Utah is home to five of the nation’s best national parks, and it’s a great place to plan a vacation if you want to visit more than one of these incredible regions.
These parks are within a few hours’ drive of each other, making Utah the perfect state for a national parks road trip. Whether you plan to stop at each park or spend more time at just one or two, Utah’s unique landscape gives these parks unforgettable scenery.
Explore the canyons and see rock formations like gravity-defying arches, pinnacles, and bluffs. If you’re thinking about planning your next vacation to see some of Utah’s incredible national parks, we’ve got the tips you need to see before heading out.
One of the most important things we’ll cover is the best time to go to Utah, but before that, let’s talk about why the parks are worth visiting in the first place.
Why You Should Visit Utah’s National Parks
One of the best reasons to head to Utah for a national parks vacation is the number of parks in one area of the country. Utah has five national parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion.
The American Southwest has some of the world’s most unique collection of natural features. The number and variety are due to three different geographic regions meeting: The Colorado Plateau, Basin and Range, and the Rocky Mountains.
These parks’ particular geography means you’ll see plants and animals here that rarely occur elsewhere.
From reptiles to mammals, many creatures can be observed in the park. Utah National Parks’ varied landscapes mean it’s a hub for dozens of bird species. Hiking is one of the favorite activities in these parks, and you’ll find hundreds of miles of trails to traverse.
Besides hiking, some of these parks offer other activities like rock climbing and rafting. Visitor’s centers in the park provide a place to learn more about the region.
Overall Best Time to Visit Utah National Parks
The best overall time to visit Utah is in the early fall. Temperatures start to decline slightly, and the crowds will, too, especially once kids are back in school. There are additional benefits to planning a trip in the early fall.
While the crowds have lessened, many park services are still available. Most summer activities are available during this time, though if you plan on boating in the parks where it’s allowed, summer might be a better bet.
This region’s waterways come down from mountainous areas and can be quite cold! Fall might be the best time for hiking in Utah National Parks.
Parts of these parks experience intense desert heat during the summer. Walking once these temperatures subside makes for a more enjoyable stay in the park. In these parks’ forested areas, the leaves start to change colors. Fall is also an excellent time for wildlife viewing.
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Many species migrate at this time. Flocks make for stunning displays in the skies, but birds aren’t the only ones that head south for the winter. You might catch sight of other migratory animals or creatures getting ready to hibernate in the park.
Cheapest Time to Visit Utah National Parks
If you’re looking for the least expensive vacation, consider visiting Utah’s National Parks during the late fall. There are fewer crowds and lower temperatures, but there’s also a better chance of reduced prices at these national parks.
Late fall is between two of the busiest seasons for Utah National Parks. Summer brings crowds of tourists, and winter attracts winter sports enthusiasts.
More people in the area usually means things are more expensive. There are other ways to save money while traveling to these parks. You may want to reserve camping spaces ahead of time.
Camping is cheaper than other lodgings. Plus, if you book your spot ahead of time, you won’t have an unexpected hotel bill when the campgrounds are full. Another way to save money is to buy a regional pass.
Southeast Utah Parks passes are valid for one year and allow you to access Arches and Canyonlands for less than you’d pay individually at each park. If you’re looking to visit all of Utah’s National Parks, you’ll want to invest in the annual pass, which will save you money in entrance fees.
Least Busy Time to Visit Utah National Parks
Winter is the least busy time to visit Utah National Parks, but not the least expensive. The areas around these parks are home to many ski resorts, resulting in more tourism and higher prices for you during this time.
Don’t expect the parks to be deserted at this time of year. Plenty of people still visit the park during winter for snow-covered hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
However, compared to the rest of the year, most Utah parks receive less traffic during this time. If you intend to avoid crowds, consider visiting Capitol Reef National Park.
Capitol Reef is the least busy of the five National Parks in Utah! This is the only national park in this region that doesn’t rank among the top fifty busiest parks.
In general, you should expect Utah parks to be busy all year long. If you plan a winter trip, remember that some areas of the park may be inaccessible, and you may need chains to traverse some of Utah’s parks.
Worst Time to Visit Utah National Parks
The worst time to visit Utah National Parks for many visitors is summer. The conditions are hot and arid. Parks are filled with people, and parking at some of these parks’ favorite destinations may be crowded or full.
Not all of Utah is a desert. There are three climates in the state, ranging from humid to arid. Unfortunately, many regions of Utah National Parks are desert, creating hot temperatures that can make activities like hiking more strenuous.
Visiting Utah National Parks during the summer doesn’t mean you’ll have a bad trip! Just remember to take extra precautions to deal with the heat.
There are ways to avoid crowds. Try arriving first thing in the morning or later in the evening for better chances of getting parking. There are some benefits to traveling in the summer.
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While all national parks are open year-round, many services and some routes are only available during the summer. This season has many visitors, so you can look forward to more resources like ranger programs during this time.
