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Zion vs. Capitol Reef

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Zion vs. Capitol Reef

I know this may be a touchy subject for the Zion fans, but after reading about the crowds, shuttle, and parking situation, I am fearing Zion would not be the best park for us to visit on our road trip.

I am also told not to miss Capitol Reef, which also looks amazing...and less crowded.

Could I take a drive through the main highway through Zion, just to see the scenery and stop at overlooks and the visitor center?

OR would there be a different entrance to Zion that would be equally beautiful, but less busy?

OR would we be better off to choose Capitol Reef and avoid Zion completely since I am not crazy about crowds?

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Park City, Utah
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1. Re: Zion vs. Capitol Reef

Pretty hard to answer this without your overall trip context. There's a lot more to that region than just Capitol Reef and Zion so knowing your full plan would help.

For sure you could drive SR9 through Springdale in either direction and capture a bit of image from that drive. You could stop at visitor's center if you could find a place to park.

Give us your overall plan and the forum contributors can give you a better pathway to making your final decision.

Have fun.

Salt Lake City, Utah
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2. Re: Zion vs. Capitol Reef

@Tumbleweed, Stacy has a thread on the Road Trip forum.

@Stacy, perhaps you could provide the link to that thread.

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3. Re: Zion vs. Capitol Reef

I'll spare you the reading of that post since I have revamped since posting that plan. Here's the current tentative plan:

Day 1 Drive across SD. Camp and tour at Wind Cave.

Day 2 Drive to Questa, NM. Camp at NFS campground. (Driving day)

Day 3 Hike Tent Rocks. Hike and camp at El Morro.

Day 4 Drive to Grand Canyon. Camp at Mather Campground with reservations.

Day 5 Drive to Hoover Dam. Camp at Valley of Fire.

Day 6 Drive through Zion. Camp?? (No reservations at Watchman)

Day 7 Drive to Bryce. Camp ?? (North and Sunset are being paved)

Day 8 Possible Capitol Reef day and camp there.

Day 9 Drive to Maroon Bells. Camp and hike. (Other ideas welcome here!)

Day 10 Drive to Black Hills. NFS campground. (Driving day)

Day 11 Badlands and drive home.

The trip is me and my 18yr old son and 15yr old daughter. I should probably also share last year's trip so you know where in Utah we have already been.

Day 1 Black Hills & camp by Mt Rushmore

Day 2 Visit School of Mines and hotel in Cheyenne

Day 3 Rocky Mtn NP, followed by an accidentally chosen Trough Road and camped in Moab (why I don't like reservations)

Day 4 Arches- Landscape Arch & Canyonlands - Mesa Arch. Same campsite in Moab

Day 5 Delicate Arch, shopping in Moab and drove to Goblin Valley to camp.

Day 6 Goblin Valley, a quick look at Little Wild Horse but it was too hot to hike, then drove to Timpanogos Cave area and camped nearby + shopped 2 LEGO stores outside SLC while it poured at our campsite

Day 7 Timpanogos Cave, then the scenic byway and camped in Alpine, WY

Day 8 Grand Tetons and camped at Colter Bay

Day 9 Drove home with stops at Mt Rushmore and Badlands + a couple stops for naps

Scenic routes, hiking, and camping is what we do. That's why I am debating about Zion.

Also in researching that, I found the Bryce campground roadwork which is really a problem because Bryce was the main reason for our trip. We skipped it last year and went to Timanogos Cave instead. I visited Bryce 26 years ago and have always wanted to go back to see it again when I could hike down into it.

So...I already know I am crazy! I just really need an opinion on what I should skip.

Also, none of us has been to Nevada so we don't really want to skip our night there.

Thanks for your help!!

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4. Re: Zion vs. Capitol Reef

Did anyone have thoughts on Zion vs Capitol Reef? I posted my itinerary and also what we did last year since we spent three days doing Arches, Canyonlands, and Goblin Valley.

I am not interested in the iconic Zion hikes because I don't like heights or trekking through water. I am really thinking a drive through with stops at overlooks would probably be enough for us and then camp somewhere between there and Bryce. Then do Bryce as early as we can get there. Not sure that I still want to do Bryce for 2 nights if I can't camp in the park, so my next option is Capitol Reef.

