Tuesday, November 2, 2021

The First Timer's Visit to Utah's 5 National Parks, Day 1 & Planning Your Trip to Magical Southern Utah

That would be us:
first timers in Utah.
Check one-off of the bucket list. 
 I researched this trip extensively 
and here is what we did. 

The Narrows in Zion

The Full Trip Itinerary Overview
  • We flew Southwest, not the cheapest airline, but we prefer them.  (I selected our dates using the low fare finder options to and from Utah.) 
  • I traveled with my husband in the second half of October. 
We traveled Zion to Arches, 
but with some tweaks you can reverse the order.

Click any link to go directly to details for that day.
*If you have time stop at Valley of Fire on your way to Springdale. 
None of the itineraries I read suggested this and I wish we had.
Day 10 Travel Home via Salt Lake City 

Mesa Arch, Canyonlands NP

Zion Planning for Day 1-3

The best planning aide to Zion has already been written and you will find it here.  I am not going to replicate all that info, rather share what we thought would be the best fit for us as first timers.

Some Additional Planning Aids:
Zion Information Guide has up to date info on everything from hours, trails, map, and fees.
Map of Shuttle and Parking in Springdale. Parking is not well labeled, take this map.  There is a Springdale Shuttle that delivers you to the busy section where the Zion Shuttle is located.  Use the shuttle.  It is easy. From May to November this section of the park is accessed only by a shuttle from the Visitor Center.  (You can rent a bike if waiting for a shuttle isn't your thing.) You park once and get shuttled throughout the park.  Park in town, the lot by the park fills quickly and is expensive. The first park shuttle is either 6am or 7am depending on the season but every.single.guidebook tells you to get there early so that is what everyone does.  HOWEVER...If you want to avoid the crowds arrive after the rush...between 10-12 or so.  If you get a shuttle from a point further from the park you less chance of having a full shuttle drive past you. 

Pack lunch or snacks so you don't have to leave and return to the park. That would be crazy!

An alternative to any of the activities in this busy part of Zion is to visit Kolob Canyons, 40 miles north of the center of tourist activity.  This is a wilderness area off the beaten path and does not require the shuttle for access. But as a first timer I wanted to see the top picks, although I kept this info in my back pocket just in case it was needed. 

In hindsight I would have spent time exploring Upper East Canyon, that is where the magic is. 

Day 1 Travel
  • Your first day is a travel day and to settle into your hotel in Springdale. I recommend without reservation the Red Rock Inn.  Super cute, updated cottages and breakfasts at Oscar's are included.  The property also features a hot tub, fire pits, grills, and a great view.  The host, Sharon, is top notch!  Listen to any advice she gives you. She is a treasure! 
  • Pick up your rental car, preferably 4WD SUV 
  • It takes about 2 1/2  hours to drive to Springdale from Las Vegas.
  • If you need bottled water and groceries, there is a Walmart on the route to Zion, 625 W Telegraph St, Washington, UT 84780 and a nearby Costco with gas station 835 N 3050 E, St. George, UT 84790.  Groceries in Springdale are rather expensive.
  • Check the Zion park website for any last minute Alerts in Effect that may affect your plans. If there is chance of flash floods you will not be able to hike The Narrows.
  • Rent water gear if needed to hike The Narrows tomorrow. You can rent river boots, hiking poles, neoprene socks and wet suits. Protect your electronics with waterproof coverings. 
If you arrived with time to spare you can hike the Watchman Trail, if you time it right you can finish at sunset and enjoy the view.  We enjoyed the sunset from our B&B, Red Rock Inn. Click here for other Optional Sunset locations

King's Landing Bistro TA #3 5p-9p
*Oscar's Cafe TA #2 7a-9p (Awesome breakfasts)
Deep Creek Coffee TA #4 Br&Lu
Spotted Dog TA #5 5a-9p
MeMe's Cafe TA #7 8a-10p (It was OK. Slow service.)
*Bit and Spur (Very good dinners, excellent and prompt service.)

Most of the locations on this trip are also International Dark Sky Parks: Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Capitol Reef NP, Dead Horse Point State Park, Goblin Valley State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, and Zion NP.  My trip also coincided with a full moon so I had to time photography before the moon came up. 

Go To Day 2 Zion National Park

Trip overview.  We ended in Salt Lake City to fly home.


*I packed light.  My Canon 24-105L lens stopped communicating with my Canon 5D Mark IV so most of 
my photos were taken with a Sony Point and Shoot.  I was soooo disappointed. 
But lesson learned. 
Never pack light! 

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