Utah National Parks for Spring Break
Spring in the Midwest, Michigan included, often cycles between icy grey reminders of winter and the occasional burst of sunlight that leaves us begging for more and longing for a spring break escape. The first time it hits the 50s in the spring and we’re breaking out the flip flops.
For families wanting a breath of fresh air and a hearty dose of adventure, we’ve got a fantastic idea: get yourself to Utah’s National Parks for Spring Break.
We took our family of five (three kids, ages 7, 10 and 13 at the time of the trip) and it rates as one of our family’s all-time favorite trips, even five years later. While a few things have changed since our visit, many remain the same. Here’s a look at what we learned from our 8-day adventure:
Utah in spring is a wonderland; the landscape is completely different from the Midwest’s.
Plus, it’s not blazing hot, like it will be there in the summertime (which is also peak tourist season) but it’s usually warm enough to be outside and enjoying nature without winter gear. During our visit, we found a sweet spot with the weather. It was sunny and in the 50s-70s the whole time, and it didn’t rain at all.
That said, it’s important to know that the weather in Utah can be fickle.
Snow and ice are not unheard of in March at Zion, so you need to be prepared for whatever weather might come your way. Seeing as we’re from Michigan, we’re used to the weather rollercoaster and were okay with this reality. Just know this isn’t a only-pack-shorts kind of vacation.
Zion National Park Spring Weather Prediction
- Warmer Days, Longer Nights: In March/April, Zion warms up to about 65-70°F in the day, but nights can still be chilly in the 30-40s. You’ll get about 12 hours of daylight to explore.
- Expect Some Rain: The 30-day rainfall average for this time of year is around 1 inch. Compared to what Michigan sees, that’s not much.
- A Bit of Snow: Snow’s not common in March, but you might see a light dusting, usually less than an inch. April snow is rare but does happen.
- More Sunlight: Days get longer, and thanks to Daylight Saving Time kicking in mid-March, you’ll have more evening light for adventures. Data Source
These are the main destinations from our trip:
Day 1: (early) Fly from Chicago to Las Vegas. Get rental car. Car rental tip – have one person stay with kids to get luggage at baggage claim while the other adult takes the shuttle to rental cars to beat the line. Drive to Bryce Canyon NP (4 hours). Spend half a day hiking the hoodoos (3 mile hike)
Day 2: Bryce to Moab (4 hours). Visit Arches National Park & Canyonlands National Park
Day 3: Moab to Page via the Moki Dugway (5 hours). Antelope Canyon Tour. Glen Canyon.
Day 4: Page to Red Cliffs Recreation Area (2.5 hours). Hike and regroup. Stay in La Verkin.
Day 5: Zion National Park Day 1: Explore the park. Hike the Narrows
Day 6: Zion National Park Day 2: More hiking/exploring.
Day 7: Canyoneering at Zion.
Day 8. Drive 2.5 hours to Las Vegas, fly to Chicago.
The Main Attractions
To be honest, eight days is not enough to see everything you’ll want to see in Utah. The landscape is completely opposite from what the Midwest offers. But, if you’re going for Spring Break, an 8-day itinerary might be all you can muster. During planning we did make a few trade-offs, and I still wonder if we should have gone to the Grand Canyon. I’ll present my case and let you be the judge.
Bryce Canyon National Park
After landing in Vegas and sorting out car rentals, head straight to Bryce Canyon. This half-day hike among the famous hoodoos (rock spires) along a 3-mile trail gives you a magical introduction to Utah’s natural beauty.
No reservations are required to enter Bryce Canyon National Park at any time of year. Bryce operates an optional shuttle.
Arches & Canyonlands National Parks
We went to Arches National Park in Moab for several hours, but ran out of time to do Canyonlands justice and wish we would have stayed longer than 30 minutes.
Side note: Arches National Park is gorgeous, but if you need to chop something from your itinerary, it might be Moab. Moab is a small tourist town that is as popular as Traverse City in the summertime. It can be expensive and hard to get hotel rooms. Book ahead if you can.
Exploring the Southeast
In Page, Arizona, tour Antelope Canyon and get a look at Glen Canyon Dam.
Antelope Canyon is stunning. Before you go, you should know that tours are expensive and crowded. They are on Native lands and your access, unless you are Native, comes via a tour operator. This was a fun stop, but you should know what the photos aren’t telling you before you sign up.
Zion National Park
You’ll definitely want to go to Zion National Park. So does everyone else. These days, a shuttle into the canyon runs March through November; this is the only way to access Zion Canyon Scenic Drive if the shuttle is running.
Hiking the Narrows. One of our all-time favorites from this trip was hiking the Zion Narrows. It’s other-worldly to spend a day scrambling and sloshing your way through the river waters, with canyon walls soaring up beside you.
Since it was Spring Break, the water was freezing cold. We kept an eye on the water conditions as our trip neared, knowing that a sudden change in weather could disrupt our plans. Luckily, it all worked out and we were able to keep our reservation for the kids’ full-body dry suits and adult dry pants from Zion Outfitter in Springdale. (There’s no way we could have done this adventure without this gear to keep us warm.)
The Narrows and the other popular Zion attractions, like the like Emerald Pools and Weeping Rock hikes, are located along the park’s north/south scenic drive. Access them via the south entrance near Springdale, or the East entrance via Zion Park Boulevard.
The drive into Zion from the East entrance, with its stunning vistas including tunnels and the Checkerboard Mesa, is unforgettable.
Canyoneering in Zion. Canyoneering involves rock climbing equipment, but instead of scaling walls, you basically scramble, climb and rappel your way through a canyon.
We hired a private guide for a half-day tour and it was the other “most-favorite thing” we did on our trip. Our Red Desert Adventure Guide was fantastic at making all of us, and especially our youngest, feel comfortable. He even escorted her down the rock faces whenever she didn’t want to go alone.
Note: Canyoneering tours are not allowed inside of Zion. This adventure happened just a short distance away on similar terrain.
We stayed in a 3 bedroom VRBO in La Verkin because it was a lot more affordable than Springdale and it let our family of five have a little breathing room.
The trade-off was more drive time during the days we headed to the park.
Don’t miss the Red Reef Trail at the Red Cliffs Desert Preserve for another day of splashing around.
Utah is home to numerous state parks and hidden gems like these ‘puddle jumpers’ pools and can be a nice change of pace from the bigger park systems.
Of course, you may opt to visit this off-the-charts stop in lieu of another. if I had to do it again, I’d skip Antelope Canyon and do the Grand Canyon instead.
Choosing Your Utah National Parks Route
As mentioned, you won’t have time to see all of the major sites in the area in just 8 days. One factor to consider is the airport you’ll be flying into. Here are several route options:
- Las Vegas to Utah National Parks: Approximately 18 hours total travel time.
- Las Vegas to Utah National Parks + Grand Canyon: Approximately 19 hours total travel time. Omits Page, AZ.
- Salt Lake City to Utah National Parks: Approximately 17 hours of driving time.
- Phoenix to Utah National Parks (via Grand Canyon, excluding Moab and Moki Dugway): Approximately 16 hours total travel time.
Traveling to Utah from the Midwest
For our trip, we flew out of Chicago and into into Las Vegas, where we rented a minivan.
You could fly into Salt Lake City or Phoenix for a similar experience.
Leaving from Chicago made sense for us because we found extremely cheap flights for our family of five. If you can score tickets from GRR, DTW, or your home airport, go for it. Otherwise, if you’re leaving from Chicago, plan to park off-site for the best park-n-go rates.