Utah National Parks with Kids Travel Tips

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Tips for traveling to the Utah Mighty 5 National Parks with kids. These include Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Arches National Park Family Vacation

One of the great benefits of living in the west is the easy access to so many national parks.

Utah itself has five national parks in it, and all are within driving distance of each other in Southern Utah. You can reasonably fit a visit to all five in one week.

In addition to these places, there are many state parks and national forests that you can visit close by.

We recently visited four of the five in a week for a family vacation. We had been to one of them just a couple of years ago, so we skipped that one this trip.

We did this road trip in an RV, which was a lot of fun. It was a unique way to do the trip and you can hit each park in an RV, though some are more RV friendly than others.

National Park Tips

There are many tips for visiting national parks that really are applicable no matter which national park you go to.

Any National Park you visit will have a detailed map for you at the entrance to the park.

The National Park Service has done a really great job with their maps. The map shows you where the attractions are and details on the attractions. Hikes are listed and they include information on how long the hike is as well as how difficult it is.

There was a time I did a lot of research before heading to a National Park, but for this trip, we just decided what to do when we got to the gate and got our map.

For us, these parks are not a once-in-a-lifetime visit. If you feel like you will only go there once, you will probably want to know what you must do while there.

The parks also all have a visitor center and rangers to give you lots of information.

Where to Stay

National parks have campgrounds in them. You book those through NPS.gov. It is always wise to try to book at least several months before your trip.

So far, 2021 as been a very busy year for the National Parks, so you might need to book sooner.

Each of the Mighty 5 National parks also have campsites located outside the parks as well as towns with hotels and VRBO options. Zion National Park has a hotel (run by the NPS) inside the park.

Again, we were in an RV so we stayed in RV parks outside of the national parks.

My favorite in general is to stay inside the national park if possible.

Canyonlands and Arches

Canyonlands and Arches are close enough together that we stayed at one site for the two. We stayed at Archview RV Resort and Campground.

This campground is situated nicely between the two parks. It is North of Arches, which is North of Moab (the town close to Arches), so if you are wanting to spend time in Moab, you might want to get something closer to Moab, though we went to town a couple of times without issue.

This site has a pool, showers, and bathrooms. It has sites for RVs, campers, and even tents. There is basically no shade, so while that was fine for April, it would probably be pretty hot for a tent in the summer months. The RV and camper sites have full hook-ups (or at least they have sites with full hook-ups).

Bryce Canyon

We stayed at Ruby’s Inn. While I usually love staying in a National Park, if I were to go back to Bryce Canyon, I would choose Ruby’s Inn every time.

It is extremely close to Bryce Canyon. The shuttle is right there. They have a beautiful campground where even RVs have lots of shade. We had full hook-ups. They do have showers and bathrooms.

They also have many different hotel rooms as well as cute little cabins and teepee options.

They have endless activities you can add on to your stay as well as a beautiful hotel pool.

Zion National Park

We have camped in the park before, and that was great. This time with the RV, we stayed at Zion Canyon Campground. It was an easy walk to Zion National Park and a shuttle into the park stopped right outside it, also.

We had full hookups and it had a pool as well as showers and bathrooms.

Capitol Reef National Park

When we visited Capitol Reef National Park, we stayed in the park at their group campsite. It was a great site with flushing bathrooms, a pavilion, and a large grassy area.

Entrance Fees

There is a fee to enter each park. You can pay by vehicle or by person. If you camp inside, you will also pay for your campsite.

You can get an America the Beautiful Pass which gets you into every national park and national wildlife refuge in the United States. This is currently $80. We purchased this for our trip.

You can also get in for free if you have a US student in fourth grade. We should have planned the trip better and done it next year when Brinley was in 4th grade. Ha! Especially because our pass is good until the end of her fourth grade year. Get your free pass here.

