The Ultimate Guide to Zion National Park

Zion National Park is without a doubt one of the most beautiful national parks in all of America

Nothing can exceed the wonderful beauty of Zion…

In the nobility and beauty of the sculptures there is no comparison…

There is an eloquence to their forms which stirs the imagination with a singular power and kindles in the mind a glowing response.

—Clarence E. Dutton, geologist, 1880

Situated in the southwest corner of Utah, Zion National Park is one of the planet’s most unique and breathtaking settings. At the heart of the park lies Zion Canyon, a 15-mile long, 2,600-foot deep gorge that is awe-inspiring both for its size and beauty. But the colorful sandstone walls sit amid the desert, forest, and river biospheres which are rarely found in such close proximity. This makes the park a truly magical environment that never ceases to amaze and delight.

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While Woodrow Wilson officially declared a national park in 1919, Zion’s history stretches back much further in time. Native Americans inhabited the region for at least 8,000 years with various tribes calling the area home over the centuries. Europeans arrived in the 1850s and ’60s ultimately displacing the Native Americans living there. Many of those early Europeans were members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints which derives a great deal of meaning from the park’s name.

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In the 1860s, Mormon (Church of Latter-Day Saints) pioneers settled in southern Utah. When they arrived they thought it to be so beautiful, holy with its towering natural cathedrals made of rock that they called it Zion, a nod to Little Zion found in scripture in the Bible’s Old Testament. To them, it was a sacred dwelling. It still holds a sacred reverence to all who visit it today and it is without a doubt one of America’s most beloved national parks. Today, Zion is known for its excellent hiking, spectacular landscapes, and diversity of wildlife.

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Things to do

As is typical with any national park, there is plenty to see and do in Zion. For example, visitors simply looking for a scenic drive should point their car toward the Kolob Canyons where they’ll find an epic 5-mile route that has to be seen to be believed. Birdwatchers will find a lot to love here as well with more than 280 avian species to spot throughout the park. That includes the rare—but increasing in numbers—California Condor which has appeared more frequently in recent years. If you linger in Zion after dark you’ll be treated to a celestial light show unlike any other with the night sky aglow with a billion stars overhead.

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Travelers looking for an adrenaline rush can take to the Virgin River which has carved out Zion’s unique landscape over the years. The water can run fast and furious at times presenting challenging rapids meant for expert paddlers. The sandstone walls of the canyon make for excellent climbing and canyoneering—particularly in the famous Zion Narrows—is also a popular way to explore the area.

If you get hungry, options for finding food inside Zion National Park are somewhat limited. The visitor center does offer a limited number of drinks and snacks, while both the Castle Dome Café and Red Rock Grill at Zion Lodge offer a full menu for any time of the day.

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Best hikes and trails

Zion features numerous hiking trails throughout its 146,000 acres. Many of those trails are remote and rugged so plan accordingly before setting out. That includes wearing appropriate footwear and bringing plenty of drinking water. Be prepared to be self-sufficient in the backcountry particularly if you wander into the Zion Wilderness. Backpackers planning to spend the night are also required to have a permit before venturing out. It is also important to note that the National Park Service limits the size of groups traveling together to 12 people.

Zion’s top trails are legendary amongst hikers, many of which come simply to knock a few off their adventure bucket list.

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The Narrows is a challenging walk that takes trekkers 9.4 miles into the canyon following the Virgin River along the way. Meanwhile, the moderately difficult Watchman Trail runs just 3.3 miles along rocky cliff faces rewarding visitors with some of the best views in the park along the way. The Overlook Trail is just 1 mile in length but ends at a lookout point that is also breathtaking in its scope.

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The park’s signature hike without a doubt is Angels Landing—a demanding 5.5-mile walk that features over 1,500 feet of elevation gain along the way. This trek is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced as there are certain sections where chains have been installed to provide handholds while crossing through the more difficult portions. Those who do complete the journey are treated to a truly spectacular view at the end that provides an amazing sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. In response to concerns about crowding and congestion on the trail, on and after April 1, 2022, everyone who hikes Angels Landing needs to have a permit.

Those looking for easier, more accessible routes should give the Lower Emerald Pool Trail a go. This paved path runs for 1.2 miles and takes visitors to a beautiful waterfall and its namesake body of water where hikers can even take a dip.

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Emerald Pools is a choose-your-own-adventure area in the park with three main hikes among lush vegetation leading to different water features at each. The middle trail is a more moderate hike gaining 150 feet leading to an overlook of the pools found on the lower trail and small waterfalls, and the upper pool is a strenuous climb up 350 feet to a waterfall that streams down from a cliff.

Other options include the 1-mile-long Grotto Trail which often provides opportunities to spot wildlife and the paved Riverside Walk which offers a 2.2-mile mini-Narrows experience.

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Where to Stay

Travelers looking to spend a few days in and around Zion have several options when it comes to where they want to stay for the night. The famous Zion Lodge allows visitors to spend the night inside the park’s boundaries while still offering a comfortable setting. The Lodge offers standard rooms, cabins, and suites at varying price points and is open year-round.

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Visitors to the park can also elect to camp inside its borders during their stay. There are three campgrounds found within Zion itself each with differing amenities. Lava Point Campground is the most remote and is usually only open between May and September. It is located at 7,890 feet along the Kolob Terrace where weather conditions can fluctuate rapidly. The South Campground and Watchman Campground are more accessible and have a few modern features including RV hookups and dump stations. Campsites start at $20 per night and reservations should be made through Recreation.gov.

As with most national parks and forests, backcountry camping is permitted in Zion although backpackers are urged to take caution when pitching their tent. Hikers should make camp a safe distance from water sources and out of the way of potential rockfalls. Backcountry camping is free, but a permit is required at all times.

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Additionally, other overnight options can be found in the small towns that border the national park with Springdale and Rockville being the closest and most convenient. Those towns also offer a variety of restaurants for grabbing both a quick and easy meal as well as a more upscale sit-down experience.

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Getting There

When driving to the park, head towards Springdale, Utah. Zion’s main entrance can be found on State Route 9. When heading north on Interstate 15 take Exit 16 then head east on SR 9. If you’re traveling south stay on Interstate 15 to Exit 27 then head east on State Route 17 until it intersects with SR 9. From there, continue heading east until you arrive at the park.

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Of particular note, if you’re traveling in an RV you’ll want to be aware of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. The 1.1-mile-long tunnel is found on State Route 9 and is the longest of its kind in the U.S. Because it is quite narrow, vehicles that are taller than 11 feet, 4 inches in height, or wider than 7 feet, 10 inches in width are required to have an escort or traffic control when passing through. There is a $15 fee for this service which is good for two trips. Vehicles that are 13 feet tall are prohibited from passing through the tunnel as are semi-trucks, vehicles longer than 40 feet, or those carrying hazardous materials.

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Tips for your visit

Avoid the crowds: More than 4 million visitors flock to Zion in a given year. Most of them come between February and November with much smaller crowds in January and December. Those months may be colder and have less predictable weather so bring appropriate gear to stay warm and dry. At all times of the year, Zion Canyon is the busiest area of the park so head to Kolob Canyons or Kolob Terrace Road for more solitude.

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Fees and Passes: The entrance fee for Zion National Park is $35 for a private vehicle, $30 for a motorcycle, and $20 per person on foot. These fees provided a pass that is good for seven days. A Zion annual pass can be obtained for $70 and a lifetime pass can be purchased by seniors over the age of 62 for $80. America the Beautiful Annual Pass is a great value at $80 particularly if you plan on visiting any of Utah’s other national parks, such as Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef, or Canyonlands.

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Bring Binoculars: As mentioned, Zion is a virtual paradise for birdwatchers but there are plenty of other creatures to see as well. The park is home to bighorn sheep, mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, porcupines, foxes, and the elusive ringtail cat. Carrying a pair of binoculars will make it easier to spot these creatures throughout your stay.

Check Trail Closures: Before planning a specific hike in Zion, be sure to check the park’s website or the visitor center for closures. Rockslides and high water are common at times both of which can temporarily close a trail down.

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Fact Box

Size: 146,000 acres

Date established: November 19, 1919

Location: Southwestern Utah

Park Elevation: 3,666 feet-8,626 feet

Length of Zion Canyon: 15 miles

Depth of Zion Canyon: 2,640

Park entrance fee: $35 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days

Recreational visits (2021): 5,039,835

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How the park got its name: The parkland that we now call Zion was occupied by the Anasazi people and Paiute Indians until the 1860s when a Mormon settler named Isaac Behunin came to the area. About the heavenly place, he remarked: “These great mountains are natural temples of God. We can worship here as well as in the man-made temples in Zion, the biblical heavenly ‘City of God.'” A short time later, Mormon leader Brigham Young came to the area and didn’t agree with the naming convention so the park began to be referred to as “Not Zion” or “Little Zion.” In any event, the name Zion took. In 1909 President William Howard Taft set aside Zion as a National Monument under the name “Mukuntuweap National Monument.” About a decade later, the acting director of the National Park Service reclaimed the name given to it by Mormon pioneers, Zion

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Did you know?

Zion National Park lies at the convergence of Great Basin, the Colorado Plateau, and the Mojave Desert (the Grand Canyon and Joshua Tree also sit on Mojave.)  

In 2000, the Zion Shuttle system was implemented, reducing congestion at the most popular places in the park making it easier for all of us to get around.

Worth Pondering…

It is a place where a family can rest at streamside after a pleasant morning hike.

It is a vast labyrinth of narrow canyons where one can become hopelessly lost, shrinking to invisibility beneath dark, towering walls of stone.

One may feel triumph and exhilaration, or awesome smallness atop Angels Landing; thirst and fatigue, or a rewarding weariness, on the return trek from the backcountry.

