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

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

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

When is the best time to go camping in Utah?

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

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

Driving in Utah

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

Some of the major highways in Utah include:

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

Scenic drives in Utah

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

Utah Scenic Byways include:

Zion-Mt. Carmel Scenic Highway

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

Scenic Byway 12

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

Scenic Byway 24 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 24

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

Mt. Carmel to Long Valley Scenic Byway

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

Logan Canyon Scenic Byway

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

National Parks in Utah

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

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

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

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

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

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

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

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

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

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

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

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

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

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

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

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

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

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

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

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

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah State Parks

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

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

Camping near Salt Lake City

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

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

Camping on the Great Salt Lake

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

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

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

Camping on Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Powell camping

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

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

Camping near Moab

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

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

Boondocking in Utah

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

Plan your Utah camping trip

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

Worth Pondering…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Behind the 2023 trends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best camping sites at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

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

Campgrounds Operated by NPS

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

Lees Ferry Campground

Camping fee: $20 per site/per night

Designated sites: 54

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

Lone Rock Beach Primitive Camping Area

Camping fee: $14 per vehicle/per night

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

Stanton Creek Primitive Camping Area

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

Beehives Campground

Camping fee: $14 per night

Designated sites: 6

Location: Across the highway from Wahweap South Entrance

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

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

Campgrounds Operated by Park Concessioners

Book your campsite through the consessioner.

Wahweap Campground & RV Park

Location: Wahweap developed area

Operated by: Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas

Camping fee: Fees vary

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

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

Bullfrog RV & Campground

Location: Bullfrog developed area

Operated by: Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas

Camping fee: Fees vary

Designated sites: 78

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

Reservations: No reservations

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

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

Halls Crossing RV & Campground

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

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

Antelope Point RV Park

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

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

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

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

Most recent Utah travel stories

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Wesley Powell, 1869 Colorado River Exploration.

A Guide to Utah’s Public Lands

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

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

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

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

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping and hiking

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

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

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

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

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mighty 5 national parks

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

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

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

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skiing

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

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

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

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Local leaders chafe against federal control

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

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

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

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

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

Growing interest

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

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

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

Quail Gate State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why we LOVE Utah

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

That’s why I wrote these five articles:

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jack Kerouac, On the Road

The Best National Parks to Visit in November

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

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

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

Planning a trip to the national parks in November and don’t know which ones to visit? The cooler weather in November makes this one of the best times of the year to visit the parks across the southern part of the US. Road trip through Utah’s Mighty 5, go sledding on sand as white as the snow, and explore the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. In this guide, I list 12 wonderful national parks to visit in November plus four bonus parks.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About this National Park series

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

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

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

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

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting the National Parks in November

By November, the weather has turned colder and the days are getting much shorter. But this cool weather is a great time to visit the national parks across the southern half of the US.

Crowds tend to be low in the national parks in November because of the cool weather and the upcoming holiday season. You can take advantage of this and visit some of the most popular parks in the US with low crowds.

This is a fantastic month to visit Utah’s Mighty 5 (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches). It can be chilly this time of year but this is my favorite month to visit these parks since they less crowded than in September or October. A dusting of snow in these parks which is possible makes them even more beautiful. For the warmest weather and lower crowds go at the beginning of November.

I have a long list of parks to share with you, so let’s get started.

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

Best National Parks in November

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Canyonlands National Park

Location: Utah

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

Explore the Island in the Sky, the most popular area of Canyonlands. Visit the overlooks on the mesa, hike the short trails, and if you want to do a longer hike, you can hike below the rim or hike the Syncline Loop. Journey below the rim for an unforgettable experience. Drive the twisting Shafer Canyon switchbacks onto the White Rim and then spend a few days driving through remote landscapes. Called the White Rim Road, this is one of the best experiences in the national park system.

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

Why visit Canyonlands in November: November is one of the quietest months of the year to visit Canyonlands. It can be chilly if not downright cold in November so go early in the month for the warmest temperatures (or go in October, but it will be more crowded). If you want to drive the White Rim Road, this is one of the easiest months of the year to get a permit.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 50°F and the average low is 33°F. Precipitation is very low and could fall as light snow. On warmer than average days, the temperature can get up into the 60s. Canyonlands is colder than its nearby neighbor Arches National Park since it sits at a higher elevation.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 5 pm.

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

Ultimate adventure: Drive or mountain bike the White Rim Road. This is a 100-mile unpaved road that makes a loop around the Island in the Sky mesa. It takes 2 to 3 days to do this drive.

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

Plan your visit

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Arches National Park

Location: Utah

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

This small park is easy to visit. One main road runs through the heart of park. You can see the highlights of the park right from this road or by taking short hikes but for those who want to venture deeper into the park, there are several very cool hikes to choose from.

Hiking to Delicate Arch is one of the top experiences in Arches National Park but the Devils Garden Trail is another great hike to add to your to do list.

Why visit Arches in November: Like Canyonlands, this is off-season in the park and one of the quietest months of the year.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: In November, the average high is 56°F and the average low is 33°F. During periods of unseasonably warm weather, daytime temperatures can get into the 70s. Rainfall is very low.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 5 pm.

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

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

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

Plan your visit

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Bryce Canyon National Park

Location: Utah

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

This park is small and easy to explore. You can simply enjoy the view from the rim or venture down into the fantasyland of hoodoos and sandstone pillars.

In November, you have a chance to see Bryce Canyon covered with snow, a magical sight to see.

Why visit Bryce Canyon in November: For the chance to see Bryce Canyon with a dusting of snow. The amount of snowfall increases in December but daytime high’s struggle to get above freezing. I like November since the weather is warmer than the winter months but you still have a chance to see Bryce Canyon with snow.

Weather: In November, the average high is 46°F and the average low is 23°F. There is a good chance of snow and on average Bryce Canyon receives about 10 inches of snow in November. Bryce Canyon has the highest elevation of the parks in Utah’s Mighty 5, making this the coolest one to visit.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:10 am and sunset is at 5:15 pm.

Top experiences: Some of the best viewpoints are along the rim and easy to access by car: Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point. Hike the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop, a 3-mile hike past some of the best scenery in the park. Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point are also nice viewpoints.

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

How much time do you need? One day is all you need to see the views from the rim and hike one to two short trails in the park. But I recommend an additional day or two.

Plan your visit

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Capitol Reef National Park

Location: Utah

Capitol Reef National Park may be one of the least visited national parks in Utah but don’t let that fool you. This underrated park has not one but three spectacular scenic drive, hiking trails that rival those in Zion, and landscapes that are some of the most beautiful in the United States.

Most people drive right through the heart of the park visiting the sights along Highway 24 which is an enjoyable experience. But the real adventures lie beyond this highway. Drive through the remote Cathedral Valley or Loop the Fold, a scenic drive that leads to hidden slot canyons and big viewpoints.

Why visit capitol Reef in November: Temperatures are chilly this time of year but crowds are very low. We visited Capitol Reef in early November and absolutely loved it. The weather was pleasant with high temperatures in the 70s.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: In November, the average high is 51°F and the average low is 30°F. A light dusting of snow is possible.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:10 am and sunset is at 5:15 pm.

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

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

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

Plan your visit

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Zion National Park

Location: Utah

Zion National Park is a hiker’s paradise. This relatively small park is packed with some of the most thrilling trails in the United States.

