Only private aircraft will get you to the smaller parks. Other than that, you'll need to fly commercial (with the masses) to Moab or the major hubs in Salt Lake City or Las Vegas.
- Touring southern Utah by bike is a hardy endeavor and best done with the support of an outfitter or tour operator. The Adventure Cycling Association provides info on cycling routes, sells bicycle maps and arranges tours. For emergency roadside assistance, join the Better World Club.
- Zion Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef have scenic drives open to recreational cyclists. Although national park trails are off-limits to bicycles (except for Zion’s Pa’rus Trail), bicycles are usually allowed on any paved or dirt park road.
- Bicycle rentals are readily available. Expect to spend $25 to $50 per day for a cruiser or basic mountain bike.
- Moab is generally considered the mountain-biking capital of the Southwest. Grand Staircase–Escalante and the Zion area are also good mountain-biking destinations.
- There is no bus service to or between southern Utah’s national parks. However, both Zion and Bryce Canyon offer free seasonal park shuttles that are handy for seeing the main sights and avoiding traffic headaches.
- In Zion, the mandatory park shuttle runs from spring through fall, when the canyon’s main scenic drive is closed to private vehicles. Another free shuttle route runs through the gateway town of Springdale, connecting with the Zion shuttle. Both routes run frequently. Shuttles do not serve Hwy 9 east of Canyon Junction through the Zion–Mt Carmel Tunnel or the park’s more remote Kolob Terrace and Kolob Canyons Rds.
- In Bryce Canyon, an optional park shuttle runs from May through September. Although this free shuttle connects the dots between the park’s most popular sightseeing spots, as well as the lodge, visitor center, campground and Ruby’s Inn tourist complex just north of the park, it does not travel all the way down the canyon’s scenic drive, except on twice-daily guided shuttle-bus tours (free).
Car, Motorcycle & RV
There are usually no restrictions on travel by private vehicle in the national parks, although Zion Canyon is only accessible to park shuttle buses from spring to fall. Otherwise, cars and motorcycles are allowed on all public paved and dirt roads inside and outside the parks.
Fuel & Repairs
- Always start out with a full tank of gas and extra gallons of drinking water, plus food and blankets in case of emergencies.
- Gas stations are few and far between in southern Utah. There are no gas stations inside any of the parks, and gas can be expensive in gateway towns. Try to fill up in bigger cities and along interstate highways, where gas is cheaper and stations are often open 24 hours.
- For emergency roadside assistance and towing services, join an auto club. In case of any roadside emergencies, keep in mind that cell phones work in most towns and cities, but only in very limited areas of the national parks.
- Just outside Bryce Canyon, Ruby’s Inn American Car Care Center offers full-service repairs for cars, trucks and RVs, although parts are limited and you may have to wait quite a while for all but the simplest of repairs. It also sells standard auto supplies and decently priced gas, and offers a car wash and 24-hour, AAA-approved towing services. Otherwise, your best bets for faster car repairs and finding auto supplies are in St George and Moab.
- For highway driving conditions, visit the website of the Utah Department of Transportation (www.udot.utah.gov). Every national park provides updates on roads within its boundaries; either visit the park website or call the visitor information numbers. For road conditions outside the national parks, contact the federal agency in charge of that area – most often it’s the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or USFS (US Forest Service).
- Overall precipitation is low, but when it does rain, it can wreak havoc. Most common during July and August, short, heavy thunderstorms cause flash floods and turn dirt roads into impassable mud slicks, though they dry quickly. Even the lightest rain can leave desert slickrock and hard clay roads treacherously slippery and too dangerous for any vehicle (including 4WDs) for at least a day or two afterward.
- Always check with rangers before driving dirt roads, and watch the skies. Never park your vehicle in a desert wash, where it could possibly get swept away by a flash flood.
- In winter higher elevations have snow, while lower elevations see freezing rain, occasional snow and nighttime temperatures that can turn blacktop roads icy. High-elevation mountain roads may be closed completely from the first snowfall in late October or early November until the snow melts away, usually between April and June.
Be extra cautious while driving in Utah. It may be tempting to put your vehicle into cruise control and zip down the highway at 80mph without a care in the world, but there is no shortage of hazards, from dust storms and rainstorms to livestock and wildlife.
- Be particularly vigilant any time you see a wildlife-crossing road sign, especially at dusk. While hitting a deer is bad enough, hitting an elk, which weighs anywhere from 500lb to 900lb, may very well result in serious injury or death.
- Driving too slowly or erratically can be a hazard in the parks. Maintain a reasonable speed on crowded scenic drives. Do not block traffic by suddenly stopping in the middle of the road to take a photo. All of the rules of the road still apply in national parks.
- If you’re driving an RV or other oversized vehicle, be courteous and don’t hog the road – use signposted pullouts to let faster traffic pass.
- National park parking lots are renowned for accidents: overloaded vehicles with poor visibility, screaming children causing a distraction, pedestrians who pop up out of nowhere and aggressive drivers trying to snag precious parking spots make for a particularly high collision rate. If you are at fault in an accident within a national park, not only are you responsible for all damages, but you will also be issued a ticket. Take it slow.
Are we there yet?
Judging how long it will take to drive from point A to point B in southern Utah is an art form. Some highways drive like dirt roads, some dirt roads like highways, and slow-moving trucks and RVs can impede your progress for miles uphill. Most southern Utah road savvy is only gained through hard-won experience. When in doubt, always plan for it to take longer than you think.
As a rule, if a dirt road is noted as ‘good’ and passable to passenger cars, you can usually drive an average of 30mph on it, but numerous rough sections and washes will force you to slow to 20mph or even 10mph. The speed limit on state highways is 55mph to 65mph; on the interstates it's 75mph to 80mph.
Hitchhiking is never entirely safe anywhere in the world, and we don’t recommend it. That said, hitchhiking is sometimes the only way to get between trailheads after an end-to-end hike, if you don’t happen to have two cars to shuttle. The rules for hitchhiking in each national park change every year, so ask at the visitor center before you stick your thumb out. Keep in mind that hitchhiking is usually only allowed at designated roadside pullouts within the parks.
You're not really going to get around the region by boat, unless you take on an expedition like John Wesley Powell did on the Colorado River. But there are plenty of water sports worth exploring.
While there is train service through Utah, you won't be able to easily access any of the parks or major sites by train.