Perhaps one’s view of Zion is in the eyes of the beholder.

—Wayne L. Hamilton, The Sculpturing of Zion

The Best of Zion

Zion National Park brims with awe-inspiring views and outdoor adventures

In the 1860s, Mormon pioneers settled in what is now known as Zion National Park in southern Utah. When they arrived they thought it to be so beautiful, holy with its towering natural cathedrals made of rock that they called it Zion, a nod to Little Zion found in the Bible’s Old Testament. To them, it was a sacred dwelling. It still holds sacred reverence to those who visit it today and is without a doubt one of America’s most beloved national parks.

I will leave the story of the history of the park to another time and focus on what we know best: places to explore when visiting the heavenly landscape. I’ve been to Zion several times and managed to pick up some new spots on each visit. Without further ado, here are my picks for the best of Zion.

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Canyon Overlook Trail

The Canyon Overlook Trail is a gem of a hike in Zion. This is definitely one of the best hikes at Zion. It’s short, it’s fun, and it takes you to an awesome viewpoint overlooking Zion Canyon. It’s also the ideal sunset hike for those who love canyon views but aren’t up to navigating the famous—and more treacherous—Angel’s Landing hike. This is a hike that is perfect for all ages and ability levels. If this is your first or even your second time in Zion put the Canyon Overlook Trail on your list of things to do.

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Angel’s Landing and West Rim Trail

Angel’s Landing is THE classic Zion hike and one of the world’s most famous hikes. The first four miles bring hikers along the West Rim Trail that leads to Scout’s Lookout from where you can take in the views while deciding whether you have the guts and desire to brave the final one-mile climb along the narrow canyon spine with support chains in hand to the landing.

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This last section is not for those who fear heights, exposure, and crowds while at serious heights while facing exposure. Fatalities are not common but they have occurred and like all hikes and adventures in any national park safety is the responsibility of the traveler.

Don’t do it if you don’t feel comfortable climbing a cliff-face (you are not alone). You can still enjoy the hike along the West Rim Trail. There are incredible views the entire way up to Scout’s Landing—the switchbacks criss-crossing the valley floor are incredibly photogenic. This is not a trail for people with a fear of heights or small children.

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Emerald Pools

This is a choose-your-own-adventure area in the park with three main hikes among lush vegetation leading to different water features at each. At an elevation gain of 623 feet, parts of it are quite steep so make sure you wear sturdy shoes and bring lots of water.

The lower pool is perfect for those desiring a relaxed wander and for those with strollers and wheelchairs ending at a collection of mountain streams and small pools. The middle trail is a more moderate hike gaining 150 feet leading to an overlook of the pools found on the lower trail and small waterfalls, and the upper pool is a strenuous climb up 350 feet to a waterfall that streams down from a cliff.

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The Narrows

Zion: a river runs through it. For millions of years, the Virgin River has been carving its way through layers of rock forming the Zion Narrows. And you can walk on water through the Virgin River while exploring it. This is an iconic hike in the park and it is easy to know why after braving it. Decked out in a dry suit—Zion Outfitter in the nearby town of Springdale can hook you up with water-repellent gear and info—you will make way on foot along a 30-mile wide riverbed beneath limestone canyon walls towering 1,000 feet above the way early explorers and natives once did.

There is no trail so-to-speak, the trail is the riverbed. Sublime! Permits are required and water level and weather are factors in whether or not a visit there is possible as flash floods in the park occur often during peak season and are a danger.

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Riverside Walk Trail

If you’re not ready to commit to The Narrows hike above, you can still enjoy some of the epic views of Zion’s scenic Virgin River as it cuts through the stunning canyon on this easy riverside walk.

This hike begins at the shuttle stop 9 (Temple of Sinawava) which is located at the end of the Scenic Highway. From there, you’ll make your way along a concrete path between the Virgin River and a steep canyon wall. (Side trails along the river make a nice alternative for strolling in more solitude.)

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Observation Point

Observation Point provides one of the best views in Zion National Park but is underrated compared to Angels Landing and the Narrows. This trail is perfect for those who want to avoid the crowds at Angels Landing but still want incredible views. From the Observation Point summit, you look across Zion Canyon. You can even look down upon Angels Landing.

This trail is incredibly strenuous with some steep drop-offs. The most popular route starts at the Weeping Rock trailhead. You’ll climb steep switchbacks from the start-up to Echo Canyon, the perfect shaded spot for a rest.

After passing through this shaded area you’ll climb along sheer cliff edges to the top of Zion Canyon. After the climb, you’ll be rewarded with views from the top of Observation Point, the best in the park.

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Watchman Trail

Guarding the park’s southern entrance, the Watchman is arguably the most iconic scene and provides some of the best sunset photography. There is a 3-mile trail leading to a lookout of the towering peak but this entry refers to the viewpoint as seen from Canyon Junction with the Virgin River winding right through the middle of the scene.

The hike ends with a phenomenal view of the Temples, Towers, and lower Zion Canyon. You can see Watchman Peak from here as well and all of Springdale below. Hikers rave about the quality of the light and epic views in the early morning here.

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Pa’rus Trail

The Pa’rus Trail is one of the newer and most accessible trails in Zion National Park. It is the only trail in Zion open to bicycles and pets and is also one of the few wheelchair-accessible trails in the park. Starting at the South Campground just north of the Visitor Center, this wide, paved trail skirts the Virgin River in the flat and open lower section of Zion Canyon and ends at the Canyon Junction. This trail is great for a leisurely stroll at sunrise or sunset and you are likely to see big and small wildlife from butterflies and birds to mule deer.

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Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel

Driving the 6-mile Mt. Carmel Highway through the park provides visitors easy access to viewpoints while offering that winding-road experience. It is easily accessible throughout the park’s most popular area and the richly brick-colored highway with canary-yellow stripes plays really well visually against the soft color of the canyons.  

A few miles along the highway past the Visitor Center you will cross through the Mt. Carmel Tunnel, completed in 1930, a landmark with a rich history that at the same time allows modern travelers like us passage THROUGH a mile of canyon in what feels like the dark of night.  

Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kolob Canyon

Zion’s popularity certainly draws in the crowds and for some people this can be a bit overwhelming. For a pleasant escape from the busyness take a trip to the far side of the park and the Kolob Canyons.

This lesser-visited area is almost as spectacular as the main area of the park. Deep canyons and stunning scenery will leave you awed. The most popular activity and the one that provides the most reward for the least amount of energy is the five-mile Kolob Canyons Road. Strategically placed viewpoints afford incredible views out over the surrounding countryside.

Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those interested in venturing off on a hiking trail several good options exist. Of the 10-plus hikes available one not to be missed is the Timber Creek Overlook. This one-mile trek is easy with wonderful views along the way and especially at the end.

Kolob Canyons is about an hour from the main park gates. You’ll need to head back out to Interstate 15, head north, and take exit 40. The exit is well marked with National Park signs.

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Camping

There are full-service RV parks outside the park gate but camping within the park is a whole other experience. Watching birds and wildlife flitting about the campgrounds, sitting around a fire ring in the evening, and peering up at the night sky creates a different set of memories than simply exploring Zion by day.

Watchman Campground and South Campground are the two main camping areas in the park and both offer beautiful natural surroundings and well-spaced sites. These two campgrounds are close to each other near the West Gate entrance to the park.

A third much smaller and more isolated campground is located in a separate section of the park at almost 8,000 feet. This is Lava Point Campground on Kolob Terrace Road about 50 minutes from the Zion Canyon section of the park.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More great places to explore in Utah:

Worth Pondering…

It is a place where a family can rest at streamside after a pleasant morning hike.

It is a vast labyrinth of narrow canyons where one can become hopelessly lost, shrinking to invisibility beneath dark, towering walls of stone.

One may feel triumph and exhilaration, or awesome smallness atop Angels Landing; thirst and fatigue, or a rewarding weariness, on the return trek from the backcountry.

Perhaps one’s view of Zion is in the eyes of the beholder.

—Wayne L. Hamilton, The Sculpturing of Zion

The Ultimate Guide to Canyonlands National Park

The Colorado and Green rivers divide the park into four districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, the Maze, and the rivers themselves

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

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

It’s huge! The four districts are approximately the area of 172,121 football fields! Ringing in at over 520 square miles, Canyonlands is the largest of Utah’s five national parks and doubtless one of the most stunning. Known for its sweeping vistas of colorful desert landscapes carved by rivers into countless canyons, Canyonlands National Park draws thousands of visitors each year both with its views and its endless outdoor recreational opportunities.

With seemingly unlimited wild landscapes to explore it can be tough to know where to start an adventure. The Green and Colorado Rivers help to do some of the narrowing down by trisecting the park.

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

The park is divided into four distinct areas, each offering a unique perspective on this stark desert ecosystem. Island in the Sky is a flat-topped mesa while the Needles are tall, sharp spires; the Maze is a seemingly-endless system of crevasses and canyons, and finally, visitors can see where the Colorado and Green rivers intersect at the Colorado Plateau. The park also boasts some original Native American rock paintings inside its iconic Horseshoe Canyon.

The lack of development narrows it down even further by providing only a couple of roads into the park boundaries. Such paved access opens a door to the red rock wilderness where the scenery is enhanced by a colorful Southwest sunset that gives way to soft dusky skies and brilliant starry nights. It is very much a place to write home about. 

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

Like its neighbor Arches to the north, Canyonlands is served by the small but busy gateway city of Moab where visitors can enjoy a variety of restaurants, shopping opportunities, museums, and cultural events. Other small towns in the Canyonlands area include Monticello and Spanish Valley.