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

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

Zion is also one of the most popular parks in the US to visit. For the best experience, plan on visiting the park in the shoulder season. November is one of the best months of the year to visit Zion since the weather is still relatively warm and crowds are lower than many other months of the year.

Why visit Zion in November: To avoid the crowds. This is one of the quietest months to visit the park in terms of visitation. The weather is also fantastic for hiking.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 64°F and the average low is 37°. Temperatures can get into the 80s on unusually warm days. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise and sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 5:20 pm which gives you 10 hours of daylight.

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

Ultimate adventure: There are several to choose from. Hike the Zion Narrows from the top-down as a long day hike or a two-day backpacking trip. The Subway is another strenuous but gorgeous hike, and you will need canyoneering experience for this one. The West Rim Trail is a great two-day backpacking trip or a one day mega-hike.

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

Plan your visit

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. White Sands National Park

Location: New Mexico

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

Why visit White Sands in November: The weather is relatively warm and crowds tend to be low in November.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: In November, the average high is 67°F and the average low is 30°F. Rainfall is very low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:30 am and sunset is at 5 pm.

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

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

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

Plan your visit

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Grand Canyon National Park

Location: Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited parks in the US with people from all around the world traveling here to see this natural wonder.

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

In mid-October, the North Rim closes once the snow begins to fall. So in November, the South Rim is where you will spend your time. Along the South Rim, roads and hiking trails lead to jaw-dropping views of the Grand Canyon. You also have the option to hike below the rim or take a helicopter tour for different perspectives of the Grand Canyon.

Why visit the Grand Canyon in November: The Grand Canyon is busy all year, November tends to be one of the least visited months to visit this park. If you have plans to hike the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trail loop, November is a great time to do it when temperatures are cooler. Once you get below the rim closer to the Colorado River, the air temperature is much warmer.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 53°F and the average low is 25°F. There is a small chance you could see a dusting of snow in November.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7 am and sunset is at 5:20 pm.

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

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

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

Plan your visit

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Petrified Forest National Park

Location: Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park is named for the petrified wood that dates back millions of years to a time when this land was lush and fertile.

But there is more to this park than looking at chunks of crystallized wood. The Painted Desert and the Blue Forest with their colorful, zebra-striped hills are a beautiful sight to see. There are also a few great trails to hike which are perfect for all ages and ability levels.

Why visit Petrified Forest in November: The weather is a bit on the cool side in November but crowds are low which is worthly bonus. If you have plans to road trip through the American Southwest this month, Petrified Forest National Park is nice add-on.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 58°F and the average low is 28°F. Rainfall is low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:50 am and sunset is at 5:15 pm.

Top experiences: View the Painted Desert from the overlooks, see the petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock, see the Teepees on Petrified Forest Road, walk the Blue Mesa Trail, and see the petrified wood at Crystal Forest and along the Giant Logs Trail.

Ultimate adventure: The Blue Forest hike is a favorite experience in Petrified Forest National Park. This 3-mile trail takes you through the badlands, one of the most beautiful parts of the park.

How much time do you need? One day is plenty of time to drive through the park, visit the overlooks, and hike a few short trails but I recommend a second day to explore hikes you missed on the first day.

Plan your visit

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Congaree National Park

Location: South Carolina

Congaree National Park protects the oldest bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern United States. Often mistaken for a swamp this floodplain is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country.

This small national park is quick and easy to visit. With just a few hours, you can walk the boardwalk trail but with more time there are longer trails to hike and you can go canoeing or kayaking on Cedar Creek, one of the best experiences in the park.

Why visit Congaree in November: The weather is fantastic, crowds are low, and mosquitoes are not an issue. The park tends to be dry this time of year so the boardwalk trails and hiking trails are less likely to be flooded. We visited Congaree in November and the weather was ideal and the leaves were changing color.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: In November, the average high is 68°F and the average low is 42°F. With 3 inches of rain this is one of the driest months to visit Congaree.

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

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

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

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

Plan your visit

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Joshua Tree National Park

Location: California

With its desert scenery, hiking trails, hidden oases, scenic drives, rock climbing routes, and trees that look like they belong in a Dr. Seuss book, Joshua Tree National Park is a joy to explore.

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

Why visit Joshua Tree National Park in November: For November, this is one of the warmest national parks on this list to visit. The conditions are perfect for hiking.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 67°F and the average low is 40°F. Rainfall is extremely low.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:15 am and sunset is at 4:40 pm.

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

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

Plan your visit

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Pinnacles National Park

Location: California

Pinnacles National Park preserves and protects the mountains on the eastern end of Salinas Valley. These mountains are the remnants of an extinct volcano.

The rocky pinnacles are a popular rock climbing destination and this park is also one of the few locations where you can spot the California condor in the wild.

This is one of the newest national parks (it became a national park in 2013) and least visited national parks (it was the 19th least visited park in 2022).

Why visit Pinnacles in November: The weather is perfect for hiking and rock climbing. Pinnacles National Park is a very hot and dry place to visit during the summer and early fall with the temperature as high as 115°F on the hottest days. We visited Pinnacles in November and the weather was ideal.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 70°F and the average low is 37°F. On unusually warm days the daytime temperature can get into the 80s. Rainfall is low at just over 1 inch. The wet season begins in December and lasts through March.
Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 6:40 am and sunset is at 5 pm.

Top Experiences: Hike the High Peaks Loop and the Bear Gulch Cave Trail, explore the Balconies cave, spot California condors, enjoy the view from Condor Gulch Overlook, and go rock climbing.

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

Plan your visit

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Big Bend National Park

Location: Texas

Big Bend National Park is located in southwestern Texas. The Rio Grande forms the border between Mexico and Big Bend National Park and Big Bend gets its name from the prominent bend in the Rio Grande on this border.

This national park protects the largest area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the US as well as the Chisos Mountains. Big Bend is a top hiking destination with trails leading high into these mountains and into canyons along the Rio Grande.

Why visit Big Bend in November: By November, temperatures in the park are cooling off. The average high temperature is 70°F but during periods of unusually warm weather you could still see temperatures get into the 80’s. Rainfall is low.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: The average high is 70°F and the average low is 45°F. Rainfall is low with about ¾ of an inch.

Sunrise & sunset: Sunrise is at 7:15 am and sunset is at 6 pm.

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

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

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

Plan your visit

One more parks to visit

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

In November, the weather is pretty much perfect in Saguaro National Park. The high temperature averages 75°F and rainfall is extremely low.

Bonus! 4 NPS sites to visit in November

Cowpens National Battlefield © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cowpens National Battlefield

Cowpens National Battlefield commemorates a decisive battle that helped turn the tide of war in the Southern Campaign of the American Revolution. On this field on January 17, 1781, Daniel Morgan led his army of tough Continentals, militia, and cavalry to a brilliant victory over Banastre Tarleton’s force of British regulars. The battle at the Cow Pens is one of only a few successful double envelopments in history.

Coronado National Memorial © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coronado National Memorial

The site of the Coronado National Monument features panoramic views of the United States-Mexico border and the San Pedro River Valley which was the route believed to have been taken by the Francisco Vásquez de Coronado expedition. The scenic overlook at Montezuma Pass (elevation 6,575 feet) provides breathtaking views of the San Raphael Valley, the San Pedro Valley, and Mexico.

