RVing to Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks in Winter
A wonderful Winnebago Solis adventure around Utah’s Canyon Country!

By: Christian Gilbert

The desert southwest region of the United States should be atop of any true American road warriors agenda. In order to truly understand the geographical landscape of our amazing country, traveling throughout the red canyons of this area is a must.

It is HUGE and often when a place is so vast, travelers shy away because they don’t know “where to begin.” This playground of exploration is a true hands-on experience for all ages, in that it is WIDE OPEN for all to enjoy.

Mesa Arch at Canyonlands National Park.

Throughout the years, we have made many pilgrimages to this region and this past holiday season, we jumped into our Winnebago Solis to experience this place in the dead of winter. 

We all had suspicions that the Utah winter would whip us and that we might end up spending the entire holiday week cooped up in our Winnie away from the cold and snow. We researched, read, made contingencies, and were slightly worried since we didn’t know exactly what we were getting ourselves into, but DANG was it a great time.

As a family, our goal as tourists is not to vacation, but to explore. This means we always have rather an aggressive agenda and tend to strive to see and do everything, which involves a great amount of movement throughout the landscape. This winter adventure was no different in that we wanted to not only complete the “Mighty Five of Utah” in one push, but also get out into each park and unlock a few more secrets. 

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.” - Edward Abbey 

#1 - Arches National Park

Turret Arch on Windows Loop Hike at Arches National Park.

KIDS LOVE ARCHES! The obvious starting point for a north to south traverse of Utah’s Mighty Five is the red rock playground of Arches National Park. Seriously, the arches and flowing rock formations throughout this park bring out a primal need to scramble, climb, and explore in kids of all ages. 

Arches is the perfect park to start out in and get situated. Ease of access and a simple layout will give a newcomer to the Utah desert a bit of confidence to seek out more. One of the best things about Arches National Park is that it lies just north of the city of Moab, a little bustling adventure city with many amenities.

Walk the Walk: Best Trails in Arches

1. Walk Park Avenue to Courthouse Rock: You can do this as a one-way if one driver parks the van at Courthouse and walks up back to the group.
2. Explore the Windows Section: This is a loop hike around a formation with multiple large Arches.
3. Out and Back Hike of the Devils Garden: This hike ONLY gets better the further you go … amazing rock scrambling and views.
4. Morning Iconic Phantom Ranch to Delicate Arch Hike: This this three-mile round trip trail is very friendly for all levels of hikers.

Talk the Talk: Fun Facts About Arches

1. What makes Utah Canyon/Red Rock Country “red”? One element, Iron.

2. Arches NP is home to the most densely concentrated group of natural arches on earth … 2,000+ documented arches! 

3. An Arch, to be “officially documented” by the NPS, must have a light opening of at least three feet in one direction. 

Arches National Park Devil’s Garden Campground (51 Sites) FCFS in “winter.”

Camping in Arches National Park at Devils Garden 

First-come, first-served sites at $25 per night
Our rating: 4 out of 5 stars in winter

Positives: Clean, paved roads/pads, nice bathrooms, and easy access to the Devils Garden area of park. CANNOT beat the camp views! 

Negatives: 18 miles one-way from park entrance, and if it gets real cold and windy, this spot could be a bit miserable.

#2 - Canyonlands National Park

Winnebago Solis lunch break at Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands is a rough and rugged place. We truly believe this park rivals the Grand Canyon in regards to expansive views and the vertical feel above the steep canyon walls. 

The road warrior does need to know that the majority of Canyonlands NP is generally less accessible by normal family based RV travelers, but please don’t make the mistake and take a “pass” on this park. The main paved park road throughout the Island in the Sky district is packed full of quick hikes and stops to enjoy for the entire travel crew. This is one of the best places in the country to slow down, sit and simply ponder life as you look out over the endless carved landscape.

Walk the Walk: Best Trails in Canyonlands

1. Explore all the stops and turnouts along the paved road within the Island in the Sky District (main park road).
2. Grand Viewpoint Overlook: This is a 1.5-mile flat out and back hike to the marquee view of the park.
3. Go to Mesa Arch to take the iconic photo inside. (See ours at the beginning of this article!)