More on Canyonlands National Park: Ultimate Guide to National Park Tripping in Utah: Arches and Canyonlands

The weather at Canyonlands is characterized by the wide temperature fluctuations of a high desert environment; the area sometimes sees temperatures change by more than 40 degrees in one day. The summer is excruciatingly hot and prone to sudden afternoon thunderstorms while the spring and fall bring temperate climates—and crowds.

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

With its untamed landscape, Canyonlands offers unparalleled outdoor adventure opportunities both on land and on water. Visitors can enjoy the park on foot, horseback, or bicycle, or take to its two formative rivers for both flat- and whitewater boating. The Park Service also hosts several organized, ranger-led activities such as geological talks and stargazing parties. Check the official park calendar for up-to-date information on these opportunities.

What is today known as Canyonlands National Park is the ancestral land of Indigenous peoples including the Ute, Southern Paiute, and Pueblo people. The Indigenous story of Canyonlands begins long before European men named it such—indeed before they ever set foot in this jaw-dropping desert.

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

Canyonlands features two on-site campgrounds which are accessible and open to RV camping. However, neither campground offers hookups and both have a tendency to fill up fast.

Fortunately, campers can also choose from a wide array of privately-owned RV parks and campgrounds in the Moab area as well as several free or low-cost dispersed camping or boondocking options.

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

Island in the Sky 

The Island in the Sky mesa rests on sheer sandstone cliffs over 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. Every overlook offers a different perspective on Canyonlands’ spectacular landscape. Island in the Sky is the easiest area of Canyonlands to visit in a short period of time offering many pullouts with spectacular views along the paved scenic drive. Hiking trails or four-wheel-drive roads can take you into the backcountry for a few hours or many days.

The Island in the Sky area is the closest of the four districts to Moab which serves as a jumping-off point into Canyonlands as well as to neighboring Arches National Park and the La Sal Mountains. Island of the Sky is the place to get your 101 briefing on the area.

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

Driving the paved park loop road aside the canyons on the high mesa provides easy access to stops along the road at archeological sites as well as at trailheads that lead to easy-to-moderate hiking trails into your private wilderness. In the evening, scenic viewpoints welcome visitors to cap off a day of exploration with the magic of sunset skies.

More on Canyonlands National Park: A Lifetime of Exploration Awaits at Canyonlands (National Park)

This popular area is not only ideal for day trippers but is also heaven for mountain bikers and off-roaders who want to take 4WDrive vehicles onto the legendary 100-mile White Rim Road which provides an up-close and personal meeting with the interior canyons. 

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

Several short trails explore the mesa top with minimal elevation change enjoying canyon views from above. Moderate trails involve elevation such as climbing a sandstone feature or descending partway into a canyon. Long trails at Island in the Sky begin on the mesa top and descend via switchbacks to the White Rim bench or beyond to one of the rivers. All are considered strenuous with an elevation change of 1,000-2,000 feet and require negotiating steep slopes of loose rock as well as sections of deep sand.

Mesa Arch Trail is a short hike (0.5 miles) that leads to a cliff-edge arch. Mesa Arch is a classic sunrise spot and is popular among photographers. It has stunning views toward the La Sal Mountains any time of day.

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

Island in the Sky Campground (Willow Flat) has 12 sites, first come, first served. The campground is open year-round. The spectacular Green River Overlook is nearby. The nightly camping fee is $15 per site. Sites fill quickly from spring through fall. There are toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings in the campground. There is no water at the campground. You can get drinking water outside the visitor center spring through fall. RVs are limited to 28 feet in length.

To reach Island in the Sky, drive 10 miles north of Moab on US 191 or 22 miles south of I-70 on US 191. Turn onto UT 313 and then drive southwest 22 miles. Driving time to the visitor center from Moab is about 40 minutes. Be aware that a navigation system may send you the wrong way.

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

The Needles 

The Needles form the southeast corner of Canyonlands and were named for the colorful spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that dominate the area. Hiking trails offer many opportunities for day hikes and overnight trips. Foot trails and four-wheel-drive roads lead to such features as Tower Ruin, Confluence Overlook, Elephant Hill, the Joint Trail, and Chesler Park.

The Needles offers over 60 miles of interconnecting trails as challenging as they are rewarding. Many different itineraries are possible.

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

Four short, self-guided trails along the paved scenic drive highlight different aspects of the park’s natural and cultural history. Surfaces can be uneven. Trail guides are available at the visitor center and the trailheads.

Roadside Ruin (0.3 miles), Pothole Point (0.6 miles), Cave Springs (0.6 miles), and Slick Rock (2.4 miles) are some of the most popular easy/moderate trails but you’ll likely find after consulting a map and with expert rangers at the visitor center that there are plenty of creative ways to chart your own adventure while flexing your outdoor survival skills. 

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

Conditions of other trails are more primitive, traversing a mixture of Slickrock benches and sandy washes. Longer trails are especially rough and require negotiating steep passes with drop-offs, narrow spots, or ladders. Water in the backcountry is unreliable and scarce in some areas. Trails are marked with cairns (small rock piles). Although most trails can be hiked in a day by strong hikers many form loops and may be combined with other trails for longer trips. Net elevation change is generally several hundred feet or less except for the Lower Red Lake Trail which drops 1,400 feet to the Colorado River.

Newspaper Rock, The Needles, Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Newspaper Rock Petroglyphs in the Needles section of the park is easy to access on your way in. Having the ability to walk up to and stand face to face with remnants of ancient peoples who lived so long ago in areas that are now our national parks is a grand reminder of the history of the precious American wilderness and its long and important connection with humanity. 

More on Canyonlands National Park: Chasing John Wesley Powell: Exploring the Colorado River—Canyonlands, Lake Powell & Grand Canyon

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

The Needles Campground has 26 individual sites plus three group sites in different locations around The Needles district. The nightly camping fee for an individual site is $20. 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. RV’s maximum length is 28 feet.

To reach Needles, drive 40 miles south of Moab on US 191 or 14 miles north of Monticello then take UT 211 roughly 35 miles west. UT 211 ends in The Needles and is the only paved road leading in and out of the area. Be aware that GPS units frequently lead people astray.

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

The Maze

The Maze is the least accessible district of Canyonlands. Due to the district’s remoteness and the difficulty of roads and trails, travel to the Maze requires more time. Visitors must be prepared for self-sufficiency and the proper equipment or gear for self-rescue. Rarely do visitors spend less than three days in the Maze and the area can easily absorb a week-long trip.

The Maze is the Wild West of the park—remote, rugged, and open to those who are eager and equipped to experience the Utah backcountry without signs and/or other visitors leading the way. In the Maze, you are left with the proverbial horse you rode in on, a map, your best-charted plans, your instincts to guide you as well as the company you keep. 

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

Four-wheel-drive roads in The Maze are extremely remote, very difficult, present considerable risk of vehicle damage, and should not be attempted by inexperienced drivers. A high-clearance, low-range, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is required for all Maze backcountry roads.

The Hans Flat Ranger Station is 2.5 hours from Green River. From I-70, take UT 24 south for 24 miles. A left-hand turn just beyond the turnoff to Goblin Valley State Park will take you along a two-wheel-drive dirt road 46 miles southeast to the ranger station.

From the ranger station, the canyons of The Maze are another 3 to 6 hours by high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle. Another four-wheel-drive road leads into The Maze north from UT 95 near Hite Marina (driving time is 3+ hours to the park boundary). Use a map to reach The Maze. GPS units frequently lead people astray.

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

The Rivers

Also well worth visiting in Canyonlands are the rivers themselves. The Colorado and Green rivers wind through the heart of Canyonlands cutting through layered sandstone to form two deep canyons. In stark contrast to the hot, sunny desert above, the river corridors are remarkably green, shady, and full of life.

Both rivers are calm upstream of The Confluence, ideal for canoes, kayaks, and other shallow water craft. Below The Confluence, the combined flow of both rivers spills down Cataract Canyon with remarkable speed and power creating a world-class stretch of whitewater.

More on Canyonlands National Park: Canyonlands: Colorado River and Canyon Vistas

As you can see in that basic outline of the Canyonlands wilderness, there are endless things to do and see while hiking, camping, off-roading, exploring the waterways, taking photographs, and blazing your path in this famous and also challenging park.

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

Fact Box

Size: 337,598 acres, largest national park in Utah

Date established: September 12, 1964

Location: Southeastern Utah, on the Colorado Plateau

Designation: International Dark Sky Park

Park Elevation: 3,700 feet to 7,120 feet

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

Park entrance fee: $30 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days

Park camping fee: $15 (Island in the Sky), $20 (Needles)

Recreational visits (2021): 911,594

How the park got its name: Citing From Controversy to Compromise to Cooperation: The Administrative History of Canyonlands National Park by Samuel J. Schmieding, explorer John Wesley Powell designated the region “The Cañon Lands of Utah” in a 1878 report written for the U.S. government. The word cañon was anglicized in the early 20th century and in 1963 the National Park Service merged them into one—Canyonlands.

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

Iconic Site in the Park: In the Island of the Sky district is Mesa Arch,the most iconic landmark in Canyonlands and among the most photographed landmarks in the national parks. The pothole arch frames Utah’s White Rim country and the La Sal Mountains—a vista view that is magnificent—and that is before the first ray of sunlight pops over the horizon. That first light bounces off of the rock beneath the arch casting an epic glow onto the roof of it framing a keyhole view of the valley with illuminated light. Every morning, photographers hike their gear along the 0.5-mile trail to the 1,200-foot-high cliff-side to watch the scene unfold, each vying for their own take of the classic shot. Photograper or not, this landmark is a must-see for any visitor to the park, just know that it is only at sunrise when you will see this magnificent light show. 

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

Accessible adventure: One of the engineering marvels in the U.S. National Parks are the roads that were constructed, both recently and long ago, to enable visitors to experience America’s most special wilderness places.

