It was on Hwy 21 headed southeast out of Great Basin that we finally crossed the Utah state line. Great, we were going from one desert to another. The good news is that we were headed to 5 different Utah National Parks. But this desert happened to have 5 national parks! Thats right, good ol’ Utah, USA.
Instead of doing a seperate post for each national park (because you know we had to go to all of them) I’ll just make this a longer post with different sections and loads of pictures, of course. Before I continue I should say that at this point the van has been running good ever since the first little overheating bout. I just put oil and tranny fluid in it every couple weeks and it keeps moving down the road. Oh yeah, and gas, we put a lot of gas into it! It’s a blast to drive though. Anyways let’s get started with Utah National Parks numero uno….
Utah National Parks Breakdown
Scootin Utah; Pt. 1: Zion National Park
I gotta say right off the bat, this park feels a little like Disneyland to start. People are everywhere. It’s funky because to access most of the hikes and other cool things, you have to
ride a park shuttle that take you to and from different stops along the main park road. I’m sure they’ve done this because it would be a madhouse with park if they let everyone drive their vehicle up the road. The bus ride did have some informative looping speach playing about different Utah National Parks, which was relatively interesting to listen to while we road the bus to our stop.
Hiking in Zion
We really enjoyed our time in the park once we got onto the trails. We did the Angels Landing trail which was awesome. Paved path all the way up which was certainly easier than what we are used too. The last half mile though is across, up, and down all sorts of skinny rock edges and whatnot. There are even chains in some spots where you need them to hold onto to pull yourself up. Awesome hike that is highly recommended.
Unfortunately we did not hike The Narrows, a very popular canyon hike straight through a river, because of potential flash floods. The entire canyon of Zion is very cool but plan for lots of people. Show up early to the visitor center for a parking spot and to get on the shuttle bus without a wait. We biffed it and waited more than 30 minutes to get on the bus, DOH!
Zion National Park Review
For camping we were able to find 2 great spots outside of the park. The first spot we stayed was a mesa hilltop off Dalton Wash Rd. about 3 miles in. Great views of the surrounding scenery and a nice spot up a dirt road where RV’s with their generators can’t get. Pretty quite spot. I even got to ride my mountain bike all the way down that hill on the way out! The second site we stayed at was on another dirt road that lead to a mesa top that has some cell towers and other service buildings on it. Only a few sites were off the road but there was no other people there at all and boy did we get an amazing sunset that evening.
Beautiful views of Rockville and Springdale leading into Zion, top of our list for Utah National Parks. Less than 10 miles to the entrance gate. I highly recommend this spot. I’m posting reviews for each of the sites we stay at on freecampsites.net so I will also post the link to each spot we stayed so if you like, you can stay there as well sometime. You can view the exact location and other reviews from that website.
Scootin Utah; Pt. 2: Bryce Canyon National Park
Heading out of Zion towards Bryce Canyon, you get to go through this old badass tunnel. We did that and weaved through the rest of Zion park before heading out onto the open highway. Less than 100 miles later and we were arriving in Bryce Canyon National Park. This place is sweet. Not near as many people as Zion. Amazing free camping in the Dixie National Forest less than 2 miles to the entrance to the park. Seriously, I could see an RV park through the forest service road that we were camped off of. But hey, maybe that’s your thing. Some people need pooper hookups and shore power. Not us. Not the big van. We like parkin’ out in the middle of nowhere.
Bryce Canyon National Park Review
Anyways, about Bryce Canyon. This is an awesome one in the list of Utah National Parks. The park is basically one 18 mile road with lots of turn off’s at different viewing point. It’s a huge canyon with all sorts of amazing limestone structures left behind. Definitely drive all the way to the end of the park road and back while you’re there. For hiking, we did the 9 mile Fairyland Loop on a Friday morning and it was spectacular. Not many people and you go all the way down in the canyon with the hoodoos. Highly recommended. Next day we did the Navajo loop, a shorter more popular trail. It was also great for seeing the hoodoos up close and even walking through them at some point. The crowds were definitely out on that Saturday after our hike so we packed up the van and headed out.
So you see what the park is all about. The free camping though – A+. Again, less than 2 miles from the entrance gate. Actually, the forest service road that goes out to the different campsites is right next to the park entrance sign! We drove back a few miles on the dirt road and found a nice spot on FS 1174. The only folks that drove by were people who had rented ATV’s and such to drive around, which I must admit looked pretty fun. You can park on any of the forest service roads back there. There is more than 30 different campsites I bet. Pictures below.
Scootin Utah; Pt. 3: Capitol Reef National Park
Next on the list was Capital Reef. I gotta admit, another park I have never heard of. It’s a smaller park with no fee. This was only a couple hundred miles at best from Bryce. It’s a really interesting park with more of the same views as the other ones. Big jagged cliffs formed from earth’s activity millions of years ago.