Here is the cost of a private vehicle at each place:

  • Canyonlands: $30
  • Arches: $30
  • Capitol Reef: $20
  • Bryce: $35
  • Zion: $35

These are good for 7 consecutive days.

Park Order

A big question on your mind will be what order to hit the parks in.

This is the order we did:

  1. Canyonlands National Park
  2. Arches National Park
  3. Bryce Canyon National Park
  4. Zion National Park

We didn’t do Capitol Reef this time, but if we did, it would have been between Arches and Bryce.

You could easily do this in reverse order. You can also easily swap the order of Canyonlands and Arches because they are so close. You could also reverse the order of Bryce and Zion since they are pretty close.

Essentially, Canyonlands and Arches need to be together, Zion and Bryce Canyon need to be together. Capitol Reef is between the two duos.

All five parks are fantastic and very different from each other. All five have easy hikes and hard hikes. All have things you can see and do without really hiking much.

Which Parks are the Best

You may find yourself wondering which parks are the best. You might have limited time and not able to go to every park, or you might wonder how much time to spend at each park.

The answer to this will change from person to person, unfortunately. Within our family, we had different answers. So I cannot definitively tell you which is the best.

The most popular and most heavily visited is Zion National Park. Second is probably Arches. Third Bryce, fourth Capitol Reef, and fifth Canyonlands.

You can easily see highlights and enjoy your day with just one day in each park, but you can also delve in and spend several days or even a week at each park. They all have spectacular views.

Let’s talk more about each place.

Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/cany/index.htm

About: This is a place full of canyons formed by the Colorado River. It reminded us a lot of a mini Grand Canyon.

Canyonlands is divided into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and then the rivers.

It is located outside of Moab Utah and is a desert.

Famous Hikes and Locations: Some of the iconic hikes and locations here are:

  • Mesa Arch (short hike)
  • Grand View Point
  • Newspaper Rock
  • Pothole Point
  • Big Spring Canyon Overlook

Nearby is Dead Horse Point State Park that may be a fun place to visit if you are looking for something else to do.

Transportation: You will need to drive yourself in this park. It was very RV friendly.

You can get all of the information and help planning what you want to do at the website linked above. Again, the NPS has done a really good job sharing all about each park.

Arches

Arches National Park Delicate Arch

Website: https://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm

About: This was a favorite for some of us. Arches is quite unique. There are over 2,000 natural stone arches as well as giant balanced rocks. The arches are impressive and the rock formations are unique. It is a red-rock landscape and full of slick rock, which is easy to walk on and fun for running on.

Each arch is very unique. You do not every think, “Eh. Saw that one earlier today in a different spot.”

It is very warm here, even in the spring. You will need plenty of water.

It is located outside of Moab Utah and is a desert.

Famous Hikes and Locations: Some of the iconic hikes and locations here are:

  • Delicate Arch (probably the most famous. Go here first thing in the day)
  • Double Arch
  • Landscape Arch
  • Window Arch
  • Balancing Rock

A note on Delicate Arch hike. It is difficult, but only 1.5 miles long. If you do much reading on it, you will find people saying don’t do it with kids.

If you have little ones, you will probably find yourself carrying someone at some point. However, we saw many young children on the hike who did great! I am glad we didn’t read anything before going to scare us off. It isn’t too bad and it is well worth the hike.

If you do not want to do it, there are some viewpoints you can drive to and then take a short walk to. That might be a better option for you.

Transportation: You will need to drive yourself in this park. It was very RV friendly.

You can get all of the information and help planning what you want to do at the website linked above. Again, the NPS has done a really good job sharing all about each park.

NOTE: You could hit Goblin Valley State Park on your drive from Moab to Capitol Reef or Bryce Canyon.

Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef National Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm

About: This is not as popular of a place, meaning it is not visited by as many people. It has cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges. There is a lot to see. It is also an International Dark Sky Park. This means you can see the stars very well at night.

It is located outside of Torrey Utah in the Waterfold Pocket and is a desert.

