The Utah National Parks Guide for Non-Hikers
Not everyone is able to hike miles at a time. Some people are physically limited, and, for others, it’s just not their cup of tea. I had a reader reach out to me recently asking if a road trip through the Utah National Parks was worthwhile if she wasn’t able to go on long hikes. Well, good news, the answer is a resounding yes!
I’m taking a moment out of writing about my nordic trip to go over some easier walks and travel plans through Utah for those who are unable to make long journeys.
I Can Relate
Despite my love for long hikes through rugged terrain, I can understand traveling with physical limitations. For the past 7 years, I’ve been living with lymphedema, a condition which causes painful swelling in my left foot. I’m very fortunate to have a relatively mild case of it, but it causes constant discomfort and I can definitely feel it after a 20 mile hike!
I feel grateful that I’m able to manage my lymphedema without too much of an effect on my activities. Ironically, sitting on a plane or inside of a car is worse than taking a long hike for me. The things I need to do to manage the swelling and pain give me a deep appreciation for those who have bigger hardships to live through, and it’s high time I write a guide to help out those who feel like they’re left out of seeing these beautiful parks because of physical limitations.
Going Through It Park By Park
I’ll be going through each park I visited and will provide a general guide for non-hikers. The reader who initially inspired this post told me she is limited to hikes of 1 mile or less, and could not cover challenging terrain. These challenges will be the focus of this post. I will do my best to include short, easy walks as well as some wheelchair accessible options in order to cover as much ground as I can. If you are wheelchair-bound and have visited any of these parks, I would love to hear from you and incorporate your experiences!
Monument Valley For Non Hikers
Monument Valley is a perfect park to visit if you are a non-hiker. Every single iconic view is accessible by car, with barely any hiking required. If you want a more immersive experience, you can even hire a Navajo guide to take you beyond the tourist section and give you a deeper insight into the park and its history.
The Monument Valley Drive follows a deeply packed sandy road which is easily negotiable by just about any regular sized vehicle, although it does have a few bumpy sections. Each iconic stop has its own parking area right next to the viewpoints, so you’ll never have to worry about whether or not you can make it. Oftentimes you can even see the sights right from the car, especially if you hire a Navajo guide!
If Monument Valley is just a quick stop on your way into Utah, you can always swing by the visitor center and grab a quick look at the Mittens, although you’ll still have to pay the $10 entry fee into the park. On your way out, be sure to pull over around mile marker 13 on Highway 163 in Utah and look behind you for one last beautiful view of the park. This area is also where Robert Zemeckis famously filmed the part in Forrest Gump where Forrest stops running.
Where To Stay
Accommodation: The View Hotel
Notes: This is the only hotel in Monument Valley, but thankfully it’s not bad! I highly recommend a cabin with a view of the Mittens, it was magical waking up to that sight. The ground floor of the main hotel is also wheelchair accessible as well.
Arches National Park For Non Hikers
Arches National Park is a great park for those who can go on short walks, but may be difficult for those in a wheelchair. However, if you can walk along level ground for fairly short distances, this park is swimming with beautiful and easy-to-reach attractions. For a full overview of the park, check out their park map!
Arches is conveniently located in Moab and has one main road running through the entire park, making it easy to navigate. Just be sure to prepare for crowds in the high season, because it’s a very popular park! Here’s a list of some easy to access attractions in Arches National Park.
The Wilson Arch
The Wilson Arch isn’t even inside the park, but is quite spectacular nonetheless. You can see it right from highway 91 and there is a convenient area to pull off and admire it. If you’re up for a short uphill climb, you can stand right in the middle of it. The Wilson Arch is a great place for viewing sunset or having a picnic stop.
The Landscape Arch
Once you enter the park, I recommend starting early and heading directly to the north end. Here you’ll find a busy parking lot and the Devil’s Garden Trailhead, which leads to the Landscape Arch. There are restrooms and water filling stations located in this parking lot should you need to make a pit stop.
