Of all the seasons, Autumn is perhaps the best time to visit Utah’s national parks. The parks are less crowded, cooler, and more colorful than ever. Utah boasts five awesome national parks, and deciding which to visit this fall can be tricky. Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t see them all. So we at the Lodge at Red River Ranch have compiled a list of the pros and cons of each of the five parks. Maybe this will help you decide which to visit.
Arches National Park:
The Good Stuff – Arches is full of, well, arches. Almost 2,000 of them, in fact. Delicate Arch is the most famous natural arch in Utah and definitely worth checking out. It’s a fairly short and easy hike to Delicate Arch, so take the kids. The Devil’s Garden is another cool area, especially the Devil’s Garden Trail. It takes you past several more impressive arches. We also recommend visiting Landscape Arch. Landscape Arch is remarkably thin, and, it won’t be around for many more years. In a generation or two it will have collapsed. So go see it while you can.
The Not-So-Good Stuff – Arches is a really great national park, but it is a bit homogenous. There are a lot of arches, a few monoliths, and not much else. And during the summer the park gets crowded. The trail to Delicate Arch can look more like a parade then a hike. Still, if you time your visit right, you can have a great vacation without all the company.
Bryce Canyon National Park:
The Good Stuff – Bryce Canyon is not really a canyon at all, but rather a huge amphitheater filled with hoodoos. You should take a hike into the amphitheater and see them up close. There is also a trail that circles the top of the amphitheater known as the Rim Trail. This is also an excellent way to enjoy the scenery. But in addition to seeing the hoodoos every which way you can, you should also hike down to Mossy Cave. During the warmer months the cave is covered in moss, and in the winter, huge columns of ice form in the cave.
The Not-So-Good Stuff – Bryce Canyon and Arches share similar problems. They are both relatively small parks with really only one defining physical feature each to flaunt. And in Bryce that feature is the hoodoo. Don’t get us wrong, Bryce is definitely worth checking out, just don’t expect to see more than what is there.
Canyonlands National Park:
The Good Stuff – Canyonlands is a really diverse national park. Check out the Island in the Sky region in the north section of the park. (This is the easiest to get to.) Start by driving the scenic route, and hiking to the Grand View Point. We also highly recommend Mesa Arch. This is the most iconic part of Canyonlands – and rightly so. It is one of the greatest overlooks we’ve ever seen. Perhaps one of the coolest things to do in Canyonlands National Park is to drive the Shafer Trail. This narrow dirt road climbs through the park, providing amazing views. (Only drive this trail if you have the proper equipment and experience.)
The Not-So-Good Stuff – Canyonlands is a really big park with a lot to see, which turns out to be downside if you are trying to see everything. Most of the roads in the park are unpaved, so to get to all those awesome locations, you’ll need a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle. But if you can get your hands on one, Canyonlands is a great place to get lost for a while.
Capitol Reef National Park:
The Good Stuff – Capitol Reef is our favorite park, which has nothing to do with the fact that we live next door. Like Canyonlands, there are plenty of cool places to check out in Capitol Reef. Start by driving the scenic route and hiking Cassidy Arch or Grand Wash. The Gifford House is an old pioneer homestead that doubles as a museum and a goodie shop. Don’t miss it. In our opinion, some of the best scenery in Capitol Reef is found in the Waterpocket Fold. The Waterpocket Fold is the southern region of the park, and has a plethora of trails.
The Not-So-Good Stuff – Since Capitol Reef is a large, relatively unvisited national park, it doesn’t have a big budget. So there are vast sections of unpaved roads in Waterpocket Fold. A high-clearance vehicle is recommended, but not needed. But if you want solitude, we can think of no better place.
Zion National Park:
The Good Stuff – Zion is the crown jewel of Utah’s national park system. It is the most famous, the most visited and the most written about. Still we at the Lodge feel we can offer a few suggestions to stimulate your decision making process. You must ride the shuttle up Zion Canyon all the way to the end, getting out to hike a few of the trails along the way. We really like Upper Emerald Pool and Angel’s Landing. Driving through the Mount Carmel Tunnel can be fun, especially if you have kids with you. And we highly recommend checking out Kolob Canyon, which is accessed via it’s own entrance.
The Not-So-Good Stuff – Zion, being so famous, draws millions of people to it every year. So while it is simply a fantastic place to see, it isn’t the best place to sit quietly and think. Which is why we think fall is the best time to get out and visit not only Zion National Park, but any of Utah’s national parks.