RV Destination: Utah National Parks
The Beehive State
Before we first hit the road, I asked a longtime friend and seasoned RVer (49 states in 10 years) which state was his favorite. He immediately answered – “Utah”! I was quite surprised, but since then I’ve learned why.
Utah boasts “Mighty Five” National Parks – Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands – and lots of interesting state parks along the way. On our first major RV trip, we spent some time in three of them and we look forward to going back to explore the other two.
In the meantime, here’s a brief synopsis of what we found:
Zion National Park
You can only drive on the main road at Zion National Park – they no longer allow vehicles on any of the side roads. Regardless, there are many overlooks with incredible views for some great photo opportunities. When you get to the visitor center on the far west side of the park, you need to find parking (suggest going early for this) and take a shuttle bus which circles through the park, stopping at all the attractions and trail heads. Regardless of how you feel about shuttle buses, Zion’s fleet works
Due to the heat in mid-July, we only hiked a couple of the shorter trails, which were well-defined, but quite crowded. We truly enjoyed hiking through the Narrows, not only because of the amazing steep canyon walls surrounding us, but because we were actually wading in the Virgin River. Just bring lots of water, sunscreen and a hat. The park also has numerous water stations available for refilling water bottles. Pets are not allowed on the shuttle buses, and on only one trail, right by the east gate of the Park.
The main tunnel (which opened in 1930!) cannot accommodate today’s large vehicles, and the Park’s rangers control one-way traffic flow. As a result, you will wait at each end for the Ranger to allow you to enter and will need to drive down the center of the tunnel. We only took our tow vehicle into the Park but did see a number of small motorhomes and very small trailers on the road. Be aware that any vehicle 13 feet or higher cannot pass through the aforementioned tunnel. Length restrictions in Zion are 40 feet for a single vehicle and 50 feet for any vehicle combination. And any vehicle 11 feet 4 inches high or higher and 7 feet 10 inches wide or wider is subject to an additional $15 oversize vehicle fee, which allows two trips through the park.
There are two campgrounds located near the south entrance of the Park, but neither provide RV hookups. They fill very quickly and are in a desert area – during the summer’s high temperatures there is not much shade. However, there are several private RV parks in both Springdale (at the south entrance and to the north.
As we were there in the summer, it was very crowded, but the Park handles it well. And there’s certainly plenty of room for everyone. I’m convinced there were more foreign visitors at Zion than there were Americans. Great fun to hear all the accents.
Arches National Park
Located just outside of Moab, Arches National Park proudly displays 2500 natural arches of amazing sizes, shapes and colors. It’s easy to look at the arches and imagine all kinds of animals, heads, vegetables, etc. in this magnificent masterpiece of nature. This is a spot when you can absolutely let your imagination run wild just by taking a second look, or even a third, at these amazing arches.
A beautifully paved 18 mile road dissects the park, with viewpoints all along the way. At the end of the road, Delicate Arch, perhaps the most photographed formation in the park (and currently seen on Utah license plates) waits for visitors. It can be seen from the road, but more spectacular views require a 1-1/2 mile hike, climbing 500 feet. There are also nine short hikes, ranging from ¼ mile to 2 miles which bring you closer to the natural wonders. Dogs are not allowed on the trails, although they can be walked on leashes in the viewpoint areas. This park can be easily explored in a day. Devil’s Garden is the lone campground in the park, but has no hookups available, and is generally booked well in advance. Fortunately, there are several nice RV parks in Moab.
Bryce Canyon National Park
This was my favorite. Bryce Canyon National Park is a lacy combination of spires and pinnacles which form the most incredible breathtaking views.
The park is named after Ebenezer Bryce, a pioneer who was originally assigned to establish some Mormon communities in this part of Utah. He eventually settled in the area and raised eleven children, claiming grazing rights, running cattle and building a cabin. His opinion of Bryce Canyon was that it was “a hell of a place to lose a cow”.
At 8,000 feet in elevation, the Park’s main road is surrounded by lush green forests of Ponderosa pine, aspen and spruce trees. But just wait – when you get out of the car and walk to that first overlook, it’s breathtaking. The forest gives way to literally thousands of pastel colored pinnacles – pinks, oranges, golds and yellows, literally covering the canyon. It may lack the size and grandeur of other parks like the Grand Canyon, but the intricately woven lacy patterns of the spheres are mesmerizing – I could keep looking for days.
We spent a long half day exploring the overlooks at the rim of the canyon, traveling in our tow vehicle. Roads and turnouts are good, with plenty of room for a small motorhome or trailer. There are also a number of hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty, where you can walk through the brilliantly colored corridors of rock formations right to the bottom of the canyon. (Pets may walk on the paved areas on a leash but are not allowed on the hiking trails due to the delicacy of the formations.)
There are two campgrounds in the Park, although neither offer RV hookups. They fill quickly on a first come-first served basis. There are a number of private RV parks close to the Park’s entrance.