The walk to the landscape arch is over mostly level ground, however it is a little bit on the long end of the “easy walk” spectrum. It’s a 1.6 mile round trip from the parking lot and is considered a “barrier free” trail, meaning it contains minor obstacles but could be done on a wheelchair with assistance.
The Skyline Arch
The Skyline Arch is reached from the designated parking area on the side of the road just south of the Devil’s Garden Trailhead. The path to the Skyline Arch is not considered wheelchair friendly, but is an easy destination for visitors whom can handle a short 0.4 mile round trip walk. The trail to the Skyline Arch is mostly level, easy to navigate, and it makes for a nice short photo stop.
The Sand Dune Arch
The trail to the Sand Dune Arch is all loose sand over flat terrain, making it an easy 0.3 mile round trip from the parking lot but unfortunately not ideal for wheelchair access. It’s a secluded arch in the middle of its own clearing, making it a quaint and easy to reach spot to hang out for a little while. The narrow canyon at the beginning of the pathway to the arch is also a fun feature to walk through.
Delicate Arch Viewpoints
The Delicate Arch is the most iconic feature in Arches National Park, but you don’t need to undergo the full 3 hour hike to get a good view of it. There are two viewpoints of the Delicate Arch, both accessible from the same parking lot.
The lower Delicate Arch viewpoint is only 100 yards from the parking lot and is fully ADA compliant and wheelchair accessible. You can get a decent view of the arch from here, but be prepared with a long camera lens if you want to get decent photos of it.
If you’re able to undertake a 0.5 mile hike that is mostly uphill, you can get much closer to the Delicate Arch at the upper viewpoint. The trail eventually disappears but you can venture out to the edge of the canyon that separates the viewpoint from the Delicate Arch. From here you can not only get great photos and views of the arch, but you can also take in the rest of the beautiful landscape around you.
The Windows And Turret Arch
At this location, you can get 3 arches in one location! The Turret Arch was one of my personal favorites, standing tall and dramatic. The first 100 yards of this trail are wheelchair accessible with assistance, and, for those not in wheelchairs, the pathway is flat and easy. The entire loop of the Turret Arch and Windows is exactly 1 mile and a relaxed walk, but if you’d like to make things easier on yourself you can head to whichever feature interests you the most (I recommend the Turret Arch in that case) and then turn around and head back to the parking lot.
The Double Arch
This was my favorite arch in all of Arches National Park. The trail is “barrier free” so is technically wheelchair accessible, but it would definitely require assistance due to the bumpy terrain. Other than the uneven path, the ground is level with no elevation change. It’s an awe-inspiring experience approaching this gigantic, monolithic arch and watching it tower over you as you walk underneath. The entire path is a 0.5 mile round trip from the parking lot, making it the biggest value for your steps walked in the park!
Finally, we have Balanced Rock, located near the intersection of the main road through Arches National Park and the side road that takes you to the Windows. Part of this pathway is paved and fully ADA compliant and wheelchair accessible, and Balanced Rock is only a 0.3 mile round trip from the parking lot. It’s the perfect viewpoint to say goodbye to the park on the way to your next destination.
Just because I’ve made this list doesn’t mean that these are the only things you can see in Arches National Park without hiking. The entire drive through the park is beautiful, and you’ll constantly find yourself pulling over to take photos of the stunning scenery around you. It’s a great park to behold, so make sure you take time to enjoy your surroundings while you’re focusing on your next scenic stop.
Where To Stay
Accommodation: Aarchway Inn
Notes: Although it’s a bit outside of Moab itself, the Aarchway Inn is one of the closest hotels to Arches National Park. It is also wheelchair accessible and had nice rooms and amenities.
Canyonlands National Park For Non Hikers
Located just down the road from Arches National Park, Canyonlands is another beautiful park situated in Moab. It’s filled with easy to reach viewpoints, and since you bought your annual National Parks Pass (you did buy one, right?) it’s a no-brainer to stop by for a visit!
Canyonlands is divided into two sections separated by a deep canyon. It will take roughly 2 hours to drive from one section to the other, so you may be best served splitting visits to Canyonlands across 2 days. I you only have one day to stop by the park, then I recommend the Island in the Sky section due to both its proximity to Moab and its more popular landmarks.
