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Utah parks for a "spring break" (mid-April)

At first I felt a bit odd in asking for travel suggestions about Utah on the Europe Through the Back Door Travel Forum (which I have keenly followed for the past 10 or more years) but then I had a "smack in the forehead" moment when I realized who else would I rather ask for travel advise than fellow Rick-nicks who all seem to enjoy many of the same travel adventures that I do. Now, I have used the Forum's fantastic "Search" tool and located a few topics containing recommendations, etc. but I decided to post again since new members may have joined, etc. with recommendations, etc. that would help me plan a trip.
I am anticipating 7 days/nights. We fly out of PHL so Las Vegas is a good arrival airport (not planning on spending anytime in LV and we have enjoyed the Grand Canyon on a previous trip) but SLC or DEN are options, too. As east-coasters we're quite taken by the beauty of the Southwest so I'd appreciate suggestions for moderate hikes, scenic drives, towns with either a bit of interesting attractions, and/or accommodations (a local B&B is great but a clean, convenient chain hotel will do). Places with good foo, too! TIA and safe travels to all!

Posted by
130 posts

We did something like this last Spring Break. Flew into Vegas and drove counter-clockwise for a week, over the Hoover Dam to Grand Canyon for two nights, Bryce Canyon for one night, Zions for two nights and the last night in Vegas. Stayed inside the GC at the Yavapai Lodge, and stayed just outside the other parks at a Best Western and the Bumblebee Inn, respectively. All three accommodations were great. We hit all the $$ options at the hotels at GC but they were just average. Nothing of note in Bryce, Springdale outside Zions had some good Mexican. Horseshoe Bend and an Antelope Slot Canyon tour should also be on the list for good 2-3 hour diversions.

Posted by
800 posts

Let me start by saying that the Utah parks are very popular during spring break. Be advised.

Vegas may be the least expensive flights, and the drive up from there to St George is more scenic than any route out of SLC. But with only a week, I'd fly into Denver, and then base out of Moab. The drive is really nice, huge mountains and moving from the green belt into the desert. It's the prettiest part of I70.

Moab gives you immediate access to Arches and Canyonlands parks, both of which takes a couple days to see. And if you add in another day to sidetrip to Monument valley you'll have used up your week. And if you go back by way of Telluride and Gunnison (plan on spending a night) you'd really see some country.

Posted by
847 posts

I've done two trips to that area, both included the Grand Canyon and other things but perhaps you can get some ideas from the trip reports I wrote.

https://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/water-in-the-desert-the-great-southwest-national-parks-trip-905110/
https://www.fodors.com/community/united-states/spring-break-in-the-desert-arizona-and-death-valley-1093700/
Photos - https://andiamo.zenfolio.com/f764149109

With ten days I'd do Zion and Bryce and the Valley of Fire. Valley of Fire is a state park and is on the way from Vegas to Zion. The first trip I didn't stop as I figured it was 'just' a state park and I was headed to National Parks so didn't think it would be worth while. IT WAS. Another highlight was Calf Creek Falls, a hike we did from our base at Bryce. The two National Parks were wonderful of course but those other two were also great and not on my radar as they don't get the hype that National Parks get. If you feel you have time for anything else I suggest Antelope Canyon (bit of a detour) which is just about the most amazing place I've ever been.

Posted by
1204 posts

Starting from Vegas and heading northeast you have a succession of parks possible. You could do a loop driving to Bryce, Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument, through Monument Valley, and to Moab visiting nearby Canyonlands and/or Arches, and then bomb your way back to Vegas on 70 and 15 (or fly out of Grand Junction and make it a one way drive).