More on Canyonlands National Park: Arches and Canyonlands: Two Parks Contrasted

The Island in the Sky paved scenic driving road is the easiest way to explore Canyonlands National Park in a short amount of time. It is the only paved road in this area of the park winding for 34 miles along the high mesa with panoramic views of the red rock wonderland stretching from the canyon bottom 1,000 feet below. The star of the show is at the end of the loop at the Grand View Point, the highest point on the mesa and a scene that is considered by many to be the best view found anywhere in the park.

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

Did you know?

Canyonlands was the 31st national park and was established by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Because of its twisted labyrinth of slot canyons, what is now known as The Maze was one of the last sections of the contiguous United States to be mapped. Mapping became easier once planes were invented. 

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

Desert scenes from the film Thelma and Louise were captured in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.

Canyonlands is one of 11 International Dark Sky Parks in the state of Utah. Others national parks with this designation include Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon.

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

Outside the Mighty 5

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

Utah’s much more than The Mighty 5. Sure, its famous national parks—Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capital Reef National Park, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park—are must-sees but spectacular scenes don’t end at the parks’ boundaries. 

Just beyond their star-studded borders, you’ll find equally-impressive red-rock slot canyons, sandstone cliffs, and limestone plateaus. What these less-popular locales lack in national designation they make up for with easy access, peaceful meandering, and uninterrupted wilderness delight. 

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

Famous: Capitol Reef National Park

Nearby fave: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is phenomenal whether you’re traveling along Scenic Byway 12 or on Highway 89. This area boasts a mixture of colorful sandstone cliffs soaring above narrow slot canyons, picturesque washes, and seemingly endless Slickrock. This area is also remote with fewer services than national parks so ensure you’re prepared to keep yourself safe.

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

The monument is a geologic sampler with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. A geological formation spanning eons of time, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante.

Hike highlights include Lower Calf Creek Falls and Peek-a-boo and Spooky Gulch slot canyons.

Get more tips for visiting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Famous: Zion National Park

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby fave: Sand Hollow State Park and Quail Creek State Park

Zion National Park is one of Utah’s Mighty Five national parks and (for good reason) many people travel to the state to see its natural wonders but Utah Dixie offers so much more for outdoor enthusiasts. Surrounding St. George are four superb state parks—Sand Hollow, Quail Creek, Gunlock, and Snow Canyon—all offering gorgeous scenery and plenty of ways to enjoy nature including hiking, camping, fishing, boating, photography, cliff diving, and swimming.

Quail Creek State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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, and explore and ride the dunes of Sand Mountain Recreation Area on an off-highway vehicle, RV, or tent camp in the modern campground.

Sand Hollow State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just minutes away from Sand Hollow, Quail Creek State Park offers another reservoir for swimming but in a completely different landscape. The picturesque mountain background with a rocky landscape and blue water gives this reservoir a breathtaking view. Quail Lake, a sprawling 600-acre lake in the Quail Creek State Park, fills a valley northeast of St. George. After a fun day, settle into the park’s campground on the western shore. It offers 23 campsites with shaded tables, modern restrooms, tent sites, and pull-through and back-in sites for RVs up to 35 feet in length.

Get more tips for visiting Sand Hollow State Park

Get more tips for visiting Quail Creek State Park

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Famous: Bryce Canyon National Park

Nearby fave: Red Canyon, Dixie National Forest

“Stumbled upon.” “By accident.” “Surprised by.” That’s how some visitors happen to find Red Canyon. As Bryce Canyon’s lesser-known neighbor road travelers encounter Red Canyon en route to the national park and stun them when Scenic Byway 12 runs directly through two red-rock arch tunnels.

Red Rock Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winding highway displays orange-red pinnacles, spires, columns, and hoodoos. These limestone and sandstone formations line the road making it easy for drivers to stop for photo ops. But for those looking to stay longer, Red Canyon offers camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and off-roading.

Anchored by the town of Panguitch, Red Canyon makes up a small part of Dixie National Forest’s 170-mile wide nature preserve.

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

Famous: Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park

Nearby fave: Dead Horse Point State Park

Oh, the views! The panorama from Dead Horse Point State Park is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. Driving to each of the park’s many overlooks reveals a completely different perspective into Utah’s vast canyon country. The park is a slender peninsula of land extending off the massive plateau that is home to Canyonlands National Park’s Island in the Sky district.

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

The park sits above the beautiful White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park and offers views of Moab, the La Sal Mountains to the south, and the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. The area got its name from its use as a natural horse corral around the turn of the century. According to legend, some horses died of exposure on the plateau.

A visitor center and art gallery provide a good primer to the park’s geology and key features visible from the many overlooks. The visitor center parking lot also serves as an excellent starting point to access the 16.6 miles of non-motorized single-track mountain biking and eight miles of hiking trails that sprawl across the park.

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

Reserve a campsite or yurt at any one of Dead Horse Point State Park campgrounds. Take in the spectacular star show from this International Dark Sky Park.

Get more tips for visiting Dead Horse Point State Park

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jack Kerouac

The Ultimate Guide to Capitol Reef National Park

Discover the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic wrinkle on earth

I’ve often said that all of southern Utah should be protected as national parkland. The entire region is filled with unusual, ornate, and beautiful geologic formations that take shape, color, and texture to a level that is truly beyond comprehension (unless you are a geologist and if that is the case you already know how special Capitol Reef is). The crown jewel of the park is Waterpocket Fold, the second largest monocline in North America, a feature that is often described as a wrinkle in the Earth’s crust resembling a coral reef turned inside out.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This one-of-a-kind landscape has sustained human life since long before European settlers knew about it. From the ancient Paleo-Indians who roamed here some 12,000 years ago to the more recent Ute and Southern Paiute peoples who were displaced from it, the land we now know as Capitol Reef has a much deeper and richer history than the average visitor knows.

Capitol Reef is perhaps Utah’s most underrated National Park. The park is about 2.5 hours east of Bryce Canyon via the Scenic Byway 12, an All-American Road. Much like Zion, the landscape is centered amid massive red rock cliffs.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated squarely in the desert, Capitol Reef sees less than 10 inches of rain per year though it does experience occasional snowfall during its chilly winter. Daytime temperatures in July and August can climb past the 100 degrees mark but the climate is generally temperate and pleasant with highs in the 40s even in December and January.

Although undeniably remote, Capitol Reef is served by a variety of small gateway towns which offer camping, restaurants, and other attractions to visitors—the closest of which is Torrey. Park-goers can also reach Grover, Teasdale, and Bicknell within a few minutes.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore a wrinkle in space-time—or at least in the earth’s surface—at Capitol Reef. Surrounding the geological wonder known as the Waterpocket Fold, the park is known for its fairytale landscape boasting a variety of landmarks like the Chimney Rock pillar, the Hickman Bridge arch, and Cathedral Valley. Capitol Reef National Park is also home to over 2,700 fruit-bearing trees situated in its historic orchards—apples, cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, mulberries, and more are seasonally available for fresh picking.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park and its surrounding areas protected under the Bureau of Land Management are full of canyons, ridges, buttes, badlands, and monoliths creating a 387-mile playground for modern-day explorers while serving up prize shots for landscape photographers. Beyond the natural landscape is a rich cultural past spanning more than a thousand years that was cultivated by the Fremont Indians and later, Mormon settlers who pioneered the park during the turn of the 19th century. Between easy-to-access areas surrounded by undeniable beauty, boundless backcountry wilderness to explore, and interesting local history, it is unsurprising that Capitol Reef National Park sees high visitation numbers despite its off-the-beaten-path location.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like many national parks, Capitol Reef is divided into separate and very distinct areas— Fruita Rural Historic District, Cathedral Valley, and Waterpocket Fold. I’ve outlined them below, there are three, and included some awesome spots to stop at in each of them. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fruita Rural Historic District

The Fruita Rural Historic District is the most popular area in the park in terms of visitation. The paved Scenic Drive starting near the visitor center travels 20 miles (out and back) through gorgeous slick rock scenery and provides access along the way to many established trails that trot off into the landscape. There is an important cultural history in this area of the park as well. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The village of Fruita was established along the Fremont River by Mormon pioneers in the late 1800s who found there a rich utopia where they could flourish as the Fremont Indians had many centuries prior. The new settlers planted fruit trees along irrigation lines that were dug by the Fremont culture, trees that remain today. With that, an opportune first stop… 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fruita Orchards

The Fruita Orchards are a popular place during the spring, summer, and fall when parkgoers file into the valley to harvest peaches, apricots, and apples. Anyone is welcome to visit open areas to sample and harvest fruit for a small fee. Healthy snacks for the trail! 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petroglyphs of the Fremont Culture

Carved into the sandstone formations in Fruita is the Fremont Petroglyphs, chipped rock art depicting animals, people, shapes, and other forms indicative of their hunter/gatherer existence. The petroglyphs can be seen on several large panels east of the park visitor center on UT Highway 24. There is parking, a boardwalk, and viewing platforms making it easy for all to catch a glimpse of the intriguing relics.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hickman Arch

No visit to a Utah national park could be complete without a sandstone arch framing the scenic landscape. The Hickman Bridge is a 133-foot natural bridge with canyon views in all directions. Getting to it is easy with roadside parking on UT 24. The trail to the bridge is a cool 1-mile.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Torrey Log School and Church

The Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or LDS) with the help of local settlers built this one-room log structure in 1898 using natural resources found in the area that included shingles supplied by a local mill and donations of doors and windows from neighboring communities. The structure was used as a school until attendance superseded the space available. The school then evolved into a meeting house for members of the LDS church. The Torrey School and Church are now on the National Register as a historical building. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Gifford House

This rural homestead is a classic example of early 20th-century rural Utah farm homes. It was built by Calvin Pendleton in 1908 who occupied it with his family for eight years. Other private owners followed the Pendleton family until eventually, the land became part of the national park. The homestead sits on 200 acres of land and has seven rooms, a barn, and smokehouse, a garden, rock walls, and a pasture. This homestead is a prized example of earlier times and as such has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Gifford House is operated today in partnership with the Capitol Reef Natural History Association and the U.S. National Park Service which operate it as a museum and learning center to preserve and to also raise awareness of Utah’s cultural past.  

