Let’s face it—sometimes after a day of hiking in Utah canyon country, nothing beats a hot shower and a warm cozy bed. But if you want to totally unplug and stare at a gorgeous sunset instead of a TV screen at the end of the day, then pitching your tent among the red rocks is the way to go. These four scenic campgrounds will provide some of the best wake-up views you’ll find in canyon country. And the bonus is you’ll have great hiking right out your tent door.
The Devils Garden Campground is one of the most scenic campgrounds in southern Utah. Located at the end of the 18-mile road that runs through Arches National Park, the campground’s 52 sites are set amidst the dramatic sandstone fins of the Devils Garden. From the campground, you’ll have easy access to the Devils Garden hiking trails, which lead to popular arches like Landscape and Double O. Another great hike is the loop to Broken Arch and back to the campground, which takes you through a scenic section of sandstone fins and sand dunes. The trail begins at the end of the campground road. The downside to the campground’s popularity is that it can be next to impossible to get a site from mid-March through October unless you plan months ahead of time. All of the sites can be reserved up to 180 days in advance, so be sure and make your plans early.
Location: Arches National Park; Moab, Utah
Fruita Campground in Capitol Reef National Park offers an idyllic setting among historic orchards near the Fremont River. The campground’s 71 RV and tent sites have picnic tables and grills, and restrooms have running water and flush toilets. As the only developed campground in Capitol Reef, the sites tend to fill by early afternoon from spring through fall. Just across the road from the campground is the Cohab Canyon trail, where you can climb up to awe-inspiring views of Capitol Reef’s red cliffs. You can also walk over to the Historic Gifford House and Store, where you’ll find the tastiest fruit pies in the West. The small pies are made at a local restaurant and come in a variety of flavors like mixed berry, peach, rhubarb, cherry and, of course, apple. The campground doesn’t take reservations, so arrive early during the busy season.
Location: Capitol Reef National Park; near Torrey, Utah
Reservations: First-come, first-served only
If you’ve ever wanted to pretend you’re on Mars, the campground at Goblin Valley State Park is the perfect place for you to pitch your tent. In fact, the Mars Society’s “Mars Desert Research Station”—a simulated Mars habitat where science crews practice living on Mars—is located just outside of Hanksville, and the Martian landscape in the movie John Carter was filmed not far from Goblin Valley. Set amidst the park’s mushroom-like rock features, the campground has 25 sites, all of which can be reserved. The bonus at this campground is that there are hot showers (okay, warm), which you will appreciate after a long day of hiking in the red dirt. If you’re up for a bit more “luxury,” you can rent one of the park’s two yurts—circular structures built on a wooden deck that include bunk beds, a dining table and chairs, solar-powered electricity, and propane heating stove.
Location: Goblin Valley State Park; about 30 miles northwest of Hanksville, Utah
I have to admit, this is my favorite campground in all of Utah canyon country—there’s just something about being 40 miles away from the nearest major road that gives you a feeling of true off-the-grid wilderness. Bates Wilson, the first superintendent of Canyonlands National Park, hand-picked the campground’s scenic location, saying that the Squaw Flat area epitomized what he thought the visitor experience should be: plenty of silence, a starry sky, and the dramatic rock formations of the Needles. The campground’s 26 sites have fire grates, picnic tables, and tent pads. Restrooms have water and flush toilets. You’ll have access to a variety of hiking trails right from the campground, including longer trails and a short loop trail that connects Loop A and Loop B of the campground. From late March through June and September to mid-October, the campground usually fills by noon, so arrive early to secure a site.
Location: Canyonlands National Park (Needles section); 75 miles from Moab, Utah
Reservations: First-come, first served only