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Utah canyon loop - need experienced travellers advice on May trailer trip


Apr 16th, 2011, 09:55 AM
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Utah canyon loop - need experienced travellers advice on May trailer trip

My wife and I would like to take a trip with our [email protected] teardrop trailer covering a loop that includes the following parks (nights in or nearby): Cedar Breaks (1), Zion (3), Bryce Canyon (3), Grand Staircase-Escalante (2), Capitol Reef (2), Natural Bridges, Arches (3), Canyonlands (2).

You can view a Google map of this loop with mileages and links to info and images of the parks and park campgrounds at:

Our plan was going so well until we started to look for campground reservations. NPS campgrounds with reservations are pretty well booked solid for May. Various guides say the "FCFS" sites fill by very early morning, with people circling campgrounds as early as 8:00 a.m. to pounce on a vacated site.

The private campgrounds I've checked on the Web seem either distant, unattractive and/or full. And, we really don't want to move camp more than every 2 or 3 nights or to spend every second or third morning on an 8:00 a.m. "hunt".

What we would like advice on is whether there's a reasonable way to pull off this loop, or ... would we be better punting this spring and going in the Fall, when NPS campgrounds seem to have lots of availability.

If we go in the Fall, what's the period where weather, foliage and other considerations would be most ideal? Our litlle [email protected] has a forced air heater, propane stove and a high-altitude fridge, and we're totally prepared for "dry camping".

Thanks so much for any advice!

-- Paul
pconte is offline  
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Apr 16th, 2011, 12:59 PM
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I don't know about camping in parks, but other lodging gets booked early, then people find they can't make the trip and cancel as time gets close, so it pays to call and keep calling as the time nears. Cancellations often don't make it to the web page, so do the phone thing.

There is a lot of BLM land in the area you will be going that allow camping, so check those sites too.

Best of luck.
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Apr 16th, 2011, 01:23 PM
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We used to camp in National Forest campgrounds a lot -
map -
list -
One near Capital Reef -
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Apr 16th, 2011, 03:31 PM
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The description provided of the circling camp spot vultures is absolutely true. It's been that way for the last 20 years as our parks have become more popular. Plus, May is peak season for southern UT and UT locals love to camp. Even Natl Forest campsites are booked months and months in advance. Hence the circling required for spur-of-the-moment trips.

If you are experienced campers and are prepared to dry camp, the BLM land is a good option. You might want to check with the agency for maps as these land boundaries are not publicized. Given that, the US gov is the largest landowner in the state (and we don't like that).

Keep checking on the web sites for campground cancellations, but I think they are less frequent that the lodges and hotels.

I really like the national forest campgrounds and use them frequently - but still reservations are usually needed.

The Red Rock Canyon campground just a short way west of Bryce is a very nice one. It usually doesn't get full until later in the day and they have enlarged it. There are some good camp spots west of Bryce too.

If you choose fall, Sept to early Oct is another great time and would give you plenty of reservation possibilities.

Hope this helps.
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Apr 16th, 2011, 07:56 PM
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Looked at your route from Eugene. Stay on 58 to US 97 into K-Falls and take 140 to Lakeview. In Utah after you leave Capitol Reef turn left in Hanksville on 24 North to Goblin Valley. There is a good campground there. If that is full, there is also a campground in the town of Green River at the Green River State Park.
You might drop the 2 nights at Capitol Reef for 2 nights at Goblin Valley.
The first week of November last year, my DW and I went by Amtrak from K-Falls via Sacramento to Salt Lake City. We rented a car there and toured Arches, Canyonlands, Goblin Valley and Capitol Reef. At that time the campground in Arches was less than half full even though the weather was great.
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Apr 16th, 2011, 10:33 PM
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Fall is fantastic time to visit, we try to get to the southwest after Labor Day weekend and spend several weeks till mid-October.

If you decide to go in May keep checking and checking and checking for cancellations especially for Watchman Campground in Zion. People are always canceling. For the last two Aprils we've gotten campsites just weeks before we wanted to come. This year we lucked into 6 nights in a row twice.

I love the Fruita Campground in Capitol Reef and there is no way to know if there is a spot until you get there. Some days the campground fills up before noon and on rare occassions it doesn't even fill up. Luck of the day! Goblin Valley is ok but not a good substitute for me. There are some ok private campgrounds in Torrey.

You need to get to Squaw Flats campground in Canyonlands, Needles section early! There is some camping at Newspaper Rock, but we've never camped there.

Willows Campground in Canyonlands, Island in the sky district only has 12 sites and has become almost impossible to get. It's along drive in, so check at the Moab visitor center before driving all the way out there.

If you plan on Devils Garden in Arches then make reservations or plan on being there at 6am if they still allow checking in that early. We've gotten spoiled and now just stay at a private place in town for a week. There are several BLM campgrounds on Hwy 128 east of town on the Colorado River and Hwy 279 (Potash Road) east of town also on the Colorado River.

It's been years since we camped at Great Basin, Cedar Breaks and Natural Bridges but my gut says get there as early in the day as you can.

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Apr 17th, 2011, 02:16 PM
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Thanks for all the excellent advice! Now we're looking closely at whether to go now or in the Fall. Both have appeal -- especially given the cold, rainy weather that's been hanging on way to long in Eugene.

Be sure to check out the Google map at http://tinyurl.com/utah-canyon-loop .

I'm continuing to update it. FYI, here are the meanings of some icons I'm using:
Blue "i" -- Good information site
Blue "(?)" -- Good campground search site
Green tree -- Federal or state park or monument
Camera -- Images (there are also links to pictures in some of the other items on the map)
Yellow masks -- Campground reviews for an area (there are also links to reviews in many of the individual campground items)
Green tent -- Campground in Federal of state park or monument
Ballons -- Mostly for other campgrounds. The color code is:
: Green -- Looks appealing
: Yellow -- Might do
: Orange -- Looks poor
: Blue -- Not evaluated yet
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Apr 17th, 2011, 04:01 PM
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We did this loop two years ago in early October. We had fantastic weather. Made no reservations at all and had no problems at all finding campsites in all locations. Colors were starting to change. Fantastic time of year IMO.
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Apr 17th, 2011, 07:32 PM
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A good site for checking out NFS campgrounds is forestcamping.com. Some take reservations , some not. Checking the last two weeks in May for Red Canyon and Singletree (the only two I looked up) they both had several sites available.
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Apr 18th, 2011, 06:50 PM
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Oh my pconte! Your google map makes my head spin. I just dodn't plan on that level of detail for my camping trips. Plus, I kind of like a good old paper map

The national forest service web site has good links to all the campgrounds. I will say that most of Utah's campgrounds over 6,000 ft. will be very nice. Over 7,000 ft. gets you aspens. The Fish Lake and Navajo Lake areas are gorgeous.
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Apr 19th, 2011, 03:46 AM
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Wow! your map looks great. One more place to check out in the Moab area is Dead Horse State Park. It is on a spur off the road into Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands and I've never done the camping thing, but the descriptions of the campgrounds there sound nice.

The part of the route that goes up/down route 95 is very scenic and there are a couple of places west of the entrance road to Natural Bridges NP (which I don't remember if you are stopping at and don't know about camping there but worth a look} where there are pull offs for photo ops.

If you can't decide on spring or fall, do both!!
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