Utah’s National Parks
The state of Utah has five stunning national parks: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion, each of which offers amazing scenery and an abundance of activity.
Utah’s scenic national parks are the state’s greatest treasures. Enjoyed by travelers from around the world, the five outstanding national parks located within the state are considered to be its “jewels,” and for good reason. These national parks–Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion–offer some of the most enchanting landscapes and important geologic history within Utah and, indeed, within the National Park system itself.
More than 2,000 sandstone arches dot the 47,000 acre landscape of this national park. Within this rugged, high desert setting, these delicate sandstone structures bear the imprint of geological history over millions of years. The most famous landmark within the Arches National Park is Delicate Arch, which provides a sweeping vista of mesas, canyons, and the Colorado River from its lofty location. Other notable stone monuments include Landscape Arch (the longest), Fiery Furnace, Courthouse Towers, Devil’s Garden, Parade of Elephants, and Tower of Babel, among others.
A 40-mile scenic drive takes in the wonders of the park, and there are a number of stopping points, where visitors can get out and follow marked trails or enjoy scenic viewpoints. Just some of the trails that travelers can pursue include Delicate Arch Trail, The Windows Trail, Double Arch Trail, and Tower Arch Trail. Throughout the park, visitors will enjoy the windowed arches, towering spires, and ancient hoodoos (tent rocks or spires) that make up the stunning vistas of this national park.
High atop the Paunsaugunt Plateau, a lush greenery of pines gives way at the rim of Bryce Canyon, showcasing an 8,000 foot drop into an amphitheater of spectacular, brilliantly colored limestone rock formations. Surrounded by pink and orange cliffs, this canyon is filled with stunning red rock hoodoos, created by the interaction of wind and water over millions of years.
Summer sunsets are the most spectacular time to view the brilliant colors in this national park, although the park is open year round. Traveling along the 37-mile scenic drive will allow visitors to reach key scenic viewing areas to see rock formations such as Queen’s Garden, Sinking Ship, Fairyland Canyon, and Inspiration Point. Participating in ranger-guided hikes and on horseback are two other great ways to see Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.
In Canyonlands, Utah’s largest national park, the sights are inspiring, whether you are looking thousands of feet down to the Colorado and Green Rivers or up thousands of feet to red rock pinnacles and spires. The rivers have divided this national park into three distinct areas, each named to reflect its own special vista: Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the most remote district, the Maze. Renowned for its white water rafting, as well as 4-wheel drive and mountain biking trails, Canyonlands has much to offer the traveler to this Utah national park.
In addition, one of the things that makes this national park so unique is area of petroglyphs left behind by the Fremont people (a Native American tribe). Within the Needles District, travelers can see these ancient images of hunting scenes and harvesting left behind on the red rock face. This wild, rugged national park offers an amazing experience any time of the year.
The central geological feature of this national park is the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile long warp of rock rising up from the earth. Formed 70 million years ago, a fault below the earth’s crust pushed up the layers of rock to create a monocline, better known today as the Capitol Reef. Much of the rest of the park is a fascinating wilderness of sandstone formations, just some of which are Hickman Bridge, the Temple of the Sun and Moon, Cathedral Valley, and Capitol Dome. These highlights and others can be seen along a 25-mile scenic drive.
Also within the park are remnants of an 1800s pioneer town, Fruita, so named for its abundant orchards of apricots, apples, cherries, pears, and peaches. In addition to fruit-picking, a nature center, children’s activities, afternoon ranger talks, and bird watching are popular pastimes within this Utah national park. Abundant hiking opportunities exist, from easy family walks, like Sunset Point Trail, to the challenging, such as Navajo Knobs, a strenuous trail that rewards hikers with stunning panoramic vistas at its completion.
The oldest and most visited national park within the state of Utah is Zion National Park, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2009. With nearly 3 million visitors annually who come to see its soaring towers and massive monoliths, the park has come to rely on its own internal transportation system to maintain the fragile ecological park system. Open-air shuttles transport visitors around the park to see such stunning formations as The Great White Throne and Angels Landing, among others.
Visitors can find some solitude, however, by exploring the Utah park along self-guided trails (which range from easy to challenging) or on guided horseback adventures. The park is known for its abundant bird life (more than 250 species have been recorded in Zion) and profusion of wildflowers. Many unusual species (including orchids and evening primrose) can be found growing in the grottoes of the Virgin River, while drier areas produce a range of flora equally diverse. Free guided hikes, interpretive tours, audiovisual programs, and evening lectures happen within Zion National Park on a daily basis in summer.
No matter which Utah national park travelers choose to visit, they are sure to be impressed by the outstanding scenery, wildlife, and flora and fauna of the region. All of these national parks have extensive National Park Service programs, visitor centers, and an array of activities within their borders. For those who love the great outdoors and understand the importance of maintaining it through a national park system, Utah offers vistors a stunning array of natural treasures in its five national parks.
Majestic sleepover in Monument Valley, Utah
By Mark Vanhoenacker in the Los Angeles Times
No traveler’s wanderings across the U.S. are complete without a trip to this isolated plateau. The shimmering red-rock buttes rising from the mile-high valley floor form a skyline as unique and memorable as that of Manhattan.
Visit Janie & Steve’s Utah Trails for some great regional pics!