You could google "scenic drives in X place". Here's one result I got for Bryce:

https://utah.com/scenic-drive/bryce-canyon-national-park

While the Telluride and Gunni area and the drive between them is also wonderful, if you want that open-space, red-rock, southwestern-sky gobsmacked experience, I would go for the the area between Vegas and Moab, choosing which of the suggestion appeals

Posted by
15060 posts

Zion, Bryce and Arches are my top 3 in Utah, but Arches is probably too far for a 7-day trip. It's a 2.5-3 hour drive from Vegas to Zion NP. You go through a corner of Arizona - speed trap!! but it's so scenic it's dumb to race through it. Stay in Springdale. There are shuttle buses to the entrance to the park, where you'll then get shuttle buses through the most popular/crowded area - or you can drive through to the eastern side of the park for very different scenery, fewer tourists and some nice hiking. I used to stay at Ruby's Inn a couple miles outside of Bryce NP, cheaper than staying in the park and basically as convenient. There are shuttle buses to all the outlooks on the loop drive and hiking down into the hoodoos. I don't know the road will be closed to private cars. Go through Grand Staircase Escalante, not well developed for visitors, but beautiful scenery and hikes, to Capitol Reef which has a hiking trail with petroglyphs. Or go to Page AZ and visit Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam.

Posted by
13713 posts

Let me start by saying that the Utah parks are very popular during
spring break. Be advised.

I'm thinking the same, and especially so for Zion. We love the Moab area so I'd go along with the suggestion for that one? April (although I expect the parks to be busy) would be a nice time to go as it won't be so stinkin' hot but no chance of snow either. There's a nice range of hiking both in the two National Parks and some local/state trails as well. We've spent an entire week there a couple of times and found PLENTY to keep us occupied.

We usually fly into Grand Junction (connection in Phoenix or Denver) and drive to Moab from there. Along with Arches and the Island in the Sky unit of Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point State Park is fun, scenic and on the way to IITS. Fisher Towers is a terrific hike (my favorite!!) and we've enjoyed Corona Arch and Hidden Valley local-area hikes as well. Just outside of Grand Junction is Colorado National Monument, and while it's a bit of a drive, we've hiked the Needles unit of Canyonlands as a day trip from Moab: my other favorite for killer scenery in that region.

The drive into Moab the back way from Grand Junction - 128 off 70 and along the river - is a more scenic route than 191 off 70. We've rented apartments for the longer stays, and there are plenty of restaurants in town for variety. Anyway, LOTS to do: give their excellent website a peek?

https://www.discovermoab.com

Posted by
6882 posts

With only 7 days, I don't think you can afford the drive time to/from Denver. Google says it's about 5.5 hours (354 miles) just to get to Moab - that's substantially longer than even from Salt Lake City, which is a really long drive (240 miles). I would be really selective about where to fly in and what you'd see in that short of a time period - it also depends how much you like to hike and immerse yourself in a park vs. just doing the overlook-drive-by. Seven days is really a short time and may be cut even further depending on how early you can get in from the East Coast, and how late you can leave. My only other advise is to consider the less famous and frequented parks - it's not all about the Big 5.

Posted by
800 posts

Agnes -

The OP asked for scenic drives. Nothing out of SLC south is scenic. (Maybe Park City, but if you're not skiing who cares?) So take an extra hour or two and drive thru the mountains of Colorado. Also, Denver is a better airport than SLC. Take it from someone who's actually flown into, and driven all over that part of the world.

I love my memories of Zion; back before they bused everyone around and it was full of tourists and kids. I'll never go back. Likewise Bryce, which is slowing going the same route. I don't take vacations to ride a bus and listen to kids, i take them to get away from crowds. Arches is excellent for this as you can actually hike to places with incredible scenery and be the only person on the trail. Maob does get crowded, but most of those are bike riders headed to slickrock.

One thing I'll add, Get up early and get on the trail when it's dark. There's nothing like the colors in the morning. Also take a siesta, and get back out to enjoy the sundown and the night sky away from town. If there's any kind of a moon you'll get an incredible vista.

Posted by
6882 posts

Here's a list of Scenic Byways. Nebo Loop in the Wasatch Mountains is south of SLC - it's very pretty but forested with Mount Nebo in the background (no rock formations). There are many beautiful roads north of SLC too. I remember pretty much everywhere was quite scenic except for I-15 south to Provo (I started in SLC and drove all the way to Moab).
https://www.visitutah.com/things-to-do/road-trips/scenic-byways/

The Provo Canyon Scenic Byway is a good way to include a stop-over in Sundance, which is also a lovely little offshoot.

Antelope Island State Park (close to SLC) was one of my all-time favorites - it's very unusual with the roaming bison. Great place for photography.
https://utah.com/antelope-island-state-park

As far as the Big 5 go, Capitol Reef was a really pleasant surprise. Very underrated compared to the others. The town of Torrey close to the park was really pretty too. I enjoyed staying there.