I’ll list some of the easily accessible highlights here, but don’t take this as a comprehensive list. Be sure to consult your Trip Planning Map to get a full idea of what Canyonlands National Park has to offer!
Island In The Sky Easy Walks
Shafer Canyon Overlook
This is an easy stop with a gentle downhill walk which leads to a spectacular view. I have to admit this was only one of the two places I visited in Canyonlands for a quick sunset view, but even for that the trip was well worth it. You can walk all the way to the edge of the viewpoint for a cliffside seat of this gorgeous canyon.
The Mesa Arch
What trip to Canyonlands is complete without a stop by the Mesa Arch? Well, mine was, but only because I was foolish enough to spend too much time at Shafer Canyon and picked sunset at the Grand View Overlook instead. The Mesa Arch is the most iconic landmark in Canyonlands National Park and very popular for sunrise photos. To reach it requires an easy 0.5 mile round trip hike along the cliff, and you’ll be rewarded with an up close view of a beautiful arch.
Green River Overlook
The Green River Overlook is fully ADA compliant and wheelchair accessible. It provides a view of, you guessed it, the Green River! You can also get head-on views of Monument Basin from here, although the best views of that come from Grand View Overlook.
Buck Canyon Overlook
Another ADA wheelchair accessible viewpoint, and conveniently located right on the side of the main road of the Island in the Sky section of the park! This is also the highest elevation overlook in Canyonlands, so you get all of the view with none of the climbing effort!
Grand View Point Overlook
They don’t call it Grand View for nothing! Located at the end of the Island in the Sky road, this viewpoint offers sweeping panoramic views of the park. The viewpoint itself is paved and wheelchair accessible, and, if you’re up for some wandering, you can explore the large island to the west for as little or as much as you like for even better views!
The Needles Area Easy Walks
I should mention that I did not visit this area of Canyonlands National Park when I visited, but I’ll provide some notes on easy to access places according to the National Park Service. It’s a bit out of the way from Moab and Arches, but if you have the time it’s always worth checking out a new National Park!
Roadside Ruin is a short, 0.3 mile round trip walk that will take you to an ancestral Puebloan Granary. It is not listed on the wheelchair accessibility list, but shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who is able to handle a short walk.
Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook
The Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook is accessible by wheelchair and located right off the main road through the Needles area. You can see several rock formations from it, including a distant arch that is shaped like a wooden shoe. Who would have thought?
Pothole Point is a short 0.6 mile round trip hike from the parking area. The uneven ground prevents it from being wheelchair friendly, but shouldn’t be too bad of a walk for those who are able to. It will reward your short walk with a diverse landscape of water-filled potholes that sit right on the cliffside, giving a great opportunity for interesting and dramatic photos. This should also be a great place for sunrise or sunset as well!
Big Spring Canyon Overlook
This is the end of the road for the Needles section of the park. It’s not listed on the wheelchair accessibility section of the NPS website, but TripAdvisor reviews indicate it’s an easy area to walk around. Enjoy the views of Big Spring Canyon and explore as much (or as little) as you like to take in the views this area has to offer!
Where To Stay
Accommodation: Aarchway Inn (again)
Notes: Canyonlands, especially the Island in the Sky section, is so close by Arches that it’s the perfect opportunity to double up and visit two parks in one day.
Bryce Canyon National Park For Non Hikers
Bryce is an incredible park with one of the most unique landscapes I’ve ever seen. I wrote in my previous Utah National Parks post that most people spend a half day here, although I recommend more. The truth is, if you are limited in mobility, a half day might make more sense. You’ll get all of the views and maybe even some up close walks, and it’s located right on the way to Zion National Park so it won’t be much of an inconvenience.
Sunrise, Sunset, And Inspiration Points
These are the 3 viewpoints that line the east rim of the Amphitheater. If you’re up for a bit of walking, then park at the Sunset parking lot and walk along the rim trail. Each of these points is roughly 0.5 miles apart from one another with great views all along the path. The entire rim trail is fully paved and level for the most part, except the trail leading to inspiration point. To get to Inspiration Point, you’ll need to traverse a well defined sandy trail and climb a small hill.
