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Magnificent National Parks
Home > Utah Travel Planner > Magnificent National Parks

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National Parks and Monuments Loop of Southern Utah

The State of Utah is home to 5 National Parks, 7 National Monuments, 6 National Forests, 2 National Recreation Areas, and one National Historic Site!!

The following will detail just the Parks and Monuments in the southern part of Utah.  Numerous BBIU Member bed and breakfast inns are located in these scenic places.

Southern Utah is known worldwide for its 5 magnificent National Parks - more than any other state.  Walk under delicate sandstone arches and natural stone bridges that have withstood the elements of nature for thousands of years... Hike into canyons so deep that you cannot see the floor from viewpoints above... Drive along the pathways of the Ancients and see the remains of their occupation... It's all here in Southern Utah.

The National Parks which call the region home include Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches, but we also claim the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park because the best way to access it is through Utah.  National Monuments of note are Cedar Breaks, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Natural Bridges, and Monument Valley and Navajo Tribal Park.  Each National Park and Monument offers distinctly different scenery and contains a wealth of unsurpassed recreational opportunities.
The geographical proximately of these national treasures to each other makes it easy to visit all parks during a single trip. You can outline your trip according to what you want to see and do while traveling through Utah. It is best to allow at least two weeks so you can spend time in each park.

To begin a loop of Southern Utah, if traveling along I-15, a stop in a BBIU Cedar City Member Inn will provide access to one of Utah's most spectacular sites - Cedar Breaks National Monument.  Cedar Breaks resembles a miniature Bryce Canyon - some say it is what Bryce looked like millions of years ago. The Indians called Cedar Breaks the "Circle of Painted Cliffs." Millions of years of uplift and erosion have carved this huge amphitheater which rises 2000 feet from the floor to its elevation of 10,000 feet.  Deep inside are stone spires, columns, arches, pinnacles, and intricate canyons in varying shades of red, yellow and purple - some more brilliant than those in Bryce Canyon.  The bristlecone pine, one of the world's oldest trees, grows in the area and can be found along the Spectra Point Trail. The adjoining Dixie National forest's alpine meadows are clustered with ponderosa pines and quaking aspens, and summer wildflowers abound.
Two mile/3.2 kilometer trails, the Alpine Pond trail and the Spectra Point Trail, are accessible from the road. The trails are easy walks but can be strenuous for the elderly, persons with respiratory problems and those who are not in good physical condition because of the park's high elevation (10,000 feet/3048 meters). The monument is a premier cross-country skiing and snowmobiling destination in the winter with access from Brian Head Resort.Cedar Breaks is 23 miles east of Cedar City and three miles south of Brian Head Resort. Services and roads are usually closed for the winter, due to heavy snow.  However, just because Highway 148, the road that links Cedar Breaks to Brian Head, closes temporarily, doesn't mean Cedar Breaks National Monument is closed. The Winter Warming Yurt at Cedar Breaks serves as a winter ranger station, education center and welcomes winter recreation visitors.


To continue the loop, travel south of Cedar City to St. George, and the gateway to Zion National Park

Nearby cities with BBIU Member inns include Springdale, Rockville, St. George, Cedar City, and a bit farther away, Panguitch and Tropic.

Zion National Park is located just south of Cedar City and east of St. George, both on I-15.