Talk the Talk: Fun Fact About Canyonlands

This park is home to the confluence of the Colorado and the Green Rivers, which have carved out this entire landscape!

Camping in Canyonlands National Park

Willow Flat ($15) or the Needles ($20) first-come, first-served in winter 

Due to time constraints, we did a half day morning in Canyonlands and then headed to Mighty #3 for the night … so no rating, but you will have the place to yourself if you stay in winter. Jut note that most access roads off the main road will be gravel.

#3 - Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef is the hidden gem within the Mighty Five. This park is probably the least hyped and talked about of Utah’s National Parks, but this quiet and cozy place is the perfect destination to hide away during the winter months.

I believe our family fell in love with this park because it just felt right. As Midwesterners, I think we found comfort in the unexpected tree-lined canyon bottoms within the Fruita region of the park.

Walk the Walk: Best Trails in Capitol Reef

1. Cohab Canyon Trail with hidden slot canyons referred to as “the 7 Wives” (departs from the campground).
2. Grand Wash hike with Cassidy Arch add on (an out and back hike that can take 30 min to 4 hours).
3. Petroglyph Panel

Talk the Talk: Fun Facts About Capitol Reef

1. Waterpocket Fold is literally a 100-mile “fold” in the earth’s surface. The entire park follows this fold and the main park paved road is the only paved road that crosses it. (Just think Geology, plate tectonics, uplift, erosion, and millions of years in the making!)

2. Petroglyphs are rock painting hieroglyphics (symbols used to represent words) and you can view petroglyphs in Capitol Reef!

3. The name Capitol Reef comes from the fact that early settlers thought that the bleached Navajo sandstone domes of the land looked like our nation’s capital building in Washington. And the same settlers referred to the Waterpocket fold as a reef … like in an ocean, a place that is a barrier for transportation.

Camping in Capitol Reef at Fruita 

$25 per night for first-come, first-served camping
Our rating: 5 out of 5 Stars in winter 

Positives: Heated bathrooms, quiet and secluded off the main park road, central location with easy access to visitor center, and one of THE BEST “non-advertised” hiking trails departs right from the campground. (Oh, and the high canyon walls light up at sunrise and sunset!)

Negatives: We have none … it’s a dreamy place and upon conversations with a few other campers, we learned that many make a point to spend the maximum allowed 14 days each winter.

#4 - Bryce Canyon National Park

Hiking in the Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Welcome to Bryce Canyon, the famous winter wonderland among the red rock hoodoo spires. Micro-Spikes and trekking poles might want to be packed for this wintertime national park stop. Why the added “extreme” hiking gear? Well, Bryce Canyon sits at an elevation of over 8,000 feet, so this park is very susceptible to big snow and cold winter events. 

According to many conversations with rangers, if your trip within the park coincides with a big winter event, the park is usually back to normal within 24 hours. These same rangers will also share that if your trip is delayed by winter, you are greatly rewarded by experiencing the grandeur of hoodoos under a fresh blanket of snow!

Walk the Walk: Best Trails in Bryce Canyon

1. Hike the Hoodoos Challenge: Complete it and get a prize at the visitor center!
2. Queens Garden with Navajo Trail: This includes Wall Street, Thors Hammer, and Two Bridges.
3. Walk the Rim Trail: A paved and easy access trail to all overlooks.

Talk the Talk: Fun Facts About Bryce Canyon

1. Hoodoos are geological sandstone pillars created by ice wedging, when water seeps into cracks, expands, and breaks off chunks of rock. (FYI - Bryce Canyon is home to the largest collection of Hoodoos on earth!)

2. Bryce Canyon is not actually a “canyon,” the area is a series of 12 amphitheaters that have been eroded into a plateau. (Canyons are worn away by flowing river water.) 

3. The park got its name from an early pioneer Ebenezer Bryce, who was sent to the area by the Church of Jesus Christ-Latter Day Saints because he had great skills as a carpenter and would be helpful in settling the area.