If you are more mobility limited or not in the mood for a walk, you can drive between each of these points and park at the conveniently located parking lots for each one. For inspiration point in particular, driving to the parking lot will save you quite a bit of climbing, so I recommend doing so if you are at all concerned about making it up the hill.
All three of these points give fantastic views over the hoodoos and the entire Amphitheater. Even if these are the only things you see in Bryce Canyon, it’s absolutely worth a visit to see this incredibly cool park.
Bryce Point is located on the other side of the Amphitheater from Inspiration point, offering a different view of the Amphitheater. Unless you’re doing a longer hike you’ll need to drive there. The parking lot was very full when I visited and I had to wait in line for around 10-15 minutes to find a spot, so be prepared for a bit of a delay when you visit.
Wall Street And The Navajo Loop
Alright, I may be bending the rules slightly with this one, but it’s 100% worth it if there is any way you can make it. Wall Street is not a long walk from Sunset Point, and it doesn’t take much to see it’s grandeur. The challenging part is the descent and climbing out on the way back.
Wall Street is rated as a “moderate” hike and the dirt path is very clearly formed and compacted, but it will require you to wind back and forth on the switchbacks and put in a bit off physical effort. I can assure you, it’s well worth it. You’ll feel like Indiana Jones exploring lost canyons as you descend among the steep hoodoos.
If you can handle it, the entire Navajo Loop is a 1.3 mile round trip and a great way to get up close and personal with the hoodoos. If you’d like to shorten the trip, then just descend into Wall Street and take a look around before turning around and heading back the way you came.
Where To Stay
Accommodation: Grand Staircase Inn
Cost: $87.89/night for 2 nights
Notes: Obviously, if you’re only spending a half day here, it makes more sense to stay near Zion National Park.
Closer To The Park: Bryce View Lodge
If You’re Feeling Fancy: Stone Canyon Inn
Other Info: You can view the map of Bryce Canyon National Park here!
Zion National Park For Non Hikers
Zion was absolutely my favorite of all of the Utah National Parks that I visited. While the lengthy, adventurous hikes were what really made the park for me, there is plenty to see without straining yourself as well. Zion has a fantastic mandatory shuttle system (no vehicles can stop inside the park from April through October) making it easy to go anywhere in the park at your leisure. All buses are wheelchair accessible and there are paved paths throughout the park.
This paved path is a bit longer than the rules I had set for myself at almost 2 miles, but I would be remiss not to mention it due to the ease of access. It starts at the Canyon Junction shuttle stop and continues all the way through the south campground. The path is wide and fully paved, making it quite wheelchair friendly.
Although it is primarily intended as a bicycle path, I encountered many other casual walkers and photographers along the trail. It’s a beautiful stroll that crosses rivers (via bridges) and winds through Zion’s beautiful scenery.
The Grotto Trail
The Grotto Trail is essentially a continuation of the Pa’rus trail, just without the paved path. This short 0.5 mile walk connects the South Campground to the Visitor Center and, while it’s not quite as scenic as the rest of the park, is a nice place for a short stroll whenever you’re in the mood.
Court Of The Patriarchs
This viewpoint involves a very short uphill walk on a paved path, which rewards you with a view of several of Zion’s famous peaks. The Court of the Patriarchs has its own shuttle stop, making it a snap to visit for a quick hello.
The Lower Emerald Pools Trail
At a 1.2 mile round trip, this might be a bit too long for some people, but it is an easy trail and very beautiful. This path will take you underneath a waterfall and around the Lower Emerald Pool for a scenic stroll through a lush section of the park.
Weeping Rock is another very short walk on a paved path. It has its own shuttle stop and takes roughly 10 minutes to reach, winding through nice scenery the whole time. At the end you’ll reach the Weeping Rock, and you’ll clearly see why it’s named that way! Stand behind the wall of water and get more beautiful views of the peaks around you.