One of the best ways to plan your trip to Zion National Park is to stop at the park visitor center to view exhibits and talk to rangers to get a better feel for what you can do within the time you have.
If you have less than three hours to spend within the park, be sure to take the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The 6.6-mile drive is only accessible by shuttle bus, no private vehicles are allowed. Hop aboard the free shuttle to see some of the most beautiful sights in the park in a limited amount of time. The drive takes about 90 minutes round-trip to complete which even includes a few stops along the way.
Be sure to get off the shuttle at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop. You can reach Weeping Rock via an easy 0.5-mile paved walk. The waters that give Weeping Rock its name fell more than 1,000 years before on the high plateau above. Today, water bubbles through sandstone, hits shale and seeps through the surface of the rock making it look as though the rock is weeping.
Another spot to get off the shuttle is at the Court of the Patriarchs. A short, but steep trail leads to excellent views of Sentinel and the Three Patriarchs. Allow at least 30 minutes to complete the hike.
Parking at the visitor center is limited and usually fills up early in the day. To avoid parking hassles, leave your vehicle in nearby Springdale and ride the free town shuttle to the park. For shuttle schedules visit the park Web site.
If you have more than three hours to spend at Zion, still consider taking the scenic drive to get an overview of the park. Most scenic day hikes within the park can only be accessed via the shuttle.
More time allows you to stroll along the Emerald Pools Trail where you often will find at least one waterfall. The 1.2-mile trail climbs about 200 feet. Be sure to stay on the trail and be aware of surrounding steep cliffs. The trailhead is located at the Zion Lodge shuttle stop.
For a more shaded stroll, take the beautiful Riverside Walk. The trail meanders through forested areas and follows the Virgin River into a high-walled canyon. The easy, 2-mile trail takes about 1.5 hours to complete roundtrip and climbs about 57 feet.  The walk is located at the Temple of Sinawava shuttle stop.
The Angels Landing Trail is a steep trek that climbs Walter's Wiggles past Scout Lookout.  During the trip, you will experience spectacular views of Zion Canyon.  The strenuous trail climbs 1,488 feet in about 5 miles. This hike will take about four hours roundtrip to complete and is not for people who fear heights. Hop off at The Grotto shuttle stop to access the trailhead.
After enjoying a few hikes and taking several dozen photographs, consider a stay at one of BBIU's Member bed and breakfast Inns in either Springdale or Rockville, right at the entrance to the park. 

After a good night's rest travel north on Utah 9 past the eastern boundary of Zion National Park.  The 10-mile Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway connects the east and south entrances of the park. The steep drive takes you up switchbacks through a mile-long tunnel. This is the main route to access Bryce Canyon and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Follow the highway to the junction with US 89 and head north toward Bryce Canyon National Park or south the North Rim. 

To explore Bryce Canyon, stay in one of the nearby cities with BBIU Member bed and breakfast inns  - Panguitch or Tropic 

The park is located 24 miles southeast of Panguitch on Utah 63, east of the junction of Utah 12 and US 89. As an alternative place from which to explore Bryce Canyon, consider the town of Tropic which lays along the northern shoulder of the Canyon on Scenic Highway 12.
Whether you need a place to rest for the night or a place to purchase camping gear, you will find everything you need in the friendly town of Panguitch. The town is located off US 89 in the valley between the Markagunt and Paunsaugunt plateaus and serves as a great base camp to explore Bryce Canyon National Park.
Visiting Bryce Canyon requires waking up early because watching the sunrise over Bryce Amphitheater from Bryce Point is nothing short of a spiritual experience. As day breaks, light flutters onto the rock spires, sculpted pinnacles, fluted walls and hoodoos. As sunshine illuminates the reds, yellows, oranges, pinks and tan colors that give the canyon its character you will forget what the alarm clock said when it rang you awake.
One of the best ways to enjoy Bryce Canyon is by traveling along the 18-mile main park road. The drive passes by some of the most famous viewpoints including Sunrise, Sunset, Rainbow, Yovimpa and Inspiration points. During the drive you can stop as often as you want to stretch your legs on more than 50 miles of easy to strenuous trails or just to simply enjoy taking a photo at the numerous viewpoints scattered along the road.
Bryce Canyon is famous for its hoodoos - intricately carved rock spires left standing by erosion.  Many of the day hikes within the park provide an up-close look at the beautiful and often bizarre rock formations. Backcountry hikers can travel to little known forests and meadows that lie within the park boundaries. Although backcountry trails provide great views of distant cliffs, the trails contain fewer hoodoos.

Just outside of the park, the town of Tropic lays along the northern shoulder of the Canyon on Scenic Highway #12. 

From Bryce Canyon, Scenic Highway #12 connects to Capitol Reef National Park in the south central part of Utah.

Along Highway #12,if you want to experience true remoteness, visit Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument located east of Bryce Canyon along Utah 12.  Sections of the monument have not been visited for hundreds of years and the area was the last place to be mapped in the Lower 48. 

Plan a stay in a BBIU Member Inn in the town of Escalante to learn more about the 1.7-million acre area, which contains a variety of features including world-class paleontological sites. 
The monument is divided into three sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau and the canyons of the Escalante. The remoteness of the land is easily apparent as most of the area lacks roads. 
Fine lodging, dining and shopping facilities are available in Escalante before you set off to explore some of the most untamed wilderness in the West.