Tumacacori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historic Park

The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River. Jesuit, and later Franciscan, priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park

Appomattox Court House National Historical Park encompasses approximately 1,800 acres of rolling hills in rural central Virginia. The site includes the McLean home where Lee made his formal surrender and the village of Appomattox Court House, the former county seat for Appomattox County. The walking tour allows you to see all buildings which are original to the site and have been restored to their original condition. 

November road trip idea: Utah’s Mighty 5

November is a wonderful time to road trip to all five national parks in Utah (Mighty 5): Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches.

Crowds are generally low this time of year which makes visiting these parks a pleasant experience. The mornings start off cold but it warms up nicely during the day and you could be hiking in 60 to 70 degree weather if you are here while it’s unusually warm. Or, the parks could get a dusting of snow which is very nice too just as long as you don’t mind cold temperatures. So, pack your shorts and your wide-brimmed hat and go on a road trip through Utah.

More Information about the National Parks

Best National Parks to visit by month

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Lubbock

A Guide to the Best Utah National Parks

From the steep, sublime Zion Canyon to the imagination-igniting hoodoos of Bryce, here’s how to uncover the best of all five Utah national parks

Welcome to the land of red rock canyons, panoramic views framed by arches, and sandstone spires. Over 75 percent of Utah belongs to the public through sprawling national forests, expansive wilderness, charming state parks, and five Utah national parks.

All of Utah’s national parks are located in the state’s southern half. From steep yet sublime Zion Canyon to the imagination-igniting hoodoos of Bryce and the iconic Delicate Arch, the Mighty Five are worth the hype. And for every must-see highlight in these parks, there are at least a dozen secret sights, quiet trails, and roads less traveled. 

So, how to outsmart the crowds? The simplest answer is to go when others don’t. This might mean a winter visit when snow makes those hoodoos extra enchanting and temperatures are far more tolerable than the extreme heat of summer.

All Utah national parks are also open 24/7 meaning you can plot a sunrise tour or a stargazing mission. But keep in mind that if you visit in the off-season (roughly November to February), the operating hours of visitor centers and local restaurants vary—although during this time you’ll find cheaper lodging.

Planning pays off handsomely here: A few popular hikes require permits that open months in advance and the most coveted campgrounds and lodges (especially those within park borders) often book out a year ahead. Many of these reservations are available at www.recreation.gov. From east to west, here’s the best of Utah’s national parks including essential sights, hidden gems, and pro tips for making the most of every visit. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

The first national park established in Utah (and the 13th in the U.S.), Zion—with its towering canyon walls and hanging gardens—makes many a bucket list. The park has grown so popular that during peak season (March to October), its main road now closes to private vehicles meaning visitors must ride a shuttle. The loophole is that you can bike this nearly flat scenic drive and e-bikes and bikes are available to rent in nearby Springdale.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to hike the sought-after Angels Landing trail, you’ll need to apply for a permit two to six months before your visit. If you can, stay in nearby Springdale or at Zion Lodge—wherever you stay in or near Zion, book as much as 13 months ahead when reservations open. When you’re ready to ditch the tourist circuit, explore the Kolob Canyons section of the park or the quieter trails off Kolob Terrace Road.

Zion has three campgrounds. Watchman Campground is open year-round with reservations from early March to late November and first-come, first-serve during the rest of the year. South Campground and Lava Point Campground are open seasonally.

>> Read my full travel guide to Zion National Park here

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park 

Bizarre spires formed over millions of years are the main attraction at Bryce. After all, there’s a higher concentration of these hoodoos here than anywhere in the world. The best (and fastest) way to satiate your hunger for hoodoo views is by taking the Navajo Loop from Sunset Point or Queen’s Garden Loop from Sunrise Point off the park’s main drive. For a more immersive trek, follow one of those trails down to Fairyland Loop or try part of the 23-miler Under-the-Rim Trail.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To get some hoodoos all to yourself, take the back entrance into Bryce Amphitheater via Tropic Trail from the tiny town of Tropic where you can also grab lunch at a state-favorite: i.d.k. Barbecue. Explore a quieter hoodoo landscape by biking Red Canyon Path (paved) or Thunder Mountain Trail (dirt). The ideal base camp for the park is the historic Lodge at Bryce Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park has two campgrounds, North and Sunset, located near the Visitor Center, Bryce Canyon Lodge, and the main Bryce Amphitheater. North Campground is reservation-based May 27 through October 15 and first-come, first-served October 16 through May 26. Sunset Campground is first-come, first-served April 15h through October 31st.

>> Read my full travel guide to Bryce Canyon National Park here.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park 

A 100-mile geologic wrinkle in the earth known as the Waterpocket Fold is responsible for the majestic environment at Utah’s quietest national park. Unique attractions include petroglyphs and the historic Fruita Orchards which the park still maintains. Try fresh pies made with local fruit like peaches or apples at Gifford Homestead near the park entrance. Then wander down Capitol Gorge—a canyon that once served as the main highway through the area—or brave the steep trail to Cassidy Arch where Butch Cassidy is rumored to have escaped the law.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You, too, can escape (from other travelers, that is) if you have a good 4WD vehicle. Notom-Bullfrog Road leads to Lake Powell and intersects with Burr Trail Road, another backcountry route. Burr Trail leads to Boulder, a gateway town to Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument and home to what’s arguably Utah’s best restaurant (Hell’s Backbone Grill; open spring through fall, reservations recommended). Boulder’s close but Torrey’s closer—stay in one of the lodges in this little town just 5 minutes from the park.

Adjacent to the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards, Fruita Campground in Capitol Reef has 71 sites. Each site has a picnic table and firepit and/or above-ground grill but no individual water, sewage, or electrical hookups. There is an RV dump and potable water fill station near the entrance to Loops A and B. Restrooms feature running water and flush toilets but no showers. The park has a 100 percent reservation system from March 1-October 31.

>> Read my full travel guide to Capitol Reef National Park here.

Island in the Sky District, Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park 

Five distinct districts comprise Canyonlands, each offering something different. Island in the Sky is a land of long views—don’t miss Shafer Trail Viewpoint or Mesa Arch.

Only about 20 miles south of Island in the Sky as the crow flies (but a solid two-hour drive away), the Needles District offers great hiking including an action-packed jaunt on Cave Spring Trail featuring a replica of an 1880s-era cowboy camp and mushroom-like rock formations.

Needles District, Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go to the Maze to get lost; Chocolate Drops and Land of Standing Rocks are a couple of worthy destinations in this backcountry district. Head to the non-contiguous Horseshoe Canyon unit to see incredible petroglyphs including floating holy ghosts.

Visit the River District at the bottom of the canyons carved by the Green and Colorado Rivers for a rafting adventure. For most of the park’s district, the best place to stay is Moab which offers easy access to Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the park’s rivers. 

Canyonlands maintains two campgrounds. Island in the Sky Campground (Willow Flat) has 12 sites, first-come, first-served. There are toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings in the campground. There is no water at the campground. The campground is open year-round. The Needles Campground has 26 individual sites. You can reserve some individual sites from spring through fall. At other times of the year, individual sites are first-come, first-served. There are toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings in the campground.

