On day one alone we saw enough to believe the hype. Fall really is southern Utah's moment of glory. The shimmering yellow cottonwoods in Zion National Park's Watchman Campground added a bright punch to the kaleidoscope of orange, salmon, and brick in the layered rock walls.
We scaled a steep incline on switchbacks chiseled into the vertical cliff, gripping a chain bolted to the sheer wall for safety. High above the valley floor we scrambled over boulders, gazed at freshwater pools, and ducked into Hidden Canyon*, an ancient, echoey ravine. *Editor's note: The Hidden Canyon trail is still closed as of September 2022 due to substantial rockfall.
When hearing my plan to pack my husband and our then elementary school–age kids into a recreational vehicle to witness autumn's spectacle in Utah's five national parks, friends had asked me, “Aren't you worried about your kids going stir-crazy in that RV for a week?” But on day two, having driven our hulking craft through the long tunnel cut into the rock that spit us out Zion's eastern side (oversize vehicles such as RVs require a permit to drive through the tunnel), I could tell it was not going to be a problem. We had barely come to a stop before they were out and scampering over the strangely striated pink hillsides. We spent a happy afternoon roaming a dreamy, labyrinthine landscape.
In the days that followed, the kids whittled sticks in the shadows of towering hoodoos at Bryce Canyon, cracked the morning ice off pools in the slickrock at Capitol Reef, tracked the cottontail bunnies that hide in the brush at Arches, tested the echo in every canyon they come across with yawps and whistles, and practiced their “desert parkour” at Canyonlands.