Capitol Reef National Park Review
There were also orchards that were planted there back in the day by the settlers. Pretty cool but the fruit wasn’t ripe yet so we couldn’t pick it! We were only here for a couple days and got 1 good hike in. This is one of the lesser visited Utah National Parks.
We did the Navajo Knobs hike, just shy of 10 miles there and back. We always go for the strenuous ones. This hike kicked our ass. It’s a long hike but with amazing overviews of the valley and then 360 degree view from the top of Navajo Knobs. Be sure to stop and visit the old Fruita schoolhouse while you are there. Pretty interesting stuff, history and whatnot. I’m sure there is some cool hikes there but we opted to continue on to the next park after camping for 2 nights outside the park.
The camping we were able to do was excellent. More free camping about 6 miles outside the park nearly 300 yards from the road on a big dispersed camping pullout. I highly recommend this spot if you are exploring the Capital Reef area. The pulloff is right in between mile marker 72 and 73 on Hwy 24 just outside Torrey. It’s on the left if you are coming from the east entering the park, or on the left if you are coming from the west leaving the park. Sweet views and not many people. It was super fun to ride my mountain bike around here too.
Scootin Utah; Pt. 4: Arches National Park
On the way to Arches, we hit our first main highway in weeks. We traveled north from Capital Reef to get to I70. We gassed up in Green River and headed towards Moab! Moab is our favorite place is Utah but we hadn’t been to either of the state parks there are there. We first found camping along Willow Springs Rd. about 8 miles from the park entrance. More free camping on SITKA lands or something like that. That’s a huge reason we love Utah National Parks, all the free camping close by! This dirt road actually goes all the way into the park but we never actually took it because it was raining a lot in Utah and some of the rivers were flowing good.
Arches National Park Review
Arches National Park is probably our favorite in the list of Utah National Parks. This place is another one of those 1 main drag kind of parks so free camping a few miles outside the park then going to explore during the day is perfect. We really wanted to do the famous Delicate Arch hike, but the night we arrived there was a major storm and they closed that hike for flooding the next day. Pisser! Instead we opted to drive the full park road to the end and park near the Devils Garden area.
From here we went on a hike that lead to many different arches including Landscape Arch, Double O Arch, and others. So we still got to see some sweet arches up close and personal. Arches NP is a smaller park with some wild stuff from nature. Since we didn’t know when the Delicate Arch hike was going to open, we were basically out of luck there. We’ll be back for that one! This is a highly recommended park in a highly recommended place.
So yeah, the camping. Lets get off the subject of Utah National parks for a minute. Willow Springs Rd. is the name of the spot. You’ll see the sign for it on the left once you start getting close to Moab. There are about 20ish spots back on that road before it actually enters the park and you can’t camp anymore. It’s a great free spot for exploring all of Moab. We got a real nice spot that had a shade tree and everything. It was about 1 mile or so down the road on the right. For some reason google maps has that exact spot listed as “Bills Campsite #1” if you wanna look it up. Watch the rainy conditions as the road washes out and becomes some good mudding pretty quick. It was actually fun but we’re into that sorta thing…
Scootin Utah; Pt. 5: Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is also just a short 30 mile drive from where we were camped outside Moab. It’s nice because when you visit Moab you can see Arches and Canyonlands since they are so close. Or if you are doing a road trip checking out loads of national parks… We just did a day trip into Canyonlands since it is such a big park.
Canyonlands National Park Review
There are 3 seperate entrances with varrying terrain all seperated by the Green and Colorado River. We entered at the most popular and easy accessible, Island In The Sky part. Bailey decided we should do a few short hikes including the Upheaveled Dome and the Mesa Arch. We also went out to The Grant Point to see the view of both rivers coming together. Pretty spectacular stuff at this place.
This park is close to the top of the list of Utah National Parks. The park has a lower White Rim Trail that you can drive, bicycle, or walk on. That trail is 100 miles long all the way around the river. We wanted to drive the van down there just to drive a few miles so we could say we did but it turns out they were doing some sort of construction down there that day and we couldn’t. Oh well, back to camp it was!
We camped at the same place just outside Moab the whole time while visiting the parks and surrounding area. I posted some pictures and a decent description in Pt. 4 above. One thing that I did not mention was that there was also some sweet mountain bike trails just a mile or so from the campsite. You know I couldn’t resist… Just another great reason to visit and camp around Utah National Parks.
After visiting Canyonlands NP, I think we stayed another day or two in Moab before loading up the fridge with more foods, gassing up the van and heading off again. From here it was time to leave the Utah National Parks and back up to the big I70 into Colorado. Next stop- Vail, CO to see my cousin Jack. But first, we had to stop for Chik-fil-a in Grand Junction along the way!
Just a few miles down I70 and we were into Colorado. Another adventure awaited. Until next time, Utah National Parks…