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Now that I won’t be having as many Utah adventures (I still have a backlog of posts to publish) I’ve decided to really build up all of my Utah posts and next up is just some good old Utah travel tips.
I have a ton of regular bits of advice then some specific tips for visiting Utah’s national parks. I figured after living there for almost six years and traveling all over, I picked up a thing or two.
I have a sort of similar post to this, but it’s more just desert travel tips. This will be some of those alongside Utah travel tips specifically.
This isn’t the post for specific places to go, you can find that kind of thing all listed right here:
Utah posts you may also like:
General Utah travel tips
First up we have the general Utah travel trips, things to keep in mind when planning your trip, common concerns, wildlife questions, all that good stuff.
And feel free to ask any other questions in the comments that I might not have answered in here! I like to think I thought of everything but you never know.
Bring so much water
I would get gallons of water to keep in your car (maybe 2-3 at a time in the summer) so you can refill a reusable water bottle (but also fill it at gas stations) so you’re not using as many plastic water bottles.
I wouldn’t keep like ten gallons in there in the summer, winter, fall, and spring it’s probably fine but your car will get so hot in the summer. And don’t forget to actually drink lots of water.
If you’re there in the summer, it’s pretty likely it will be 90+ degrees, maybe over 100, and you need to stay hydrated, especially if you’re hiking or outside a lot.
Even in the cooler seasons you need to stay hydrated, so either way. Bring tons of water and drink all of it and then some.
Be prepared for wild temperatures
Temperatures are all over the place. In July 2015 when we did our southwest road trip, we got so lucky. The whole time we were in Utah it was in the mid-80s. It didn’t get into the 90s or above until we got to Roswell.
Then I moved out there in 2016 and July was pretty much over 100 the whole time. I think the hottest I saw it get while I was living out there was 117. I would expect and plan for high-90s, low-100s in July though.
But then in winter it can be cold and snowy. Or 70 and sunny. It can easily get below freezing and that just depends year by year. In 2017/18 on our Utah winter trip, it was in the 60s-70s in January/February. Our Zion trip in January 2022, it was in the 30s-50s with snow all over Zion.
But then in Page, where we were living, we didn’t get snow at all. (Until we left after the end of February, of course.) It’s hard to predict the weather, so be prepared for freezing and warm temperatures in winter and extremely hot in summer.
Also, rain in summer is unpredictable. July-September is monsoon season (and when you need to be very cautious of flash floods, spring, too because of snowmelt) and it was great. Then we barely had a monsoon season again until 2021.
2017 was OK, but it barely rained at all in 2018, 2019, and 2020, so you never know how the monsoon season will be. Use caution hiking and driving on dirt roads if there is rain in the forecast. Now, my next point: do not ever enter slot canyons in the rain.
Do not ever enter slot canyons in the rain
Or if there is rain in the forecast or if it’s raining nearby. Flash floods are not something to mess with and slot canyons are the absolute last place you want to be if one happens.
Here is a video of an Antelope Canyon flash flood. There is a slot canyon under all that water. Imagine being in there when that came through. Horrifying.
Flash floods are a huge risk in slot canyons and people die from that far too often. In May 2020 a 7-year-old girl and her 3-year-old sister died in a flash flood in Little Wild Horse Canyon, a popular slot canyon in the San Rafael Swell. This isn’t even a super narrow canyon. And it’s popular. It can happen anywhere.
In 1997, 11 hikers died in a flash flood in Antelope Canyon (the storm was 15 miles away) and that’s a huge reason you need to go with a tour now.
Flash floods are no joke kids. I haven’t seen one in a slot canyon but I did see one right as it was starting in a more open canyon and it really picked up fast. I also saw one in Zion along the Mt. Carmel Highway this summer. It was small but they just happen so fast, please be safe.
- DO NOT ENTER THEM IN THE RAIN
- DO NOT ENTER THEM WITH RAIN IN THE FORECAST
- DO NOT ENTER THEM IF IT’S NOT RAINING IN THEM BUT NEAR THEM TOO
- If you don’t feel comfortable with any climb or narrow squeeze and can turn back, do that! You don’t want to get hurt or stuck and need to be rescued. I linked tons of stories of this below.