Located at the last shuttle stop, the Temple of Sinawava, the Riverside Walk is a fully paved and wheelchair accessible pathway that leads to the trailhead for the Narrows. The path is one mile long in one direction with negligible elevation gain. As you may have guessed from the name, the Riverside Walk follows the Virgin River along its entirety. It’s fun to sit at the end of the pathway and watch people return from hiking the Narrows. For bonus points, find the people who hiked the narrows in hilariously inappropriate clothing!
Zion Bonus: Wildlife Viewing
There is quite a bit of wildlife to be seen at Zion National Park, and it’s difficult to predict where they will show up. While visiting Zion, I saw deer, wild turkeys and bighorn sheep all near busy areas filled with people. Keep your eyes peeled and try to out-spot your friends and family!
Where To Stay
Accommodation: Majestic View Lodge in Springdale (wheelchair friendly).
Notes: It’s a bit out of the main section of Springdale, but is directly across the street from a shuttle stop, making it super convenient. If you want to get in the park before it opens, you’ll still have to drive in to the visitor center, though. The rooms on the east side of the street feel more private with a nice view as well.
The Only Place IN The Park: Zion Lodge (Must reserve WAY in advance, is wheelchair friendly)
(Slightly) Lower Budget Alternative: Quality Inn & Suites Montclair
Page, Arizona For Non-Hikers
If you’re visiting Utah from Arizona, Page is a great place to stop on your way back. Even if you aren’t it’s filled with beautiful sights that perfectly compliment a road trip through Utah’s National Parks. Here are a few attractions and how they rate for mobilty-limited visitors.
Lake Powell is surrounded by canyons with small, winding rivers that take you up close to these beautiful sights. Seeing the lake is easy, you can take a tour or rent your own wheelchair accessible houseboat! Page is worth visiting for Lake Powell alone, but amazingly there are even more things that this city has to offer!
Lower Antelope Canyon
I’ve written about Lower Antelope Canyon before, and while it may look intimidating it’s actually not bad at all. If you can handle some steep, metal stairs, then you’ll have no problems touring this beautiful slot canyon, but unfortunately it is not wheelchair accessible. If you’re very motivated, however, it would appear that Upper Antelope Canyon can be done with some prep work!
The regular tour of Lower Antelope Canyon lasts about an hour and is less than a mile of walking. There will be plenty of photo stops and opportunities to rest, and you’ll want them anyways so that you can take in the beautiful slot canyon walls around you!
Horseshoe Bend is another iconic viewpoint in Page, one that you’ve almost undoubtedly seen a picture of before. It’s not wheelchair accessible as the path is bumpy and goes over a fairly tall hill. At a 1.25 mile round trip, it might be a bit much for other mobility-limited travelers as well, but the view is well worth it if you can make it. There’s nothing like seeing the canyon suddenly appear in front of you as you reach the end of the trail.
Horseshoe Bend is best around sunset if you’re planning to get great photos. Be sure to arrive early as it gets very crowded each evening. One thing I would recommend, despite the many, many cars parked on the side of the road, is to park in the parking lot. I was a sucker and parked on the road after seeing everyone else there, only to walk all the way to the parking lot to find plenty of open spaces!
Where To Stay
Accommodation: Comfort Inn & Suites Page
Additional Notes: What can I say? It’s a Comfort Inn. Centrally located near both Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend, and wheelchair friendly.
Lower Budget Alternative: Rodeway Inn Page (near Lake Powell)
Get Out There And Make Your Adventure!
I can understand why traveling to the Utah National Parks with limited mobility can be intimidating, especially since I tend to write about longer, more adventurous hikes. However as you can see, there is still plenty to do and explore even if you aren’t the hiking type.
I’d encourage everyone to take this same advice into account for just about any destination. Although certain places simply flat out require hiking, you can explore just about anywhere and take away a positive experience from any destination regardless of how mobile you are.
Do you have any feedback? Personal experiences? Suggestions? Let me know how I can improve my advice! Just comment below or email me personally, I’d love to hear any feedback.