Utah: Five Spectacular National Parks

Utah’s five national parks have it all.

A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll see unique soaring spires, towering pinnacles, sandstone canyons, and intricately eroded arches of sculptured stone for starters.

Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park splashes color for 100 miles from its northern to southern boundaries.

The central geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone “reefs” and canyons. Much of Capitol Reef is an inviting wilderness of sandstone formations such as Capitol Dome, Hickman Bridge, and Temple of the Sun and Moon in the backcountry of splendid Cathedral Valley.

Rock art petroglyphs are abundant in the midst of Capitol Reef’s red rocks and tell the story of the early indigenous people, the Fremont Culture. Close by are the large orchards of Fruita, an early pioneer settlement—and now headquarters for the park—where a variety of fruit may be picked in season.

The visitor center and campground are open year-round. Several easy hiking trails and a 25-mile scenic drive are found in this area. Cathedral Valley and other backcountry regions are reached by traveling on dirt roads, so make sure to inquire locally about current road conditions.

The park is 11 miles east of Torrey or 37 miles west of Hanksville on Utah Highway 24.

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Canyonlands National Park

The Island in the Sky region is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Views thousands of feet down to the Green and Colorado Rivers, or thousands of feet up to red rock pinnacles, cliffs, and spires create the incredible beauty of Utah’s largest national park.

The rivers have sliced Canyonlands National Park into three districts, each named according to its distinctive landscape.

Island in the Sky is the northern section where visitors can look down to the Colorado River on the east and the Green River on the west. The southern tip overlooks the rivers’ confluence.

The Needles District is named for its profusion of red rock spires and sandstone fins.

The remote Maze District is Canyonlands’ most jumbled stone playground, requiring backcountry use permits year-round.

Major entrances to the park are accessible from U.S. Highway 191. Access to Island in the Sky is 35 miles northwest of Moab and access to the Needles District is 22 miles north of Monticello.

Canyonlands is world-renowned for its four-wheel-drive vehicle and mountain bike routes, and its whitewater rafting. Visitor centers are open year-round.

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Arches National Park
Arches National Park has about 2,000 windowed arches, towering spires, harrowing hoodoos, and precarious pinnacles on display—such as Balanced Rock, Skyline Arch, and Courthouse Towers.

Delicate Arch, perhaps Utah’s most iconic feature is a must-hike destination in the park. Arches contain 73,000 acres of varied landscapes, with a paved 40-mile scenic drive from the park entrance to the campground at Devil’s Garden.

There are numerous parking areas for trail access and scenic overlooks. Two trails, and a viewpoint accessible by car, offer different views of Delicate Arch, the park’s most famous geologic feature.

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Road guides and hiking brochures are available at the visitor center and the park entrance, located five miles north of Moab via U.S. Highway 191.

Arches National Park is open year-round, as is the campground. Water is only available seasonally.

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Come visit Utah. Come and live Life Elevated®! 

Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series

Part 1: Utah: The Ultimate Road Trip

Worth Pondering…

The West is color. Its colors are animal rather than vegetable, the colors of earth and sunlight and ripeness.

—Jessamyn West

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