Utah is home to some of the nation’s most incredible—and popular—national parks. Nicknamed Utah’s Mighty 5, these amazing national parks are scattered across Southern Utah. Despite being fairly close to one another, each is distinct in its landscapes and natural formations.
Zion National Park is known for its stunning Lower Canyon and towering peaks. Arches National Park is, of course, known for its natural rock arches. Canyonlands is Utah’s largest national park and features expanses of red rock popular with mountain bikers. Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the largest collection of hoodoos in the world. Capitol Reef National Park, the closest part to Cougar Ridge, has the famous Waterpocket Fold, a truly unique geologic feature.
Planning a visit to Capitol Reef, Zion, or one of Utah’s other three national parks in 2023? Keep reading as we dive into a few tips you’ll need to know if you want to learn how to visit Utah national parks like a pro.
Don’t Try to Squeeze in Everything in One Trip
First-time visitors to Utah might be tempted to try to visit all five national parks in a single visit. You could technically hit them all in a single visit. Zion National Park and Arches National Park are the furthest away from one another, with about a five-hour drive between the two. But unless you’re spending several weeks in Southern Utah, you won’t get to experience any of them in-depth. In fact, it would be difficult to experience everything that a single national park has to offer in a single visit!
It’s best to not try to squeeze too much into one trip. We suggest seeing just one or two national parks in a single visit. Decide ahead of time which spots are most important for you to hit. You might even consider ranking them. Then once you get to the park, don’t stress out about hitting every item on your list. Take your time, and be open to changing your plans; often, the best memories are the ones that you never saw coming!
National parks are not Disney World. If you get to the middle of a long trail and find that you haven’t packed the right supplies, you won’t be able to pop into a store to pick them up. Having the right gear along will not only keep you happy and comfortable but could also save your life.
Important items that every national park visitor should have along include:
- Water (on average, hikers drink around one liter for every two hours of moderate hiking)
- Protective clothing, including warm layers and rain gear
- Hiking boots
- A First Aid kit
Visit During the Off-Season
Utah national parks aren’t exactly a secret. While Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon are certainly lesser known than Arches or Zion, you still might find a crowd on busy summer days.
But if there’s one thing that pros know about how to visit Utah national parks, it’s that the best time to visit is the off-season.
If you want to make the most of a short vacation or are hoping to take in the sights without crowds of tourists, plan your next visit during the winter months. This time of year brings fewer crowds and cooler temperatures, and the chance to experience a side of the state’s national parks that few visitors ever get to see.
Of course, if you want to make the most of a summer visit to Southern Utah, consider visiting Capitol Reef National Park. This park might not be quite as well known as its neighbor to the south, Zion, but it offers stunning natural views that certainly rival it.
Put Your Smartphone Away
You should pack your smartphone. After all, you can use it for GPS in areas of the park where you have service. It can also be a valuable tool if you wander off and get lost. But resist the urge to carry it around and stash it in your backpack instead.
The last thing you want to do is miss out on the sights that you’re working so hard to see. If you have a camera, consider using it instead of your smartphone. If you do want to snap some pics with your phone, resist the urge to post those photos to social media right away. You’ll have plenty of time to do that while you’re relaxing in your vacation rental (unless of course, you’re staying at Cougar Ridge, in which case you may be too busy enjoying the resort’s many amenities).
Leave No Trace
More than 11 million people visit Utah’s Mighty 5 each year. As you can imagine, they leave their mark on the parks they visit. Luckily, Leave No Trace principles can help visitors minimize some of their impacts.
You can do your part by following the principles of Leave No Trace, including:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Learning How to Visit Utah National Parks Like a Pro
The best thing you can learn about how to visit Utah national parks like a pro? Start planning your next adventure before your vacation is over! Make note of trails or activities that you missed during this adventure, and remember that you can always come back to see them again next time around.
Ready to start planning your own Utah national park adventure? Why not start with Capitol Reef? Capitol Reef National Park is one of the state’s best-kept secrets. But the word is getting out, which means that if you want to see the park with as few other visitors as possible, you might want to consider planning a winter visit. This can also be a great way to save on your stay at Cougar Ridge!
Right now, when you book a stay of two or more nights before March 31, you’ll enjoy a 40 percent discount on your visit! Book today to take advantage of this amazing deal!