One of the hardest decisions to make when visiting Southern Utah is deciding what not to see. There is so much to explore here that, unfortunately, you will probably need to skip a few things. Which leads us to the important question which is better, Arches National Park or Zion National Park?
Since these are the two most visited parks in Utah, we get this question a lot. And here’s our answer: it depends. It’s tricky because no definite choice suits everyone. For instance, what if you’ve seen Zion before, but haven’t really explored outside of Zion Canyon? Should you should go back and see it all, or see something new?
Regardless of your personal situation, we can at least offer a little guidance.
If you are just passing through Utah, and want to get a glimpse of the good stuff, go to Zion. It has the best selection of geology packed into the smallest space. Try to add in a drive up Kolob Canyon for an added bonus.
If you prefer to have a more extended vacation, with smaller crowds, try Arches (and Canyonlands, since they’re right next to each other.) There are more wide-open spaces and remote wilderness areas out there. And of course lots and lots of natural arches and bridges. Like 2000 of them.
If you want some family-friendly hikes, with great views, go to Zion. (We’re thinking of Emerald Pools.)
If you want to go “jeeping” (touring the desert slickrock on Jeeps) go to Arches.
The main point we’re trying to make is that for more “high-adventure” type activities, such as climbing, rappelling, whitewater rafting, or backcountry exploration, head to Arches. If you want more of a “natural theme-park” experience, complete with guided bus trips, we recommend Zion National Park.*
*One final thought: there are, of course, some really cool, really remote sections of Zion. But most people only experience the main, tourist section of the park.