Utah, the land of red rocks, deep canyons, and towering mountains, is a top destination for families in search of adventure. And what better way to explore the natural beauty of Utah than by visiting its vast national parks?
From Zion to Arches, Bryce Canyon to Canyonlands, each park offers a unique experience that will leave your kids with plenty of stories to tell. In this blog post, we will be discussing the best national parks in Utah for families.
Utah’s national parks are not just grand landscapes; they’re playgrounds filled with endless opportunities for fun and exploration. These parks offer a variety of activities for all ages, from hiking, camping, and wildlife spotting to photography, rock climbing, and stargazing. Whether you want to discover ancient rock formations or marvel at vibrant sunsets, these national parks provide unforgettable experiences.
What About Utah and Its National Parks?
Quick recap here – Utah’s history is as vibrant and diverse as its landscape, with humans settling in the region as far back as 10,000 B.C. Ancestral Puebloans, followed by the Fremont people, lived and thrived here, leaving behind a rich legacy of rock art and cliff dwellings.
Utah’s historical narrative is filled with intriguing chapters and characters. The state played an important role in the transcontinental railroad’s construction in the late 19th century, promoting westward expansion and fostering economic development. The discovery of precious metals like silver and gold in the mountains led to a mining boom, attracting prospectors and fortune-seekers from all over the country.
During the World War II era, Utah also hosted a significant military installation, Camp Kearny, which served as a training site for the U.S. Army. This rich tapestry of history has shaped Utah into the dynamic and diverse state it is today. It’s not just the majestic national parks that narrate Utah’s past, but every town, city, and landmark carries a piece of the state’s storied history.
As for the national parks, they protect this great state’s unique geological and cultural history, offering a window into Utah’s past. They are not just areas of outstanding natural beauty; they are living museums, safeguarding fossils, ancestral artifacts, and historical landmarks.
Utah’s national parks also play a pivotal role in local economies, attracting millions of tourists each year, which generates substantial revenue and creates countless jobs. Hence, the preservation of these parks is paramount, not just for their extraordinary beauty and history, but also for their profound socioeconomic value.
So without further ado, here is a list of the best national parks to visit in the great state of Utah.
National Parks to Visit in Utah
Zion National Park
Zion National Park, established in 1919, is Utah’s first national park and spans over 146,000 acres. It is named after the Hebrew word “Zion,” which means a place of peace and relaxation.
The park is home to a diverse range of plant and animal species – you can witness over 900 different plant species and approximately 289 species of birds, 75 mammals (including 20 species of bats), and 32 reptiles inhabit the park’s four life zones: desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest.
The park’s unique geography, which includes sandstone cliffs that are among the highest in the world, has been shaped by the Virgin River over millions of years. The river is an essential part of the park’s ecosystem, supporting a variety of wildlife and plant species.
The park also holds a rich human history, with archaeological evidence of human habitation dating back at least 8,000 years. Visitors to Zion can explore this history through the park’s museums, interpretive programs, and by visiting some of its historic buildings.
Fun Fact About Zion National Park: One remarkable feature of Zion National Park is the unique Kolob Arch, one of the world’s longest natural arches. Spanning an impressive 287.4 feet (87.6 meters), it’s a hidden gem tucked away in the park’s backcountry. This awe-inspiring natural structure makes a fantastic destination for those who don’t mind a bit of a hike, offering an unforgettable sight for those adventurous enough to seek it out.
How Long Does it Take to Hike? The hike to the Emerald Pools can take anywhere from 1-4 hours, while the iconic Angel’s Landing trail is a more strenuous 4 to 5-hour round-trip hike. The trail leading to the Observation Point is an 8-mile round-trip journey, usually taking around 4 to 6 hours to complete. Hiking to the Kolob Arch, on the other hand, is a more time-intensive endeavor and typically takes a full day.
Arches National Park
Arches National Park has a rich and varied history that extends far beyond its establishment as a national park in 1971. The first humans known to inhabit the area did so approximately 10,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age. These groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers left behind a wealth of petroglyphs and pictographs, providing us with a glimpse into their lives and cultures.
In the mid-1800s, the first European settlers arrived. Primarily ranchers, farmers, and miners, they left their mark on the region in the form of old ranch buildings, inscriptions, and even roads.
The park’s unique geologic features were largely unknown to the broader public until the 1920s and 1930s when an increase in automobile tourism led to greater exploration of the American West. In 1929, the area was designated a national monument to protect its significant geological formations, and it was rededicated as Arches National Park in 1971. Today, the park continues to intrigue and inspire visitors with its unique landscape and the enduring traces of the cultures that have shaped and been shaped by this extraordinary terrain.
Fun Fact About Arches National Park: One awe-inspiring fact about Arches National Park is that it is home to the largest freestanding natural arch in the world. Known as the Landscape Arch, it measures an impressive 306 feet from base to base. Despite its slender and delicate appearance, this particular arch has endured the harsh forces of wind and rain, demonstrating the enduring power of nature’s architectural capabilities.