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panorama Point

Panorama Point is an easy turn-off from US 24 and offers exactly what the name suggests—panoramic views in all directions. After following a short walk on a paved path to the top of the hill, fantastic views await particularly so at sunset. It is also a fine place to get a sense of the lay of the land.    

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cathedral Valley

The Cathedral Valley area is a backcountry dream where you can get lost in solitude while exploring Utah’s rugged and remote wilderness ecosystems. Not only is the Cathedral Valley area completely stunning but its far-flung location is infrequently visited allowing visitors a respite from crowds found in more accessible areas. There is much to see and do in the Cathedral Valley—driving on primitive roads under big skies, shooting the sunrise at cool formations like the Temple of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, camping and hiking with peace as your guides… it’s amazing out there!  

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glass Mountain

One of the coolest sites in the national park is Glass Mountain, a small formation of exposed gypsum made of selenite crystals. The textured mound looks like it is decorated by broad brush strokes of dirt exposing glassy crystals. You can find it next to the Temple of the Moon monolith and plan for at least 30 minutes to explore it. Even though it is relatively small when compared to other features in the park and climbing on its delicate gem is forbidden it is so unique and interesting that you will probably find yourself doing laps around it spellbound by the incredible textured shapes of the gypsum. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gypsum Sinkhole

Five miles from the Cathedral Valley campground is the Gypsum Sinkhole—a 200-foot deep, 50-foot wide chasm that formed when water dissolved the below-ground gypsum foundation allowing the site to cave in. It is astounding to stand over and look down into a depression like this falling so deep into the Earth, a reminder of the forces of nature always at work beneath the planetary surface. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Morrell Cabin

The historic Morrell Cabin and Corral in Cathedral Valley sheds light on how this area has been used during the last century. It was built in the 1920s on Thousand Lake Mountain by a wealthy landowner named Paul Christensen and was moved during the 1930s to its current location in the Cathedral Valley by Lesley Morrell. Locally known as “Les’s Cabin,” it once served as a stop along for cattle ranchers traveling to and from Thousand Lake Mountain where they could eat, sleep, rest, and refuel. The National Park Service purchased the site in 1970. It is listed today on the National Registrar of Historic Places.  

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Waterpocket Fold

Waterpocket Fold, the geologic feature, is a 100-mile rocky spine extending from Thousand Lake Mountain to Lake Powell. Its technical name is a monocline which citing the Oxford Dictionary is a “bend in rock strata that is otherwise uniformly dipping or horizontal.”

Waterpocket Fold, the area, is the least visited section of the national park. It has few services and few marked trails that are of course highly enticing for backpackers who want to head out into the wilderness to get lost. The Halls Creek Narrows and the Lower Muley Twist Canyon are two of the most popular spots in the park to set off from on a backpacking adventure.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 37,711 acres

Date established: December 18, 1971 (designated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a National Monument in 1937) 

Location: South-central Utah

Designation: Certified IDA International Dark Sky Park

Park elevation: 3,687 feet to 11,574 feet, alverag elevation is 6,384 feet 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park entrance fee: $20/vehicle, valid for 7 days

Camping fee: $25

Recreational visits (2021): 1,405,353

How the park got its name: Capitol Reef was given its name for the white domes of Navajo sandstone that resemble the domes of the capitol buildings found throughout the United States and for the rocky cliff formations, the “reef,” which presents a barrier to travel through this rugged terrain just as it does in the sea. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic site in the park: The massive monolith formations found in the Cathedral Valley look like church cathedrals as their name suggests and jump out from the backdrop like the subject of a children’s pop-up book. The 57-mile loop drive taken to get there passes through the San Rafael Swell, an all-terrain environment that takes some commitment (and a high clearance vehicle) to get to. The most well-known “cathedrals” are the 400-foot high Temple of the Sun and Temple of the Moon, each of which captures beautiful golden light during both sunrise and sunset depending on where you stand.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accessible adventure: Ancient past meets modern present for auto-tourists along the paved park road (UT 24) and Scenic Drive, two separate roads that wind through the heart of the park in the Fruita Rural Historic District. These roads bring visitors passed rivers, valleys, orchards, historical rural buildings, petroglyphs, and aside formations made of sedimentary rock that is 225 million years old. There are nearly 40 established trails throughout the Fruita area as well as plenty of wildlife-watching opportunities, so keep your eyes peeled and drive safely.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know?

Utah is home to what the state calls “The Mighty 5” —Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef National Parks.

The nearest traffic light to Capitol Reef National Park is 78 miles away.

There is no formal entrance to the national park. Payment is due at the visitor center and you are on your honor. Have honor!

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 10 sites in Capitol Reef National Park on the National Registrar of Historic Places. 

Capitol Reef is approximately 60 miles long and about 6 miles wide.

Waterpocket Fold is nearly 100 miles long.

Most of Capitol Reef is made of sedimentary strata rock ranging in age from 270 to 80 million years old.  

There are 239 recorded bird species in the national park.

Worth Pondering…

 …of what value are objects of a past people if we don’t allow ourselves to be touched by them. They are alive. They have a voice. They remind us what it means to be human; that it is our nature to survive, to be resourceful, to be attentive to the world we live in.

—Terry Tempest Williams, Exploring the Fremont

Bryce Canyon National Park: “A Hell of a Place to Lose a Cow”

At Bryce Canyon, hoodoos range in size from that of a human to heights exceeding a 10-story building

The Bryce Canyon landscape is unique—entirely different than nearby Zion as well as other Utah national parks—partly attributed to its high elevation location ranging from 8,000-9,000 feet. The air is thinner up here, the environment colder, and the wind much, much stronger—elements that come together to create an otherworld on the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stepping onto any lookout, you are challenged to connect with a most amazing example of the forces of nature affecting this planet and at the same time, you will almost certainly feel as though you are stepping foot onto the edge of another world. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For this article, I want to highlight a few different ideas that will deliver a diverse experience in Bryce—where to drive, stay, hug some trees, and go for the big adventure—with the caveat that at this one-of-a-kind national park, there is nothing more spectacular than the red rock nation that sprawls across Utah’s high desert on the Colorado Plateau. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Drive

Hitting the scenic auto-trails in the national parks is often the best place to start gaining an understanding of the lay of the land. Many of the park roads were developed and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the early days of the park service to provide access to the most interesting and marketable features nearby.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A scenic tour along the 38-mile (round trip) Bryce Canyon National Park Rim Road provides access to 13 viewpoints that peer over the amphitheaters. It is a perfect first outing to get acquainted with the park.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: Bryce Canyon National Park: 5 Things to Know Before Visiting

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay

There are three options located inside of the park: the North Campground (open year-round), Sunset Campground (high season), and the recently renovated 114-room Bryce Canyon Lodge which was built from local timber and stone in 1924-25. Any non-park-related activity—sleeping, eating, shopping, fueling up, or learning about the local history—will almost surely bring you to Ruby’s legendary roadhouse. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic Site in the Park

There is no view in this park more classic than a sunset view from Sunset Point. It is located just one mile beyond the National Park Visitor Center and access to the overlook is just footsteps from the parking lot. If you look just below and to the left, you will find another iconic landmark: Thor’s Hammer—famed for its unique balanced rock and isolationist position among the larger network of hoodoos that surround it. This area is also stellar for birdwatching (shout out to our bird-ninja friends)! Swallows, Clark’s Nutcrackers, Stellar Jays, hawks, and Ravens all soar in the skies catching air from the thermal cliff sides.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Hug Some Trees

The forested areas surrounding the national park cross three “life zones” that change with variant elevation gains. In the lower regions, you will find dwarf forests (juniper, pinyon pine, manzanita, aspen, willow, and birch) growing along streams. In the mid-elevations, Ponderosa pine, spruce, and Douglas fir forests thrive. On the high plateau, spruce, aspen, Douglas and white fir continue. At Rainbow Point located at the end of the scenic drive, you can spot the toughest tree on Earth: the ancient Great Basin bristlecone pine, a species categorized among the oldest living organisms on the planet.

Accessible Adventure

Wandering the Rim Trail from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point travels across one 1-mile of flat trail hugging the amphitheater where gorgeous, sprawling views abound! With a large parking lot, restroom facilities, and a paved pathway leading to and fro, this is a great spot for people of all ages and with all levels of overall health to enjoy the storied views of Bryce Canyon. The Rim Trail extends 5.5-miles from Bryce Point to Fairyland with occasional steep elevation changes.  

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Adventure

Hiking through the hoodoos along the Navajo Loop Trail to the Queens Garden Trail allows hikers to choose their adventure along intersecting networks that weave throughout more challenging sections of the inner canyons but with easy access to trailheads at both Sunset and Inspiration Points. This is a moderate outing at just under 3 miles.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For those looking to go longer, the Peekaboo Trail (5.5 miles) and Under-The-Rim Trail near Rainbow Point (22 miles) lead trekkers farther into the backcountry. As always, get backcountry guidance at the National Park Visitor Center.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before you go, check Bryce Canyon’s official website for park alerts. As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

Worth Pondering…

It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.

