Our family’s spectacular RV adventure in the Mighty 5 Utah National Parks.
Every April, the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation celebrate National Park Week, this year on April 20-28. For outdoor enthusiasts and casual hikers alike, this week is tremendous fun. The Park Service holds special themed events during this time span, like Junior Ranger Day, Military and Veteran Recognition Day, and everyone’s favorite, entry-fees-waived day!
This week-long celebration makes visiting Utah, home of the “The Mighty 5” national parks even more of an adventure. That’s right: Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Arches National Park, Capitol Reef National Park and Canyonlands National Park can all be found in southern Utah. Whether you’re planning to explore all five parks this week or just a few, Home While We Roam is here with travel tips to help you make the most of your time in the parks.
Desert Camping Prep for Utah National Parks
When you’re heading to the parks in Southern Utah for National Park week or during the kids’ summer vacation, a little preparation will help make your adventures epic and also reduce a lot of common travel stressors.
Hydrate: The desert is a hot, dry place, and the last thing you want to do is run out of H2O. A good rule of thumb is to pack one gallon of drinking water per person per day. If it seems like you’ve packed too much, you’re probably on the right track.
Gas-Up Often: When you get out into the vastness of the American Southwest, fuel stations are few and far between. We pull a 30-foot foot travel trailer that weighs more than 8,000 pounds fully loaded, so our tow vehicle burns a lot of fuel. As soon as the fuel needle on our pull vehicle dips below half a tank, we start looking for a place to gas up.
Wear Layers: Depending on where you are and the time of year, the desert can get pretty hot during the day and chilly at night. Avoid being underdressed and bring a few extra layers, a hat and rain gear just in case!
Take it Easy: If you’re spending a few days in the desert, don’t fill your days too full. Get active in the mornings and evenings when it’s cooler. Do yourself a favor and use the afternoons to relax. Lounge about in the shade or in the campground’s pool, take naps and keep hydrated.
Pet in the Desert: Pets are allowed in most National Parks anywhere you park your car or along the main roadways. However, Pets are not allowed on most National Park trails. If you plan to do any hiking at all, finding a doggy daycare or boarding facility for your furry family member. We’ve found that a few National Parks offer day boarding at a reasonable rate. An alternative could be a place like Doggy Dude Ranch in Rockville, Utah. It’s a lifesaver for campers visiting the Zion area. They even have a pool for your pooch!
Arches National Park
Arches National Park lies north of Moab near Utah’s eastern border. Sitting on the northern bank of the Colorado River, it’s renowned as the site of more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, such as the massive, red-hued Delicate Arch, which you’ve probably spotted on most Utah license plates. Other geological formations include Balanced Rock, Double Arch and Landscape Arch, each more stunning than the last. Sunrise and sunset hikes are very popular here.
What to Do/See: Off-Road ATV Adventures
Moab Tour Company, 427 N. Main St. Moab, UT 84532
Chicken Corners 4×4 Trail is a 42-mile moderately trafficked out-and-back trail minutes from an ATV Rental facility. This moderate trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from March until October. The Chicken Corners trail is accessible with most 4×4 vehicles, but we thought it would be even more fun with an ATV— it was! Home While We Roam ran 40 miles of this trail system in an ATV going through the Hurrah pass and trailing the very edge of the cliffs. The top has breathtaking views and is a perfect place to stop for a picnic lunch.
Seeing Arches National Park should be your first priority, but don’t forget to leave some time to explore Moab. This adventurer’s paradise has a lot to offer for the more casual visitor. Most of the things to do in the town are all along highway 191, which also serves as the town’s Main Street. You will find coffee, restaurants and lots of curiosity shops to snag that perfect gift for the folks back home. For those visitors who are seeking more exciting options, there’s no shortage of ATV, dirt bike and other off-road rental options. Most of these vehicle rental shops offer guided and unguided adventures.
Where to Stay
Archview RV Resort and Campground is a western-themed resort just minutes from Arches National Park and downtown Moab. Enjoy the breathtaking natural surroundings of Moab with a variety of on-site amenities including a swimming pool, spotless private restrooms that include a shower, general store and complimentary WiFi. Archview also puts guests within easy access of both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, as well as balloon rides and ATV tours that begin on-site.
The Home While We Roam crew likes a Margarita after a day in the desert. If you fall into this camp (pun intended), make sure you plan ahead. There is one state-run Liquor store in Moab and it is not open on Sundays.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah is known for its dramatic desert landscapes carved by the Colorado River. Island in the Sky is a huge, flat-topped mesa with panoramic overlooks. Don’t miss towering rock pinnacles known as the Needles, the remote canyons of the Maze and the Native American rock paintings in Horseshoe Canyon.
What to Do/See
Grand View Hike is one of our favorite hikes in the park. Grand View Point is a famous vista on the edge of Island in the Sky mesa inside Canyonlands NP. It offers panoramic views of the surrounding area. The point extends out from the mesa, with sheer cliffs on three sides. But the trail is broad and easy at 2miles out and back.
Where to Stay
Canyonlands RV Resort & Campground boasts breathtaking views and incredible amenities. Swim next to the red rocks in their gated pool area, or simply hike around the property and take in the sights.