How Long Does it Take to Hike? A short trail like the Landscape Arch can be hiked in approximately 30 to 60 minutes, while longer and more strenuous trails, like the Devils Garden Loop, may take around 4 to 5 hours.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon, located in southwestern Utah, is famous for its unique hoodoo rock formations that seem to be frozen in time. Families will enjoy hiking the park’s trails and taking in the breathtaking views of the hoodoos. The Navajo Loop Trail is a popular hike that takes visitors down into the canyon. Families can also take a horseback ride through the park or enjoy a scenic drive along the park’s main road.
Bryce Canyon National Park’s history can be traced back to the Native Americans who lived in the area around 1200 AD. The Paunsaugunt Plateau, where the park is located, was initially inhabited by the Anasazi and later the Fremont people. They left behind artifacts and pictographs, traces of their time in the area. The Paiute Indians arrived around 1200 AD and lived in the area when the first European American settlers arrived in the mid-19th century. Ebenezer Bryce, for whom the park is named, was one of the early settlers who moved into the area in 1875.
The unique geology of the park, full of its distinctive hoodoos, was not widely known until the promotion of National Parks in the early 20th century. Bryce Canyon was designated a national monument in 1923, and it was upgraded to a National Park in 1928. Today, Bryce Canyon National Park attracts visitors from all over the world, who come to marvel at its unique geological formations and rich history.
Fun Fact About Bryce Canyon National Park: Despite its name, Bryce Canyon is not a canyon at all. It’s actually a natural amphitheater created by erosion. Over time, the forces of frost-wedging and rain have carved out the distinctive geological structures known as hoodoos, which are the park’s primary attraction.
How Long Does it Take to Hike? The popular Navajo Loop Trail is about 1.3 miles long and typically takes between 1 to 2 hours to complete, considering time for stops to admire the unique hoodoos and landscapes. However, there are more extensive trails like the Fairyland Loop Trail, which is about 8 miles long and could take up to 4 to 5 hours.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park brims with historical significance. Long before it was a national park, the area was home to the Fremont people who lived there from approximately 600 to 1300 AD. Petroglyphs, or rock art, left behind by these early inhabitants are still visible on cliff walls throughout the park.
The park later became a refuge for the Mormon pioneers in the 1880s, who established the community of Fruita. This settlement is known for its orchards, some of which still exist and are maintained by the National Park Service today. The park was named after the white dome formations reminiscent of the US Capitol building and the ‘Waterpocket Fold’, a geologic monocline extending almost 100 miles.
It was designated a national monument in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to protect the area’s unique geology and was reclassified as a national park in 1971.
Fun Fact About Capital Reef National Park: Did you know that Capitol Reef National Park is named partly after its white Navajo Sandstone cliffs, which resemble the United States Capitol dome? But it’s not the man-made structures that dominate the landscape. The term “reef” refers to the towering cliffs that were a barrier to travel, much like a coral reef is a barrier in the ocean.
How Long Does it Take to Hike? Short, easy trails like the Sunset Point Trail can be completed in under an hour, while more challenging hikes like the Rim Overlook Trail may take up to four hours. For the truly adventurous, multi-day backcountry hikes offer an immersive experience with the park’s unique geology and stunning vistas.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands, located near Moab, Utah, is known for its rugged terrain and dramatic vistas. Families can explore the park’s many hiking trails, including the easy Mesa Arch Trail and the challenging Devil’s Garden Trail. Families can also take a scenic drive through the park or go on a guided backpacking trip with a local outfitter.
Canyonlands National Park has a rich history that dates back over 10,000 years. Indigenous cultures, including the Pueblo and Ute tribes, once thrived in these lands, leaving behind a wealth of petroglyphs and pictographs.
The area was later explored by European-American settlers in the late 19th century, and was used for cattle ranching and mining. The beauty and unique geology of the area did not go unnoticed, and in September 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill into law creating Canyonlands National Park.
Since then, the park has been a premier destination for hiking, camping, and river rafting, captivating visitors with its striking landscapes of canyons, mesas, and buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries.
Fun Fact About Canyonlands National Park: Did you know that Canyonlands National Park is home to one of the most photographed features in the world named Mesa Arch? This natural stone arch has a span of about 25 feet and stands at the edge of a 500-foot cliff, offering an awe-inspiring view of the White Rim country, the Colorado River, and La Sal Mountains. What makes Mesa Arch especially fascinating is the glow it emits at sunrise, when the rising sun illuminates the underside of the arch with an intense red-orange hue.
How Long Does it Take to Hike? A relatively short trail such as Mesa Arch can be completed within 30 minutes, making it a perfect selection for families or those on a tight schedule. However, more challenging trails, like the Syncline Loop, can take an entire day to complete due to its length and difficulty.
What Have We Learned?
Utah’s national parks offer families a unique opportunity to explore the natural beauty of the state. From Zion to Arches, Bryce Canyon to Canyonlands, each park offers a different experience that will leave your kids with lasting memories. So, grab your hiking boots, pack a picnic, and head out to one of Utah’s amazing national parks for a day of adventure and exploration with your family.
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