Numerous Utah State Parks and view points are also located along this route on your way to Capitol Reef National Park.  In the area where Highway #12 and Utah 24 meet, find several more BBIU Member bed and breakfast inns.  Teasdale and Torrey are great locations to use as a base for exploration of Capitol Reef National Park. Follow Utah 24 along the Fremont River and then turn onto the Scenic Drive to be guided through the center of the park.
The 241,904-acre Capitol Reef National Park is famous for the Waterpocket Fold -- parallel ridges that rise for hundreds of miles from the desert like the swell of huge waves headed toward shore. The edges of the Fold have eroded into a gigantic dome, cliffs and twisting canyons. The Waterpocket Fold is one of the largest and most exposed monoclines in North America.
Capitol Reef National Park is so remote that the nearest traffic light is 78 miles away, but this doesn't stop more than 750,000 visitors from enjoying the park throughout the year.
Drive east on Utah 24 as you enter Capitol Reef National Park from the west. Soon you will see the eroded west face of the Waterpocket Fold. The highway follows the course made by the Fremont River.
Be sure to take the unpaved side road to Goosenecks Overlook. An easy 0.1-mile trail leaving from the parking lot area follows along Sulphur Creek. Another short walk will take you to Sunset Point for a great view of the Capitol Reef section of the Waterpocket Fold.
If you want to take a longer hike, turn at the Chimney Rock turnoff to hike the 3.5-mile Chimney Rock Loop Trail or the more strenuous 9-mile Spring Canyon route. The longer hike follows a deep gorge and ends with a ford at the Fremont River to rejoin with the highway. If planning to ford the river, be sure to check flow levels and trail conditions before hitting the trail.
Back on the scenic drive, make a stop at the park visitor center at Fruita. The center is located on the edge of remnants of a Mormon community settled in the 1880s.  Activities include a slide show of scenes within the park and the opportunity to gaze through a picture window to view the surrounding red sandstones cliffs.
1 1/2 miles east of the Visitor Center on Utah 24, a visitor will find the "Petroglyph Pullout". Petroglyphs and pictographs are the so-called "rock art" of prehistoric peoples.  From the parking area, a short path leads along Sandstone cliffs. Visible from this viewpoint are some of the most interesting petroglyph panels at Capitol Reef.

South of Capitol Reef National Park and east of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument lies Glen Canyon National Recreation Area which offers opportunities for boating, fishing, swimming, backcountry hiking and four-wheel drive trips. The most famous feature of the Glen Canyon NRA is Lake Powell. The recreation area stretches from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of Southern Utah.

Traveling further east along Utah 24, then south on Utah 95, stop at Natural Bridges National Monument to view some of the best examples of ancient stone architecture in the Southwest. The monument, established in 1908, is the oldest National Park Service site in Utah. Three natural bridges formed by streams eroding the canyon walls are the highlight of the monument.
The best way to explore the area is to stop at the visitor center and then follow a scenic drive that makes stops at each of the natural bridges. Several short hikes allow you to get closer to the arches to explore the formations.

To the south of Natural Bridges National Monument along Utah 261, you will find The Valley of the Gods. Further south, on the Utah/Arizona border, the magnificent Monument Valley rises boldly out of the empty red landscape. Isolated red mesas and buttes stand out against the gigantic sky and sandy desert forming the images almost everyone thinks of when the words Great American West are spoken.
Most of the area can be easily appreciated from the highway, but for hidden views of the landscape behind the surrounding cliffs visit the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park located off US 163 just over the Arizona boundary. To really appreciate the park, take the 17-mile dirt road that curves southeast for views of towering cliffs and mesas.
The area contains ancient cliff dwellings, natural arches and petroglyphs. A four-wheel drive vehicle is recommended because the road is very primitive and uneven. Navajo guides and Jeep rental businesses are available for people who do not want to take their vehicles on the road.