- Make sure you’re following the right fork. A lot of slot canyons have multiple forks or are close to other ones and ending up in the wrong one can have dire consequences (especially in the North Wash area of Utah.)
Don’t take artifacts from ruins
Don’t take artifacts from ruins. Don’t chip petroglyphs and pictographs out of the rock walls. Don’t dig for artifacts. Don’t rob graves. Don’t eat in ruins. Don’t squeeze through windows and doors in ruins, especially with a backpack.
Basically, use common sense and be respectful of these cultural sights. You can enter ruins, some of them are pretty open and you can usually walk in them, just be careful stepping over walls and if there are signs saying don’t enter or touch the ruins, then don’t.
Also, I shouldn’t have to say this, but I know I do, do not carve your name in the rocks (anywhere, especially at culturally significant rock art and ruins which is all of them) or spray paint them.
Here are some great book suggestions to read before visiting the area, the first five are very good for learning about tock art, ruins, and the cultural history of the area.
Books to read before visiting the Four Corners area:
- The Bears Ears
- In Search of the Old Ones
- The Lost World of the Old Ones
- House of Rain
- Finders Keepers
- Monkey Wrench Gang
- Hayduke Lives
- Desert Solitaire
Get gas all the time
You don’t have to get gas constantly but I would for sure fill up before leaving a town, especially if you have a long drive. Depending on where you are, gas stations are few and far between.
Take Highway 95 for example, you can get gas in Blanding, Halls Crossing (if you go all the way down that side of 276), Hite, Ticaboo and Bullfrog (if you go all the way down that part of 276), and Hanksville.
It looks like a lot, but they’re spread out and if you’re low on gas when you leave somewhere, they’re going to feel even further apart. And if you get stuck gas-less somewhere without service, all you can do is wait for someone to go by, which could be easy in the summer but in winter you may be waiting a while.
You probably won’t have cell phone service
You most likely will on Interstates (not always) but on back roads, scenic drives, and other highways, it’s unlikely. And in national parks you very likely won’t have it except maybe in random places.
There are definitely random places you can get service, it can depend on how close you are to a town and sometimes it just doesn’t make sense where you get it.
Like, on Lake Powell, you probably won’t have service unless you can see Navajo Mountain, but sometimes you’ll be boating around and just get service out of nowhere very briefly. It just depends but I would plan on not having service.
You can download trail maps for offline use with AllTrails Pro (I paid $60 for three years and it was worth it) and you can also save Google Maps for offline use. If you start Google Maps before losing service, it should keep going when you lose service.
Don’t skip the state parks
Everyone comes to Utah for the national parks and while the state parks aren’t as good as Florida’s, they’re still worth visiting! Some of them are so fun (others less so, but that’s everywhere) and make great stops on long drives.
Use caution when driving on dirt roads
Some dirt roads are great, some much less so. Some are washboardy, some are super rocky, some are super rutted, some have really deep sand.
Don’t drive down anything you don’t feel comfortable on, don’t be afraid to turn around, and just generally drive with caution on them, especially sandy and really rocky roads.
I would also avoid dirt roads if it’s rainy. They can get muddy and some have washes that can be impassable because they’ll flood and you either have to wait it out or turn around. Don’t drive through flooded washes, especially if you’re not familiar with the road.
Wear that sunscreen!
You can get pretty crispy in the desert sun and no one wants that for all kinds of reasons, so get sunscreen, wear it, reapply it frequently, and don’t get sun burned. That’s all.
Remember, elevation is higher here
Bryce Canyon is higher than the other national parks so keep that in mind when hiking there. No shame in taking breaks and hiking slow. I’m the queen of breaks.
Also keep starting elevation in mind when choosing hikes. And distance vs elevation gain because 1,500 feet over four miles is better than 1,500 feet in 1.5 miles. And don’t be afraid to turn around if something is just too hard.
Things look close, but they’re not
Sure, Zion and Arches look close together but it’s a more than five hour drive between them. Of course you can visit both on one trip, but you can’t visit both on a three day Utah road trip.
I mean, I guess you could visit them all in one short trip but you’ll be spending a loooot of time in the car and I know I would rather spend that time hiking.
