Utah

Several summers ago when I decided that year’s family vacation would be spent in Utah friends and family asked me “WHY?”.  I replied “Why not?”

When we returned home after a month spent meandering the scenic roads of Utah and exploring its many wonders I had a better response to the question “Why Utah?”.

The answer is simple, Utah is “God’s Country”!
When folks think of Utah many think of the grand LDS Temple and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, but there is so much more to Utah than that.

Utah is a wonderland of natural beauty.  It  boasts 5 National Parks and other NPS, state, and tribal areas including monuments, recreation areas, historic sites, scenic drives and trails, rivers, lakes, and more.  Whatever your interest there’s an activity for you.  From skiing and snowboarding to hiking, biking, rafting, rock climbing, or golfing, boating, and relaxing you can do it all in Utah.  There are so many reasons WHY Utah is a great place for a family vacation, it’s hard to name just one.

These days when anyone asks me “Why Utah” I respond with my top 5 reasons.  Here are my reasons perhaps they will inspire you to find your park in Utah!

Arches National ParkUtah located 5 miles north of Moab, Utah is a site to behold.  The park is home to over 2000 natural stone arches (the densest concentration of natural stone arches in the world) and fantastic rock formations. The majestic pinnacles, gigantic balanced rocks, and massive fins will amaze you.

There are many ways to enjoy the wonders of this park.  The easiest and least strenuous is to take the scenic tour on 18 miles of  paved roads in your car.  The roads pass by many of the park’s features and has viewpoints and trail heads along the way.  The tour can take as little as 1.5 hours to drive one of the roads or 4.5 hours to drive all the paved roads and allowing time at each viewpoint.  Biking is another option, it’s permitted on all paved and unpaved roads, but not on the trails.

To see more of the park you can hike one of the trails, many of which have trail heads off the paved roads.  You can combine a short easy hike with the auto tour if you prefer.  Trails range from .3 miles to 7.2 miles and more in length and from easy to strenuous.  A hike can take as little as 20 minutes to 4 hours and even days if you combine it with backpacking.  If you prefer you can join one of the ranger led walking and hiking programs.  Be sure you take enough water to stay hydrated during your hike.

For the more adventurous there’s rock climbingcanyoneering, or horseback riding.  But before you embark on your adventure be sure to obtain the proper permits, check park conditions, and learn the park’s rules and regulations.

We visited this park on a day trip from Moab.  There are no lodgings and restaurants within the park although the bookstore in the visitor’s center sells a few snacks and reusable water bottles which can be filled at the visitor’s center and a couple of other places in the park.

Utah

Junior Ranger booklets and explorer packs are available at the visitor center for kids.  They are designed to teach kids and their families to learn about the park as they explore it.  Participants who compete activities in one or both will earn a Junior Ranger badge and certificate.
You can download a booklet for your kids it can help them prepare for the adventure.  To download free booklet in pdf file click here!

There are 50 campsites with in the park which must be reserved in advance during the busy season.

Whatever you decide to do be sure to bring your camera, you’ll find many photo opportunities in the park.  You’ll want to bring home memories of this amazing place.

To plan your visit to Arches National Park click here!

Utah
Courtesy of NPS.gov

Canyonlands National Park is located near Moab, Utah.  The park is filled with countless canyons and fantastic buttes carved by the Colorado river and its tributaries.  The River divides the park into 4 districts:  Island in the Sky, Needles,  Maze, and the Rivers.  The districts all share the same desert atmosphere but each has its own distinct views and offers different opportunities to explore.

There are no roads that directly link the districts making exploring the entire park in one day almost impossible.  Traveling between them can take 2-6 hours by car.  The best way to see the park is to spend at least a day or more in each district.

Utah
Courtesy of NPS.gov

The Island in the Sky district is the most accessible and easiest district to explore.  There’s a paved road with many scenic viewpoints along the way.
The overlooks are perched 1000 feet above the terrain and offer magnificent views of the canyons below as well as views of the other districts.  You can do this scenic drive in about an hour.

The 100 mile White Rim Road Loops are located in this district.  These roads are accessible only by mountain bikes and vehicles with 4-wheel drive.  This trips will take about 2-4 days, but offers expansive views of the surrounding areas.

Utah
Courtesy of NPS.gov

The Needles district known for the colorful sandstone spires that dominate the area is more backcountry.  It’s a great place for hiking. There are no paved roads here.  The 50 miles of  unpaved roads require 4-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance. The roads trails lead to many natural and cultural features such as Tower Ruin, Confluence Overlook, Elephant Hill, and Chesler Park. It is well worth the trip in spite of the challenging roads.

Utah
Courtesy of NPS.gov

The Maze district is the least accessible district.  Due to it’s remoteness and the difficulty of its roads and trails visitors to this district must be prepared and self-sufficient. You must carry enough supplies, food, water, gas, etc. and be prepared for any emergencies. A trip to this district requires more time and a higher level of experience, definitely not for the average day-tripper.