Famous Hikes and Locations: Some of the iconic hikes and locations here are:

  • Hickman Bridge
  • Cassidy Arch
  • Chimney Rock
  • Gifford House
  • Waterpocket Fold
  • Petroglyphs

Transportation: You will need to drive yourself in this park.

You can get all of the information and help planning what you want to do at the website linked above. Again, the NPS has done a really good job sharing all about each park.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

About: This was a favorite in our family. There are hoodoos (columns of rocks) and unlike anything you will have seen. You will see red rock, pink rock, and white rock.

Bryce has the largest concentration of hoodoos of anywhere on the earth.

It is located in Bryce Canyon along a high plateau on the top of Grand Staircase. It is much cooler here than the other parks. The elevation here is very high. Bryce Point is 8300 feet above sea level.

This park is also designated as a dark sky park.

Famous Hikes and Locations: Some of the iconic hikes and locations here are:

  • Rim Trail
  • Thor’s Hammer
  • Hoodoos
  • Navajo Trail
  • Sunrise Point
  • Sunset Point
  • Bryce Amphitheater
  • Bryce Point
  • Mossy Cave
  • Natural Bridge
  • Tropic Trail
  • Fairyland Loop Trail
  • Horseback riding

There is so much to do in the town outside of the Canyon. This is where we went horseback riding. You can book endless activities through Ruby’s Inn. If you decide to do that, book before you go. It was all sold out by the time we got there.

Transportation: You can drive yourself or take the free shuttle. There are places the shuttle does not go. Driving through the park could be hard, so the shuttle will probably be required for at least part of it. It was NOT RV-friendly.

You can get all of the information and help planning what you want to do at the website linked above. Again, the NPS has done a really good job sharing all about each park.

Zion

Zion National Park

Website: https://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm

About: Zion is the most visited park in Utah. The sandstone cliffs are impressive and of varied colors, including cream, pink, and red. It has narrow slot canyons formed by the Virgin River.

We really enjoyed this park, also. When I was young, we lived pretty close to here and visited this park frequently.

It is located outside of Springdale Utah and is a desert.

Famous Hikes and Locations: Some of the iconic hikes and locations here are:

  • Emerald Pool Trails
  • Watchman
  • Sentinel
  • Weeping Rock
  • Riverside Walk
  • The Narrows (hike up the river in the water)
  • Angel’s Landing
  • Temple of Sinawava
  • Horseback riding

Many of these locations were shut down due to rock slides and Angels Landing can shut down for weather.

We hit the Grafton Ghost Town on our way home from here. It was a fun quick stop and isn’t too far from Zions.

Friendly tip–this place is not pronounced “ion” with a Z. It is more of a “Z-eye-uhn”. Do not listen to Google.

Transportation: This park is busy and small. You will most likely need to ride a shuttle, and in certain times of year, that is your only option.

You will need your own vehicle to drive to the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. This road on the East side includes an impressive tunnel and views unlike other parts of the park. For the RV to go through, we had to pay an extra fee. Regular cars do not have the fee.

Make sure you check the website well in advance of your trip to get park shuttle tickets. I had an alarm in my phone for the day they were being released for our trip and I kid you not, the whole week was sold out in 20 minutes. It was very limited in 8 minutes.

You can get all of the information and help planning what you want to do at the website linked above. Again, the NPS has done a really good job sharing all about each park.

Conclusion

This is a great family-friendly activity! One of my favorite things about any National Park is that it can be something low-key where you do a lot of scenic driving and walking on paved trails or you can to intense and go into the backcountry.

There is a hike for everyone. You will be able to find a short easy hike that is more of a walk or you can find something with a primitive trail that is pretty difficult.

You can make it your own.

Even the drives between the parks, driving through normal land that isn’t designated or preserved in many ways, will offer amazing views. You will enjoy the route between the parks.

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Utah National Parks Family Vacation

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