Southern Utah National Parks: America’s Best Deal

Aerial View of the Colorado River running through Professor Valley in Moab, Utah. Photo courtesy of Sorrel River Ranch Hotel & Spa Resort.

Celebrate National Parks Week in Utah: April 17-25, 2010
With 11 national parks and monuments in this southwestern state waiving entrance fees as part of the nationwide event, there’s never been a better time to tour canyon country. With millions of acres of dramatic red rock landscapes showcasing everything from towering mesas made famous in Hollywood westerns to amazing geological formations and natural arches, to the mighty Colorado River snaking its way towards the Grand Canyon, southern Utah has it all. Choosing which parks to visit of course, is the challenge. Luckily, indecisive travelers can attempt to do the whirlwind tour  – see Zion National Park one weekend, then set out for the northern part of the “Grand Circle”, driving through both Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks mid-week, on the way to Moab, Utah (pictured above) to spend the following weekend. Of course, one weekend in Moab is not nearly enough time to explore all that Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park have to offer, but with both national parks in close proximity, Moab makes the most sense to pack more into your national parks tour. Choose from a variety of short hikes or longer treks in Arches. Canyonlands offers the perfect opportunity for a scenic drive that seemingly never ends, or you can go whitewater rafting through it instead.

Getting there
More commercial flights are available into nearby (1.5 hours drive) Grand Junction, CO (GJT) than the local Moab Canyonlands airport (CNY), although private  planes and charter flights are always welcome at the latter. Drive time from Salt Lake City, Utah international airport (SLC) is only about 4 hours, and Las Vegas, NV (LAS) is about 7 hours, without stopping to see the other park sites along the way.

Where to stay
Both national parks have campsites available, either on a first come/first serve or reservation basis (see NPS links above.) If rv’ing or roughing it isn’t your thing, there’s a host of national chain hotels in-town Moab, as well as a handful of unique lodging properties nearby. The tranquil and luxurious Sorrel River Ranch (shown above), one of southern Utah’s best hotels and the only spa resort in Moab, is a welcome refuge after a long day of exploring the parks.

When to go
Spring and Fall are the most forgiving seasons to visit Moab, with temperatures comfortable enough to take part in the vast number of outdoor activities Moab has to offer. Desert heat sweeps in for the summer, but is tolerable if you’re rafting on the Colorado River or relaxing by the pool after doing early morning horseback rides or evening hikes. Don’t fret if you can’t make it Moab for national parks week, because at least two other fee-free days are on the calendar in 2010: September 25 (Public Lands Day)  and November 11 (Veteran’s Day.)