TRAVEL ALERT: Please follow local COVID-19 guidelines for safe, responsible travel. Read more.

Visit Utah's National Parks Like You Know What You're Doing

Use these tips to enjoy Utah’s parks and monuments to the fullest, while also ensuring they stay Forever Mighty.

Many of the natural wonders found in Utah are hundreds of millions of years old. Though they’ve existed for eons, that doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to exist for eons more. In order to get the most out of a visit to Utah’s parks and monuments, while also ensuring they stay Forever Mighty, we’d love for you to follow these tips.

A trail sign for the North Window, South Window and Turret Arch trail

Always stick to marked trails when hiking and biking around the parks. Pictured: Arches National Park

The Best Time Of Year To Visit Utah

A family road trip through Utah’s five national parks and the surrounding areas is a classic American vacation. Unfortunately, most schools’ spring breaks and summer vacations happen at the same time, meaning a flood of road-trippers hit the national parks at the same time. 

What does that mean for you? Well, if you can be flexible with your travel, it can yield big rewards. The “shoulder” seasons (early-mid spring and mid-late fall) are fantastic opportunities to visit Utah that bring more mild temps during the day. Having your pick of a campground or having a restaurant patio to yourself can be as memorable as driving along the Devil’s Backbone. Note that some roads, lodging, and other amenities close during the cooler months, so be sure to do your research before you book.

The Best Time Of Day To See Utah’s Parks

Utah’s national parks are more popular than ever, which means deciding when to visit a park feature can be as important as deciding what to see in the first place. For example, Delicate Arch is one of the most popular sunset viewing spots in the entire state. But people who flip the script and choose to visit during the early morning hours — especially on a weekday — can treat themselves to a quiet morning exploring one of the most iconic natural features in Utah. Visiting on a holiday weekend late in the morning? Expect a crowd, even restrictions on access. Not sure when to visit some of your “must-see” spots? Ask around when you’re in town; locals know the best times of day to check them out, or can suggest a lesser-known alternative that’s no less stunning.

Utah’s national parks are more popular than ever, which means deciding when to visit a park feature can be as important as deciding what to see in the first place.

What to Pack In

Though many of our parks are well-equipped and staffed, any visit to Utah will have you stepping foot in wild areas, even within a busy national park. Well-prepared visitors have the most fun on their journey; spending less time worrying about having the right gear and provisions means you can focus on enjoying your vacation. 

Before you head out each morning, check the weather conditions. Bring layers of clothing to account for swings in temperature; a hot day in Zion can quickly turn chilly as the sun dips behind the canyon wall. Bring plenty of water — up to 1-liter per hour of activity, especially in the warmer months. Sunscreen, sunglasses and hats will keep the sun from baking you as red as the surrounding cliffs. Not sure if you have the right gear? Check with a park ranger or BLM office before you set out for the day and they can give you the go-ahead.

Two hikers sit in the snow and take a photo of the snow-covered canyon.

Winter at Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo: Hage Photo

A woman respectfully views the petroglyphs.

Petroglyphs at Horseshoe Canyon. Photo: Rosie Serago

How to Pack Out

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “leave only footprints.” In some cases, it's better to leave even less than that! In some places like the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, protected species rely on a fragile living cryptobiotic crust covered with microbes to keep their ecosystem healthy. So watch your step and always stick to marked trails (Read: Soil Sleuth: Protecting Utah's Living Landscapes).

Even in areas that aren’t as sensitive to human activity, packing out your trash, leftover food (including peels and pits) and anything else you bring with you is vital to preserving our natural areas for generations. Always place your trash in a bin. And if the bin happens to be full, carry it with you until you find one that has room.

Well-prepared visitors have the most fun on their journey; spending less time worrying about having the right gear and provisions means you can focus on enjoying your vacation.
A family bikes through a national park.

If you can be flexible with your travel season and schedule, it can yield big rewards. Photo: Kevin Winzeler

Mindful Travel Tips

While Utah is best known for its unique geological beauty, the state is also rich in biodiversity and human history. It may be hard to believe, but long before the term “national park” was even coined, people were living, and thriving, in these areas. Throughout your Utah journey you’ll see evidence of native communities; petroglyphs, cliff dwellings and more. These archaeological displays are some of Utah’s most treasured sites, and we ask for your help in preserving them in their original state by enjoying them from a respectful distance (Read: Following the Markings of Native American History).

Likewise, careful eyes can spot Utah’s diverse wildlife around every corner. We welcome you to enjoy our wildlife from afar. Take pictures without a flash, and keep plenty of distance between yourself and our four, six, or eight-legged locals.

What to Buy Locally

With Utah’s national parks booming in popularity, you can take comfort in knowing that you’re never too far away from a market, outfitter, or even restaurant. With rare exceptions, anything you may need to enjoy your time exploring Utah can be purchased locally. Some shops and dining options only operate seasonally, however. Always check before you begin your trip to see what is open, and never hesitate to ask a local for their recommendations; some of the best experiences aren’t found on any website.


More Tips and Information

You're Inspired to Go Off the Beaten Path. Now What?

by Elainna Ciaramella

If you dream of diving into Utah’s wilderness, you want to have an unforgettable experience that will etch lasting memories. And to help you truly experience that once-of-a-lifetime trip, I asked experts to share their top advice.

Read More

Ryan Coons

Ryan Coons is a Portland, OR based writer who spends his days writing about travel, tourism, and beer. You'll find him most days on his bike sloshing through the mud in the rainy PNW. www.inkindcreative.com

Utah's National Parks

What's Nearby?

Moab

Moab

For outdoor recreation enthusiasts of all stripes, the surrounding canyons, valleys, cliffs and spires offer endless things to do in Moab. Moab isn’t only about pushing the envelope. There are also quiet, reflective moments that make the Moab area enchanting as well as excellent dining and cultural attractions in the town.

Kanab

Kanab

Kanab is a prime stop and base camp for major driving routes heading off in four directions, which access three national parks, three national monuments, several state parks and a number of historic sites

Torrey

Torrey

Located just eight miles from the west entrance of Capitol Reef National Park, Torrey is an idyllic little tree-lined town surrounded by rose-colored cliffs and green meadows. More importantly, Torrey is an eclectic and comfortable base camp to adventure. See dining and accommodations here.

"].join("")); l.close() } catch (m) { b.src = a + 'd.write("' + loaderHtml().replace(/"/g, String.fromCharCode(92) + '"') + '");d.close();' } b.contentWindow.config = k; b.contentWindow.SCRIPT_ID = g }, 0) } } }(); window.usabilla.load("w.usabilla.com", "4b5c4068d8fb"); /*]]>{/literal}*/