>> Read my full travel guide to Canyonlands National Park here.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park 

Star of Ed Abbey’s iconic Desert Solitaire, Arches has come a long way since 1968 and these days it’s so action-packed, that the park service is piloting a timed-entry system requiring reservations from April to October 2023. But there are ways around a Disneyland experience. Be an early bird or a night owl—come before sunrise or stay beyond sunset and you’ll be amply rewarded with quieter trails and golden light that makes the arches glow.

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

The nearest accommodations of Moab are close enough to the park entrance to make this doable. If you’d rather not rise early, book a guided tour with a ranger to see the permit-only Fiery Furnace area or secure a campsite at Devils Garden up to six months in advance. From the campground, you can hike to an underdog of an arch: the lesser-known, stunning Broken Arch. 

Devils Garden Campground is the only campground at Arches National Park. You can reserve campsites for nights between March 1 and October 31. Between November and February, campsites are first-come, first-served.

>> Read my full travel guide to Arches National Park here.

Worth Pondering…

Landscape is what becomes us. If we see our natural heritage only as a quarry of building block instead of the bedrock of our integrity, we will indeed find ourselves not only homeless but rootless by the impoverishment of our own imagination. At a time when we hardly know what we can count on in a country of shifting values and priorities, Canyonlands is our bedrock, a geologic truth that we all share, the eyes of the future are looking back at us, praying that we may see beyond our own time.

—Terry Tempest Williams

Top 12 Escapes for Labor Day Weekend

Relax on a long weekend RV trip that fits perfectly in that sweet spot between summer and fall

If you missed taking a vacation during summer getting away for the long Labor Day weekend may be just what you need. You can enjoy time at the beach or a dip in the lake or head to the mountains for a mild breeze and a hopeful peek at fall.

These 10 favorites are ideal for relaxing RV trips anytime. You might even find availability and rates that better fit your schedule before or after the holiday. No matter when you go, you’ll feel refreshed and rewarded by the chance to escape your daily routine at these great escapes.

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Jekyll Island Club Resort on Jekyll Island, Georgia

If you’re looking for a family beach getaway with sunny weather and shoreline for miles then head to Jekyll Island. Stay at the historic Jekyll Island Club Resort and visit the Georgia Sea Turtle Center or Summer Waves Water Park. Kayaking, biking, dolphin cruises, exploring Tidelands Nature Center—there are plenty of ways to adventure here.

Edisto Beach State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina

Edisto Beach State Park has various activities on the east coast of South Carolina. The park offers a beach, hiking trails, and cabins. The park is also home to a nature center, gift shop, and nature trail.

If you’re interested in camping in the area, Edisto Beach State Park offers two campgrounds: Beach Campground and Live Oak Campground. Both campgrounds offer great views of the ocean and marsh. The campgrounds also have a large lake, a popular fishing spot.

Both campgrounds offer water and electrical hookups. In addition, the campgrounds have restrooms, showers, and other amenities. A general store and coffee house/cafe is also available at the campgrounds. There are also picnic tables and fire pits.

Spanish Mount Trail leads to a 4,000-year-old shell midden. The trail also has informational signs about land surveying. Another trail, the Bache (Monument) Trail leads to a granite monument that was used to measure the east coast of the United States in the mid-1800s.

Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Fuel up the rig and pop Louisiana into the GPS because it’s time to visit Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge. Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge has 452 RV sites and 25 new luxury cabins.

Last winter, Camp Margaritaville announced it was transitioning the Cajun Palms RV Resort into Camp Margaritaville RV Resort Breaux Bridge. The resort reopened as Margaritaville property on May 23. It’s located 15 miles east of Lafayette in Henderson.

The RV resort invites guests to pull up and unplug. They can hang by one of the resort’s three pools—each comes with private cabanas. One even has a swim-up bar. Plus, there’s an adults-only hot tub for guests 21 years old and older.

It’s also ideal for a family getaway as it has a water park for little ones, cornhole, minigolf, and a playground that opened in June. There are also arts and crafts sessions—think sand art, tie-dye, and ceramics.

Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Santa Fe, New Mexico

With rich Native American history, strong Spanish influences, and a vibrant arts scene from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to Canyon Road, a stretch of art galleries featuring a diverse selection (think: Fernando Botero sculptures, handwoven Navajo rugs), you can’t go wrong with Santa Fe. A trip to the city is worth it alone just to check out the Bishop’s Lodge, a legendary 150-year-old landmark that Auberge Resorts recently restored into a luxurious property sitting on 317 acres bordering the Santa Fe National Forest. It beautifully pays homage to the city’s Southwestern heritage with activities like sunrise horseback riding and alfresco art classes.

Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Black Hills, South Dakota

The Black Hills offer opportunities for outdoor adventures along with lots for history buffs and animal lovers too. Located in the southwest corner of South Dakota, this densely forested area is filled with sparkling lakes, waterfalls, and wildlife.

You can’t see and do it all in three days so if you have to choose head to Custer State Park. One of the country’s largest state parks, it boasts miles of scenic hiking trails, the legendary scenic Needles Highway with its unique rock formations, tranquil lakes for swimming, fishing, and paddle boating as well as an array of wildlife, including wild burros, bison, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and elk.

Just outside the park is iconic Mount Rushmore, a sculpting feat that honors four presidents. To delve into Old West history, head to Deadwood, less than an hour north. The popular HBO series Deadwood was filmed here and you’ll also find interesting museums, gambling, and lots more.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston is a charming city oozing with Southern hospitality and a whole lot more. Boasting some of the prettiest beaches on the east coast, it’s a haven for sun worshipers, ocean enthusiasts, surfers, and kiteboarders too. Sunset cruises around the harbor, picking up fresh produce at the festive farmers market, and attending the annual Greater Charleston Lowcountry Jazz Festival which features big-name musicians, are just a few of the popular things on top for Labor Day weekend.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Sedona, Arizona

Sedona has long been considered a sacred place by Native Americans and many visitors head here for its healing energies as well as its gorgeous red rock scenery and multiple recreational opportunities. If you need a potentially life-changing escape, this is the spot. Renowned for its vortexes, you can sit with a spiritual guide to take part in healing meditations and breathing exercises in these powerful spots or take a mystical tour with a Native guide who shares spiritual wisdom and sacred songs.

If that’s not up your alley, you can always go on a scenic hike, rent a 4X4 and hit the back roads, indulge in spa treatments, or just browse the many galleries and boutiques in town.

Gruene © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Gruene, Texas

Gruene is pronounced like the color green and its location along the Guadalupe River allows the town to be exactly that—at least, more so than other Texas towns. Only 50 minutes from Austin, Gruene in its entirety is designated as a historic site.

The music scene and Gruene Hall in particular can claim a good chunk of the credit for that storied status. It’s there that Willie Nelson has his own private entrance and that he and George Strait and Lyle Lovett have all graced the stage. Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar is right across the street for sustenance and libations.

The less musically inclined might find adventure and float down the Guadalupe with Rockin’ R River Rides where the atmosphere may be particularly rowdy with revelers enjoying the long weekend.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Utah’s Mighty Five

While Utah’s national parks are swamped with tourists during the summer season, as the end of summer approaches the crowds die down giving you a bit more space to explore the hiking trails within the five national parks and numerous state parks that give Utah its celebrity status as a nature lover’s dream destination.

Whether you prefer to spend your days exploring hiking trails or stargazing at night from one of Utah’s many campgrounds, a long weekend spent in Utah’s national parks is the ultimate last hurrah of summer.

