Desert Blitz

Canyonlands, National Park, Utah

Canyonlands, National Park, Utah     Photo: Todd Antony/Gallerystock.com

The deserts of southern Utah are home to five national parks, and with a little fortitude and planning you can hit them all in one 400-mile swoop. Start in Moab. Arches National Park, just north of town, is mostly easily accessible, day-trip-friendly country; opt for the park’s longest maintained trail, the Devil’s Garden Primitive Loop, which winds seven miles through rows of giant sandstone fins. From Arches it’s an hourlong drive on Route 313 to Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky, where the eight-mile Syncline Loop Trail drops 1,300 feet from a mesa overlook to the edge of the Upheaval Dome crater. Day three: grab a falaco (falafel taco) from Moab’s Wake and Bake (wakeandbakecafe.com) and leadfoot it 145 miles to Capitol Reef National Park. It’s best seen from a mountain bike: the Cathedral Valley Loop covers 60 miles of dirt, sand, and rock roads (rentals from $40 from Backcountry Outfitters in Torrey; ridethereef.com). From Capitol Reef, it’s a 2.5-hour drive to Bryce Canyon, a natural amphitheater; check out the odd rock formations on the eight-mile Fairyland Loop trail. Last stop: Zion National Park, two hours southwest. Pitch your tent at South Campground ($16 per night; first come, first served) and get a crash course in canyoneering from Zion Adventure Company, located just outside the park in Springdale ($149 per person, zionadventures.com). Then strike out for Keyhole Canyon, where you’ll negotiate 20-foot rappels, chimneys, and cold-water swims

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