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Visit Utah's National Parks Like You Know What You're Doing

Use these tips to enjoy Utah’s parks and monuments to the fullest, while also ensuring they stay Forever Mighty.

Written by Ryan Coons

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Michael Kunde

Many of the natural wonders found in Utah are hundreds of millions of years old. Though they’ve existed for eons, that doesn’t mean they’re guaranteed to exist for eons more. In order to get the most out of a visit to Utah’s parks and monuments, while also ensuring they stay Forever Mighty, we’d love for you to follow these tips.

The Best Time Of Year To Visit Utah

A family road trip through Utah’s five national parks and the surrounding areas is a classic American vacation. Unfortunately, most schools’ spring breaks and summer vacations happen at the same time, meaning a flood of road-trippers hit the national parks at the same time. 

What does that mean for you? Well, if you can be flexible with your travel, it can yield big rewards. The “shoulder” seasons (early-mid spring and mid-late fall) are fantastic opportunities to visit Utah that bring more mild temps during the day. Having your pick of a campground or having a restaurant patio to yourself can be as memorable as driving along the Devil’s Backbone. Note that some roads, lodging, and other amenities close during the cooler months, so be sure to do your research before you book.

The Best Time Of Day To See Utah’s Parks

Utah’s national parks are more popular than ever, which means deciding when to visit a park feature can be as important as deciding what to see in the first place. For example, Delicate Arch is one of the most popular sunset viewing spots in the entire state. But people who flip the script and choose to visit during the early morning hours — especially on a weekday — can treat themselves to a quiet morning exploring one of the most iconic natural features in Utah. Visiting on a holiday weekend late in the morning? Expect a crowd, even restrictions on access. Not sure when to visit some of your “must-see” spots? Ask around when you’re in town; locals know the best times of day to check them out, or can suggest a lesser-known alternative that’s no less stunning.

What to Pack In

Though many of our parks are well-equipped and staffed, any visit to Utah will have you stepping foot in wild areas, even within a busy national park. Well-prepared visitors have the most fun on their journey; spending less time worrying about having the right gear and provisions means you can focus on enjoying your vacation. 

Before you head out each morning, check the weather conditions. Bring layers of clothing to account for swings in temperature; a hot day in Zion can quickly turn chilly as the sun dips behind the canyon wall. Bring plenty of water — up to 1-liter per hour of activity, especially in the warmer months. Sunscreen, sunglasses and hats will keep the sun from baking you as red as the surrounding cliffs. Not sure if you have the right gear? Check with a park ranger or BLM office before you set out for the day and they can give you the go-ahead.

How to Pack Out

You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “leave only footprints.” In some cases, it's better to leave even less than that! In some places like the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, protected species rely on a fragile living cryptobiotic crust covered with microbes to keep their ecosystem healthy. So watch your step and always stick to marked trails (Read: Soil Sleuth: Protecting Utah's Living Landscapes).

Even in areas that aren’t as sensitive to human activity, packing out your trash, leftover food (including peels and pits) and anything else you bring with you is vital to preserving our natural areas for generations. Always place your trash in a bin. And if the bin happens to be full, carry it with you until you find one that has room.

Mindful Travel Tips

While Utah is best known for its unique geological beauty, the state is also rich in biodiversity and human history. It may be hard to believe, but long before the term “national park” was even coined, people were living, and thriving, in these areas. Throughout your Utah journey you’ll see evidence of native communities; petroglyphs, cliff dwellings and more. These archaeological displays are some of Utah’s most treasured sites, and we ask for your help in preserving them in their original state by enjoying them from a respectful distance (Read: Following the Markings of Native American History).

Likewise, careful eyes can spot Utah’s diverse wildlife around every corner. We welcome you to enjoy our wildlife from afar. Take pictures without a flash, and keep plenty of distance between yourself and our four, six, or eight-legged locals.

What to Buy Locally

With Utah’s national parks booming in popularity, you can take comfort in knowing that you’re never too far away from a market, outfitter, or even restaurant. With rare exceptions, anything you may need to enjoy your time exploring Utah can be purchased locally. Some shops and dining options only operate seasonally, however. Always check before you begin your trip to see what is open, and never hesitate to ask a local for their recommendations; some of the best experiences aren’t found on any website.

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