Ideas for your epic Utah Labor Day Weekend include:

Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Newport, Rhode Island

Set on Rhode Island’s Aquidneck Island is the coastal city of Newport. This resort town is a cool, relaxing destination to explore in the summertime. Its rich Gilded Age history and sailboat-filled marinas make for a scenic and luxurious vacation. 

Soak up ocean views: Newport has panoramic ocean views that go on for miles. The best way to capture it is to take a stroll along the Cliff Walk. This 3.5-mile cliffside trail features tranquil picnic spots, benches, and access points to other interesting Newport experiences. 

Tour lavish mansions: The most famous Newport features are its Gilded Age mansions found across the city. These lavish summer cottages built for the rich and famous are open to the public for tours. Head to Bellevue Avenue to explore the iconic Breakers and Marble House!

Pro tip: If you plan to walk the entirety of the Cliff Walk, wear layers, sturdy shoes, and sunblock. Utilize the public restroom found a mile into the walk—it’s the only one directly along the route.

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. White Mountains, New Hampshire

New Hampshire’s White Mountains comprise stunning alpine peaks cloaked in forest. The higher you go, the cooler it will be. Low elevations see summer temperatures in the mid-70s; the high points are perpetually chilly sometimes not even shedding their layers of snow until well into July. Temperatures on Mount Washington, the tallest peak in the Northeast, range from about 40 to 55 degrees at the height of summer. Visitors can climb out of the heat by foot on the many hiking trails or drive up the slopes on the scenic Kancamagus Highway.

There are some special towns nestled in the White Mountains. Quaint villages like Sugar Hill enjoy blooming fields of lupines in the summer while North Conway is home to ziplining tours and Alpine Slide adventures.  

The White Mountains are filled with exciting activities like hikes and sweeping summit views. Ride the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway to feel like you’re flying, hike the famous Artists Bluff Loop, or drive to the summit of Mount Washington. Don’t want to take the difficult hike or the foreboding drive up to Mount Washington? Ride the historic Mount Washington Cog Railway. This steam train will chug its way up to the summit.  

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Tombstone, Arizona

Tombstone, Arizona, a town with a name as intriguing as its history, is a must-visit for those with an interest in the Old West. Located in the southeast part of Arizona, this town is a living testament to the Wild West era. It’s the place where the infamous Gunfight at O.K. Corral occurred, an event that has been immortalized in numerous films and books.

Visitors can relive this piece of history at the O.K. Corral Historic Complex or learn more about the town’s mining past at the Goodenough Mine Tour. Despite its wild past, Tombstone is now a friendly town offering a variety of activities such as stagecoach rides and visits to the Bird Cage Theater which once was a saloon, gambling hall, and brothel. This town, which was once the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco, is a destination that deserves a spot on every traveler’s itinerary.

Worth Pondering…

Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love—that makes life and nature harmonize.

—George Eliot

How to Plan a Southwest Road Trip

The landscapes across America’s Southwest are some of the most spectacular to be found anywhere on the planet

A Southwest road trip is America at its best. Picture yourself driving along desert roads sometimes for hours on end. Highways snake between burnt red canyons, beside acres of geological anomalies you can’t quite imagine until you’ve seen them for yourself. Your Southwest road trip itinerary may have you passing through tiny towns with names like Tropic and Beaver and diners slinging Navajo tacos alongside more classic greasy spoon fare.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A road trip is a perfect way to explore special spots in the Southwest—Nevada, Utah, and Arizona—where you can see ghost towns, hoodoos, natural arches, sandstone spectacles, dark-sky stars, and a huge hole in the ground.

But, the real reason to undertake a road trip through Utah, Arizona, and the rest of the American Southwest is the National Parks. Legendary parks include the Grand Canyon and Utah’s The Big FiveZionBryce, ArchesCapitol Reef, and Canyonlands. The Southwest is a quintessential part of any US National Parks road trip.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On top of that, there are tons of national monuments (Bears Ears, Dinosaur, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, Rainbow Bridge, Cedar Breaks, and Grand Staircase-Escalante, to name a few) and plenty more state parks and federal lands worth checking out. It goes without saying that you might not see everything in the American Southwest in one sweep. While fully customizable, I’d recommend at least a two-week itinerary to get the most out of your Nevada, Utah, and Arizona road trip.

Before you begin, consider purchasing an annual national parks pass at the first park you enter. That $80 pass gets everyone in your car into every national park for a full year. You don’t have to be an American citizen to buy an annual pass but if you are and you’re age 62-plus buy your lifetime pass for $80 and never again pay to enter a U.S. national park. (Considering that Zion National Park’s entry fee is $35 per car, getting the annual pass is something of a no-brainer.)

Las Vegas RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nevada: Ghosts, gold and Red Rock

While the lure of Sin City in Nevada is strong, there’s more to the Vegas environs than casinos and outlet malls. So sleep in Las Vegas to start your adventure, if you’d like, perhaps at Las Vegas RV Resort where we have stayed on several occasions.

Start with an easy ride to Red Rock Canyon Park where you’ll need a timed reservation to enter between October and May. It’s just 15 minutes west of the Strip but transports you to a completely different world of massive striated red rocks where easy walking trails lead to ancient Native American petroglyphs.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock is lovely but a favorite Nevada stop is Rhyolite, a gold-rush ghost town northwest of Vegas. Founded in 1904, it grew to a city of 5,000 residents—and was abandoned by 1916. Today it is a delightful mix of art installations (begun in 1981) known as the Goldwell Open Air Museum and the ghost town’s abandoned brick homes, banks, railroad depot, and a house built of glass bottles. The combination is absolutely fascinating and well worth the drive into what seems to be the middle of nowhere.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area is located on the Colorado River about 25 miles from the Las Vegas Strip. With 1.5 million acres of mountains and valleys there are plenty of activities visitors can enjoy at and around Lake Mead. Bicyclists are welcome to ride on park roads, on routes designated for bicycle use, and hikers can enjoy beautiful trails with impeccable views. 

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah: Hoodoos, arches and more

Rolling north into southern Utah transports you into a world of contrasts from vast arid deserts to densely wooded mountains, massive sandstone cliffs, amazing natural-stone arches, and seriously wacky rock formations.

Begin in Zion, Utah’s first national park where most months you’ll need to park your car and ride the free shuttle from the visitor center into the park. This park and its famous sites—Zion Canyon, Kolob Arch, the Narrows, Great White Throne, and Angels Landing—are so popular that massive crowds form especially during the spring, summer, and fall seasons. Jump on and off the shuttle as often as you’d like but don’t miss the last one as you’ll be walking nine miles to get out of the park if you do!

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park is probably the most eye-popping, mind-boggling place you will ever see with its hoodoos (to call them irregular rock formations is just inadequate) of every shape and size. It’s the largest concentration of these magical forms anywhere in the world and a true must-see.

Set up camp at one of Ruby’s beautiful campsites nestled in the pines. Located ½-mile from the entrance to Bryce Canyon, Ruby’s Campground & RV Park offers RV spaces with full hookups.

