Utah the Beautiful

Explore the Big Five (and more) before the summer crowds descend.

DISCLAIMER: The information in this article was fact checked and accurate at press time, but 417 Magazine cannot guarantee its accuracy indefinitely.

The Court of Patriarchs overlooks the Virgin River in Zion National Park, one of the Big Five in Utah’s sprawling landscape.

You can almost feel our national parks take a deep breath and relax. Last year brought an onslaught of visitors—international and domestic—to our nation’s parks to celebrate their 100th birthday. Hotels and campgrounds were jammed, and the more popular parks had long lines waiting to get in. Hopefully that frenzy has lightened up in 2017, offering you the perfect time to visit southern Utah’s treasures.

Mid-May is the Goldilocks time to visit, so now’s the time to plan your trip. It’s not too hot, not too cold, and the crowds are just right. Follow this handy dandy guide for a 10-day trek across The Beehive State.

 

START HERE: SALT LAKE CITY

LENGTH OF STAY: 1 night

TIP: Fly there and rent an SUV for your Utah adventure.

 

ZION NATIONAL PARK

DRIVE TIME: 5 hours (309 miles)

STAY: Springdale, Utah

LENGTH OF STAY: 1 night (2 nights if you’re doing the more strenuous hikes)

MUST-DO HIKES AND ACTIVITIES:

  • Riverside Walk (easy, 1.5 hours)
  • Upper Emerald Pool (moderate, 1 hour)
  • Angel’s Landing (strenuous, 4 hours)
  • The Narrows via Riverside Walk (strenuous, 8 hours)
  • Mesa Vista Safari Tour by Zion Outback Safaris (3 hours; reservations necessary)
  • Watch for Bighorn sheep.

EAT: Oscar’s Café

TIP: There is an entrance to Kolob Canyon off Interstate 15, but the above activities are accessed through the main entrance of Zion in Springdale.

 

BRYCE NATIONAL PARK

DRIVE TIME: 1.5 hours (72 miles)

STAY: Bryce Canyon, Utah

LENGTH OF STAY: 2 nights

MUST-DO HIKES AND ACTIVITES:

  • Bryce Canyon Trail Ride (1.5- and 3-hour rides; reservations necessary)
  • Ranger-led stargazing program (2 hours)
  • Drive the 38-mile scenic loop an hour before sunset, taking time at each overlook to watch the sunlight on the hoodoos.
  • Watch for pronghorns and mule deer.

EAT: Bryce Canyon Lodge (reservations suggested)

 

CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

DRIVE: 2.5 hours (116 miles)

STAY: Torrey, Utah

LENGTH OF STAY: 1 night

MUST-DO HIKES AND ACTIVITES:

  • The 8-mile Scenic Drive through the park
  • Hike. Google “7 Best Hikes in Capitol Reef.”

EAT: Broken Spur Steakhouse (Trust us, split a steak. The restaurant serves huge portions.) 

TIP: The drive from Bryce to Capitol Reef takes you across the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. When you get to Boulder, stop for lunch at Hell’s Backbone Grill. It’s a very fitting name for what you just drove through. You’ll have a whole new appreciation for the Mormon settlers who traversed it on foot, horseback and, somehow, with wagons.

 

MONUMENT VALLEY

DRIVE: 3.5 hours (177 miles; allow 6 hours for additional sightseeing)

STAY: Bluff, Utah

LENGTH OF STAY: 1 night (Check out the Desert Rose Inn & Cabins)

MUST-DO ACTIVITIES AND ATTRACTIONS:

  • The easy scenic loop drive through Natural Bridges National Monument with overlooks of the major arches in the park
  • Lake Powell inside the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Muley Point Overlook and its terrifying switchback down the cliff with a speed limit of 5 mph; it’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s the only way down.
  • Valley of the Gods. This dirt road is impassable during high water or mud season but totally worth the drive if it’s not.
  • Navajo Spirit Tour of Monument Valley (reservations necessary)
  • Stop for a photo op at Forrest Gump Hill. Go ahead; everyone does it. Run, Forrest, run!

EAT: Duke’s at Desert Rose Inn & Cabins

 

CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK AND ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

DRIVE: 2.5 hours from Bluff (145 miles) or 3.5 (195 miles) from Monument Valley

STAY: Moab, Utah

LENGTH OF STAY: 2 nights

MUST-DO HIKES AND ACTIVITIES:

  • Hike. Google “8 Best Hikes in Canyonlands National Park.”
  • Colorado River rafting at Moab Adventure Center (full and half-day floats; reservations necessary)
  • Make your way to some of the 17 arches you can hike to at Arches National Park. Others are at least viewable from the scenic loop through the park. Pick up a park map at the Visitor’s Center for trail descriptions.

EAT: Desert Bistro or Sunset Grill

TIP: Canyonlands National Park is the largest national park in Utah and is divided into three districts. It is also the most remote.

 

SALT LAKE CITY

DRIVE: 4.5 hours (244 miles)

LENGTH OF STAY: 2 nights

MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS:

  • Temple Square. Non-Mormons can’t go in the cathedral but can tour the grounds and the tabernacle. If you happen to be there on a Sunday, attend a service to hear the choir. You do not have to be Mormon or religious to appreciate their handiwork here, especially after you’ve just experienced the land they settled. This is one tough group of people.
  • The Great Salt Lake. Taste it to make sure it’s really salty. (At your own risk, of course.)
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