Where should I go camping in Southern Utah?
May 12, 2012 11:37 PM   Subscribe

We are new to Utah and planning a camping trip to the southern part of the state. We're trying to decide which parks/attractions to hit in our small time frame. This could be our first and last trip to do this, since we don't think we'll be living here much longer and have limited vacation time to take at work.

My fiance and I want to do 2, possibly three nights and 2.5-3.5 days not including the drive (from SLC) for this trip. The main options we've considered are:

1. Moab- with trips to Arches, Canyonlands, maybe dead horse point.
2. Zion, Escalante?

We talked about doing both these options combined somehow, but we dont want to spend all our time driving unless it was really worth it. Which of these places (and are there different ones we should consider?) should we choose?

We are planning to camp rustic, and our priorities would be to see some amazing vistas, go for some nice hikes, see wildlife, and make some nice memories. If anyone who has been to all these areas and can offer a recommendation it would really help!
If there are fun activities- whether it be kayaking, horse-back riding etc. that you would recommend, that would also be appreciated.

Thank you!
posted by biograd08 to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The thing is that either of those destinations will be epic, and the driving is part of the epicness. Moab will be closer and there is more concentrated in that area, but you really can't go wrong once you get into that area of the world.
Do Arches in the morning, Island in the Sky (canyonlands) in the evening and camp up there. next day drive over to Capital Reef and drive Cathedral Valley. those 2 days and the driving to and from will more than suffice.
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:03 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you go to Moab, you should think about doing the Moab Daily run. The Colorado River flows past Moab, but it hasn't joined up with the Green River yet, so it's not very big. The Moab Daily run is a section of river you can run in about a half day (depends somewhat on the river level) that goes through an absolutely beautiful section of canyon. There are only a few, very small rapids on the section, so if you're at all comfortable in a boat, find a company that will let you steer your own small craft (either a ducky or a sea kayak), because you run that section not for the thrills but because it's so beautiful to float through. You could make reservations online (just search for "Moab Daily") or you could just show up in Moab and book it. There are about a million and one companies there that are devoted to doing just that.

If you're at all interested in Petroglyphs, go see Newspaper Rock, which is south of Moab off of 191. I believe is also on one of the access roads to Canyonlands (the Needles, I think) so you don't have to make a special trip there.

In terms of camping, look at the BLM website. Something to consider when you're planning campsites is that a lot of the roads are going to be pretty rough, gravel roads once you get off the highway, so travel times are going to be longer than you might think.
posted by colfax at 2:15 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

In Arches, take the ranger-led Fiery Furnace hike. (Register & pay at the welcome center when you arrive.) It's one of the most memorable things we did there.
posted by Ochre,Hugh at 3:29 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

TOTALLY cosigning "the driving is part of the epicness." Go back roads. It's INCREDIBLE. (But taking 70 from Moab to Zion is what not to do.) Moab and south all the way to the border is out of control amazing.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:08 AM on May 13, 2012

When are you going and how are you defining "rustic" camping?

Yes, driving can be part of the fun, but I do think if you try to do both Zion and Arches in the same trip you are going to spend more time on the road then you would like.

Personally, I think Zion is multitudes better than Arches, but of course that is subjective. Zion has more wildlife, and more shade. The surrounding Kolob canyon area is fantastic and where you would want to aim for your rustic camping. You could easily combine a Zion trip with a trip to Bryce Canyon/Escalante/Kodachrome State Park. SLC to Zion is about 4.5 hours, even with the terrible terrible Utah County construction traffic (once you get past that it is 80 mph speed limit most of the way down, watch for the areas that slow down and cops especially around Beaver).

If you go the Moab/Arches/Canyonlands route definitely include Dead Horse Point, and stopping and camping in the San Rafael Swell area on your way down or back should be a priority. I'd personally rather go to San Rafael swell than Arches: still beautiful vistas. Not as famous = not as crowded. If you have some sort of off-road capability, tons of cool rock art in the area. Some cool rock art even if you don't. Drive down through Huntington Canyon on your way for some good wildlife spotting (although sadly also to mourn the dying off of the trees in that canyon and to see it before it is too late).