Make your way up the road to see all of the incredible sights, hike down into the canyon for a closer look, and don’t miss the Milky Way stargazing led by a park ranger. Much of the Southwest is toasty in summer but you’ll need a warm coat for this park where the night (and early morning) temps can be seriously chilly at any time of year.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moving on to the northwest, Capitol Reef National Park is the true undiscovered gem of Utah. You’ll be gobsmacked at the huge cliffs of bright, rainbow-colored sandstone looming high above you with peculiarly shaped hoodoos hanging at perilous angles. Find hidden arches and petroglyphs, take a horseback ride or a hike and be sure to spot the iconic white sandstone dome, shaped like the U.S. Capitol building.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approaching the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park on the Utah/Arizona border brings a strange sense of deja vu if you’re a film fan. Turns out those iconic landscapes are real, not cinematic sets. Monument Valley served as the spectacular setting of numerous famous movies. Think Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and Fort Apache for this is the place that John Wayne and John Ford turned into the world’s ultimate vision of the Wild West; later, Forrest Gump cemented it as an Instagram hotspot.

Monument Valley is owned by the Navajo Nation so book a camping site at The View RV Park and then drive in, paying $8 per person to see the Mittens, Elephant Butte, John Ford’s Point, Artist’s Point and more on the 17-mile loop drive within the park. Taking a Navajo-guided tour is an incredible way to learn more about this sacred place and the indigenous people who still call it home.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: Sunrise, sunset, and a flyover at the Big Hole

The last stop on our Wild West road trip is Arizona’s big hole in the ground also known as the Grand Canyon. One of the world’s truly astonishing natural wonders, the canyon is the longest on the planet but not the deepest despite being more than a mile down. The Colorado River began eroding away this sandstone and limestone eons ago to create this eye-popping place.

El Tovar Hotel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Book way ahead to stay at the iconic El Tovar Hotel inside the park for it’s the best way to see the sun rise and set right out your front door as the canyon changes hues. Alternately book a camping site at Mather Campground (no hookups) or Trailer Village (full hookups) in the South Rim Village.

Hike down into the canyon as far as you can go to see it up close but do remember that climbing back out is a lot harder to do. For an once-in-a-lifetime thrill, hop on a helicopter via Grand Canyon Helicopters at the airport just outside the south rim entrance, soar over the edge and swoop down into the canyon—a perfect ending to a Wild West journey filled with adventure.

>> DIG DEEPER

Worth Pondering…

One of my favorite things about America is our breathtaking collection of national and state parks, many of which boast wonders the Psalmist would envy.

—Eric Metaxas

The Mighty Five: Ranger-Led Programs That Are Absolutely Free

The Mighty Five!

It sounds like the name of a John Wayne western but the term refers to Utah’s five magnificent national parks. Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches stretch from west to east across southern Utah’s high desert. Each park boasts unique and jaw-dropping geological features and captivating landscapes. From towering rock walls, natural arches, and distinct stone pillars—all decorated in otherworldly colors from earthy reds to shining pinks to deep purples—these parks have inspired countless geologists, artists, and explorers.  

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tourists from across the globe descend upon Utah’s parks, many only spending a day or two. However, these natural wonders are worthy of longer visits to further explore, experience, and enjoy these special places. Regardless of the length of time available the park service offers numerous educational programs to do just that. These programs provide visitors with in-depth knowledge and a broader context of aspects of each park from wildlife to geological makeup to human history. These programs are free and often don’t require reservations. Here’s a look at some of the best.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Ride with a ranger in Zion

Zion National Park draws the most visitors to Utah’s parks. When you’re standing in the middle of the park’s eponymous canyon fixated on the sheer sandstone walls towering 2,000 feet above you seemingly painted in shades of dusty brown, rusty red, and smokey white, it’s easy to understand why.

If these canyon walls could talk, they would spin wonderful tales of the region’s past but another option is to sign up for the popular Ride with A Ranger Program (typically runs late spring through early fall). On this two-hour tour, you’ll take a bus into Zion Canyon with a park ranger providing detailed stories and fun facts about the park’s many wonders.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each tour covers a particular subject. For instance, you may learn about the humans who have passed through this region over the millennia. According to park service historians, evidence of human activity in Zion dates back to 6,000 BC. Ancestral Puebloans later developed societies in the region, cultivating both squash and corn—no small feat in this desert climate. By the time Mormon settlers arrived in the mid-1800s, Paiute Indians had called the canyon home for more than 700 years. 

Pro tip: Check in at the visitor center for updated information on this program. Also, sign up early as the tour fills up fast.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Geology at Sunset Point

The scenic drive through Bryce Canyon National Park entices visitors with its bountiful overlooks but perhaps none as sweeping or breathtaking as Sunset Point. From here, the park’s mesmerizing geologic features, hoodoos, fins, and rock walls stretch out for miles. In the sunlight they glow like embers of a fire. As enchanting as the view is, it’s hard not to wonder how this strange, magical scene came to be.

Fortunately, the park holds daily Geologic Talks from the overlook where tourists learn about the park’s fascinating history. Park staff explains that oxidized iron deposits laid down tens of millions of years ago lend Bryce’s sandstone features their glorious red and pink hues.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Speaking of those features, the hoodoos, those stone pillars the park is known for are formed as a result of water seeping into the sandstone walls. Due to Bryce’s higher elevation, it experiences wide temperature swings. When the water freezes, it expands causing the sandstone to fracture. As this process repeats itself over millennia, you get one of the most memorable landscapes on earth.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Why Capitol Reef is worth the visit

It’s hard to imagine given how arid Capitol Reef National Park’s rocky, dusty landscape appears today but 280 million years ago the park was underwater. Indeed, the region has undergone many transformations over the eons from a beach-like environment to a swampy rainforest. This geologic backstory and much more are covered in the daily Geology Talk which serves as an excellent introduction to a park visit. Check with the park for time and location.

Capitol Reef is the least-visited of Utah’s national parks, but, in fairness, the competition is stiff. Those that do visit are rewarded for their effort. As explained during the 30-minute talk the park owes its name to white dome-shaped rock formations that early pioneers thought resembled the Capitol Dome in Washington, D.C.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is also part of a 100-mile-long ridgeline that proved a significant impediment to travelers in the 1800s. So, the area was dubbed a reef for being an obstacle to land travel in the way that coral reefs are to ships. Today it is a destination, not an obstacle.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Caves and cowboys at Canyonlands

Of Utah’s Mighty Five, Canyonlands National Park reigns as the mightiest—in terms of acreage anyway. Canyonlands is the state’s largest and most remote national park. Divided up into four districts most visitors tour the park’s northern district, Island in the Sky. Perched on a plateau this region boasts viewpoints where you can gaze into the endless canyons.

The less-visited Needles District has its own set of attractions and ranger programs including the Cave Spring Guided Walk. On this 60-minute ranger-led hike participants gain a deeper understanding of the area particularly human history. As its name suggests, the Cave Spring Trail sports both a reliable water source—rare in these parts—and a natural shelter from those scorching midday rays.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the moderately easy 0.6-mile loop trail, hikers find the remnants of a cowboy camp dating back to the late 1890s. Indeed, ranchers used camps like this into the 1970s. The ranger guide will point out evidence of human activity in this area that is far, far older though. Near the small spring that has been a lifeline for centuries, pictographs decorate the rock walls made by distant ancestors of today’s Native Americans.   

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Windows and Mazes at Arches

Just 5 miles outside Moab sits the entrance to Arches National Park. Home to the largest concentration of natural arches in the world the park also houses other geological formations including balanced rocks and petrified dunes. But, nothing beats standing beneath the park’s namesake geological features.

