The worst of winter is over but, in many parts of the country, the warm clear days of spring are still weeks away. You're feeling the need to get away and what you're really looking for is some sun, blue skies, warm temperatures and great hiking. Look no further than the amazing desert country in southern Utah. Great spring weather, red rock cliffs, vast sagebrush and pinion plateaus, canyons wide and narrow, clusters of towering peaks and a rich Native American history combine to create a landscape and feel that will draw you time and again.
With five National Parks, seven national monuments and over 22 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land (40% of state) there is a desert vacation to suit every taste from the casual day hiker to the wilderness backpacker. The National Parks certainly have some of the best access to and concentration of great natural features but they also get the crowds. The National Monuments and BLM lands have equally stunning offerings and see far less traffic. Specific areas that I would recommend include the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park, the Circle Cliffs area of the new Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (East of Boulder, UT), the Vermillion Cliffs area of BLM land south of Zion National Park, and Cedar Mesa / Grand Gulch Primitive Area (Reservations required, contact the BLM at (435) 587-1532 for more details).
For your first trip to southern Utah you might be tempted to try and explore too many places. Resist this urge and concentrate your trip on just one or two areas. Otherwise you'll likely leave feeling like you spent too much time in the car and too little getting to know any specific area of the state.
Spring is the best time to hit the desert as temperatures reach mid 50's to 70's during the day and 30 to 45 at night. Clear skies are almost constant in the desert and many canyons are alive with flowering plants and rushing water from snow melt. So get out there and enjoy!
Getting there: To access Southern Utah consider flights into:
Be prepared: Make sure you select hikes that are within your skill level. There are a great many hikes in canyons that are straight forward and require no special skills but there are also many canyons that require a good bit of scrambling or even technical climbing to follow. If you are hoping to do some car camping at state of national parks, contact the park headquarters and ask them how busy they expect to be when you visit. Arches, Canyonlands and Zion National Parks don't take reservations so you may have to show up early in the day to get a campsite. Make sure that you carry enough water with you and know where water is available on your route. Your body requires at least 3-4 quarts of water a day in the desert to stay hydrated. It goes without saying, but always take a good 7.5 minute map and compass with you when you go backcountry and know how to use them.
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