—Ebenezer Bryce, early homesteader at Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park: 5 Things to Know Before Visiting

Red rocks, pink cliffs, and endless vistas

Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce who ranched in the area described the canyon that bears his name as “a hell of a place to lose a cow”. But the rest of the world knows the canyon as a vast wonderland of brilliant-colored spires, rising like sentinels into the clear sky above.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Contrary to what its name suggests, Bryce is not one canyon but a series of natural bowls filled with hoodoos (tall columns of rocks) carved into the edge of a high plateau. This otherworldly geology is enough of a reason to visit, but it’s not the only one. Far from major cities and in the higher elevations of the American Southwest, Bryce offers dark skies for stargazing and lots of wildlife.

Home to the largest concentration of hoodoos on Earth, Bryce Canyon is one of the most-visited national parks in the United States. More than two million people visit Bryce each year with most staying at least one full day, if not longer. No matter how long you stay, some planning will help you make the most of your visit.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are 5 things to know before visiting Bryce Canyon National Park.

1. Each Season Has Its Pros and Cons

The best time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park is between June and September when temperatures are between the high 60s and low 80s. Because of the pleasant weather, this is also the high season. If you’re planning on visiting during this time plan in advance and prepare to encounter crowds. In July and August, you can expect frequent thunderstorms, but they don’t last long.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shoulder seasons of May and October are a bit cooler—reaching freezing temperatures at night but still pleasant during the day.

If you don’t mind colder temperatures and want to visit during a quieter time you visit in April or November. Temperatures during this time are lower but still pleasant during the day—generally in the 50s during the day and at times reaching the high 60s but below freezing at night.

Bryce is beautiful in the middle of winter when it is covered with snow and you might find yourself alone there. The restaurant and the lodge are closed, however, so if you visit during this time, make sure you have a place to stay and eat outside the park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. There Are a Variety of Accommodation Options

You have a choice of two national park campgrounds both with ample space for RVs and tents; no electrical, water, or sewer hookups. North Campground has 99 sites all available on a first-come-first-serve basis. Loop A of this campground is open year-round. Sunset Campground provides 100 sites available April-October with peak-season reservations through recreation.gov.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

For those not traveling with an RV, the best place to stay in the park is the historic Lodge at Bryce Canyon built in 1925 between Sunset and Sunrise Points. The restaurant at the lodge is also the best place to eat. You should book a room at the lodge in advance, up to a month ahead at the very least.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. You’ll need To Drive a While to Get There

Bryce Canyon National Park is about 270 miles (a 4-hour drive) from Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. No matter what direction you are coming from, you’ll need to get to U.S. Route 89, then take the Utah Scenic Byway 12 east, and finally head south on Utah State Route 63.

You’ll be driving for hours in the middle of nowhere, passing through small towns that seem to have been forgotten by time. You’ll also drive through some of the most beautiful, otherworldly parts of the Southwest.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pro Tip: Combine your trip to Bryce Canyon with a trip to Zion National Park, 72 miles south of Bryce. About 14 miles before the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park, stop at Red Canyon for a short walk among red-rock hoodoos. Alternately, plan to combine your visit to Bryce Canyon with a trip to less crowded Capitol Reef National Park over Scenic Byway 12, an All-American Road.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef: A Great American Road Trip

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Stop at the Visitor Center before Exploring the Park

Your first stop at any national park should be the visitor center where you can learn about the geology, flora, fauna, and history of Bryce Canyon. Visit the museum and the hands-on exhibits to learn how the iconic hoodoos were formed and about the different layers of life in and around Bryce Canyon from fossils to current wildlife. At the visitor center, you can pick up a map of the park and find out what ranger programs are being offered.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you are visiting between April and October and staying outside the park leave your car and take the free shuttle to the visitor center.

Pro Tip: Fill up your reusable water bottle at the visitor center. If you didn’t bring one, it’s worth buying one at the gift shop since you can fill it up at all the trailheads and viewpoints.

More on Bryce Canyon National Park: 11 Tips for Visiting a National Park this Summer

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Take Advantage of the Ranger Programs

The park offers daily ranger programs from guided rim walks to geology talks to evening programs at the lodge and the campgrounds. Check out the ranger programs board at the visitor center if you’re interested. While for most programs you can just show up, a few require that participants sign up in advance.

Worth Pondering…

…a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

13 Essential Stops on an RV Tour across Utah

The marvelous range of sights in Utah attracts many campers every year and with good reason

The freedom and solitude of RV travel has vaulted this form of recreation to new heights of popularity and with cutting-edge rental platforms on the market, there’s no better time to set out on your very own RV adventure than the present.

When it comes to destinations, the spacious highways and spectacular natural beauty of Utah make it a perfect match for an extended RV road trip. There are a huge number of RV trips in Utah just waiting to be had! From deserts to snow-capped mountains, from red sandstone arches to endless blue skies, there’s beauty and adventure high and low, attracting hikers, nature lovers, and plain old sightseers alike.

While there’s no shortage of gorgeous attractions to see across the Beehive State, check out the list below for some must-visit highlights during your adventure.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Utah is no stranger to incredible natural beauty but if you only have time for one national park during your RV trip, make sure it’s Bryce Canyon. Officially established in 1928, this preserve contains the world’s largest concentration of hoodoos, a jagged rock spear formed by erosion.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is a true paradise for hikers equipped with a wide array of options ranging from the 1.5-mile Queen’s Garden Loop Trail to the challenging 8.2-mile Fairyland Loop. Not a huge fan of outdoor adventure? No worries—the park is equipped with spectacular vista points like Sunrise Point and Sunset Point with each spot offering a world-class view with minimal amounts of walking required.

Bryce Canyon is home to two campgrounds both of which are open to RV traffic. North Campground offers 49 RV-only sites and Sunset Campground offers 50, though there are no hookups. 

Get more tips for visiting Bryce Canyon National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

True wilderness is a hard thing to find nowadays—a retreat from civilization into a place that is seemingly untouched by man may seem like a fairy tale. But that is exactly what Zion National Park can offer.

It may be one of Utah’s most famous tourist attractions but visitors will soon discover it’s popular for good reason. Zion has many hiking trails that allow you to experience what the wilderness is truly like. More populated trails are perfect for beginners who still want to see the beauty of the West. And beauty there is! Sandstone cliffs swirled with reds, pinks, and creams reach high into the sky making a wonderful contrast against the bright blue horizon. The narrow slot canyons are a wondrous sight and the unique desert plants and animals will keep you enthralled in the environment.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s the best part of a visit to Zion National Park, you ask? You never have to leave the beautiful surroundings! The park has three campgrounds, two of which are located right in Zion Canyon. South campground has primitive sites available and Watchman Campground has sites with electric hookups available.

Get more tips for visiting Zion National Park

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Arches National Park embodies everything that Utah is famous for—a desert landscape filled with natural beauty. There’s plenty to experience in this “red-rock wonderland”—the most famous, of course, being the arches. There are over 2,000 of these natural stone arches in the park and each one is unique.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll be able to spend your days exploring the trails that wind through the arches, pinnacles, and giant balanced rocks. Ranger programs are available as well to help you get the most out of a visit. There are daily guided walks, hikes, and evening programs that will teach you all about the park and let you take in as much of the beauty as possible.

Devil’s Garden Campground is 18 miles from the entrance to Arches National Park. Being surrounded by the stunning desert throughout your trip certainly helps you appreciate the park even more.

Get more tips for visiting Arches National Park

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

While you’re in the Moab area to visit Arches, don’t forget to see the other major attraction: Canyonlands National Park. At over 337,000 acres, this park dwarfs the more popular Arches to the north and it has a wide variety of wonders for any eager adventurer to explore.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is divided into four distinct areas each offering a unique perspective on this stark desert ecosystem. Island in the Sky is a flat-topped mesa while the Needles are tall, sharp spires; the Maze is a seemingly-endless system of crevasses and canyons, and finally, visitors can see where the Colorado and Green rivers intersect at the Colorado Plateau. The park also boasts some original Native American rock paintings inside its iconic Horseshoe Canyon.

Canyonlands offers two developed campgrounds: Island in the Sky (Willow Flat) Campground and The Needles Campground. While both are open to RVs, no hookups are available,

Get more tips for visiting Canyonlands National Park

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Pak

Tucked into the heart of Utah’s south-central desert, Capitol Reef National Park surrounds a wrinkle in the earth’s crust known as the Waterpocket Fold. The Fold’s unique geological features include the Chimney Rock pillar, the Hickman Bridge arch, and the Capitol Reef formation itself which is renowned for its white sandstone domes. Like other Utah national parks, Capitol Reef is an International Dark Sky Park and thus a great place for stargazing.

Capitol Reef National Park is also home to over 2,700 fruit-bearing trees situated in its historic orchards; cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, mulberries, and more are seasonally available for fresh picking.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is one developed campground open to RV traffic inside Capitol Reef National Park: Fruita Campground. Although there are no hookups, a dump station and potable water are available. Be sure to double-check the size limits as each individual space is different and some of them are quite small.

Get more tips for visiting Capitol Reef National Park

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

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Established as a protected natural landscape in 1996, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a one-of-a-kind site and certainly worth an RV trip if you’re making your way to Utah. The site is the size of Delaware and the erosion it’s seen over time has made it into what’s basically a giant, natural staircase—one that’s seen more than 200 million years of history. It’s all there for you to walk through and discover yourself!

The Monument is home to two campgrounds: Deer Creek and Calf Creek. Both are small, primitive, and apt to fill up quickly.

Get more tips for visiting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

You might recognize it from Forrest Gump, Mission: Impossible 2, Back to the Future Part III, or National Lampoon’s Vacation—but chances are, you will recognize it. A Navajo Tribal Park, Monument Valley is one of the most iconic landscapes anywhere in the world let alone in the state of Utah and it’s well worth passing through and even stopping to discover more.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley boasts sandstone masterpieces that tower at heights of 400 to 1,000 feet framed by scenic clouds casting shadows that graciously roam the desert floor. The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations providing scenery that is simply spellbinding. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs and trees, and windblown sand all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley.

