for a Detour

Listen—it’s not if you have time for a detour, it’s that you’d better make time for a detour. Moab is a fantastic base camp for enjoying all the region has to offer. 

The most obvious side trip is one to neighboring Canyonlands National Park about a half-hour southwest from Arches. This section of the park rises like a wedge above the snaking Colorado and Green Rivers whose tight bends carve canyons over 2,000 feet below the overlook. For a more illuminating perspective on the local landscape, set out at dawn for the short hike to cliffside Mesa Arch which glows at sunrise; just know that you won’t be the only person jockeying for the perfect photo.

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

The same road that leads to Canyonlands, State Route 313, will also steer you toward Dead Horse Point State Park whose namesake overlook is worth the price of admission. But you’d be remiss to simply gawk and go; instead, leash up Fido to enjoy the roughly seven miles of trail that trace the rim or pedal the park’s network of beginner-to-intermediate-level mountain-bike trails.

Castle Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although it’s incredible to scope the mighty Colorado River from high above its waters, make time to get down to its level by driving all 44 eye-popping miles of State Route 128 most of which runs directly next to the iconic flow. Dip off the main drag for side trips to ogle—or even climb—the postcard spires of Castle Valley and Fisher Towers; a 4.5-mile trail weaves throughout the latter.

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey

Oh No, Mother Nature Played Favorites

Mother Nature played favorites in Utah from the Mighty 5 national parks to national monuments and state parks

Summer is right around the corner that means it’s time to visit Utah’s National Parks

Utah is known for its many national parks, most notably the Mighty Five:

  • Arches National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Capitol Reef National Park 
  • Zion National Park 
Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mother Nature played favorites in Utah from the incredible mountains to the powerful desert red rocks and the Mighty Five are just the beginning. Utah does not lead the nation in most national parks per state. California has nine national parks and Alaska has eight. 

But, Utah’s gems are abundant. Utah is home to the Mighty Five (national parks), 46 state parks, seven national monuments, two national recreation areas, 23 accredited Dark Sky places, and The Greatest Snow on Earth.

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

Follow these tips for safe, responsible national park visits in Utah: 

  • Plan ahead
  • Stay on marked trails
  • Prepare for your trip with adequate water, sun protection, clothing, and gear
  • Arrive at popular recreation sites early in the morning and visit hidden gems as part of your trip
  • Respect the restrictions in national and parks intended for public safety and protection of the environment
Quail Gate State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s National Parks traditionally see a high-volume of visitation between March and September with the summer months being the most trafficked. Choose to visit during early morning hours, late afternoon and early evening, and try to avoid weekends and holidays. 

Utah’s vast, unique landscapes inspire adventure and discovery. Through the pandemic, Utah’s national and state parks, dark sky places, and off-the-beaten path destinations have called travelers from within the state and across the country and to come and explore. Utah’s mighty places allow visitors to have a truly rarified, unique experience.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Recreational visits in 2020: 1,238,083

Arches National Park lives up to its name and has more than 2,000 natural stone arches, the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world. These sandstone geological formations are the result of erosion and a thick layer of salt beneath the rock surface. The arches are impermanent, however; the 71-foot Wall Arch collapsed in 2008.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Recreational visits in 2020: 1,464,655

Bryce Canyon National Park has the world’s largest collection of hoodoos, pillars of rock left standing after erosion. Bryce Canyon contains a series of natural amphitheaters and bowls, the most famous being Bryce Amphitheater which is full of the park’s iconic hoodoos. The park is one of three national parks to house the Grand Staircase geological formation which is a giant sequence of sedimentary rock layers.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Recreational visits in 2020: 493,914

Canyonlands National Park features a unique landscape of canyons, mesas, and buttes formed by the Colorado and Green rivers. Even though the park is considered a desert its high elevation gives it a varying climate; temperatures here can fluctuate as much as 50 degrees in 24 hours. Take the road less traveled and visit Canyonlands’ Needle District where you are on the canyon floor looking up at astonishing rock formations.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Recreational visits in 2020: 981,038

Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is famous for the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline extending almost 100 miles and considered a “wrinkle on the earth.” The fold was formed 50 to 70 million years ago as a warp in the Earth’s crust and erosion has exposed the fold at the surface. The park has some of the darkest night skies in the United States so much so that it has been designated an International Dark Sky Park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Recreational visits in 2020: 3,591,254

Zion National Park was Utah’s first national park and is famous for its landscape of giant colorful sandstone cliffs. Around 12,000 years ago the first people to visit this land tracked mammoths, giant sloths, and camels until those animals died about 8,000 years ago. Because of the range in elevation in the park, it has more than 1,000 diverse plant species.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond the Mighty Five, Utah has an additional seven national monuments, two national recreation areas, and 46 state parks including gems like Glen Caynon National Recreation Area, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bears Ears National Monument, Sand Hollow State Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park.