Camping at Capitol Reef North Campground 

$25 per night for first-come, first-served camping
Our Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars in winter 

Positives: Easy access to everything, clean, and well organized.

Negatives: Not really a negative, but this area will be covered in snow and walking around can be dicey with the freeze/thaw cycle of ice daily. AND due to the closeness of Zion nearby, it is much busier and it may have filled up by night’s end.

#5 - Zion National Park

Angels Landing Hike at Zion National Park.

Unlike the other four parks on this adventure, Zion will be busy and will give you summer vibes of increased traffic and crowds of people. Yes, Zion is gorgeous and you will constantly have your neck craned upwards taking in the views, but it comes with a price and was quite the shock for us. 

The proximity of Las Vegas is the main culprit, but (as we learned from the locals) the winter crowd is busy, yet manageable in comparison to the peak travel seasons of spring, summer, and fall. So, long story short, you will need to reserve your camping, you will need to enter the “lotteries” for the big hikes, and you may be forced to use the national park’s shuttle services to venture around the park.

Walk the Walk: Best Trails in Zion

1. Angels Landing Hike (must enter lottery for permit)
2. Canyon Overlook Hike
3. Observation Point Hike

Talk the Talk: Fun Facts About Zion

1. How did Zion get its name? Early Mormon settlers named this region Zion in the 1800s, which is Hebrew for sanctuary or refuge.

2. The Ancestral Pueblo people were the original inhabitants of the Zion canyons between 1500 and 800 years ago.

3. Did you know? The word “Anasazi” is a negative title given to the natives that lived within the desert southwest in 1927 through the archaeological Pecos Classification system. Navajo in origin, Anasazi means “ancient enemy,” which places a negative connotation with this group of people. The appropriate term to use is Ancestral Pueblo or Ancestral Puebloan.

Camping in Zion National Park at Watchman 

MUST reserve campsite, $30 per night with electric
Our rating: 3 out of 5 stars in winter

Positives: It is fun to be within walking distance of town (Springdale, UT). The campground is also well organized in close proximity to both national park and city transportation services. The dish washing station is open year round and it is within walking distance of a shower operated by Zion Outfitters at $4 for 5 minutes.

Negatives: It is busy and the place looks like it gets “loved to death.” Did we mention it is busy?

All good adventures need a bit of “spice” in order to add drama to the story of how everyone survived. Of course, no excursion across the great plains of the USA in winter can ever go smoothly and boy did we experience a doozie coming across this past holiday season. Drift busting, ice, 50+ mile per hour cross winds, and about eight inches of snow led to complete white-out conditions on our way out to Utah in our Winnebago Solis National Parks Edition Class B van

Our family is no stranger to the Ram chassis, but the Winnebago Solis is new to us in the past six months and DANG are we impressed with the handling of this machine. Not only did we have a comfy place to sleep, play cards, and hang out during the eight-hour interstate closure, but as soon as the state troopers allowed us back on the road, let's just say we hit the road with a full steam of confidence. 

I cannot say enough great things about how our van handled and this is so important to us (and everyone) because our vacation time is precious and it is great to know your vehicle is capable. Oh, and YES, kids slept up in the pop-top the entire trip with night time lows nearing 12 degrees. Lotta love for the Winnebago Solis during the winter months, a true four-season adventure pod!

Happy Trails! - Christian, Ray, Valerie, LilV and our faithful Winnebago Solis “Mearl.”


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User commented on February 19, 2024 7:28 PM
Thanks for this - we're planning stays at Zion and Bryce this year, at the very beginning of November. Could you explain exactly WHEN you went?
User commented on February 19, 2024 10:43 PM
Thank you for your comment! This trip was taken in late December/early January.
User commented on February 20, 2024 3:05 PM
Saw arches in a beautiful sunny day mid winter. Meanwhile, Canyonlands was socked in with clouds. I couldn’t see the vista beyond the arch in the top photo. Sadly, as others decide to brave the winter weather, our Parks will likely not offer this same experience and a break for the wildlife with few people, no reservations and light traffic.