A Memorable Visit to 5 National Parks in Arizona, Nevada and Utah

Genie Davis December 26, 2012 No Comments

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Utah’s Grand Circle Tour view

Driving Highway 12 on Utah’s Grand Circle tour will lead you past many awesome sights like these

Circling the southwest’s national park corridor from the edges of Arizona and Nevada throughout Southern Utah is one of my favorite trips. Some travel sites will recommend you take up to twenty-one days for this itinerary, and some of you reading this will think that it’s too much to see and do in such a short time, and especially with small children. But trust me, it isn’t.

It’s jam packed, it’s colorful, it’s fun, but the only thing crazy about the trip is how wonderful it is for such little effort.

Fly into Las Vegas or drive from Vegas or Los Angeles – but the trip itself doesn’t truly begin until you reach St. George, Utah, a few hours from Las Vegas up I-15.

There you’ll find the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site. Your children will be fascinated by the fossilized dinosaur prints – some two thousand in fact, and it will keep everyone from being restive as you drive another ninety minutes or so into park number one, Zion National Park. If you’ve come spring through fall, you’ll park at the park entrance and jump on the free shuttle that plies the full length of the park. You can hop on and off at short stops for photo overlooks, at the park lodge for lunch, or stay on the bus and just stare out the window. There are several child-accessible trails worth taking too, which will lead to a full day of pleasant adventure. The super gentle Riverside Walk traverses the Virgin River and passes beneath a hanging garden. Wading up the river itself when the water flow is low, is also highly recommended, but be sure you’re wearing rubber sandals or water shoes as the bottom is rocky. Steep red cliffs on either side of you, pleasantly cool water under foot – awesome afternoon. Recommended overnight accommodations: any number of comfortable motels in adjoining Springdale. We spent two nights here.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches and cliffs and rivers and views oh my!

It’s only two hours from Zion to the hoodoos and mysterious red rock formations of park number two, Bryce Canyon. The aptly named Bryce Amphitheater offers a wonderfully easy walk around the rim for a view at all the wonders below, or traverse the paved path down into the Queen’s Garden Trail for an up close look at the vibrantly colored and surreally shaped rock hoodoos. Over night stop: the lodge at the rim of the canyon, for its stellar proximity to the Amphitheater rim.

You’ll want to take the stunning Utah 12 over Boulder Mountain to the park number three, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The stunning multi-colored rocks form what Led Zeppelin might’ve been inspired by, a virtual Stairway to Heaven. A short hike that’s accessible for little feet or the parents who carry them is Calf Creek Falls.

You are now two to three hours away from park number four, Capitol Reef National Park, considerably less visited than Bryce or Zion. Dome shaped white and multi-colored rock formations are one attraction, and so is the pioneer-settled town of Fruita. Founded in the 19th century, you’ll still find and be able to pick fresh fruit from the trees. Recommended over night accommodations are found in the small town of Torrey, where mom and pop motels offer the most bang for your buck, but chain offerings are also available.

You’re now heading east and south through a dry desert moonscape where satellite radio briefly deserted us and we picked up a scratchy AM station playing the theme song to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In about three hours you’ll be in park number five, the stunning Arches National Park.

Here, jaw dropping orange and red rocks shape a stone facsimile of Wall Street, delicate arches span sand dunes, and hills, including arches made famous to many children courtesy of  Indiana Jones 3. Devils Garden Trail lets you see a number of arches but requires a walk along the way, many of the arches are park and walk over to scramble up – true child’s play.

An easy scramble to a view – Arches National Park, UT

An easy scramble – parents, lift your little ones – leads to a grand view on Utah’s National Parks tour.

Across the highway from Arches is one part of national park six, Canyonlands National Park called Island in the Sky. Drive to the over looks, and admire the Green River far below; the trails here are longer than most small children can traverse. Another amazing lookout spot is on a spur road just before the entrance to Canyonlands. This is Dead Horse Point, a state park with a sad story behind it of horses plunging to their doom, but an amazing view also accessible by simply climbing out of your car. You can find pleasant motel accommodations in Moab proper, or swing out route 128 to Red Cliffs Lodge for delightful views and a spacious suite near the Rio Grande. We stayed two nights in this location. It’s a long five hours but it’s an easy drive across I-80 to reconnect with I-15 and turn south to Las Vegas or LA, with hundreds of photographs and sleepy children dreaming of red rock fairy lands through the last remaining miles.

-A side trip: about an hour north of your intersection with the I-15 is Cedar Breaks state park whose scenic overlooks are less than twenty minutes off the highway. There’s an easy rim trail to traverse, or stay with the five mile road that rings the small park whose amphitheater is similar to that inside Bryce Canyon National Park. You’ll have scenic overlooks from which to grab some stunning photos, which in the summer months will include a view of wild flowers.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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