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

Spotlight on Utah: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Soaring peaks and deep red canyons around every bend

Every state thinks it’s fun. Every state claims to have “something for everyone.” But not every state has five national parks, 45 state parks, five national historic sites and trails, and a dozen national monuments and recreation areas. There isn’t a single amazing thing about Utah. There are about ten zillion. So start poking around and figure out what to put at the top of your list.

When visiting Utah, definitely take in the Mighty 5. But don’t let the splendor of it all blind you to the other spectacular experiences the state has to offer.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Discover a landscape of contrasting colors, land forms, and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red-rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets. Notable landmarks include Landscape Arch, the North and South Windows, Park Avenue, and Balanced Rock.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

In Utah’s southwest corner, the Virgin River carved through 2,000 feet of porous sandstone, forming a canyon so grand it needed a name equally majestic: In Hebrew, “Zion” means “promised land.” The seasons drastically change Zion’s landscape; cottonwood trees glow gold in the fall, the ridges shine with snow in winter, and waterfalls and pools spring to life in summer. There’s no bad time to visit Zion.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Unusual, elaborate cliffs and canyons shape the landscape of Capitol Reef. The Waterpocket Fold, the second largest monocline in North America, extends for nearly 100 miles and appears as a bizarre “wrinkle” in the Earth’s crust. Red-rock canyons, ridges, buttes, and sandstone monoliths create a 387-mile outdoor retreat for hikers, campers, and photographers.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

The past 60 million years have done a number on this section of southern Utah turning it into the world’s largest collection of hoodoos. The park’s 18-mile scenic drive takes you by a series of amphitheaters. But at 12 miles long, three miles wide, and 800 feet deep, Bryce Amphitheater steals the show. You’ll find the best views at the first four overlooks.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands has four separate districts and you can’t access one from another. Island in the Sky is the most popular and accessible. Here, head to Grand View Point for panoramas of the White Rim sandstone cliffs. With one paved road, the Needles district is rugged and difficult to navigate, so its many trails are consistently quiet. The Maze district is harder still to access. The Colorado and Green rivers make up the fourth district; parts of both are calm enough for kayaking.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

Located in southwestern Utah, Scenic Byway 12 is nestled between two national parks—Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon. A 121-mile-long All-American  Road, Scenic Byway 12 winds and climbs and twists and turns and descends as it snakes its way through memorable landscapes ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moki Dugway

Moki Dugway is a staggering, graded dirt switchback road carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa. It consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks (11 percent grade) which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods below. The term “moki” is derived from the Spanish word, moqui, a general term used by explorers in this region to describe Pueblo Indians they encountered as well as the vanished Ancestral Puebloan culture. Dugway is a term used to describe a roadway carved from a hillside.

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

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase-Escalante contains three distinct units, Grand Staircase, Kaiparowits, and Escalante Canyon. The Monument was the last place in the U. S. to be mapped. From its spectacular Grand Staircase of cliffs and terraces, across the rugged Kaiparowits Plateau, to the wonders of the Escalante River Canyons, the Monument is a diverse geologic treasure speckled with monoliths, slot canyons, natural bridges, and arches. 

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley boasts sandstone masterpieces that tower to heights of 400 to 1,000 feet. The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations providing scenery that is simply spellbinding.

The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument

Three majestic natural bridges invite you to ponder the power of water in a landscape usually defined by its absence. View them from an overlook, or hit the trails and experience their grandeur from below. The bridges are named Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu in honor of the ancestral Puebloans who once made this place their home.

Utah Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Lake State Park

Utah Lake is unique in that it is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the West and yet it lies in an arid area that receives only about 15 inches of rainfall a year. Utah’s largest freshwater lake at roughly 148 sq. miles, Utah Lake provides a variety of recreation activities. With an average water temperature of 75 degrees, Utah Lake provides an excellent outlet for swimming, boating, paddleboarding, and fishing. The RV campground consists of 31 sites, complete with water and electric hookups.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fish Lake Scenic Byway

Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) bookends Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis featuring three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons. Fishlake National Forest is known for its aspen forests, scenic drives, trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and rainbow trout fishing. Fish Lake, Utah’s largest natural mountain lake lies in a down-faulted valley at an elevation of 8,843 feet. The 5.5-mile-long lake is one of the most popular fishing resorts in the state.

Matheson Wetlands, Moab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab

This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain.

