The very best way to see the Mighty Five of Utah is by camping in an RV. The five national parks in Utah are Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef. The spectacular beauty of these geological wonders should not be missed. Visiting only one will provide a lifetime of memories. Here are some reasons you want to RV camp in these national parks.
Editor’s Note: For a more general overview, consider our guide on how to plan a trip to Utah’s national parks, especially if you haven’t heard of the Mighty Five before.
1. Live And Breathe These Wonders Of Nature
Waking up in breathtaking scenery with wildlife at your door is an unforgettable experience. All five Utah parks have spectacular features that make them stand out in the pantheon of National Parks. For example, Bryce Canyon is home of the hoo-doos -- those rocky buttes that look like a potter has dripped clay in a stacked formation. They sit in a canyon and produce incredible light effects during sunrise and sunset. The rim of the canyon and some of the sides are filled with trees where wildlife congregates.
Arches is aptly named for the over 1,500 cataloged, weathered rock formations that form natural arches due to erosion. The most famous and photographed one is Delicate Arch. It stretches 60 feet in width and is utterly mesmerizing.
Zion boasts the slot canyon, The Narrows at the Temple of Sinawava, and the peaks known as the Court of the Patriarchs. The park is a treasure trove of sights. Imagine camping near enough that you can see these wonders from your front door and know that you are just a tram ride away from starting the day’s adventures.
Perhaps the least-known park is Capitol Reef. It sits in between Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands. It is vast and unique in its attributes. There are many slot canyons, deep canyons, mesas, and high points. One of the most interesting sights to see is the petroglyphs. You can drive to a parking area and take a boardwalk to see the petroglyphs up close. There are other more remote places where you can see petroglyphs by hiking to them, too.
2. Hike Home To Your Own Bed
Having your own room in the park is the ultimate in RV travel. There is no need to “go” anywhere when you are done exploring the park for the day. You don’t have to say goodbye.
Campgrounds book early, so plan accordingly. Snagging a national park campsite brings huge rewards no hotel can provide. First, you get access to evening programs hosted by the Rangers. It may be a night sky talk or pointing out nighttime wildlife. You can relax around your campfire or in your favorite camp chair under your awning while you enjoy your favorite beverage and the company of other campers.
The great attraction of camping inside the park is that hiking is right outside your door. Whether it is an asphalt walkway, boardwalk, or remote trail, you have a thousand experiences at your fingertips. These parks, though rugged in terrain, have opportunities for all levels of access and skill. For instance, in Zion, you can walk a wide, paved path to The Narrows or take the ever higher and very difficult path to Angel’s Landing. Each park also has overnight or day-trip back-country hiking. Check in with the ranger station to post your itinerary and check on daily conditions.
You can hike with your bike in certain sections as well. Some of the most beautiful terrain can be viewed by park tram (Zion and Bryce Canyon) or scenic drives. Canyonlands has a spectacular 2-wheel-drive, paved road in the Island in the Sky section. Numerous off-road 4-wheel-drive lanes are available throughout the park.
3. Serious Stargazing
The International Dark-Sky Association has designated four of the Mighty Five Utah National Parks as International Dark Sky Parks. This is a worldwide designation. All but Zion get this recognition. The Association states, “An IDA International Dark Sky Park (IDSP) is a land possessing an exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and a nocturnal environment that is specifically protected for its scientific, natural, educational, cultural heritage, and/or public enjoyment.” Camping in the park will guarantee you have a Dark Sky experience.
4. Camp In The Parks Like A Pro
You can choose from primitive to hookup sites in some of the parks, but be prepared to “rough it” if you are used to staying in RV resorts. National park campsites, which commonly offer amenities, are hit and miss in the Mighty Five. Cell service depends on how close your park is to a city and whether terrain interrupts the signal. You can check what other campers have reported by going to the park’s site at Recreation.gov
Zion: The Watchman is the most popular campground. There are electric sites with water available in the campground and a dump station. There are no showers, but there are restrooms. Watchman is open year-round and RV sites are $30/night. South Campground has no hookups and does not allow generators. There is a dump station and water available. Camping is seasonal and sites are $20/night.
Bryce Canyon: There are no hookups at either of the campgrounds. There is potable water and you’ll have dump station access. One loop is open year-round and the rest are seasonal. Generators are allowed for four hours per day during designated morning and afternoon hours. Like Zion, there is a park shuttle that you can take to various stopping points instead of driving. RV sites are $30/night.
Capitol Reef: There is only one campground, Fruita, near the town of the same name. The campground is inside the park but has no hookups. You’ll find potable water and a dump station as well as restrooms. RV sites are $20/night.
Canyonlands: This is the most primitive of the Mighty Five parks. There are no hookups, and only one campground has water. Water is available at the visitors center at the entry to the park. There are no dump stations in the park. RV fees are $20/night in the campground with water and $15/night in the non-water campground.
Arches: There are only 51 sites in this very popular park. Reservations are tough to come by. Fortunately, there are many boondocking sites nearby. However, just like the park, these are sites without hookups. The campground inside the park offers potable water and toilets but no dump station. Fortunately, there are a few gas stations with dump stations and public works dump stations in and around Moab. RV sites are $25/night.
For more on boondocking and spending time in and around Moab, consider
5. There’s Plenty Of Bureau Of Land Management Camping Even When National Park Campgrounds Are Full
Camping in these national parks is ideal if you can snag a spot. But if you cannot, there are dozens of free Bureau of Land Management (BLM) places to camp near and in between these parks, mostly for free. Favorite places between Arches and Canyonlands include Horsethief Campground and Upper Big Bend, along with Deadhorse State Park. I had a particularly memorable experience on BLM land outside Zion where I and my fellow campers watched the sunset light up the mesas. The Dixie National Forest on the way to Bryce also has free dispersed camping along with spaces in and around Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
What To Know Before You Go
While staying in a national park has tremendous advantages, it does require some planning. Know the capability of your rig for boondocking because most of the campgrounds do not have hookups. Plan where you will stock up and get food and gas, as some places are in small towns and far from an Interstate. Finally, know your tank capacity for dumping and whether your park has a sanitation station. Boondocking obviously has none of these amenities, but nearby towns probably have services.
Bryce and Zion have restaurants and lodges inside the parks. That means you can arrange an easy night out without going into town. Both lodges have dining rooms and casual eateries that are available for some combination of three meals a day. Springdale, a small town outside the gates of Zion, has a number of restaurants and hotels steps away from the Watchman Campground, which means you can walk or take the free trolly. There are plenty of grocery options in Hurricane near Zion and fewer options in Bryce near Bryce Canyon. It’s always best to stock up before you go.
Capitol Reef is the most remote park and has primitive camping only. There are a couple of gas stations and several local restaurants in Torrey and Bicknell that are 10 to 15 minutes away from the Fruita Campground. Otherwise, bring what you need.
Moab caters to tourists that visit Arches and Canyonlands (30 miles away). You’ll find plenty of grocery, gas, and food options there. But be prepared for crowds in the busy season and even in summer.
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