From spring to fall, rangers lead guided walks through the Windows section of the park. This section of the park is popular because several awe-inspiring formations are situated near each other. The one-mile loop trail passes the North and South Windows as well as Turret Arch. Rangers go into detail about the geological history of the area uncovering the mystery of how these rock formations came to be and how the power of erosion continues to shape the landscape.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More adventurous and experienced hikers will want to sign up for the guided Fiery Furnace Hikes (there is a charge for these). Rangers lead visitors through the maze that is the Fiery Furnace area of the park. Since this hike is more challenging, do your research before committing to it.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The stars come out at night

When the sun goes down on the Mighty Five, the southwest landscape may disappear but a whole new spectacle unfolds. The night sky sparkles as far as the eye can see an increasingly rare phenomenon in the developed world. Utah’s national parks are all designated International Dark Sky Parks and Sanctuaries—perfect destinations for the budding astronomer.

All five parks offer astronomy or night sky programs at varying times throughout the year. Check each park’s website or visitor center for an updated schedule.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pro Tip: If you’re visiting in the summer but plan to participate in an astronomical ranger program, don’t forget to pack some warmer clothes. Utah’s canyons can get chilly in the evenings.

For more information on traveling to Utah, check out these articles:

Worth Pondering…

Landscape is what becomes us. If we see our natural heritage only as a quarry of building block instead of the bedrock of our integrity, we will indeed find ourselves not only homeless but rootless by the impoverishment of our own imagination. At a time when we hardly know what we can count on in a country of shifting values and priorities, Canyonlands is our bedrock, a geologic truth that we all share, the eyes of the future are looking back at us, praying that we may see beyond our own time.

—Terry Tempest Williams

Bryce Canyon National Park Turns 100

Celebrating a century of natural wonders, preservation, and exploration

Six weeks after we settled at the ranch, Claude Sudweeks, a rancher from Tropic, stopped by for a neighborly chat. He asked us if we had seen Bryce. I said ‘No, what is it?’ Claude replied, “oh, just a hole in the ground, but you should see it.’ ….What a surprise the hole turned out to be! We thought everyone should see it, so from that time on we took our friends there and we told everyone we met about Bryce.

—Ruby Syrett

Bryce Canyon is a small national park with a huge wow factor. The moment you step up to the rim and gaze across the hundreds of hoodoos, spires, and rock formations, it will take your breath away.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park is a fantasyland of hoodoos, sandstone pillars, and bizarre looking rock formations. It is an extraordinary place to visit and its unique landscape sets it apart from other national parks.

Bryce Canyon is small and easy to visit. Take in the views from the rim, hike a trail or two, or fill your camera’s memory card with beautiful photos.

The thousands of hoodoos in Bryce are what attract so many visitors every year. Hoodoo can be defined as a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin. Geologically, hoodoos are found all around the world but they occur in the most abundance in Bryce Canyon. Here, hoodoos are the main ingredient of this unique landscape.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

June 8, 2023 marks the centennial celebration of Bryce Canyon National Park. Over the past 100 years things have definitely changed and the number of visitors to this park is one of those things. Visitors numbering in the thousands visited Bryce Canyon in 1923; that number surpassed two million visitors by 2022.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A lot has happened here in the last 100 years: the rim of the Bryce Amphitheater has retreated an average of 22 inches, 18,000 freeze and thaw cycles have shaped and toppled countless hoodoos, the sun has risen 36,889 times over Thor’s Hammer (not to mention innumerable stars every night), a beloved national park was created, and perhaps you got to see it for the very first time. Rangers like to call a person’s first view their Bryce Moment when the forested plateau rim suddenly gives way to a vast, sublime, and chromatic expanse. Some have described it as a cave without a ceiling, others a forest of stone or red painted faces. What do you see in this landscape? What words could ever do it justice?

With descriptive phrases such as a cave without a ceiling, red rocks standing like men, and nature’s most delicate jewel, the Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah is definitely one of wonder. The park is filled with ponderosa forests and limestone hoodoos. And nightly pitch-black dark skies have been viewed by citizens around the world.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A brief history

Bryce Canyon National Monument was originally established by President Harding on June 8, 1923 and administered by the U.S. Forest Service to preserve the “unusual scenic beauty, scientific interest, and importance.” On June 7, 1924, Congress would establish Utah National Park with the stipulation that all state and private land within its boundaries must first belong to the United States. On February 25, 1928 “Utah National Park” was changed to “Bryce Canyon National Park”. Conditions of the 1924 congressional bill were met later that year and Bryce Canyon National Park was officially established on September 15, 1928.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 “Bryce Canyon’s centennial year is an opportunity to celebrate not only the rich past but also the present and future of this national park,” said Superintendent Jim Ireland. “2023 will be a year of celebration and yet we also want it to be a year of connection between the park and its local communities, affiliated tribes, partners, visitors, and staff.”

A variety of virtual and in-person activities and events will occur in Bryce Canyon National Park throughout 2023. Browse the list of events below, follow on social media, and use #BRYCE100 to share your centennial experiences. Events and details will be added and updated throughout the year, so check back often!

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Events planned for the centennial year include:

  • Historic Photo Exhibit: April 1- October 30 at Bryce Lodge
  • Utah Prairie Dog Day: May 11
  • Centennial Ceremony and Concert featuring The Piano Guys: June 8
  • Astronomy Festival: June 14-17
  • Bryce Canyon Butterfly Count: July 8
  • Geology Festival: July 14-15
  • All Employee Reunion: August 24-26
  • Plein Air “Paint Out” in participation with with Escalante Canyons Art Festival: September 18
  • Bryce Canyon Heritage Days Festival: September 28-30
  • Annular Eclipse: October 14
  • Christmas Bird Count: December 16
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ways to explore Bryce Canyon National Park

Explore the wonder and beauty of this national park any day of the week and explore all the components. Take a scenic drive to see the Bryce Amphitheater. The first three miles of the drive provide unobstructed views of the largest group of hoodoos on Earth. This is the main park road and it stretches for 18 miles. Throughout this section, there are nine scenic overlooks that display more beauty of the Bryce Canyon.

Bike paths, day hiking trails, horseback riding, and the visitor center museum are all possibilities for enjoying the national park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Humble beginnings of Bryce Canyon National Park

The Syrett family was not only advocates for the location but they actually become hosts. In 1919, Ruby and his family obtained the state’s permission to build a lodge near the brink of the canyon; Tourist Rest was open for travelers to stay on the property for four years.

By 1923, the canyon became a national monument causing Ruby to move the Tourist Rest to his ranch. With a new location came a new name, Ruby’s Inn. As more visitors flocked to Bryce Canyon, the national monument was upgraded to national park status. Ruby’s Inn upgraded as well growing into a successful business.

Over the past 100 years, Ruby’s Inn has transformed from tent houses and a place for meals to today’s modern facilities that provide everything a traveling family will need. Ruby’s hospitality has been passed down through generations to his son Carl. He has furthered the tradition by passing it on to his children and grandchildren. They continue to offer the same quality service and hospitality as Ruby did keeping the legacy alive for four generations.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ruby’s Inn RV Park and Campground

Many RVers camp at Ruby’s Inn RV Park and campground and have provided some high-praising reviews of the location. According to RV Life Campgrounds, the campground has a solid 4/5 star review based on over 450 reviews. Good Sam has rated it 9/9*/9.5.