Utah
Courtesy of NPS.gov

The Colorado and Green Rivers, which form the River district,  run thru the heart of the park, access to the rivers is not easy to find.  You can kayak or canoe in the calm water before the Confluence or raft in the world class stretch of white water below the Confluence where both rivers combine to spill over to Cataract Canyon at incredible power and speed.

Utah
Courtesy of NPS.gov

The Horseshoe Canyon Unit  in not a district it was added to the park in 1971.  It contains some of the most significant rock art in North America with huge well preserved panels depicting life-sized figures and intricate designs.  You can also see fossils from the Jurassic Era here.

You can access this unit from the west from Moab on a 30 mile graded dirt road or from the south from Green River on a 47 mile dirt road.

Other activities in this park include Ranger led programs, hiking, biking, boating, backpacking, climbing, horseback riding and more.

The Island in the Sky and Maze districts have short kid friendly trails for families to explore.  The visitor centers have FREE Junior Ranger Program booklets and Explorer Packs (deposit required) which will teach kids and parents about the park.  Participants who complete activities will receive a Junior Ranger badge and certificate.  Stop by one of the visitor centers before you embark on your adventure.

There are no lodgings or restaurants in the park.  There are 2 campsites within the park, in Needles and Island in the Sky.  We visited this park when we stayed in Moab.  We rented a 4-wheel drive jeep in Moab and had a great time exploring the Island in the Sky, Needles, and Horseshoe Canyon. We drove back to Moab on one of the dirt roads from the Island in the Sky, it was definitely memorable!

To plan your trip to Canyonlands National Park click here!

Utah
Courtesy of NPS.gov

Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah is filled with canyons, domes, cliffs, and bridges in a Waterpocket Fold (a geologic wrinkle in the earth) that is almost 100 miles long.

You will discover many hidden treasures as you explore this park, my favorite is the historic orchard, the largest orchard located within a National Park with over 3000 fruit and nut trees.  The orchard is open for public harvest, you pay a small fee and pick all the fruit and nuts you can eat.  Bring your own bags or baskets, they don’t provide any.  We picked our fill of apricots and plums!

You can hike, backpack, bike, and go horseback riding and mountain climbing in the park.  For more leisurely sightseeing take one of the 3 road tours.

The scenic drive is a paved road that has 11 stops that showcase the park’s cliffs, rock formations, petroglyphs, and geology.  There is a $5 entrance fee to take this drive.

The Cathedral Valley district has a paved loop tour as well as 2 unpaved roads.  The roads offer views of the park’s geological wonders.

The Waterpocket district has a loop tour as well a trail road to Lake Powell.  The roads are unpaved but can be navigated in most high clearance vehicles.  These drives offer spectacular views of rock formations and natural bridges.

There are also ranger programs held year round, check at the visitor’s center for schedules.

There are no restaurants or lodgings within the park.  The Gifford House Store and Museum sells baked and canned goods, ice cream, and chips during the spring and summer seasons.  The visitor center sells snacks and has a drink machine.

There is one developed campground and 2 primative camps within the park.  Click here for details.

We rented a cabin just outside the park with spectacular view of the park.  We spent a morning on the scenic drive and an afternoon picking fruits at the orchard where we were joined by deer and jack rabbits.

To plan your visit to Capitol Reef National Park click here!

Utah
Courtesy of brycecanyon.com

Bryce Canyon National Park in south-central Utah is a unique park filled with a huge concentration of Hoodoos (odd shaped rock pillars left standing by the forces of erosion) and 3 distinct types of pine forests.  Reaching 2000 feet elevation the park has 3 different climate zones providing 3 distinct habitats that account for the high biodiversity.  The park is home to over 100 bird species, dozens of mammals, and over 1000 species of plants.

There are many things to do in this park; ranger programs, kids programs, hiking, backpacking, biking, climbing and rappeling, horseback riding, star-gazing, and scenic drives.

The 18 mile scenic drive has scenic pull-outs along the way that provide views inside the canyon.
You can drive the paved road in your private vehicle or park your car outside the park entrance and take the free shuttle bus from the nearby staging area.  You can hop on and off the shuttle bus at any of the 13 stops. The shuttles run at 10-20 minute intervals.

The park also offers a free guided Rainbow Point Tour twice a day in the summer.
This 40 mile round trip tour takes four hours and makes stops at many of the scenic viewpoints. Those wanting to hike or backpack in the back country can make arrangement to be dropped off and picked up at one of the park’s back country trail heads.  Reservations are required for this tour, they can be made in person at one of the shuttle boarding areas or by phone.  For more information about this tour and how to make reservations click here.