Southern Utah also has tons of other great destinations, but if you are trying to fit in some of the major Parks while you are there, I would go one of those two routes.
posted by freejinn at 10:32 AM on May 13, 2012

Response by poster: We are thinking about going this week (spur of the moment thing). I guess I meant primitive camping not rustic. But we weren't planning on back packing a bunch of gear to camp in the middle of nowhere... That might be more than we'd want to do, plus we don't have the packs.

I am really into wildlife and especially birds, so maybe Zion would be better.

This is such a hard decision!
posted by biograd08 at 10:47 AM on May 13, 2012

If you are really in to wildlife, especially birds, don't forget you already live very close to many great day-trip birding spots. Next weekend is the Great Salt Lake Bird Festival: http://www.greatsaltlakebirdfest.com/. You live close to many great weekend car camping destinations. You could fit a trip down to Arches or Zion in a typical weekend. You could fit in a quick camping trip to a lot of places. Don't know what your schedule is like, but--well, Utah is kind of a weird state, but so much great outdoors surrounding you is the bonus of living here. I wouldn't limit myself to "one" epic trip while you are here. And go to Southern Utah before it gets too hot.
posted by freejinn at 11:22 AM on May 13, 2012

My favorite parks in Utah are Canyonlands and Bryce Canyon. Both are absolutely beautiful, alien landscapes where the crazy rock formations are the main beauty. Canyonlands (at least Islands in the Sky) also has the virtue of being very remote and quiet and private. They're on opposite ends of the state but I agree with the comments above that the driving is part of the fun. The backroads route along UT-24 and UT-12 will be beautiful.

Zion is a totally different kind of place, with much more water and trees and vegetation. It's a great park and people love it, but personally I prefer the Martian landscapes of Canyonlands and the crazy rock formations at Bryce.
posted by Nelson at 3:21 PM on May 13, 2012

Goblin Valley State Park is a great stopover between Canyonlands and Capitol Reef, etc.

All of Southern Utah blows my mind even in the mere remembering of traveling through it... it's as though that place invented color and scale... but Goblin Valley stands out for me in just sheer weirdness. More than any other place I've been, it seems truly like you have left earth.
posted by eyesontheroad at 6:14 PM on May 13, 2012

I used to live in Moab.

Zion is of course incredible, but given your limited time, I would personally limit my trip to the Arches/Canyonlands area.

There is plenty of amazing wildlife all over Arches and Canyonlands - I've seen coyotes, big horn sheep, lynx, and lots of birds of various sorts.

As for Arches, my favorite hike there is Devil's Garden out to Dark Angel. My favorite thing was to start the hike right before sunrise. There is a campground there at the base of Devil's Garden if you want to camp in the park. It is worth the short hike to swing out to Delicate Arch. You could do the early morning Devil's Garden and see most of the highlights of the park in one day. You'll miss a lot of the more obscure stuff, but, so it goes. Always more wilderness.

For Canyonlands, Island in the Sky is really breathtaking, but the hiking is not quite as great as the needles, in my opinion. I would camp in a BLM spot like Dead Horse just outside of Canyonlands and then hike or drive in. Bring lots of water and stuff though, because there are amenities really in Canyonlands.

There are other great local hikes around Moab that are stunning. The cowboy jacuzzi off of Mill Creek and Pot Ash road (lots of fossilized dinosaur prints) are really great. And there are lots of petroglyphs out toward hunter and gatherer canyon, if you go out along the river past town.

Feel free to MeMail me if you want any other insider info on Moab and the surrounding area. I spent the better part of a year watching the moonrise sitting on top of Broken Arch in the park, and know the area pretty well.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:11 PM on May 14, 2012

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