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Utah (or other southwest destination) in March--Itinerary help

We are thinking of taking a southwest vacation in March, and are wanting to see some of the beauty of the south part of Utah (not Bryce or Zion as we were there not too long ago) but also would like to be in some forested areas. We would consider another state with a lot of natural beauty as well.
It is very easy for us to fly into Salt Lake City, but are wondering if that makes sense.
How long is the drive from SLC to places of interest? What is there to see on the way from SLC to Arches or Canyonlands or other places of interest, in terms of natural beauty? Can we stay near Moab but not be in big crowds of people? Any places to stay that are pretty and a but separate from the crowds?

Thanks for any help in planning this trip.

Posted by
5184 posts

Look on the Utah tourism website. It's really excellent. Utah does an incredible job marketing itself.
https://www.visitutah.com/
It's a very long drive to Arches from Salt Lake City. There are places of interest throughout the whole state (not just the big five well-known parks), it just depends what you're interested in. I think most of the crowds will be in the ski resorts in March.

Posted by
2577 posts

I would suggest you look at the Utah website as well as the National Park website (nps.gov) to look for places of interest. Then use google or bing to determine the travel time between sites.

Posted by
10575 posts

It is not really “forested” in Arches or Canyonlands; those parks are all about the rock formations. Well worth a visit. Moab is about 230 miles from the Salt Lake City Airport, on good but not particularly scenic roads most of the way. If you would like a lovely and peaceful place to stay, near but not in Moab, I recommend this place:

https://redcliffslodge.com

We spent three nights there in October and loved it.

Posted by
112 posts

What areas are forested, or at least have some greenery in the open spaces, that we could do as part of the trip?

Posted by
5184 posts

There are plenty of forested areas, just not in the southern part of the state where the large parks are (and even there you will see trees too, but you'll also experience the incredible desert landscape that the Southwest is known for). I've been to many parks north and west of Salt Lake City and they were all lovely and alpine. Also Route 12 near Escalante/ Grand Staircase/ Boulder (east of Bryce) is very lovely and forested, and a sheer pleasure to drive.

If you're interested mainly in forests, I would suggest Colorado or northern New Mexico instead. The Southwest really shines with the rock formations.

Posted by
6258 posts

I'd also suggest the Trip Advisor Utah site. The Destination Experts on most of the locations in UT are excellent.

https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g28965-i411-Utah.html

To me, there's not much between SLC and Moab. A couple of years ago I did some scenic byways on that route that were interesting but not enough to go out of the way for, if that makes sense. We were also headed home after a 2 week road trip and really we just wanted to get back to N. Idaho!!

Moab is always busy but March should be a good time. I don't find the crowds too bad in Moab - last time I was there was a couple of years ago in July (don't even ask why I was there at such a HOT time). YMMV. The other things I've enjoyed in UT (in addition to Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point SP and besides Zion and Bryce) are Capitol Reef NP and Natural Bridge NM. There is also Monument Valley (stay overnight and do a 1/2 day tour) which is on the Navajo Reservation plus Page AZ which is near the AZ/UT line. Many go to Antelope Canyon there - haven't been in over 20 years to this area and things have changed a LOT as far as visitors. A number of years ago I did a lot of exploring and hiking east of Bryce and SE of Escalante down toward Glen Canyon but my information is very out of date for this area. The area we hiked in for several days was not forested - very arid and rocky with lots of washes.

Have a great time!

editing to add: I would avoid Moab if there is some kind of festival or event!

Posted by
3585 posts

The drive from SLC to Moab via route 6 through Price is pretty scenic (after you leave the freeway at Spanish Fork) and direct. It involves a mountain pass (Soldier Summit) which might be a problem if you have snow (which is certainly possible in March). A lower elevation route, also mostly scenic, is farther south on I-15 and then east on I-70, but considerably longer.

Chances are it will be cold in Utah in March, and snow will be on the ground in higher elevations. The thing about forests in the Southwest is that they're up higher than the lower-level desert country. Some of the best forest scenery in Utah is between Torrey and Boulder, the edge of the Aquarius Plateau, where elevations approach 9,000 feet as I recall.

Moab should be fine in March as long as some big event isn't happening. So should Torrey near Capitol Reef. There's lots of great scenery and hiking in southern Utah but "forest" isn't the term most people would use to describe it. Lots of smaller trees, scrubland, desert, and amazing rock formations.