You can also hike one of the canyon trails or stroll around the canyon rim for some amazing views of the canyon and it’s many hoodoos.

The park allows bikes on all the paved roads and many of the trails. Or if you prefer you can see the canyon on horse or mule back.  Canyon Trail Rides offer 2 hour and 1/2 day trail rides inside Bryce Canyon.

We did the the afternoon 1/2 day trail ride on the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail, it was awesome!  The trail begins at the canyon rim and descends into the canyon before it loops back.  You will ride along some narrow parts with the canyon wall on one side and a steep drop on the other.  The guide will take you thru the valley of rock pillars and pine forests while telling you about the canyon’s history and some amusing stories.  Riding in the canyon gives you a different perspective of the park, but be prepared to be covered in the park’s hallmark red dust from head to foot.  It rained during a portion of our ride, though we had thin raincoats we still got wet, this resulted in the dust turning into to red mud that trickled down our faces, arms, and legs.  Messy but truly memorable.

For more information and reservations for trail rides click here.

Loding is available within the park at the Bryce Canyon Lodge from March to November.  The lodge dining room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Click here for more lodge information.

The park has 2 campgrounds with restrooms and drinking water.  Click here for more campground information.

When we visited it was a day trip from Springdale, Utah which is the gateway town to Zion National Park and is 86 miles southwest of Bryce Canyon.

Plan your visit to Bryce Canyon National Park click here!

Utah
Courtesy of NPS.gov

Majestic, awe inspiring, breathe taking, are words that almost describe the grandeur of Zion National Park.  Located in the town of Springdale, Zion is Utah’s first national park.

I’ve been to this park numerous times and never fails to enchant me.  For me it’s a spiritual experience each time I gaze up the canyon walls from the canyon floor.  The elevation change of 5000 feet from its lowest point at 3,666 feet to its highest point of 8,726 feet is a sight to behold.

There are many things to do in this park.  The scenic drive is only accessible by the free shuttle from March to October and on weekends in November.  You can park in the gateway town of Springdale and board the shuttle at one of the stops.  You can hop on and off the shuttle at different scenic stops where many of the trail heads are located.  Shuttles run about every 7 minutes giving you plenty of time to hike or gape the the park’s rock formations, many of which were formed 250 million years ago.

Hiking trails vary in length from short easy half hour half mile strolls to strenuous 8 hour hikes of 10 to 14 miles.  Click here to print a pdf version of the Zion hiking guide and map. There are also a variety of ranger led walks and programs for all ages.

Utah
Courtesy of NPS.gov

The Narrows is the narrowest section of the canyon.  You can take a 1 mile hike upstream along the paved Riverside Walk from the Temple of Sinawava (no permit required) if you want to see more you will have to wade in the river.  Or you can take a 16 mile hike downstream that begins outside the park at the Chamberlain’s Ranch and ends at the Temple of Sinawava.  This hike requires a permit and would take a day or two.

Biking is only permitted on all paved roadways and on the Pa’rus trail.  The shuttle buses all have bike racks that can accommodate at least 2 bikes.

Utah
Courtesy of NPS.gov

For the more adventurous there is backpacking, canyoneering, climbing, and white water rafting.

You can explore the Subway on a one day hike.  There are 2 routes each about 9 miles and each one strenuous.  These hikes require rappelling, route finding, and swimming through some cold debris filled poos.  They both require permits and it’s recommended that visitors take these hikes with an experienced Subway hiker.

Be prepared before you embark on any of these adventures.  Obtain the proper permits and know the park’s rules and regulations before you go.  Click on each activity for more information.

Trail rides are offered between March and October by Canyon Trail Rides.  They offer 1 hour and 1/2 day rides inside the canyon.  Click here for information and reservations.

Utah
Courtesy of NPS.gov

Kolob Canyons is a separate section of the park located 40 miles north of Zion.  The 5 mile scenic drive has views of the red rock canyons and gives access to trail heads and viewpoints.

Cabins, hotel rooms, and suites are available at the Zion Lodge located along the scenic drive within the park.  The Lodge also has a dining room and cafe that serves meals and snacks.  Click here for more information and reservations.

There are also 3 campgrounds within the park.  Click here for more information.

Utah

When we visit we usually stay in a river edge suite at the Desert Pearl Inn in Springdale.  It’s a great place with amazing view.  I love sitting on the balcony after a long day at the park or relaxing in the hot tub.  The views are amazing.

Plan your visit to Zion National Park click here!

These are just 5 reasons WHY everyone should put Utah on their travel bucket list, but there are so many others.  Utah is home to many more natural wonders, cultural and historic sites, scenic roadways and byways, museums, and activities; and the folks in Utah are so friendly and welcoming! Once you’ve gotten a taste of I’m sure you’ll be back for more!  Utah really is “God’s Country”!