Today’s guests staying at the pet-friendly Ruby’s Inn are appreciative of the oversized campsites. They can also take advantage of the shuttle to the park and the country music dinner show. Other amenities include a pool, restrooms with showers, and pull-through sites. Campers have direct access to off-roading trails and nearby destinations such as Red Canyon, Escalante, Utah Scenic Byway 12, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Zion National Park. And the sunrises that give a pleasant glow to the rock formations are a great start to every day.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plan your visit

Worth Pondering…

When lighted by the morning sun the gorgeous chasm is an immense bowl of lace and filigree work in stone, colored with the white of frost and the pinks of glowing embers. To those who have not forgotten the story books of childhood it suggests a playground for fairies. In another aspect it seems a smoldering inferno where goblins and demons might dwell among flames and embers.

The Union Pacific System, 1929

Why Winter Is the Best Time to Visit Southern Utah

Why Winter Is the Best Time to Visit Southern Utah

When winter arrives, travelers tend to split—half head to the mountains to ski or snowboard; the other half seeks out warm weather in the U.S. Sunbelt. Most overlook Utah, a state with year-round blue skies, mild weather, and red rock arches and spires that only look more stunning with a dusting of snow. 

That landscape is perhaps best represented by southern Utah, my favorite section of the state that’s dominated by Mars-like spires, twisting canyons, and delicate sandstone arches. Southern Utah is home to all five of the state’s national parks and is often best visited in the winter when the hot, dry summer has passed and the crowds have dispersed.

Here’s everything you need to know to plan a visit to this lesser-known winter destination.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to do

All five of Utah’s national parks (The Mighty Five) are found in the southern half of the state. In fact, it’s hard to plan a trip to southern Utah without incorporating a visit to at least one or two of the national parks.

Zion National Park is the furthest south and is known for its narrow slot canyons and pink sandstone cliffs. With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, Zion National Park is a great place to enjoy sunny skies and fresh air, and get a little extra Vitamin D in the winter months. Plan a winter visit to soak up the sunshine while enjoying moderate temperatures and a stunning sandstone kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and pinks. Winter visitors will find plenty to do including hiking, photography, camping, and gazing up at the wonders of the night sky.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby is Bryce Canyon National Park, home to the world’s largest concentration of hoodoos (irregular columns of rock). The stark white of freshly fallen snow, red rocks, blue sky, and evergreen trees—some say Bryce Canyon is even more beautiful in winter! Here at 8,000 feet the scenery changes dramatically in the colder months providing unique opportunities to see the park but requires a very different packing list. Begin by reviewing regular closures and regulations, read about typical weather, and then explore the many ways you can experience this winter wonderland.

To the east are the red rock canyons, cliffs, and domes of Capitol Reef National Park while the adventure town of Moab acts as the gateway to both Arches and Canyonlands national parks with delicate sandstone arches and red rock canyons.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Star of Ed Abbey’s iconic Desert Solitaire, Arches has come a long way since 1968 and these days it’s so action-packed, the park service is piloting a timed-entry system requiring advance reservations from April to October 2023. But there are ways around a Disneyland experience. Be an early bird or a night owl—come before sunrise or stay beyond sunset and you’ll be amply rewarded with quieter trails and golden light that makes the arches glow.

The nearest accommodations of Moab are close enough to the park entrance to make this doable. If you’d rather not rise early, book a guided tour with a ranger to see the permit-only Fiery Furnace area or secure a campsite at Devils Garden up to six months in advance. From the campground, you can hike to an underdog of an arch: the lesser-known, stunning Broken Arch. 

Canyonlands National Park, Island in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Five distinct districts comprise Canyonlands, each offering something different. Island in the Sky is land of long views—don’t miss Shafer Trail Viewpoint or Mesa Arch. Only about 20 miles south of Island in the Sky as the crow flies (but a solid two-hour drive away), the Needles District offers great hiking including an action-packed jaunt on Cave Spring Trail featuring a replica of an 1880s-era cowboy camp and mushroom-like rock formations.

Canyonlands National Park, Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go to the Maze to get lost; Chocolate Drops and Land of Standing Rocks are a couple of worthy destinations in this backcountry district. Head to the non-contiguous Horseshoe Canyon unit to see incredible petroglyphs including floating holy ghosts. And visit the River District at the bottom of the canyons carved by the Green and Colorado Rivers for a rafting adventure. For most of the park’s district, the best place to stay in Moab which offers easy access to Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the park’s rivers. 

Brian Head Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beyond hiking, and in some cases, camping in southern Utah’s national parks, this part of the state is home to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, two winter sports that are beginner friendly and affordable. Those with their heart set on downhill skiing can find it at Brian Head Resort (near Cedar Breaks National Monument) or Eagle Point Resort, two ski areas with significantly lower prices than those found in northern Utah.

But there’s also year-round hiking, biking, camping, and backpacking in the southern part of the state. And in the evenings, when you’re resting your weary legs, make sure to look up—the long winter nights lend themselves to excellent stargazing.

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

What to pack

It’s all about layers in the winter. If you plan to be outside most of the day, you’ll want to wear synthetic or wool base layers and pack a warm jacket and hat. Sunny days are the norm even in the middle of winter so sunscreen and sunglasses are also a must.

If you plan on hiking in the snow, it may be worth getting a pair of cleats that fasten over your winter footwear and provide added traction. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay

Many of southern Utah’s national and state parks offer year-round camping.

Zion has three campgrounds. Watchman Campground is open year-round with reservations from early March to late November and first-come, first-serve during the rest of the year. South Campground and Lava Point Campground are open seasonally.

At Bryce Canyon, North Campground’s A Loop is open all winter long for first-come, first-served camping. There are 30 sites in this loop and it is rare for the campground to fill in winter other than around major holidays. As happens every year when overnight temperatures fall below freezing, Loops C and D of North Campground have closed. Loop B typically closes in late fall unless demand for winter campsites is high enough to justify its remaining open. Sunset Campground is closed for the winter and will reopen for first-come, first-served camping on April 15.

Fremont River, Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Adjacent to the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards, Fruita Campground in Capitol Reef has 71 sites. Each site has a picnic table and firepit and/or above ground grill but no individual water, sewage, or electrical hookups. There is a RV dump and potable water fill station near the entrance to Loops A and B. Restrooms feature running water and flush toilets but no showers. The park has a 100 percent reservation system from March 1-October 31.

Devil’s Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devils Garden Campground is the only campground at Arches National Park. You can reserve campsites for nights between March 1 and October 31. Between November and February, campsites are first-come, first-served.

Canyonlands maintains two campgrounds. Island in the Sky Campground (Willow Flat) has 12 sites, first come, first-served. There are toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings in the campground. There is no water at the campground. The campground is open year-round. The Needles Campground has 26 individual sites. You can reserve some individual sites from spring through fall. At other times of the year, individual sites are first-come, first-served. There are toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings in the campground.

Worth Pondering…

Landscape is what becomes us. If we see our natural heritage only as a quarry of building block instead of the bedrock of our integrity, we will indeed find ourselves not only homeless but rootless by the impoverishment of our own imagination. At a time when we hardly know what we can count on in a country of shifting values and priorities, Canyonlands is our bedrock, a geologic truth that we all share, the eyes of the future are looking back at us, praying that we may see beyond our own time.

—Terry Tempest Williams