A road trip is one of the best ways to see the US, and a road trip across Utah does not disappoint. From canyons, deserts, arches, snowy mountains to buttes and checkerboard mesas, Utah has everything for a road trip enthusiast and adventurer. When I did my Utah National Park Road Trip in March, I got to experience all that it has to offer, and visit five national parks: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. While you can read all about our National Park Utah Road trip itinerary, I thought I would compile a post of all the tips and advice that I think will make your trip easier and more memorable.
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Purchase the America the Beautiful Park Pass (Annual Pass)
This pass gives you access to over 2,000 federal recreation sites and covers a personal vehicle (or four people at places that charge per person). The annual pass costs $80 and can be purchased in person, over the phone, or online. If you plan on making this road trip, this will save you a decent amount of money. Most parks cost $30-35 per car, so you are saving around $70 for this trip alone. If you plan on visiting more National Parks, then you’re already covered for a whole year! It is well worth it!
Check the Park’s website for information before each trip
With winter closures, sometimes a lot of the things we wanted to do were not open. Bryce has almost all of its trails closed, and the week before we left for Utah, one of the main roads to access Springdale from Bryce Canyon had closed due to rockfall and damage. The park’s website usually has alerts listed at the top of the page, and it is incredibly useful at indicating what you can and can’t do for the day, as well as being a plethora of advice on trails, distances, and other happenings in the park. The visitor center also has specific hours, so if you are collecting patches, pins, t-shirts or whatever, time it within the hours. We would have missed collecting our Arches patch if I hadn’t checked the timings. Knowing more about transport within the park (like Zion, where you have to use shuttles) will help you plan your trip.
Pack a lunch (save money and time)
Many of the National Parks in Utah do not have places to eat within the park. You have to leave the park to access grocery stores or restaurants. Restaurants are often more expensive too, seeing as they are around huge tourist attractions. We also found them to be particularly busy, having to wait for a table most days. I recommend packing a lunch or picnic every day for your park or road tripping. We went to the grocery store in Moab and bought peanut butter, bread, snacks and a gallon of water. We used this as our lunch for the next few days. Getting a gallon of water and refilling our water bottles and camel pack meant we also weren’t contributing TOO much waste. Not a lot of places can recycle in the areas you visit as they are not close to recycling plants, so be mindful of your trash, please! Be aware that not all the trailheads/lookout points in the parks have water available.
Get up early!
The three major parks, Zion, Arches, and Bryce, are top-rated and well visited even in the “off-season.” If you want to do any favorite hikes, I recommend getting up early for them. Not only will it be a lot cooler to hike in, but there will also be fewer people, and it will be more enjoyable. You’ll also find that parking lots can fill up very quickly, and even in Zion, as big of an attraction as it is, the parking lots are tiny, and once full (usually by 9 am), you will have to use the shuttles to get where you want to go. If you want to hike Angels Fall you really, really should go early! We arrived at the trailhead around 8:30 am, and it was busy at the top of Scout’s landing even at that time. Coming back from Angels Landing around midday and it was heaving. It feels super unsafe when there are SO many people trying to go and get down from this point, and on such a dangerous trail too. A person fell off the trail and died a few weeks after we visited. Be safe and go earlier when there are less crowds.
What to Pack for a UTAH Road Trip
When traveling across five different parks, with different vegetations, altitudes and micro climates, you are going to deal with a lot of different weather. We traveled to Utah in the early spring, and while it was really pleasant, there were some days where it was cold and some days where it was pretty hot! For example, Bryce Canyon National Park had snow and almost all the trails were closed. I donned my scarf and beanie and it was still chilly. The day before we were in Capitol Reef, and I got sunburnt (ok, so that’s easy for a ginger to accomplish), and was quite hot and had a little bit of heat exhaustion. The best solution is to pack layers and carry a back pack. That way you can strip off layers, or add layers depending on the day. There are some other useful things to pack too. Hiking shoes are definitely beneficial, a back pack that you can carry water bottles or a hydration kit in, and a small first aid kit. My mom bought me mine as a birthday gag gift, but it ended up being incredibly useful when one of us had a headache, or a blister. Below are some of the items that I used on my trip.
And there you have it, a couple of quick and easy tips to make your experience of driving through Utah’s beautiful National Parks easier and more memorable. You can also check out my Utah National Park Road Trip for a potential itinerary and what to see in each National Park. If you have any to add to the list, comment below! And let me know how your trip goes - the Mighty Five National Parks will always have a special space in my heart, and I would love to hear about your experience and advice for seeing the National Parks in Utah.