The View Campground includes 30 RV spots and 30 wilderness campsites which attract outdoor enthusiasts who want to capture the essence of rustic living and dust of authentic Navajo history.

Get more tips for visiting Monument Valley

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods

The beautiful Cedar Mesa sandstone monoliths, pinnacles, and other geological features of this enchanting area are often referred to as a miniature Monument Valley. These sandstone sentinels were eroded by wind and water over eons of time.

The 17-mile Valley of the Gods Road stretches between US-163 north of Mexican Hat and Utah Route 261 just below the white-knuckle Moki Dugway. The massive red rock formations are a geology fan’s dream. Hoodoos, spires, buttes, buttresses, forming and collapsing arches, and towers are all visible along the drive. 

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many places to stop along the scenic drive and numerous locations suitable for FREE camping as the valley lies on BLM land and is completely undeveloped. Since hardly anyone seems to pass by, the area provides a much more relaxing and isolated experience than the famous valley (Monument Valley) 30 miles southwest, and without any of the restrictions on hiking or camping. 

Get more tips for visiting Valley of the Gods

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument covers a relatively small area in southeastern Utah. It is rather remote and not close to other parks and as a result, is not heavily visited. A nine-mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges with Hopi Indian names—Sipapu (the place of emergence), Kachina (dancer), and Owachomu (rock mounds). Moderate hiking trails, some with metal stairs or wooden ladders, provide closer access to each bridge.

A 13-site campground is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis.

Get more tips for visiting Natural Bridges National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument

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

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks’ majestic amphitheater is a three-mile-long cirque made up of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone. Situated on the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau, the raised area of earth located in Southern Utah between Interstate 15 and Highway 89, the monument sits entirely above 10,000 feet. The Amphitheater is like a naturally formed coliseum that plunges 2,000 feet below taking your eyes for a colorful ride through arches, towers, hoodoos, and canyons. Stunning views are common throughout so keep your camera nearby.

Point Supreme Campground is surrounded by meadows of wildflowers in the summer. At 10,000 feet elevation, it is a comfortable place to camp during the hotter summer months. Point Supreme has 25 campsites and accommodates both tents and RVs. Camping is available from mid-June to mid-September.

Get more tips for visiting Cedar Breaks National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument

Just across the border from Colorado’s Canyon of the Ancients, Hovenweep National Monument is a can’t-miss destination for anyone interested in America’s prehistoric origins. The site includes the ruins of six villages dating back to A.D. 1200 and 1300 and these stunning structures include multistory towers perched on canyon rims and balanced on boulders. A true testament to time, Hovenweep National Monument is as educational as it is awe-inspiring!

Hovenweep National Monument hosts a 31-site campground that can accommodate RVs up to 36 feet in length. The campground is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Get more tips for visiting Hovenweep National Monument

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

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers more than 1.2 million acres of unparalleled opportunities for land- and water-based recreation. Within the recreation area, Lake Powell is the second largest human-made lake in the United States and is widely recognized as one of the premier boating destinations in the world. Stretching from the beginning of the Grand Canyon at Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is graced with scenic views, unique geology, and evidence of 10,000 years of human history.

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

In terms of campgrounds, there’s a lot to choose from including many primitive sites operated by National Park Service. These campgrounds do not take reservations and do not have phone numbers. There are also park concessioner-operated campgrounds with full-service sites available. Campgrounds operated by park concessioners include Wahweep RV Park and Campground, Bullfrog RV Park and Campground, Halls Crossing RV Park and Campground, and Antelope Point RV Park.

Get more tips for visiting Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12

A 121-mile-long All-American Road, Scenic Byway 12 winds and climbs and twists and turns and descends as it snakes its way through scenic landscapes ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats.

Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points. The southwestern gateway is from U.S. Highway 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch near Bryce Canyon National Park. The northeastern gateway is from Highway 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other major attractions include Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Hell’s Backbone, Hole-in-the-Rock, Cottonwood Canyon, Burr Trail, Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area, and The Hogsback, a narrow ridge barely wider than the two-lane roadway with cliffs falling away on either side.

Mile for mile, few of America’s national scenic byways can compete with the diverse scenery and number of natural attractions along Scenic Byway 12. Recognized as one of the most beautiful drives in America, the byway showcases some of Utah’s uniquely scenic landscape.

Get more tips for driving Scenic Byway 12

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

Arches National Park: Park Avenue Trail

Hike among high-rise sandstone walls and massive fins on this one-miler that’s a perfect introduction to Arches National Park

Arches should be on everyone’s list of “must-see” national parks. While the park is most well known for having over 2,000 arches including the famous Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch there is more to see than just the arches. Park Avenue is the first stop after entering Arches National Park and is a great way to start your visit.

Park Avenue and Courthouse Towers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue is a one-mile trail that follows the bottom of a canyon at the feet of some of the park’s gigantic and well-known monoliths. With sandstone walls that rival New York City skyscrapers, this easy, two-mile out-and-back along Park Avenue shows how wind and erosion can create a variety of rock sculptures.

Arches entrance road leaving the visitors’ center for Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Three Gossips, the Courthouse Towers, Queen Nefertiti, Queen Victoria Rock, the Organ, and the Tower of Babel are all visible from the road as visitors drive up towards Balanced Rock and Delicate Arch but there is a large difference in experience when walking through them. All of these natural wonders are famous and often photographed.

More on Arches National Park: A Wonderland of Arches…And So Much More

Approaching Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue Trailhead

The Park Avenue Trailhead is located on the Arches Entrance Road 2.5 miles north of the visitors’ center off to the left (north) side of the road. From the parking lot check out the La Sal Mountains in the distance before heading down a paved trail to the Park Avenue overlook. The parking lot has a paved walkway that heads 320 feet to a Viewpoint. From there, a well-worn trail heads down the Avenue and towards the Courthouse Towers Parking Lot.

View down Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you leave the parking area, you’ll follow a wide, paved trail for about 100 yards to a viewpoint of Park Avenue. Many visitors are satisfied with the view from here which is impressive but if you want to understand how this area got the name Park Avenue one has to drop down and walk the Park Avenue trail to feel the immensity of the sandstone monoliths on either side. The real Park Avenue is a wide boulevard in Manhattan Island in New York City with soaring skyscrapers on either side of the avenue.

Hiking down Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the overlook take in the expansive views of the 300- to 400-foot-tall red rock walls that line the wash below. To the right is a deep notch carved into a fin; bulky rock formations sit to the left and Courthouse Towers (an assortment of tall stone columns) rise in the distance. Take the stone steps from the overlook to continue the hike.

After enjoying the view from the Park Avenue overlook descend the rock steps to begin the hike. A “Primitive trail beyond this point” sign sits beside the trail but don’t let that deter you from this well-worn trail.

View of the Organ

The easy trail from the Park Avenue overlook descends some well-maintained path to the floor of Park Avenue. Once on the canyon floor, look around in all directions. Beneath your feet are ripples in the rock and above are towering red cliffs, balanced rocks, and tiny holes in the rocks. Desert shrubs and juniper trees are sprinkled in the red sand throughout the canyon. As the trail makes its way to the road, Courthouse Towers comes into view. Once the trail meets the road, turn around and hike back.

More on Arches National Park: Power of Nature: Arches National Park Offers Endless Beauty

The Tower of Babel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a one-mile hike down through the sandstone monoliths to the end of Park Avenue. There is another parking area there where groups that have more than one car can park so it becomes a walk-through hike instead of an out-and-back hike. If you only have one car and it’s parking at the Park Avenue viewpoint it will be two miles down and back. Along the way, hikers are treated to great views along the trail of the Courthouse Towers which is composed of formations of The Organ, The Tower of Babel, The Three Gossips, and Sheep Rock.

The Three Gossips © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Three Gossips may be the best name for a rock formation that I’ve ever heard. What a clever description! One of the things that I like about Arches National Park is that there are so many clever names for the arches and formations. Sheep Rock is a clever name too! That rock looks exactly like a sheep!

Approaching the end of the trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue is best photographed in the later afternoon for the deep colors on the canyon walls. Morning is an excellent time to photograph, The Organ, Sheep Rock, The Tower of Babel, and The Three Gossips.

This was my very first hike in Arches National Park and even though there are better-known hikes in Arches, this one is a special one for me.

This is a hike that children will enjoy as well as experienced hikers. This stop will only take about an hour to see and complete. I highly recommend to those visiting Arches National Park to take the time to at least stop at the Park Avenue viewpoint.

More on Arches National Park: The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

Hiking down Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rock Formations

The Courthouse Towers

The massive sandstone towers that make up the western background of Park Avenue are called the Courthouse Towers. Like the prows of enormous ships, these landmarks jut out into the desert below, some of them over 600 feet tall.

The Tower of Babel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Organ

The Organ is a smaller monolith just to the south of the Tower of Babel off to the right side of the Arches Entrance Road. The Courthouse Towers parking lot sits off to the west flank of the Organ.

The Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel is located to the north of the Courthouse Towers standing just above Courthouse Wash, north of the Organ, and beside the Entrance Road.

The Tower of Babel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park Avenue Trail Facts

Trail Head: 38.624431, -109.599582

Length: 2 miles round trip

Hiking time: 30 minutes to one hour

Elevation at trailhead: 4,560 feet

Trail: Slickrock

Difficulty: Easy

More on Arches National Park: The 5 Best Hikes in Arches National Park

Hiking down Park Avenue © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: This hike has parking lots at both ends, so if you’re short on time and have two cars, you can turn this into a shuttle hike.

Worth Pondering…

These arches are of thrilling beauty. Caused by the cutting action of wind-blown sand (not stream erosion), one marvels at the intricacies of nature.