Continue traveling north along Highway 191 toward Moab, and turn west on Utah 211 to reach The Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.  From US 191, it is approximately 35 miles to the entrance to the park.  Enjoy the short hikes to the Cave Spring Cowboy Camp and the Cave Spring Trail, Pothole Point Trail, and Roadside Ruin Trail.  The "Needles" can be seen from the paved road.
The park is divided into three sections - Island in the Sky, The Needles and The Maze. Each section features a different type of landscape and offers a variety of four-wheel drive roads and hiking trails. Traveling between the sections is difficult and requires large amounts of time, so visitors usually choose just one or two sections to explore.
The heart of the park is at the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers which over millions of years carved the area's flat sandstone layers into simply amazing formations. The park features countless rock formations including arches, spires, buttes and canyons.
Canyonlands is not as deep or dramatic as the Grand Canyon, but is less crowded and contains a greater variety of geological formations that are more accessible if you own a four-wheel drive vehicle.  Although some paved roads exist, a majority of the park contains extremely rough roads.

BBIU Member Inns in Moab and Castle Valley allow easy access to Canyonlands.

Return to US 191 and head north to Moab - the "adventure capitol" of Utah.  
Just five miles north of Moab on US 191, you will find one of the true gems in the nation.  At Arches National Park you can view the world's largest concentration of natural stone arches.  More than 2,000 arches have been discovered in the park. Utah's famous icon - Delicate Arch - is within the park boundary and is accessible thanks to a 45-minute hike.
The park, which was carved by eons of erosion and weather, is located high above the Colorado River and is part of Southern Utah's canyon country.  Most of the arches, fins, spires, balanced rocks, slickrock domes and pinnacles are made of soft red sandstone deposited over millions of years in the desert.
One of the best ways to experience the park is by driving along the 18-mile, one-way Arches Scenic Drive. It is recommended that you allow at least half of a day for the drive, which climbs from the floor of Moab Canyon to Devils Garden through the center of the park. Secondary roads lead to The Windows Section, Wolf Ranch and the Delicate Arch area.
The drive is dotted with scenic pull-offs to view the parks' major features in a leisurely way. After leaving the visitor center the road winds up the canyon wall. Stop at the Park Avenue Viewpoint and Trailhead for a panoramic view of the canyon flanked by sandstone formations that reach effortlessly towards the sky. You will find an easy 1-mile path to the Courthouse Towers parking area where informational signs describe formations and show the life cycle of an arch.
Drive along the road to the slickrock expanse called Petrified Dunes where you will see ancient dunes turned to stone and the La Sal Mountains in the distance. Continue driving until you reach the pull-off for Balanced Rock where a 0.4-mile trail wanders past a eroded rock spire that soars upward 128 feet. The road then passes the Garden of Eden - a cluster of pinnacles and monoliths - and ends in a parking area featuring several arches and a sandstone wall.  The 0.3-mile walk to the 105-foot-wide South Window also provides views of North Window and Turret Arch. Another 0.5-mile trail leads to a dramatic view of Double Arch.
Continue driving 1 mile farther to reach the Delicate Arch Viewpoint. If you are disappointed by the somewhat weak view of the arch and have two hours to spare, return to the Wolfe Ranch pullout to hike to the arch. The hike is spectacular, but will take a while as you climb 500 feet in and cross 1.5 miles across smooth slickrock. The trail abruptly ends with a spectacular view of the arch perched as if on a bowl so the distant mountains are framed perfectly.
The drive ends at the Devils Garden campground and trailhead. Hiking the 7.2-mile trail is a must because it takes you past seven major arches including Landscape Arch. The thin stone arch stretches 306 feet and seems to float above a steep dune. Landscape Arch is one of the world's longest freestanding arches. The trail continues to Double O Arch and a spire called Dark Angel.

After a  night's stay in Moab or Castle Valley, return to Highway 191 and travel north for 10 miles to UT 313 to the turnoff for the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park.  Then drive approximately 22 miles to the entrance to the park.

The mesa, 1000 feet above the surrounding area, can be explored via a scenic drive which provides spectacular views from numerous pullouts.  Utah's second most famous icon, The Mesa Arch, is found at the end of a short 0.5 mile nature trail.  Grandview Point, Upheaval Dome, and Whale Rock are other hikes not to miss.

Upon leaving Island in the Sky portion of Canyonlands National Park, return to US 191 and travel north to I-70.  From here, you may drive west along some spectacular pieces of Interstate highway back to where it intersects with I-15 north of where you started your loop.  Then it's off to other parts of Utah or elsewhere for more adventure.


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