If you choose to make Moab your home base while visiting Canyonlands, know that while Canyonlands is relatively close, the park itself is vast. Island in the Sky is an under-45 minute drive from Moab, assuming you aren’t towing and on “RV Time.” The Needles, while amazing, are a solid two hours from Moab, so plan accordingly. If you have set up camp near Moab, The Maze probably won’t be on your list of places to visit. It is close as the crow flies but requires a long 164-mile journey up and around some vast wilderness. It is also the most remote part of the Canyonlands National Park, so plan accordingly if you do head that way!
Don’t miss Dead Horse State Park. While it isn’t as well-known as Canyonlands, the panoramic views available at almost any location in this nearby park will leave you speechless at every turn of the trail. Trails range from extremely easy to moderate, so you’re sure to find a hike for the whole family. Fun Fact: The closing scene of “Thelma & Louise” was filmed here!
On the way to Bryce National Park, take time to explore Capitol Reef National Park, known for its cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) extending almost 100 miles.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon has some unique features found nowhere else in the world. Spend the day on the trails taking in views of towering spires, know as hoodoos, and return after dark to do some out-of-this-world stargazing near the rim. Bryce Canyon is home to one of the oldest astronomy programs in the nation!
What to Do/See
Navajo Loop Trail: One of the most iconic hikes in Bryce is the Navajo Loop. It is a short trail clocking in at only 1.3 miles. There are a ton of horse and other trails that crisscross from rim to rim and down into the canyon floor, so for those looking for long day hikes, you will have plenty of options.
Stargazing at Bryce Canyon: During the Summer months, the Bryce Canyon “Dark Rangers” share an astronomy presentation. This consists of an amusing slide show in their amphitheater and afterward, access to some huge telescopes set up in the parking lot behind the visitor center. Bryce Canyon is one of the best places to view the night sky because of the high altitude and absence of light pollution.
Where to Stay
Bryce Canyon Pines Campground & RV Park is just 10 minutes to the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center. Staying here means you’ll be surrounded by a ponderosa pine forest with an incredible view of the Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon parks. Enjoy the nature and beauty of the area with all the amenities of home. Don’t forget to try their homemade pie, which was recognized as “Best in America!”
You can see a lot of the beauty of Bryce with very little hiking, but there is also very little shade. Take more water than you think you will need. There are public water fill stations near the visitor center, but at midday, the lines for a fill-up can be long.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is a southwest Utah marvel distinguished by Zion Canyon’s steep red cliffs. Zion Canyon Scenic Drive cuts through its main section, leading to forest trails along the Virgin River. The river flows to the Emerald Pools, which is fringed by waterfalls and a hanging garden. Also along the river, partly through deep chasms, is the Zion Narrows wading hike. The opportunities for scenic hikes and wildlife encounters are endless.
What to Do/See: Horseback Trail Rides
Canyon Trail Rides, 1 Zion Canyon Scenic Dr, Springdale, UT 84767
Take a horseback excursion through beautiful Zion National Park led by real cowboys! This one-hour ride will follow the Virgin for about a mile before stopping to take in the natural beauty of the Three Patriarchs, the Beehives and jaunt through beautiful cactus gardens for returning to the corral. This excursion is a favorite of kids and adults alike.
The Narrows: As the name suggests, this is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon in Zion National Park. Here, hikers wade through the Virgin River, often knee-deep, depending on flow, between nearly vertical ravine walls. We recommend starting early and taking your time wading through this incredible canyon. Plan for 4 to 5 hours for the whole hike. The water can be pretty cold depending on the time of year, so we recommend renting boots and neoprene socks along with a walking stick. You’ll thank us later!
Where to Stay
Zion River Resort is just 13 minutes from Zion National Park and sits beside the Virgin River. This immaculate park is surrounded by majestic mountain views and is the perfect base camp for Zion or the North Rim of Grand Canyon across the Arizona border to the south. After spending the day exploring the nearby parks, enjoy a soak in their heated pool and spa. Don’t miss this 5-star oasis while visiting Zion & the North Rim of Grand Canyon.
Get in the park when it opens. You’ll find great parking and fewer crowds. You can’t access the core beauty of Zion in your own vehicle unless you are staying at the lodge, so know that you will be taking the NPS-run bus system to destinations like Angel’s Landing and The Narrows.
If you decide to take a horseback ride, know that park’s outfitters can accommodate all size riders from small kids to big dads. Just a heads up that you may get to ride a mule instead of a horse!
BONUS: Monument Valley
You can drive through Monument Valley on your way to Zion from Arches. You may not recognize the name Monument Valley, but you will certainly recognize its vistas, which served as backdrops for many TV shows and movies. Stop at Forrest Gump Point (find it on your GPS) near Mexican Hat, along with hundreds of other tourists, to snap a selfie at the spot where Forrest Gump decided to end his cross country run.
Where to Stay
Goulding’s Monument Valley Campground & RV Park is a great choice for a one-night layover on your way from Moab to Zion and Bryce Canyon. On a sprawling property surrounded by the striking red rock formations of Oljato–Monument Valley, this relaxed lodge with an Old West vibe is two miles from Route 163 and 4 miles from Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Be sure to catch the sunrise against the red rocks from your campsite.
Enjoy National Park Week
If you’re heading to southern Utah as part of a National Park Week adventure or your summer vacation, a trip to The Mighty 5 will allow you to see some of the most amazing country the United States has to offer. Your family can watch the sunrise over the towering depths of Canyonlands National Park and then take in the sunset through an impossibly delicate rock bow in Arches National Park. You can see the Milky Way in all its glory, or you can hike, river raft, bike, ATV, and ride a Mule. All you have to do is go. We’ll see you out there and Happy National Parks Week!