Little-known secrets of visiting Utah’s national parks
Monday, January 27, 2020
Utah is known for its gorgeous national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. Everyone knows about these parks, so the popular parts of these parks can be too busy to really enjoy and “get away from it all.”
However, there are places nearby that are less visited and are very special. This article includes six such stops.
Petroglyph Canyon at Zion
Zion National Park has over 4.5 million visits every year, yet we saw no one else on this trail on our visit. The trail is within the park off the main road but outside the busy shuttle section.
There are said to be 150+ petroglyphs here, including spirals, frogs, snakes, deer, antelope, and people. If you visit this trail, please be careful with the petroglyphs and do not touch them or vandalize the area.
The parking lot is 1.3 miles east of the smaller tunnel on State Route 9 (N 37.224762º, W 112.909293º). There is a wooden fence along the parking lot. There are no signs here about the petroglyphs.
- Walk south below the fence to the creek wash.
- Turn right (north) and follow the wash to a tunnel under SR9.
- Soon after the tunnel will be a cliff on the left. There are wooden fences hidden among the trees in front of the petroglyphs.
- The total round trip is less than a mile.
Purple hills and an old air blower on the trail.
Hiking trail in Springdale
After hiking busy trails with a continuous line of people like on Angels Landing or Riverside Walk in Zion National Park, consider a secret trail in Springdale, right outside the park.
I found this trail by chance. It currently does not appear on the AllTrails app and I saw nobody on this trail during my two visits except rabbits and deer. There isn’t the thrill of Angels Landing, but the hills are gorgeous and finds like old tin cans make it interesting.
The trail is called Steamboat Mountain Pioneer Trail (https://www.springdaletown.com/214/Trails). The trail is still growing. I hiked a couple of sections starting near Springdale City Cemetery and crossing the footbridge over the Virgin River.
Grosvenor Arch near Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park has around 2.6 million visits every year. A 33-mile drive away is the 150’ high double arches of Grosvenor Arch.
We passed perhaps 10 cars and saw one group of four during our visit at the arch. The road is not easy, but we were able to travel it in a sedan car. There is even a pit restroom at the parking lot along with a paved sidewalk to the arch area.
- South of Kodachrome State Park (worth a visit by itself) is Cottonwood Canyon Road.
- Drive 10 miles south on this unpaved road. In places there is washboards, loose sand, a bit of water (depending on conditions), and some steep hills.
- Turn left on an unmarked road. There should be a sign for the arch.
- Go 1.1 miles to the parking lot (N 37.45425º, W 111.83314º)
Head of the Rocks Overlook
The drive between Bryce Canyon NP and Capitol Reef NP is called Scenic Byway 12, and scenic it is!
This is not a road where the passengers should sleep during the drive. Stop at the overlooks like Boynton Overlook and The Hogback, but especially stop at Head of the Rocks Overlook (37.746588, -111.453818) for the unforgettable view.
John Wesley Powell River History Museum
On the drive between Capitol Reef National Park and Arches National Park is an excellent but underappreciated museum. The John Wesley Powell River History Museum (1765 Main St, Green River) is an up-to-date museum with well-presented exhibits.
Ask to see the movie to learn about Powell’s historic trip down the Green River and Colorado River back in 1869. The best part for me was that this museum helped me understand better the rest of my time in Utah and Arizona. Oh, and be sure to visit the lower level to see the dinosaur exhibits!
No other tourists in the picture at Corona Arch near Moab.
Corona Arch near Arches National Park
Both Arches National Park (1.5 million visits) and Canyonlands National Park (0.7 million visits) are well worth your time. But if the 30-minute wait to get into Arches or the full parking lots depress you, visit Corona Arch Trail right outside Moab.
We saw other people hiking there, but not very many. Instead of the line of people trying to get their picture taken under the popular Delicate Arch in Arches, we shared our time at the arches (Bowtie Arch and Corona Arch are in the same area) with less than 10 people. Plus, Corona Arch is 105’ high versus Delicate Arch at 52’.
The three-mile round trip hike is easy enough for most people. There is a ladder for one climb and cable to help you at two spots on the trail, but nothing major. Drive on Highway 279 along the Colorado River for 9.9 miles to get to the parking lot (N 38.574693º, W 109.632475º). The trail is well-marked.
On the drive to the trailhead, be sure to visit the 125’ long petroglyph panel (5.1 miles from the main road of U.S. 191) and the dinosaur tracks (5.9 miles from the main road) on the same road. The dinosaur tracks require a short hike if you want to get close to them.
Fill your memories of Utah with the secret places with fewer visitors and enjoy the peace and quiet.
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