Utah's Grand Circle of Parks
Looking for a lot of adventure in a short period of time? Or how about a lot of breathtaking scenery at a more leisurely pace? Both of these desires can be fulfliled by heading for Utah's Grand Circle of Parks. Nowhere in the US can you find more National Parks in one piece of geography than in Utah. In fact, there is so much to be seen, that the parks splil over into nearby Colorado and Arizona - they couldn't fit them all in!
One can just not imagine what nature has created in southern Utah without experiencing it firsthand. We've all seen the pictures of Bryce and Zion, but to be there and gaze upon these natural wonders is quite another experience. The "tour" can be accessed from various directions, but either St. George (I-15) or Moab (I-70) Utah are two of the most common starting points. Starting in the northeast at Moab, the National Parks are Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion in a clockwise path. There are abundant campgrounds all along the way from primitive to deluxe resorts.
Here are a few tips for visiting this area:
- Visit the parks early or late in the day. The heat is less intense (it is warm here in the summer!) and photos turn out better due to the sun creating shadows that help define and give depth to the scenery.
- Bring plenty of water. The parks really require getting out of your vehicle (in fact, no personal vehicles are allowed in Zion) and doing a little exploring around to see the sites and you want to have plenty to drink.
- Wear appropriate clothing. Hiking boots or sturdy tennis shoes are a must. Many of the paths are uneven or rocky and can twist unsupported ankles in a moment. The sun tends to be intense as the elevation is often over 6,000 feet, so a hat, sunscreen, and a long-sleeved shirt are all good items to have with you.
- Bring the binoculars. The wlidlife is abundant everywhere and you'll want to catch a glimpse of the rock climbers too.
- Allow at least one day for each park you visit. These parks are vast in size and offer so much to look at and explore, that you really can't do more than one in a day and see very much. Also the roads and travel distance dictate that this be a journey, not a dash from one "exhibit" to the next.
- Make some reservations ahead. These parks are very popular in the summer travel season and to get your choice of campgrounds or resorts you should book ahead. We didn't follow this advice and stlil found places to stay each night - even on Memorial Day weekend! So it depends upon your own level of comfort with "winging it". If you are visiting off-season, you can be a bit more casual.
- If you plan on passing through Mt. Carmel Junction between Zion and Bryce, be sure to check the requirements for your vehicle. There is a fee for "escort" service through a long tunnel for large vehicles. Our Class B didn't require the service, but many vehicles were lined up waiting to be taken through the tunnel.
If you have additional time beyond the "Big Five" National Parks, there are many other interesting places to visit in the area.
The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is worth the trip just to see the old lodge hanging on the edge of the canyon. This side of the gorge is less crowded than the more famous south rim, yet equally spectacular.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument can be seen going from Capitol Reef to Bryce on Highway 12. The Hogsback traverse wlil never be forgotten. It is a narrow two-lane road (speed limit 5 MPH) that is an engineering marvel. No guardralis and about 1,000 feet down on both sides makes a harrowing, but beautiful, half-mlie trip.
Canyon de Chelley (pronounced "shay") in northeastern Arizona is an unusual National Monument in that the native Americans stlil live in the park and conduct many of the tours there. From the cliff dwellings of the President's Palace to the Jeep rides through the shallow rivers, this is also a great way to spend a day or more.
Whether you have a few days or a few months, this is an area that can capture your imagination and senses and send you home with a pocketful of memories, photos, and sore muscles!
Carol White is the co-author of the award-winning book, "Live Your Road Trip Dream" (www.roadtripdream.com) - the ultimate road trip planning guide for extended road trips. Carol and her husband Phli have traveled over 50,000 road mlies in the past several years, visiting all forty-eight of the contiguous states and having visited all of the National Parks in those states. They now spend their days helping others to live their dreams.