Basically be realistic about what you can see in the amount of time you have. I personally think it’s better to do a lot of things close together than do one thing then drive a ton to do one other thing, in a short amount of time at least.
If there is anywhere specific you want to stay, book ahead
Whether it’s camping in one of the national parks, a lodge in a national park, or a fancy/unique hotel, you may want to (or even have to) book in advance because of how popular they are.
If you can’t get a spot in a national park, there are usually plenty of BLM camping options outside of the parks but still pretty close to them. Even better, that’s free!
You can most likely find somewhere last minute, so if you’re not picky about where you’re staying, then you can probably find something. It might be expensive, it might be dumpy. But you can most likely find something.
This also goes for any specific activity you want to do that is really popular or busy, like Antelope Canyon. Or renting a boat on Lake Powell. Or getting a hiking/park entrance permit (more on that below.)
Have backup hikes and activities in mind
Kind of with the point from above, some hikes require permits that are not easy to get like The Wave and Angels Landing and you’ll want a back up plan/back up hike options in case you don’t get the permit.
Pretty much no matter where you are there will be plenty of alternatives to choose from, just check if permits are needed for any of the backups.
Don’t plan too much
The two points ahead, don’t plan too much. Leave room for last minutes changes and any issues that may arise. Traffic, flat tires, car problems all happen and you want a little wiggle room in case they do.
You may find a hike or activity along the way that you didn’t know about but end up wanting to do instead of something else.
I like to make a list of hikes I want to do and how long they are then figure out which ones are close together that we could do in one day if we have time/feel like it. Sometimes I go in knowing exactly what I want to do but sometimes that will change at the last minute for no reason.
So have a plan but maybe keep it a loose plan. You never know what you’ll find along the way!
Always tell someone where you’re going
Especially if it’s a long, remote hike that isn’t busy, if you’re alone, or driving somewhere really remote, too. I would just text someone at home and be like hey, we’re going hiking on (whatever trail, or driving what ever road, here’s our route), if you don’t hear from me by 10PM maybe get some help. Text me first just in case I forgot to text you.
Something like that. You just want someone to know where you are in case something goes wrong. Even if they’re far away they can at least get the ball rolling if needed. You don’t want to be like Aron Ralston.
It can be extremely busy
Like, so busy. I won’t even go to Zion or Arches in the summer, not just because it’s so hit but because it’s packed all the time. I actually won’t go to Zion during it’s shuttle season.
The best way to avoid the crowds is going early in the morning and late afternoon, or doing things outside of the parks. Like visiting state parks or doing other hikes not in parks.
It’s best to go into things expecting them to be busy so you can be pleasantly surprised if they’re not.
There are snakes and mountain lions
And scorpions and tarantulas. But you probably won’t see them. After almost six years out there, I really didn’t see that much scary wildlife. Here is what I saw in all that time that could be considered scary:
- Bear: 1 – on the side of the Interstate near Cisco. Yes, there are bears in southern Utah.
- Rattlesnake: 4 – I saw two on one hike then two more near the dorms in Bullfrog, all within three weeks. Sometimes we would see snakes on the road then go back and look at them. I like seeing them. (If you do see a rattlesnake while hiking, give it room. Don’t try and go over it, don’t try and scare it away. Just wait for it to move and go around it if you can.)
- Scorpion: NOT ONE SINGLE SCORPION AND I’M STILL MAD
- Tarantula: 4? – I haven’t seen too many but all of them were just on the side of the road and all in the fall
- Mountain lion: 0 – But they’re rare and you’re lucky to see one. Well, maybe not if you’re hiking but from the car or something.
Utah national parks travel tips
Now for the tips for visiting Utah national parks. There aren’t as many of these as above but I still think they’re helpful. These are just kind of general and couple be applied to a lot of parks but the specific info for each is all Utah.
Get a national park pass
A national park pass is a must-have for any national park road trip, but especially in Utah and the southwest because there are so many to go to.
It’s $80 but will be paid for in three big parks! Most are $25-30 for a week entrance pass so if you’re going to three or more and want to save some money, the national park pass is very worth it. It also works for national monuments and other NPS sites.