Things to Consider
When planning a Utah National Park vacation, you must consider which parks you want to see. Ideally, you’ll be able to stop at each trip, but what parks will you spend the most time at? We’ll give you an overview of each park and some general information.
Arches National Park
As you may have guessed from the name, Arches National Park is a great place to see some of the most amazing of Utah’s natural features: arches! Take the trails among the red rocks here to explore this surreal area.
- Reservations: You need a reservation just to enter the park during peak times. Your timed entry will allow more people to see the park with less congestion.
- Where to stay: Devils Garden Campground is the only place to stay inside the park. Reservations are required to stay at this campground.
- Wildlife: Animals can be hard to spot at Arches. Most desert animals are nocturnal, but this park is excellent for birdwatching during the day!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Check out the stunning views at this high-elevation park! Bryce Canyon is home to the largest number of hoodoos, which are rock pillars formed over long periods of erosion.
- Hike the hoodoos: Bryce has several interactive hiking trails where visitors can “collect” pictures of special markers along the path.
- Where to stay: Bryce Canyon has a lodge and two campgrounds to stay overnight at the park.
- Wildlife: Many animals and birds inhabit this park’s forests on high plateaus. You’ll see deer all year round here and pronghorns in the warmer months.
Canyonlands National Park
The Colorado River is the centerpiece of this national park. The canyons were formed by the movement of the river and its tributaries, creating spectacular contrast between the low riverlands and the high plateau.
- Boating: Boat along the Colorado and Green rivers for a relaxing experience on the water to whitewater rapids for an exciting river trip at this park.
- Where to stay: The Needles and Island in the Sky are two campgrounds at this park.
- Wildlife: This park’s amphibians are one of the highlights at this park. The rivers here bring you close to various vocal frogs and toads.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef may be the least visited park out of the five, but there are plenty of sights that make this place worth the stop. Explore this national park’s canyons, arches, and other geological features.
- Human history: Check out petroglyphs from a thousand years ago or orchards of fruit trees planted more recently in the park.
- Where to stay: This park has three campgrounds, but only one is developed. If you’re interested in rustic camping, Capitol Reef is a good place for it.
- Wildlife: The elevation differences in this park mean it’s an excellent place to spot all sorts of animals, even during the day.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park has many of the same geological features as other parks. In particular, slot canyons along the Virgin River are some of the visitors’ favorite places to explore here.
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- Shuttle bus: During the peak season, this is the only way to go down to Zion Canyon, but it’s free, and service is consistent.
- Where to stay: This park has three campgrounds, but two are only open seasonally.
Read Next: The Best Time to Visit Zion National Park
Safety in Utah National Parks
No matter which of these parks you visit, basic safety precautions should be taken. These are a few tips for staying safe in Utah National Parks.
- Dress for the weather: Wear layers in the winter and loose-fitting, light-colored clothes in the summer.
- Sun protection: Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. Sun protection is a good idea even in cooler weather, especially at higher elevations.
- Rest, hydrate, and refuel: Carry plenty of water for each person in your group, along with snacks. Rest often, and don’t overexert yourself.
- Inclement weather: The thunderstorms in the summer bring dangerous lightning to high areas of the park, while flash flooding poses dangers in the canyons.
- Wildlife: The best way to keep yourself and the animals safe in this park is to give them plenty of space. Never feed wild animals.
Frequently Asked Questions
There is a lot to learn about Utah’s five National Parks. These are some of your most frequently asked questions and our answers.
What is the best time of year to visit Bryce Canyon?
Bryce Canyon National Park experiences the most variable weather of Utah’s parks due to its high elevation. May through September is the best time to visit this park, as snowstorms can begin as early as October.
How do you avoid crowds in Zion National Park?
Zion National Park is Utah’s busiest. They experience high traffic all year-round, but especially from March through November. National and school holidays tend to be very busy at this park.
Try to avoid peak times. Parking lots here are usually filled as early as 9:00 AM. Taking the shuttle from Springdale, a nearby town, is another way to explore the park without worrying about parking.
Where should I stay to see Utah National Parks?
Staying in Utah’s national parks is a great way to spend even more time exploring. If you’re planning on hitting all of Utah’s five parks, you may want to spend your downtime in a central location.
For the western parks — Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef — consider staying in Beaver or the surrounding area.
These three national parks are all under a two-hour drive from this city. On the state’s eastern side, stay in Moab for quick access to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
So, What’s the Best Time to Visit Utah National Parks?
While the overall best time to visit Utah National Parks is early fall, there are benefits to spending time in these parks any time of year. Fall is generally warm but slightly less crowded, while most services are still available in the park.
Winter brings cooler temperatures and fewer crowds but can also mean some closures inside these parks. While spring is a great time to see flowers, the season also brings unpredictable weather.
Summer has the warmest weather and the most crowds. A trip through Utah’s national parks makes a great vacation, regardless of what time of year you can go. Happy travels!