Utah travel question
January 23, 2008 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Where should we stay if we want to hit as many as possible national parks in Utah?

travel gurus,

my wife and i are planning a trip to utah. it seems not quite easy to find a decent base location to satisfy the above AND provide some restaurant choices . will really appreciate any inputs.

also what is the best time of the year to do the national parks in Utah?

posted by kingfish to Travel & Transportation around Utah (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Cedar City would be a good start.
posted by itsamonkeytree at 3:51 PM on January 23, 2008

Sorry I didn't finish your question, mid to late summer are not good times. Try the spring or fall.
posted by itsamonkeytree at 3:52 PM on January 23, 2008

hmmm, Moab in the Fall.
posted by rlef98 at 4:03 PM on January 23, 2008

I went in early May, which was pretty good. We were mobile, and camped in the nat'l parks. The parks have showers. The road to the north rim of the Grand Canyon (the less touristy one) was still snowed out, although it was going to open a few days later.

If you camp, you can very easily wake up with the sun and be hiking by 0630 or 7; when you get back you'll see all the people from the RV tours just beginning, and you'll have avoided the hottest part of the day. Drive into town during the day, catch restaurants - there's a few nice ones in Moab, although everything there is overpriced - and then do an early evening hike when it cools down again. Or drive to the next park, set up camp, do a short evening hike, sleep, long morning hike, and begin the cycle again.
posted by cobaltnine at 4:36 PM on January 23, 2008

There are quite a few National Parks in Utah and they are pretty spread out. I am not sure a single, centrally located place to sleep is going to be be the best way to see everything. That would entail a lot of driving each day to the parks. When I was there in 2006, we stayed outside of Zion NP, east of the park. That made for a short drive into Zion valley and Bryce Canyon was a 60-90 drive. We spent 5 days on these two parks and could easily spent more time.

I was there in August and it was pretty hot in mid-day but not overly painful...sunscreen was very important.
posted by mmascolino at 4:54 PM on January 23, 2008



Fisher Towers
Colorado River/ Cataract Canyon
Kane Creek
Dark Canyon Wilderness Area
Manti-LaSal Nat'l Forest

In a couple of hours you can hit Lake Powell Rec Areas and Monument Valley (AZ)
You can also take a beautiful drive east to Durango and Telluride

Fall or Spring
posted by ohdeanna at 5:20 PM on January 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yeah, def. hit a different place each day. You could stay a couple days in Moab to get Arches and Canyonlands; if you head down to Monument Valley do *not* miss staying at the Mexican Hat Inn, which has incredible steaks. Page has plenty of hotels (access to the lake) and is right near Antelope Canyon. Torrey is a good place to be for Capitol Reef (duh), though Hanksville has a great burger joint east of town.

Do *NOT* miss driving along Utah 12 from Torrey to Brice Canyon. Do not. It is amazing. Best time, though is late Sept when the Aspens change in the high country.

A good plan, if you're flying into Vegas, is to head up 15 to St. George, to Zion. Then drop down Kanab way to Page, maybe the North Rim. (North Rim is kinda sparse as far as amenities goes) Head over to Monument Valley, stay in Mexican hat. Head up to Moab, do those parks, and then head up to I70 and drop back down to Hanksville/capitol reef/torrey. Spend a good half day lazy along Utah 12, down to Brice, maybe Cedar Breaks. THen back to Zion, if ther's time, and on to Vegas.

If you need more suggestions, mefimail me.
posted by notsnot at 7:25 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, if you're into ruins, drop down from Page toward Chinle, and Canyon de Chelley; and up from Mexican Hat to either Hovenweep (wayyyy off the beaten track, but worth it!) or Mesa Verde - which is far more remote than you expect, but seeing those ruins, just like you've seen the pictures, is life-changing.
posted by notsnot at 7:28 PM on January 23, 2008

Seconding everyone else - Cedar City and Moab are two good choices.

Moab is probably your best choice if you only want to stay one place. Good hotels, good restaurants, and easy access to more national parks than you have time to see. Cedar City or Saint George is a good second choice (they're about 50 minutes apart) and hitting both Moab and one of those would be ideal.

Summers can be brain-suckingly hot down there. Fall or spring are great times.

You might want to ask for more specific advice - if you're strictly in it for sightseeing, there are tons of scenic drives both in the Moab area and in the Zion area. Hiking, Bicycling, you'll want to look for more specific places. Offroading, ditto.
posted by mmoncur at 12:40 AM on January 24, 2008

thirding moab in spring or fall if you want to stay in one general area. i had a good time staying around moab but choosing a different area each night -- stayed in the needles one night, kane creek campgrounds another night (you'll need a decent vehicle if you want to make the drive down into the canyon in the spring time and not be afraid of some pretty steep terrain with no sort of guard rail etc -- quite an experience!). I have had mixed experiences camping in Kane Creek -- once during Jeep Weekend (Easter weekend every year) was like camping in an outdoor frat house and very loud with music and atvs late into the night -- sucky! but several other, non-touristy weekends were very lovely there camping right along the creek.
I can't recommend Dead Horse State Park enough for incredible views that stand out even amongst all the other awesomeness. You can spend the day in Island in the Sky (part of Canyonlands) and hit Dead Horse on your way in or on your way out.
If you're into some interesting drives but not really into mega off roading, I'd also recommend the Schaffer Trail in Island in the Sky (link describes taking trail in reference from how i did it -- ie going up the canyon wall rather than going down the canyon road). You get some really fun, kind of nailbiting driving (better have a 4wd or higher clearance vehicle though), zig zag style down the canyon wall, great views of the river, and you come out on Potash Rd which I believe has some really nice camping by the river, a graveyard for boxcars too. You can follow that road out of the park and I recall turning out onto a real road that had steep flat rocks on the side with native art carved in.
In 2006, we stayed in these little cabins near Hole In the Rock (big fun tourist trap outside Moab) called Kane Creek Cabins. The lady proprietress told me she was selling them at the end of the season, but I imagine someone else bought them. They were very cute with a nice central bathroom and shower, picnic tables and little grills. Not the cabins associated with Hole In the Rock, just right next door.
I don't know if someone linked this above, but you might find a chart of Utah Parks driving distances helpful.
Regarding Monument Valley...YMMV but I have to relay the story of my brief visit to the park. While absolutely stunning vistas etc, the camping areas left a lot to be desired when I was there in 2003. Situated on a very windy edge of a steep drop to the desert floor they had nice views but...extremely windy and there was almost no turf for us to peg in our tent and no big rocks to be found for same purposes. Thus, we lost our fully erected tent over the side and down the drop multiple times while trying to figure out a plan to keep it in place, which was a major hassle. While we were trying to figure this out, a couple in a nearby campsite came by to chat and asked us if we'd heard about the wild horses. They then cheerfully told us how the year before the wild horses had rampaged through the campground, kicking in windshields and the likes. Now, i didn't witness this, but i don't have reason to doubt their story either. That plus the tent problem was enough to compel my travel companion and I to move along without spending the night. We did take advantage of a very haphazard looking frybread stand on our way out though. Pretty "desert ghetto" with blue tarps for most of the walls, but the mutton and fry bread was awwwwwwwesome.
FYI, the Knight's Inne in Farmington was very nice and was very very cheap in 2003.

Anyhoo. Mefi mail me if you have more questions.
posted by Soulbee at 9:04 AM on January 24, 2008

Response by poster: thank you all for the response.

one last question: we live in nyc, so which city we should fly to if we want to set our base in moab, ut for this trip (as recommended by most people here)

posted by kingfish at 9:55 AM on January 28, 2008

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