Morning and evening are best
Before 10 AM and after 3 PM are when parks won’t be as busy. Most people get up, have a casual breakfast then head to the park so they get busy by 10.
So I would head there first thing in the morning and just have a long day. If there is a particular hike you want to do for sunset and that’s all, I would do something outside of the park then head in in the late afternoon.
How busy just depends on the park and Arches is actually now requiring a permit for timed entry to the park from April 3 – October 3. Some are reserved in advance and others are reserved for the day before. This is needed and to help cut down on crowds.
Check shuttle schedules
This is mostly for Zion, though Bryce Canyon has a shuttle, too. It’s mostly to double check the shuttle start and end times to make sure you know when you can start your day and when you would need to be done hiking to not have to walk all the way back to your car.
And the shuttle in Zion doesn’t run all year, but most of it. It runs mid-March to November and the last week of December plus weekends in starting in late February.
Make sure you don’t need permits for any hikes you want to do
There are a few hikes that you need a permit for that are popular, the main being Angels Landing. This is new for 2022 as well as the Arches entry permits.
For The Subway, you either need canyoneering skills to do this top-down or to be very fit to do the very strenuous nine-mile hiking route bottom-up.
Choose less popular hikes to avoid crowds
There are certain hikes in all of the parks that are just more popular but you can easily avoid those crowds by choosing to do other awesome hikes in the parks! Here are some popular hikes and some alternatives:
- Arches – Delicate Arch – Fiery Furnace, Tower Arch, Devils Garden
- Canyonlands – Mesa Arch – White Rim Overlook, Murphy Point, Upheaval Dome
- Capitol Reef – Hickman Bridge – Cohab Canyon, Sulphur Creek, Capitol Gorge/Pioneer Register and the Tanks
- Bryce Canyon – Queens Garden/Navajo Loop – Peek-a-boo Loop, Mossy Cave
- Zion – The Narrows and Angels Landing – Watchman Trail, Canyon Overlook, Hidden Canyon (currently closed), Sand Bench Trail
Visit the different areas of each park
Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion all actually have three different areas to explore! Bryce and Arches have backcountry areas and hike on side roads, but it’s mostly the main area to visit.
All three of those parks have different areas that are basically different levels of remoteness. Only Zion’s are all really easy to get to and hike.
Canyonlands has Island in the Sky (the easiest to access and most popular area), The Needles (great for backpacking, a little more remote), and The Maze (great for backpacking and long hikes, extremely remote). I’ve been to all three but would love to explore them all more.
Capitol Reef has the Fruita District (the easiest to get to and most popular), the Waterpocket Fold (more remote but any car can get there, less hiking, but Burr Trail goes through it), and Cathedral Valley (the most remote, good for an overnight trip, less hiking).
The only one I haven’t been to is Cathedral Valley and I want to so bad but i love both of the other areas a lot and lived close to the Waterpocket Fold so I spent a lot of time there or going through it.
Finally, Zion. It has the main Zion Canyon/Mount Carmel area (the most popular, by far, tons of hiking), Kolob Terrace Road (easy to get to, home to The Subway, a little more remote), and Kolob Canyons (furthest from the main area but still easy to get to, only like three hikes). I’ve been to all three but have spent the most time in the main area. They’re all good though.
Don’t skip Capitol Reef
It has amazing hikes with incredible views, delicious snacks at the Gifford Store, a great water hike, and actual orchards you can pick fruit in! Plus three different areas to explore!
I think most people skip it on Utah road trips, I know I did on both of my first trips out here, but I loved it from my first visit to the Waterpocket Fold in spring of 2016.
Utah travel guides
- Fodors Utah National Parks
- Scenic Driving Utah
- Lonely Planet Southwest USA
- Frommers Utah
- Utah Road & Recreation Atlas
- 100 Classic Utah Hikes
- Hiking Southwest Canyon Country
There you have it! Hopefully helpful Utah travel tips! It’s not the most fun post I’ve written but I also enjoyed writing it because Utah haha. I hope you at least sort of enjoyed reading it I mean, hey, if you’re here you’re probably planning a trip and that’s always exciting!
Have you been to Utah? Where did you go? What is your top tip for anyone visiting? Is there anything you’re wondering that I missed here? Let me know in the comments!