If you love the Great Outdoors, the Beehive State is definitely a place you need to visit. With five national parks packed close together, you can enjoy fun activities like white-water rafting, hiking, mountain biking, and cycling through stunning landscapes.
With so much to do in Utah, it’s easy to let money flow through your fingers like water. But you don’t have to re-mortgage your home to enjoy the best the state has to offer. With a little careful planning, you can find affordable accommodation and have lots of fun while on a budget.
Get To Utah For Less
When traveling to Utah, you’d probably assume the best place to arrive by air is Salt Lake City International Airport. Probably not.
Just southwest of the bottom southwest corner of Utah is McCarren International Airport in Las Vegas. This is the 9th-busiest airport in the world, so flights there are competitive. Finding a budget ticket will be easy. And it’s actually closer from Vegas to Zion National Park and Dixie National Forrest in Utah than from Salt Lake City.
If you’re planning to explore all the great national parks in Utah, you can hire a vehicle at competitive rates in Vegas (cheaper than Salt Lake City). Then you can plan a circular route around the beautiful attractions of Utah, ending back in Vegas.
Simply leave Vegas on the I-15 headed northeast to St. George, and you’ll be in Zion National Park within 3 hours. However, I’d recommend a lunch break and grocery shop in St. George before hitting the wilderness. You’ll be able to fatten up for less and buy cheap groceries for a budget camping adventure in the park.
Stay In Utah On A Budget
You don’t have to break the bank to stay in Utah. If you really want to keep costs low, I’d recommend you split your nights between camping and staying in low-cost motels or national park lodges.
If you’ve got a tent, you can find affordable campsites in all the national parks. Not only will this cost you little, but you’ll also benefit from waking in the center of the place you want to explore. You can even stay on many campsites for free if you buy a US Parks Pass (see below).
Some camping grounds are private, but in Utah many are public. You can find fancy places with flush toilets and running water, or you can choose more primitive sites that cost less.
National Park Lodges
If you prefer a roof over your head, check out the old ranger stations and lodges rented out by the National Park Service. While many of these will be basic, they’ll usually provide some modern conveniences and often will be cheaper than a motel. And, like the campsites, you’ll wake up in the middle of where you want to be.
Eat Economically In Utah
Cooking for yourself on a portable stove is a great option for economy meals. If you stock up at Walmart and other large stores along the roadside instead of tourist-oriented convenience stores near the parks, you’ll get your groceries for less.
Do Fun Things In Utah For Free
Nothing worthwhile in life comes for free, but you can considerably lower the costs involved. I save my money for the fun tours, such as white-water rafting trips. Other adventures in the Great Outdoors, I can enjoy on a tight budget.
Activities such as hiking, mountain bike riding, and cycling in national parks involve the initial cost of the equipment you use and entry fees into the parks and use of the carparks. Here’s where you can make a massive saving!
America the Beautiful – the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass
Buy an annual US Parks Pass. This beautiful plastic card provides access to the five national parks in Utah (or any of the 2,000+ Federal Recreation Sites across the nation) for the driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle.
This means you and your family get free park entrance, day-use fees, and amenity fees throughout your Utah adventure for a single, discounted payment.
There are a range of passes available directly from the National Park Service. A standard “America the Beautiful – the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass” costs $80.
Current US military personnel and their dependents can obtain a pass for FREE. Permanently disabled American citizens or residents are entitled to a free Access Pass. Federal agency volunteers with 250 service hours are also entitled to a free Volunteer Pass. Seniors can buy an annual Senior Pass for $20 or a lifetime pass for $80.
Cycling is a popular road sport in Utah. Cycling helps you stay healthy and happy. The Tour of Utah is one of only five UCI-sanctioned pro-cycling events in North America. You’ll find several great National Recreation Trails in the Beehive State.
While you’re in the Dixie National Forest, you can also enjoy the Red Canyon Bicycle Trail. This is a paved, National Recreation Trail passing picturesque red canyons, tall cliffs, and pine forest.
In Capitol Reef National Park, you’ll find the Capitol Reef Scenic Drive. This is a fantastic, 8-mile stretch of road with multiple attractions along the way. You can admire the 240-million-year-old Moenkopi rock formation and the historic Mormon settler town of Fruita, founded in the 1800s.
The world-famous Slickrock Trail runs across eroded ancient sea beds and petrified sand dunes. The sandstone surface of the trail provides excellent traction for mountain biking but is also noted for its unforgiving abrasive qualities when riders fall.
The Thunder Mountain Trail is found in the Red Canyon just outside Bryce Canyon National Park. It provides stunning views and a grueling ride. But if it proves too much of a challenge, there are 24 easier mountain biking trails around the Red Canyon.
With five national parks, obviously Utah is a great place to hike. Canyonlands National Park, for example, boasts 100s of miles of trails highlighting both the cultural and natural features of this fascinating area.
The trails through the colorful landscape of mesas, buttes, and canyons are marked by small cairns (rock piles), but you’re advised to bring a high-quality topographic map. These scenic hikes are well worth it for the panoramic views of the Green River and the many stunning rock formations you’ll see along the way.
This Utah national parks road trip itinerary is the perfect way to see all five parks on one epic 10-day road trip!
Utah truly has something for everyone! Hiking, biking, camping, and many more outdoor recreational options help make Utah the perfect vacation destination. These budget friendly tips will help you plan your visit and save money but still allow you to experience the beauty and fun that Utah offers.
Have you visited Utah and have other budget saving tips to share? Tell us about it in a comment below.
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