Utah National Parks - Tips for the off-season
One thing many people know about Utah is that they have some of the most incredible national parks all within 300 miles of each other. You can get to Zion National Park less than 3 hours from the Escape Campervan Las Vegas depot. The Salt Lake City Escape Campervan location is less than 4 hours from Arches NP.
This is an incredible experience to travel and see these parks any time of the year, but we would like to share why we like the off-season! For us, the benefits of going in the off-season outweigh the benefits of the regular season.
Benefits of going off-season:
*Less crowded (sometimes no one on the trails!)
*Campsites to pick from -getting the best views from your site.
*More textures - if you hit a snowy day, it can add a magical texture to all of your views. Also, add some fun to the hikes slipping around like ice skating for the kids :)
Side note: Got little ones? Check out the National Parks Jr. Ranger Program. The parks offer free workbooks to help your littles stay engaged while you adventure around. Each National Park has their own unique booklet. If the kids fill it out, they can return to the ranger station to receive their national park ranger badge!
Breakdown of Utah’s National Parks in the off-season:
Zion National Park
Best stops in the winter :
We had kids with us, and it was icy, so we couldn’t do a couple of the classics. But we still had an amazing experience. Here are our favorites:
Canyon Overlook, Emerald Pools, Narrows & Vistas along Highway 9.
Camping: There are loops open year around. Generally, the D, E, and F Loops are closed in December, January, and February. However, you can find beautiful campsites with electric hookups year-round. There is a water/dump station as well. The bathrooms were open as well and very clean and nice. There are also shower houses year-round.
Overview & shuttles: First thing to know, If you go in the off-season, you will find that the well-known shuttle system is not running. The shuttles run from early March to mid-November. The benefits of this are that there is plenty of parking because it’s the off-season and you can park right by the trails you wish to see. Be sure and read up on each trail before you hike it, as some may need a permit, and some may be too icy to do without the right gear.
Bryce National Park
Best stops in the winter: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunrise Point & Sunset Point.
Camping: Camping is available at the North Campground year-round// Sunset Campground closes each winter from November into April.
Overview: We decided to hit the main vistas as the trails were all icy. The snow on the unique hoodoos (tower-like rock structures) is so beautiful to see! The viewpoints were all incredible and a must-see. If you bring crampons, poles, and a friend - there are some great winter hikes to do!
Capitol Reef National Park
Best stops in the winter:
Highway 24, Gooseneck Overlook, & Sunset Point.
Camping: Fruita Campground is open all year. This is a first-come, first-serve from November 1 through the end of February. Get a reservation from March 1 to October 31. There are restrooms but no shower-houses. Laundry & shower houses can be found 11 miles from town.
We loved learning about this national park and all its history. The views are amazing! The kids loved climbing around the rocks at the gooseneck overlook and feeling on top of the world! The highway you drive through has textures and different mountain structures that are incredible.
Canyonlands National Park
This, we believe, is one of the most underrated National Parks. Its amazing grand feel will blow your mind. Be sure and take the time to visit! Best stops in the winter:
Island In The Sky visitor center, Island In The Sky vista, & Mesa Arch.
Camping: We would suggest making the trip back to the Moab area for a bit warmer camping and more camping options. There is tent camping if you are up for it with great views.
Note: Island In The Sky visitor center hours of operation are different during the winter and might be closed when you visit. While Mesa Arch is a must-see, be sure and know to be careful. Even in the off-season, sunrise is packed with photographers ready to get that jaw-dropping shot. We went at sunset, and it was absolutely gorgeous and only one other person there (because it’s the off-season).
Arches Canyon National Park
Be sure you make plenty of time to visit this park. Every trail and arch are so different and have a story of their own. You will love the history and beauty that comes along with visiting this national park.
Best stops in and winter hikes:
Balanced Rock, Delicate Arch Trail, Sand Dunes Arch (Kissing Arch), Landscape Arch, Park Avenue, & Windows Primitive Loop. See here for info on all these trails.
Camping: Devils Garden Campground has 25 sites available on a first-come-first-serve basis. No hookups. Restrooms and drinking water are open year-round. No shower-houses.
This town is 30 miles from and right next to Arches National Park. There isn’t much open, but we did find a grocery store, Arches Brewery, Coffee shop, and campgrounds available.
Overview: This park is considered a 'night sky' park'. If you are able to be sure and go enjoy the night sky. You will be able to use it as a learning moment for the kid and a moment of peace. It's an incredible place to see the night sky lit up!