My purpose for the trip was to take in more of Bryce...all the rest of my itinerary is just stops to get to Bryce and back.

Edited: 25 April 2018, 14:21
Salt Lake City, Utah
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5. Re: Zion vs. Capitol Reef

I concur with your concern about the crowds at Zion. Doing a drive thru on highway 9 would be OK if you hadn't thrown in the idea of stopping at the visitor center. Unless you get to the visitor center by 8 AM, you most likely won't find a parking spot there. That means you would have to pay for parking in the town of Springdale and walk or take the shuttle bus to the visitor center. Parking is expensive; $1 for the first hour, $3.50 for the second hour and $22 for all day. To drive through Zion on highway 9 from Springdale out the east entrance means you will pay the $35 entry fee. But if you have an America the Beautiful annual pass, that may not be an issue.

There are just two entrances to Zion. One is from the town of Springdale and the other is on highway 9. Highway 9 is the main street in Springdale, goes directly in to the park and out the east entrance.

I really like Capitol Reef. It's less crowded that Zion or Bryce. If you can score a campsite at the Fruita Campground inside the park, it would be a delightful stay. Fruita campground takes reservations. There's also a nice Forest Service Campground, Single Tree, on highway 12 not too far from Torrey. I think it's FCFS.

Edited: 25 April 2018, 14:43
Tacoma, Washington
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6. Re: Zion vs. Capitol Reef

For Zion the les busy part is Kolob Canyon off of 15.

Id skip Zion...

With Capitol Reef---much of this park is off road and requires high clearance vehicle. You can explore UT 12 Escalante and parts of Capitol Reef

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7. Re: Zion vs. Capitol Reef

Kolob Canyon will be closed after June 1 for construction.

There are walks and hikes at Capitol Reef that can enjoyed with out going in to backcountry. Hickman Bridg and Grand Wash can be accessed from highway 24. Capitol Gorge is at the end of the scenic drive.

From highway 12, the paved portion of the Burr Trail is a great scenic drive. If you do the drive over highway 12 right, you’ll spend most of the day at overlooks/points and stopping to do the hike at Calf Creek Falls.

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8. Re: Zion vs. Capitol Reef

Connie, really the only reason we would have to stop at the visitor center would be to pick up Jr Ranger books, but with no other visitor centers, we couldn't turn them in any way unless they also take them in Bryce. Mailing is too expensive and just not the same as having a chat with the ranger to go with the badge. We've met some really awesome (and hysterical) rangers by doing Jr Rangers.

I doubt we could make an 8am arrival there with our night in Valley of Fire the night before anyway. I'm showing 2.5 hours drive time, plus we have a tent to take down. I suppose I could add a night that's somewhere closer to Zion, which would give us more time to spend in Valley of Fire. That place looks so amazing and I have been thinking I don't have enough time there anyway. Any recommendations for campgrounds within an hour of Zion?

Also recommendations for campgrounds between Zion and Bryce?

We have an America the Beautiful pass that I bought last June so no concerns with the fee.

I will check on the Fruita Campground.

Thanks for your help!

Edited: 25 April 2018, 15:39
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9. Re: Zion vs. Capitol Reef

"There are walks and hikes at Capitol Reef that can be enjoyed without going into backcountry. Hickman Bridge and Grand Wash can be accessed from highway 24. Capitol Gorge is at the end of the scenic drive.

From highway 12, the paved portion of the Burr Trail is a great scenic drive. If you do the drive over highway 12 right, you’ll spend most of the day at overlooks/points and stop to do the hike at Calf Creek Falls."

This is great info! Thank you, Connie! I can do gravel roads, but I'm not crazy about being out in the desert on a gravel road with no cell signal and a couple of teens if something should happen. I like to play it safe.

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10. Re: Zion vs. Capitol Reef

There is a just one visitor center at Zion. If the Jr.Ranger program is important,then it may be worth the parking hassle at Zion. Only you can decide that.

I don't camp much in this area. So I'm not going to be much help in recommending campgrounds. Hopefully others more in the know will be along with information.

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