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Dave, I posted this 2 years ago. We went in Oct. I think summer would be too hot.
Back from our first time visit of Utah. What a gorgeous state. We flew in to St George in the SW corner, rented a car, and headed NE for 10 days visiting Zion Nat’l Park, Bryce Canyon NP, Capital Reef NP, Canyonlands NP, and Arches NP, then drove to Grand Junction CO and flew home.
The NP’s are all beautiful in their own way and all are a hikers paradise.
Scenic Hwy 12 between Bryce and Capital Reef is like a freaking thrill ride. Lots of hairpin curves hanging on the wall of a canyon. When we finished it my hands were stuck to the steering wheel. I must have been gripping it that tight without realizing it.
Zion has a slick way of moving people around. Everyone parks by the gate and boards a free shuttle bus. The shuttle has 9 stops for hopping off or on. They come by every 5-10 minutes so you never wait long. What a great idea to eliminate congestion.
Moab sucks. It seems to be a haven for ATV’s and dirt bikers.
We also went 2 years ago. Our favorites in order were Bryce, Capital Reef, Arches, Canyonlands and then Zion*.
Zion was difficult for us. It was EXTREMELY crowded, if you werent parked inside the park by 7:30 am… forget it, park in Springdale. We had to wait over an hour at some shuttle stops as full shuttle after full shuttle drove past, depending on time of day. Numerous trails were closed after some recent damage including the entire Kolob section, Angels landing, Hidden canyon, upper emerald pools some of the most popular hikes in the park. So everyone who was there (a lot of people) were confined to the same few trails. It did not feel like a national park to us… We hope to go back some day, hopefully under different circumstances.
Zion also has more ‘dramatic’ hikes with steep drop-offs, un-even footing, etc. I wouldn’t recommend any of the hikes we did (Observation Point, Canyon Overlook, The Narrows) for those with small children. The Narrows however was a very cool and unique experience. I am sure there are some easier hikes, they just aren’t quintessential zion hikes.
Where as Capitol Reef, it was like we had the park to ourselves. Cassidy Arch trail was AWESOME! and I think we only saw 4, maybe 5 other people the entire hike. At a minimum drive the main road, some cool views (Grand Wash Road or something like that it is called) you kind of have to off-road a bit but it is a fun drive. Capitol Reef jsut doesnt have many options for staying near by, so plan on camping or driving a decent distance if staying overnight. We left our previous spot early, got to CRNP around 8:30am, spent all day there, and left for the next park after dinner. We wish we would’ve stayed overnight somehow.
Bryce was fantastic! Great views, great hikes. Be sure to get down and walk within the hoodoos, not just stand above them. Also, go into Bryce after dark, pick any viewpoint (we choose Fairyland point), let your eyes adjust and just enjoy the night sky. It looks fake, like someone is super-imposing an image on a domed screen. Was a really cool experience as I had never been able to do that previously, maybe you have. It doesn’t even have to be that late, I think it was 9:30 for us. Seeing the milky way in its glory was really, really cool. I tried to take photos, got a few good ones, but need to get better. Lots of hiking options that aren’t too long or difficult, but should be enjoyable for kids too.
Arches was another very crowded park. I will echo, Moab kinda sucks… If you want a photo of Delicate arch without anyone in the photo, start early. By mid morning people are climbing all over it , walking under it, etc. I prefer my national park photos without people in them
The downside of Zion and Bryce, was the multiple HUGE tour buses that show up, stop at each viewpoint and dump 60+ people off all at once. Things can get very crowded at a small viewpoint very quickly.
Buy beer wherever you fly into first or, if driving, before getting into Utah. While it is around, finding beer and booze isn’t always straight forward and selection sucks in the smaller NP towns. There is a brewpub in Springdale, but pretty overpriced and not great quality in our experience.
We didn’t use it in Utah, but have used it on the Superior Hiking Trail, our Osprey Poco child carrier pack has been great. We tend to by groceries and make most of our meals on our national park trips. Makes it easy with small kids too as they are usually happy with a PB&J, apple and Cheetos, haha.
I am sure Norm or I would be happy to answer any other questions you might have. To echo Norm’s comments, we went in early September and Arches was extremely hot and exhausting. While Bryce had sleet and hail one day we were there with temps in the low 40s at night.