—Frank Bethwick, leader of a 1933-34 scientific expedition

America’s Least-Visited States and Why You Should Go To Each

You’re likely missing out on some of the most beautiful places in the US

Even the most traveled RVers have inevitable gaps on their “where I’ve been” map. It’s a big country out there and clocking all 50 states is a fairly universal bucket list goal. Still, some of the less known states are passed over—and that is a shame. Now more than ever, we’re daydreaming about hitting the Interstate in search of wide-open spaces, desert expanses, serene beaches, stunning mountain vistas, and near-empty hiking trails.

After crunching the numbers I’ve identified 11 of the less-visited states, many of which were obvious, some of which were shocking. Digging deep to find out what makes each a destination in its own right: small-town charm, amazing food, fantastic beer, and sweeping landscapes.

Looking for a hidden gem? Then make a plan to visit these roads less traveled!

Snake River at Twin Falls © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Idaho

Annual visitors: 34.3 million

Why you should visit: For some ungodly reason, Idaho is forever associated with its primary agricultural product. And look, I love taters as much as the next person. But find yourself on the shores of Redfish Lake with the snow-capped peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains reflecting in clear waters and you won’t be thinking about your next meal. You’ll be thinking about how Idaho is darn near perfect and wondering where all the people are. 

Lava fields in Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s got all the jagged mountains, wild whitewater, and pristine lakes of places like Colorado or California but it doesn’t pack in the hordes of tourists. While everyone else is clogging up Jackson Hole, an easy jaunt over the Tetons and the Wyoming state line will drop you by two of the best small towns in the state, Driggs and Victor. Spots like Stanley and Coeur d’Alene are also cool resort towns with friendly people and spectacular scenery. And of course, there’s brewery-packed Boise that’s one of the most underrated places to live in the US.

Massachusetts State House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Massachusetts

Annual visitors: 29.3 million

Why you should visit: There are sports to be watched, history to be learned, and great food to be had in Boston but it’s the boatloads of seaside towns that make shockingly under-touristy Massachusetts such a gem.

Hyannis harbor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amble around little Cape Ann fishing villages like Rockport where you can hang with lobstermen and chow down on some fresh, fresh seafood. Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard are the more well-known escapes with spectacular seal- and shark-watching opportunities along the National Seashore.

For a whirlwind tour, hop on a train from Hyannis to Buzzards Bay on the Cape Cod Central Railroad, an oceanside journey that ambles through cool little towns and cranberry bogs. The town of Salem is extra fun to visit around Halloween; history nerds should also visit Plimoth Plantation and Old Sturbridge Village, two living museums from the colonial era.

Historic Jacksonville, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oregon

Annual visitors: 29.1 million

Why you should visit: Oregon’s presence on this list proves that many have yet to discover this Pacific Northwest dreamland and even those who know Portland likely have no clue to the scope of the state’s wonders. Oregon packs a massive diversity of ecosystems into its borders from a coast overflowing with natural beauty and shorelines to the dense forests blanketing the land.

Oregon Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here, the Columbia River Gorge forms a border with Washington made of sheer cliffs and waterfalls. Mountains like Hood, Bachelor, and the Three Sisters cast shadows over green valleys, roaring rivers, and high-desert landscapes. You’ll find the continent’s deepest lake at Crater Lake National Park.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama

Annual visitors: 28.7 million

Why you should visit: In Alabama, you can drink in two states at once at the Flora-Bama bar near Orange Beach or participate in its famous annual mullet toss (fish, not hair). If you’re not into throwing fish and/or drinking, you can explore 35 miles of gorgeous coastline, most notably, Gulf Shores, the prettiest place in the state and home to Gulf State Park. Truly, this is a state that at once embraces its stereotypes (“roll Tide!!”) and shatters them. 

USS Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are landmark historical sites from the Civil Rights movement all across the state including the Civil Rights Institute and the famous 16th St Baptist Church in Birmingham plus the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma. There’s also baseball history—the oldest stadium in America is Rickwood Field in Birmingham. And pay homage to one of the greatest to play the game at the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum in Mobile (located at Hank Aaron Stadium).

Finally, the largest space museum in America is in Huntsville. The U.S. Space & Rocket Center is home to the famous space camp.

Newport Ocean Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rhode Island

Annual visitors: 26.2 million

Why you should visit: Get some inspiration by taking the cliff walk through Newport’s historic mansions. Rhode Island boasts 400 miles of coastline (it’s not called the Ocean State for nothing) and some of the warmest water in New England.

Historic Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re still hanging in Newport, Second Beach is your move for a day on the water. To round things out, you’ve got the Pawtucket Red Sox (or Pawsox)—a fun minor-league alternative to Fenway—way more breweries and distilleries than a state its size needs. Oh yeah, and Del’s Frozen Lemonade. Do NOT leave without trying a Del’s Frozen Lemonade.

Ole Miss © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mississippi

Annual visitors:  24.7 million

Why you should visit: This is the birthplace of American music. Start your sonic education in Tupelo (Elvis did) where you can walk up three different music trails—through cotton fields, churches, train depots, and nightclubs—to learn about the roots of blues and country music.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mississippi is also home to three of the five driving trails on the Americana Music Triangle, a 1,500-mile highway route through five states with historical stops related to countless genres of music from the region including blues, jazz, country, rock & roll, R&B/soul, gospel, Southern gospel, Cajun/zydeco, and bluegrass.

There are also 26 miles of pristine water and white sand beaches here without anywhere near the number of tourists or tacky T-shirt shops you’d find in Florida. And unlike other beach towns on the Gulf, Biloxi, Gulfport, and Bay St. Louis have casinos.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

North Dakota

Annual visitors: 22.6 million

Why you should visit: Teddy Roosevelt loved North Dakota so much that he bought a ranch here then made it a national park. Today, North Dakota has 63 national wildlife refuges and 13 state parks and offers visitors the chance to see not only pronghorns and buffalo but the world’s largest buffalo—Dakota Thunder—can be seen at the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown.

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But it’s not all rural land and Bull Moose. Fargo is one of America’s most underrated cities tucked into an overlooked state. Amid its highly walkable streets, you’ll find a food scene that goes beyond hot dish and into fine dining and international fare plus a vibrant brewing community. 

Sky Mountain Gulf Course, Hurricane, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah

Annual visitors: 20.7 million

Why you should visit: While it’s easy to make a case for Utah being America’s most stunning state, surprisingly it remains under-visited. Yet it’s been at the forefront of daydreams thanks to its otherworldly landscapes, unmatched stargazing, and relative isolation. Time to pack up the RV and see what the fuss is all about!

Utah Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s open landscapes can be tackled in several ways whether it’s via a journey through the Mighty Five— Zion and Bryce among them—hiking its equally mind-blowing state parks or cruising a scenic stretch of road like the Hogsback (Scenic Byway 12).

For a more metropolitan experience, the cities are stereotype-smashers: Against the backdrop of its gorgeous namesake, Salt Lake City has emerged as a preeminent western destination placing it on the top tier of relocation wish lists. Park City, meanwhile, is so much more than Sundance: a world-class ski destination and postcard-perfect mountain town. Regardless of where you land, one thing remains constant: Wander in any direction and you’ll likely be greeted by an image that will sear itself into your memories.

New River Gorge Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

West Virginia

Annual visitors: 15.9 million

Why you should visit: They don’t call the Mountain State “almost heaven” because of the strip clubs though the state does boast the most per capita of any state in the Union. It’s because of stunning outdoor attractions like the 25-mile North Fork Mountain Trail—one of the few trails labeled as “epic” by the International Mountain Bicycling Association—where you can ride backcountry ridges whilst soaking up the views over Seneca Rocks.

Glad Creek Grist Mill, Babcock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re into water sports, brave the Gauley River, one of the five best whitewater rivers in the world and home to a 14-foot raftable waterfall. Or visit the newly-minted New River Gorge National Park. If you’re into land sports, catching a football game at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown (especially at night) is one of the most unique experiences in college football.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Dakota

Annual visitors: 13.5 million

Why you should visit: South Dakota is one of the country’s most beautiful states. It’s also one of its most misunderstood. But once you’re here, you’ll discover why all those Smash Mouth fans keep coming to Sturgis every summer.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a drive along the Needles Highway near Mount Rushmore National Memorial through fascinating rock formations or drive any stretch of the Badlands to see scenery like nowhere else in the world. Custer State Park is one of the few places in America where buffalo on the road can cause a traffic jam; the annual Buffalo Roundup takes place here when thousands thunder through the park as rangers round them up for medical checks and counts.

SoDak’s roadside attractions are also among the quirkiest in America. Take I-90 east from the Black Hills and you’ll pass ghost towns, a dinosaur sculpture park, the famous Wall Drug, and the World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell. You’ll end up in Sioux Falls, one of those small cities that feels a hell of a lot bigger than it is, and a great place to spend a weekend.

Montpelier © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vermont

Annual visitors: 13 million

Why you should visit: More or less everything you’ve heard about Vermont is true: This is a state that takes tremendous pride in its artisan everything, so much so that if you sit down for a meal at one of Burlington’s fantastic restaurants, you’ll likely discover everything from the garnish to the cheese to the chair you’re sitting in was made by some master craftsman in the same zip code. The craft beer scene is unparalleled, a true destination for beer nerds where hazy IPA pioneers The Alchemist holds court alongside legends like Hill Farmstead and the actual Von Trapp family who ensure the hills are alive with lagers. 

Ben & Jerry’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s a land of general stores, covered bridges, sugar shacks, ski towns, and vast wildernesses. There is no place where the leaf-peeping is as vivid. It’s exactly what you expect, yet somehow so much more.

Worth Pondering…

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.