Posted by
9870 posts

As you probably know, the 6 or so national parks in southern and central/southeastern Utah are absolutely breath-taking and they are each different.

You'll want to carefully research the average weather for the areas you're considering, for March. There are several websites for this, they won't have forecasts for March but will have past averages for March for various locations in Utah, and that will be the best idea of average weather for long term planning purposes.

Starting 5 or 10 days before your trip date, you'll be able to get actual weather forecasts.

Note carefully that weather there is dependent on the elevation above sea level.

You will get all your answers re driving times by looking at one or more of the many websites giving that kind of info.

Posted by
1238 posts

To me, a former western Coloradoan, a trip flying into Grand Junction, Colorado, and visiting Moab and then the San Juan mountains of Colorado (Telluride and so forth) makes good sense for what you're looking for. However, going to a forested area in March means cold weather and driving in snowy/icy conditions. Driving over Soldier Summit between Salt Lake City and Moab could mean the same. This may not be so much fun.

Posted by
12250 posts

I'm thinking the same thing as Janet, except for flying into Denver instead (just because there are more flights). My last visit to the area was November 2005, sadly too long ago.

From Colorado National Monument I took I-70 but at some point, at the recommendation of local, I detoured onto a scenic byway to Moab that ran along the Colorado River, with stunning scenery all the way on an early morning drive. From there, Canyonlands, maybe as far as Capitol Reef if you have a long enough trip, then the Four Corners area, maybe even Monument Valley, for sure Mesa Verde, then Durango and the San Juan Skyway loop, stop in Great Sand Dune, maybe Pike's Peak and and Garden of the Gods on the way back to Denver.

Posted by
112 posts

Thanks so much for all these suggestions. It seems I have a lot of research to do but now have good leads. I had not thought of Denver at all but now will check the driving distances from there.
We would like to avoid driving in icy snowy conditions because we are not used to it at all, although it would be lovely to see some snow.

Posted by
10575 posts

If you want forests and beautiful scenery, without driving in snow, Utah may not be the place in March. The elevations high enough to support forest trees will have lots of snow then ( or should have), and will be full of skiers enjoying that wonderful Utah snow.

Have you thought of the Oregon coast and/or California redwoods? It can be rainy in March, but also can be lovely.

Posted by
112 posts

Thanks for the suggestions. We have lived in both Oregon and California and were looking for something not so familiar to us. We are thinking of Arizona (we went the last two years to Tucson), New Mexico, or Utah. Scrubland is fine for us, it doesn't have to be forested. Just want to avoid big crowds (we imagine there might be big crowds in Moab and would want to stay outside the town) and avoid icy, snowy roads. And see lots of southwest scenery. Colorado seems like it would have ice and snow in March.
Any other ideas?

Posted by
12250 posts

Moab's elevation is only 4000' - probably not more than a dusting of snow which would make the scenery even more dramatic. The San Juan Skyway may be more of an issue, the road goes up to about 9000' as I recall.

Posted by
195 posts

most of the crowds will be in the ski resorts in March.

We visited Utah one March and found Moab full of bicyclists and adventure travelers (badkpackers, climbers, etc.). However, that had no impact whatsoever on our ability to enjoy the national parks and scenery in the surrounding areas. Driving there from Salt Lake City, we ran into a sandstorm, which was 10 times worse than any blizzard I have experienced. That was quite an adventure, but by doing our best to stay on our side of the road and not stopping (which would have been quite dangerous, we thought), we survived and had a great travel story to tell.

We were told that sandstorms are fairly common on that road in spring and fall.

I would definitely go back again as the rock formations, canyons and cliffs were totally spectacular and unique.

Posted by
112 posts

Thanks for the heads up about possible sand storms. It definitely sounds like something to be aware of. I had thought there might be a lot of cyclists in Moab in late March; I don't know if some of the hiking trails have a lot of cyclists on them or not, so if anyone knows that would be of interest.

Posted by
3585 posts

I think the Moab cycling scene stays pretty much on the bike trails and not the hiking trails. I've never encountered a bike on a trail in Arches or Canyonlands, for instance. There's a network of bike trails up in the slickrock south and east of Moab, where a hiker would be crazy to go even if allowed.

