Back in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act, which created the National Park Service. This act defined the primary purpose of the National Park Service to, in essence, conserve the nation’s beauty for the enjoyment of future generations.
Since then, the United States has designated 62 national parks, five of which are right here in Utah—third-most in the nation.
If you haven’t visited Utah’s crown jewels recently, the fall and winter seasons are the best time to enjoy their beautiful landscapes, without the heat—and possibly the crowds. Since the designation as national parks, Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef national parks have received millions of visitors each year, making good on the Organic Act’s promise of enjoyment for future generations.
While natural splendor is a well-known aspect of these parks, there are many little-known interesting facts you may not be aware of. Here are just nine of them.
Zion National Park
It has one of the largest freestanding arches on Earth
Don’t get this confused with Arches National Park, but Zion has one of the largest freestanding arches—anywhere. According to the Department of Interior, Kolob Arch is longer than 287 feet long. The only arch that’s longer is found in, you guessed it, Arches National Park.
You can hike to Kolob Arch in the backcountry of Zion, but you can also see several other arches throughout the park. For more information, check out the National Parks Service website.
Winter in Zion is completely underrated
If the only time you’ve visited Zion is during the heat and crowds of summer, you have missed out on one of Utah’s most hidden gems: the allure of Zion in the winter. Offering a wonderful escape from the snow up north, Zion’s trails are accessible year-round, and favorite hiking spots like the Narrows are made all the more beautiful by the winter season.
Zion has the lowest elevation of Utah’s five national parks, which means that, while temperatures are cooler than in the summer, they stay mild and inviting in the winter. According to the National Parks Service, the average temperature in the winter months ranges from the low 50s to the low 60s.
It has some of the best hikes in the world
With trails for serious and amateur hikers alike, Zion has something for everyone. On nearly any travel or hiking blog, you’ll consistently find Angel’s Landing and The Narrows at the top of everyone’s bucket list.
The Earth Trekkers blog lists both trails as some of the best in the world—not just the United States. With the cool water flowing through The Narrows and the incredible sights of Angel’s Landing, it’s not hard to see why so many people travel from all over the world to experience Zion.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon isn’t actually a canyon
Bryce Canyon, despite what its name states, isn’t actually a canyon, according to Garfield County Office of Tourism. Instead, Bryce Canyon is a conglomeration of more than a dozen naturally occurring amphitheaters, formed by erosion and frost wedging. These large rock hollows, going more than 1,000 feet into the stone, have created hoodoos, bridges, and other surreal landscapes. Even so, it is not a singular canyon as the name suggests.
Bryce Canyon used to be part of a cattle ranch
Can you imagine setting up shop for your cows in what is now Bryce Canyon? The park is actually named after the rancher who started running cattle in the area, Ebenezer Bryce.
National Geographic quotes Bryce as famously saying “It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.”
The Hoodoos are believed to be real people
According to Utah’s Bryce Canyon Country, Utah’s Paiute Native American tribe holds the belief that the Bryce Canyon hoodoos are actually an ancient crowd of people turned to stone by the mythological god, Coyote. Frozen rock people or not, the hoodoos are a surreal sight to behold and explore.
Capitol Reef National Park
Fruit orchards are everywhere
Early in the 1900s, in the pioneer community of Fruita, settlers planted many large orchards in one of the most beautiful locales in the American West—now known as Capitol Reef National Park. These unexpected features of the park are still maintained today by the National Park Service using old-time techniques and still produce fruit that is free to pick from trees with designated “U-Pick Fruit” signs.
The name has two origins
No, there is no coral reef to be found in Capitol Reef National Park. But, the name does come from two sources. First, early settlers thought that the trademark white domes looked like the nation’s capitol building, thus the Capitol in the name. Second, the famous Waterpocket Fold, a nearly 100-mile long warp in the earth's crust, was seen as a barrier to travel (like a reef), and commonly referred to as a reef. Thus, the name Capitol Reef was born.
It has elements of all the other Utah national parks
Sometimes Capitol Reef National Park can feel overshadowed by some of Utah’s more popular National Parks, but that doesn’t mean it’s not amazing. In fact, it’s considered one of the most underrated national parks in the country, according to Barclays Travel. It really does have a little of everything—including stunning desert landscapes, a massive network of hiking trails, slot canyons, petroglyphs, historical sites, arches, sandstone towers and bridges, and layered cliffsides and hills.
If you’re curious to see what else you can discover in these southern Utah national parks, now is the time. Fall is the best time of year to experience the majesty of Southern Utah National (SUN) Parks. Start planning your trip with their park itineraries for free on their site.