Hey, everyone! It’s Allison from Tips for Family Trips. School started less than a month ago for my children, but Fall Break is already just around the corner! In Utah, Fall Break is scheduled for October 17-18, 2013 in many school districts, offering families a great opportunity to enjoy a long weekend getaway.
Fall is also one of the best times of the year to visit Utah’s national parks. Temperatures are cooler and colorful fall leaves make the parks even more beautiful, if that is possible. It only takes about four hours to drive to any of Utah’s national parks from Salt Lake City.
Most families will be able to enjoy the highlights of one of these parks in a single day, though you may find yourself planning a return visit to enjoy longer hikes, see the sights you missed, or to re-visit your favorite sections. All of the national parks, and many state parks, offer Junior Ranger programs for elementary-age children.
Park fees are paid per vehicle and are good for seven days. The most expensive parks (Zion and Bryce Canyon) cost $25 per vehicle, which is a bargain for a family vacation. The least expensive park is Capitol Reef, which charges only $5 per vehicle. Camping is an option in all of the parks, and in October, it will probably still be warm enough to camp in most of the parks. Campgrounds may sell out, so make reservations where possible.
If you’re looking for some Fall Break ideas, here are three long weekend itineraries in Utah’s National Parks you may want to try with your family.
Zion and Bryce Canyon
If you have never visited one of Utah’s national parks, this is the showcase itinerary. Zion National Park’s dramatic red cliffs, unusual hanging gardens and family-friendly trails make it one of the best parks in Utah for families with young children.
The bright orange “hoodoos” of Bryce Canyon National Park are so different from the terrain at Zion National Park, you may have a hard time believing they are only a few miles apart. Spend a day stopping at the many viewpoints along the rim of Bryce Canyon, walk along the Rim Trail, or hike down into the canyon.
Cedar City makes a good base for this trip. It is located less than an hour from Zion and about 1.5 hours from Bryce Canyon. It has a large selection of reasonably priced hotels and familiar restaurants and is easily accessible from Interstate 15.
Bonus park: If you have time, visit Cedar Breaks National Monument, which is on the way to Bryce Canyon via scenic Highway 14 through Cedar Canyon.
Arches and Canyonlands
Fall is one of the best times to make the 3-mile round trip hike to Delicate Arch, one of Utah’s most iconic images. Arches National Park also offers families a number of other short hikes to other impressive arches including Double Arch, The Windows, and Sand Arch.
The vast panoramic views in Canyonlands National Park are awe-inspiring. This park is a great place for families to contemplate the wonders of nature in an uncrowded setting. Canyonlands has several entrances, but the Island in the Sky district of the park is the nearest to Arches and is the most family-friendly.
Moab is the place to stay on this trip. This tourist town sits just outside of Arches National Park and it offers a large selection of lodging and dining options.
Bonus Park: Dead Horse Point State Park is located on the road to Canyonlands National Park. It doesn’t take long to visit and the view is spectacular.
Capitol Reef and Goblin Valley
Capitol Reef National Park is one of Utah’s best kept secrets. Beautiful scenery and human history come together to offer one of the most varied experiences of any of Utah’s national parks. Unique geology, pioneer buildings and orchards, as well as American Indian petroglyphs and ruins are preserved within the borders of Capitol Reef.
Goblin Valley State Park is located about an hour beyond Capitol Reef, in a remote part of Utah. Goblin Valley’s otherworldly terrain makes a fun playground for families. On our last visit, my young children climbed all over the rock “goblins”, pretending they were wild animals, while a family with older children were playing Capture the Flag a short distance away.
The small town of Torrey is the best place to stay on this trip. It has a number of hotels, including some familiar chains, and several good local restaurants.
Bonus Park: Anasazi State Park Museum is located less than an hour from Torrey. An ancient Anasazi village was found here. Today, you can learn more about these people and tour a replica of a six-room Anasazi dwelling.
For world-class family fun at an affordable price, it’s hard to beat the national parks. Those of us who live in Utah are fortunate to have five outstanding parks so close to home.
Do you have a favorite national park? Tell us about it in the comments!
Recipes, please!! (& great family ideas too.)
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