Posted by
800 posts

I'll apologize for preferring the road thru the Rockies, with red rock canyons, green trees, and a river along the road to sagebrush covered high desert between some smaller mountain off in the distance.

If you like the Wasatch I'd suggest the best are east of SLC, not south. Plus if you take hwy 40 you can go fossil hunting...

Posted by
252 posts

Wow!
10 replies before noon. You guys are the greatest. Thanks to everyone for sharing their recommendations.

Posted by
2362 posts

Craig, I visited these national parks in and very near southern Utah a few years ago, as an add-on to a conference in Salt Lake City. They were each wonderful, and each so different in appearance and in experience. I was there in early July, that being the week with the latest sunsets and most sunlight hours of the year. With limited time, I stayed my 4 nights at the excellent, rustic and affordable Arrowhead B & B in Mt. Carmel, Utah, about a 4 hour drive from Salt Lake City. The B & B had both rooms and cabins, and was famous for its wonderful home-made breakfasts. Check it out. The inn was right in the center of Zion (which was toward the west), Bryce Canyon (to the north), and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (to the south, across the state border in Arizona). The topography of each park was very different, with diverse hiking opportunities, wonderful photography, etc. I remember that the best lighting at Bryce was in the late afternoon, so in the morning I drove past up to Boulder, Utah, with a Native American museum as I remember, and came back to Bryce in the afternoon. Experiencing the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was totally different from the South Rim. The South Rim is totally over-developed with tourism, really diminishing the experience in my opinion. The North Rim, at least a few years ago, was just the opposite, with a Lodge, a small convenience store, and a gas station, plus short hiking trails and the opportunity for longer hikes in to the canyon. Much less developed and infinitely more enjoyable.

Posted by
13713 posts

and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (to the south, across the state
border in Arizona).

Except that the North Rim is closed for winter until mid-May so a no-go for that one.
https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/index.htm

Arches is excellent for this as you can actually hike to places with
incredible scenery and be the only person on the trail.

My guess is that Arches is going to be plenty busy over Spring Break. It is true that you can find trails less traveled there, and not all of those are really as 'difficult' as the website ranks them if you are reasonably fit and take your time (we have done all on the chart linked). I would get into the park early in the AM, though.

https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/hiking.htm

Posted by
1787 posts

Cedar Breaks National Monument outside of Cedar City, Utah, is a worthy stop. There's a nice hike out along the ridgeline that opens up some great views. And there are many scenic drives in the area as well. Cedar City is a nice little town to stay in - lots of B&Bs there because of the outstanding Shakespeare Festival in the summer. Centro Pizzeria is our fave.

Posted by
1016 posts

Our one Spring Break trip to Utah was nothing but wind and rain. 1st week in April - Moab, Arches, Canyonlands. Our one spring break to the Grand Canyon - cold and rainy. Maybe mid- April will be better. We had gotten advice from a fellow mountain biker not to go until May and he was correct.

Posted by
10344 posts

Is the possible detrimental effects of the Shutdown being ignored? It's been widely discussed in the media (and probably not by the fake news media): the possible long term effects of the shutdown on the national parks, especially for a trip less than 3 months away?

Media reports are saying some of the national parks may be damaged in ways that will not be just temporary, by the shutdown. I don't know any details about how a shutdown can permanently ruin a national park, not the scenery obviously, but some of the facilities, plants, etc. may be damaged, I guess, by being unattended so long.

Posted by
13713 posts

Kent, April is several months from now, and I wouldn't freak out about severe, widespread damage to services at this point. Yes, reports from some of the parks, like Joshua Tree, are concerning but there are hands who are pitching in at some of the parks as well. There's no way I would postpone or cancel a spring trip because of what you might read in media articles.

We belong to the National Parks Conservation Assc. so keep an thumb on some of our more beautiful places. :O)

Posted by
809 posts

Kent, it’s not the shutdown that ruins a national park but the possible vandalism by visitors when there are no rangers to keep an eye on things. Sigh. But I hope that by April the shutdown will be over and any damage restored by rangers and park volunteers.

Have a wonderful trip, Craig!