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway

Cutting through the red rock gorge of the Colorado River, this 44-mile long byway (UT-128) offers a panoramic view of the LaSal Mountains whose snow-capped peaks rise in vivid contrast to the red rock sandstone typical of this canyon country. About four miles from Grandstaff Canyon, the byway passes the Big Bend Campground and picnic area with its white sand beach. The next section of the road closely parallels the Colorado River.

Dixie National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dixie National Forest

This massive 2-million-acre forest is known by most people as little more than a cool photo-op spot on the way to Bryce Canyon but those who linger will be rewarded with amazing sights. The crimson canyons of the forest’s aptly-named Red Canyon area are easy to access (with some sections of picturesque road carved right through the canyon) but also explore the aspen-packed Boulder Mountain area or peer out into three states from the top of Powell Point.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Quail Creek State Park

Boasting some of the warmest waters in the state and a mild winter climate, Quail Creek lures campers, hikers, boaters, and anglers year-round. The maximum depth of Quail Creek can reach 120 feet so it is cold enough to sustain the stocked rainbow trout, bullhead catfish, and crappie. Largemouth bass and bluegill thrive in the warmer, upper layers of the reservoir.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Situated at an elevation of 10,000 feet, Cedar Breaks is shaped like a giant coliseum dropping 2,000 feet to its floor. Deep inside the coliseum are stone spires, columns, arches, pinnacles, and intricate canyons in varying shades of red, yellow, and purple. The bristlecone pine, one of the world’s oldest trees, grows in the area.

La Sal Mountain Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Sal Mountain Loop Road

A special place full of wonderful sights, smells, and sounds is the La Sal Mountains just east of Moab. The second-highest mountain range in Utah, the La Sals have six peaks that soar over 12,000 feet. One of the best ways to become acquainted with these mountains is to take a road trip along the La Sal Mountain Scenic Loop. The La Sal Mountains occupy a relatively small area running just 15 miles north to south and 6 miles across. They are most easily accessed from the west on the La Sal Mountain Loop Road that begins south of Moab.

Bears Ears National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bears Ears National Monument

The twin, towering buttes are so distinctive that in each of the native languages of the region their name is the same: Hoon’Naqvut, Shash Jáa, Kwiyagatu Nukavachi, Ansh An Lashokdiwe, or in English: Bears Ears. The land includes red rock, juniper forests, a high plateau, and an abundance of early human and Native American historical artifacts.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods is a scenic backcountry area is southeastern Utah, near Mexican Hat. It is a hidden gem with scenery similar to that of nearby Monument Valley. Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles, and wide-open spaces that seem to go on forever. Located on BLM land, the area is open for hiking, backpacking, and camping. A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley. It is sandy and bumpy, with steep sections. It provides a fun drive through an area that is usually deserted. It is a great place to get away from civilization

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

Dead Horse Point State Park

Dead Horse Point State Park is located at the end of a beautiful mesa where you can look for miles into Canyonlands National Park or 2,000 feet down to the Colorado River. The vista offers outstanding views of the river and surrounding canyon country. There are a few short hikes around the edge of the mesa with stunning views into the deep canyons. The Intrepid Trail System offers 16.6 miles of hiking and biking trails with varying degrees of difficulty.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument

The six abandoned Ancestral Puebloan ruins in Hovenweep National Monument are impressive not only for their excellent state of preservation but also for the diversity in the structures. The park preserves 700-year-old—and even older—archeological sites that visitors can access by paved and dirt roads. Hovenweep boasts incredible skies for night viewing and has been named a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sand Hollow State Park

With its warm, blue waters and red sandstone landscape, one of Utah’s newer state parks is also one of its most popular. Boat, fish, and dive at Sand Hollow Reservoir, explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain on an off-highway vehicle, RV or tent camp in a campground on the beach. Boating and fishing on its warm blue waters is the most popular activity in the warmer months but visitors can also go off-roading amidst wild red sandstone dunes in the park’s Sand Mountain area.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park

Camp along the shores of Wide Hollow Reservoir or rent a canoe, kayak, or paddle board. Hike along park nature trails through a petrified forest. Bordering the massive Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, this rarely visited jewel on Scenic Byway 12 allows you to peep fossilized dinosaur bones before trekking through an ancient petrified forest.

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway

The Moab area is known for its abundance of Indian rock art. This byway (UT-279) features several petroglyph panels with many individual carvings depicting symbolic animals. Other ancient traces include a roadside display of dinosaur tracks and a number of delicate, naturally formed stone arches. There are also many opportunities for outdoor adventure and extreme sports. Climb Wall Street, a popular stretch of cliffs just after JayCee Campground.

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