Moab has become a big tourist town pretty much all year, at least spring through fall. No tranquillity there, but a good base for exploring the nearby parks. If you want a quieter location nearby, consider the Castle Valley Inn, on the road along the river northeast of Moab -- which another poster mentioned as an especially scenic route from westbound I-70. We stayed there many years ago but it looks good on the website (of course!) and the location is excellent.

Posted by
104 posts

Just a heads up, Moab is a major spring break destination for pretty much everyone in Utah and the end of March is right in the middle of spring breaks for both the universities and the local school districts, so you might want to think about reservations sooner rather than later. Most of the campgrounds also require reservations. Growing up, I spent many spring breaks in the area and Arches and Canyonlands are beautiful that time of year and the weather is still cool enough to enjoy being outside hiking and playing. You will need jackets in the evening. It's not uncommon for either park to get snow, but it's not super common either. There is a major jeep safari event where they climb the slick rocks with jeeps that takes place during one weekend in April every year. This year I think it is the weekend of the 14th. There will be a lot of people in and around Moab that weekend.

Posted by
10575 posts

Yes Moab itself will be crowded even in March, but if younstay at the Castle Valley Inn mentioned above, or the Red Cliffs Lodge I mentioned ( they are both in the same area north and east of town) you will be out of the crowds. Red Cliffs has a good on-site restaurant so you do not even need to go into Moab at all.

There are numerous hiking trails that do not allow cyclists. The one up Grandstaff Canyon is a great hike, but in March it could be difficult to ford the stream, and the trail crosses it several times.

And of course all the hiking trails in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks are closed to bikes. If you want to do the ranger-guided Fiery Furnace hike, be sure to sign up in advance as they do sell out.

https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/fiery-furnace.htm

Posted by
112 posts

Thank you all for all these great ideas. Southeastern Utah around Moab is one place we are considering, but also east of Phoenix in the Superstition Mountains area, basing ourselves in Mesa or Apache Junction or better yet further into the mountains. There would be a lot of hiking it seems, and also places like the Desert Museum Botanical Garden not to far away.
If anyone know this area it would be great to hear about hiking, places to stay with trails outside the door, etc. while we decide.

Posted by
2572 posts

I have cousins in SW Idaho and they say don't try to visit us until Summer. What about snow in March in Utah?

Posted by
982 posts

Bill's canyon near Moab was officially renamed Grandstaff Canyon in 2017

Posted by
381 posts

The drive from Denver, to Grand Junction, to Moab, to Flagstaff is one of my favorites. But you may hit snow in March, even though this has been a fairly warm year so far. Allow me to suggest something completely different.

Fly into Reno, NV. then drive down thru Carson City and take highway 395 down to Lone Pine. That way you can drive down the east side of the Sierras with mountains on one side and desert on the other. It's one of the most spectacular drives in the country, with picture postcard scenery the whole way. From Lone Pine you can cut over and tour Death Valley (and March is the ideal time for that because they are going to have piles of flowers in the desert this year with the rain they are getting.) then you can fly out of Las Vegas home. That would be a fantastic trip.

Posted by
12250 posts

What a great idea! Stop to enjoy Mono Lake (moh-noh) and take a detour on a washboard dirt road to see the ghost town of Bodie.

Posted by
112 posts

The drive sounds wonderful from Reno, ending up in Las Vegas, but won't snow and ice be a real possibility there? I am not familiar with that area in March.

Posted by
381 posts

It's not very likely you would hit snow unless you detoured to Lake Tahoe, or Mammoth/June Lake. You'll see it; the mountains will be covered, and it may get down to the road around Bishop/Tom's Place, but that's a major road and it's kept open year round. No chains required unless something unusual happens. The road to Yosemite thru Touleme Meadows will probably still be closed, but the road to Whitney Portals will be open. (I advise taking time to visit this place, you've seen it in Ansel Adams Pictures.)

If you hike there are several places you should take time to visit. Whitney portals, Glass Mountain (a huge obsidian monolith), the hot springs out of Lone Pine, Mono Lake, etc. You can easy drive from Reno to L.A. in a day, but if you take the time to stop along the way you could spend weeks. (I've got weeks in Death Valley alone.)

P.S. I have seen it snow in July in Lone Pine, but that was a freak of nature almost 40 years ago.