This article is sponsored by Visit Utah, the official tourism site of the state of Utah. Learn more about Utah's endless activities and vacation options at VisitUtah.com.
Summer might still be a season away, but with the kids soon to be clamoring for an activity-filled getaway, there's no better time to start planning than now.
With five national parks perfect for mountain biking, hiking, climbing, rafting and even golf, Utah is the ideal destination for busy Southern California families. Not to mention an affordable one. Located just over 400 miles northwest of L.A., The Beehive State is easily accessible by car. And thanks to their concentration in the lower half of the state, Utah's five national parks can be strung together in a week-long road trip that satiates the entire family's thirst for adventure.
But taming such a sprawling landscape can be daunting. That's where the freshly redesigned VisitUtah.com comes in handy. Visually stimulating, easy to navigate and chockfull of invaluable resources like a full breakdown of accommodations fit for any budget and in-depth guides to the myriad outdoor activities (and outfitters) the state has to offer, the site is a one-stop-shop for planning your family's summer vacation.
Before you start packing the minivan and inflating the mountain bike tires, however, let's take a closer look at what you can expect at each of Utah's breathtaking national parks.
Zion National Park
With its soaring sandstone cliffs and deep canyons, it's no wonder that Zion is Utah's most visited park. Now in its 101st year of operation, it's also the state's oldest. Escape the crowds by exploring the park's extensive network of trails, some leading to iconic natural formations like Angles Landing and Weeping Rock, or join the kids on Ranger-led hikes, which are educational and free for the whole family.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Calling Bryce a canyon is a bit of a misnomer. Think of it more as a series of spectacular amphitheaters, each punctuated by thousands of thin rock spires known as "hoodoos." There's a shuttle service (free upon paying the entry fee), but why explore the park by bus when you can do it from the back of a horse or, better yet, during a guided moonlit hike?
Capitol Reef National Park
Known for Waterpocket Fold, a 75-mile-long geological formation that arcs its way through the park like a breaking wave frozen in time, Capitol Reef is also home to some of the state's best rock climbing, or "bouldering." For a calmer but no less enjoyable activity, bring the family to Fruita, an orchard where fruit can be picked in the heart of the park.
Canyonlands National Park
Thousands of feet below Canyonland's red rock pinnacles lie the Colorado and Green Rivers. Not to mention plenty of rapids. Navigate them in a guided raft, then dry off by bombing though the world-famous and seemingly endless miles of mountain bike and four-wheel-drive routes that web Utah's largest park.
Arches National Park
Over 2,000 natural stone arches grace this 73,000 acre park's peaceful terrain, while spires crowned by balancing boulders add to its otherworldly vibe. Take it all in via a 40-mile scenic drive, then go deeper by joining a ranger and exploring Fiery Furnace, a tight canyon where rare plants and cool grottos are protected by steep rock walls.
With so much to see and do in southern Utah, your family will pack a summer's worth of adventure into a single week. And with VisitUtah.com at your vacation-planning disposal, you'll be able to maximize each day of your visit.