Thanks, folks. We had a second home in central Utah for over 20 years, and after moving to BC we still get down to southern Utah for several weeks once or twice a year. Of course, we'd defer to 'streamers who live in Utah and would be more knowledgeable. They hopefully have their strategic camping sites close to the parks.
Originally Posted by SCOTTinNJ
Whats the best strategy for accounting for first come first serve sites? Show up early Monday morning? Are there local places to stay the night before (walmart, etc.)?Are there generally fallback places to stay that aren't hours away?
Scott, it really depends where you're going. Showing up early for non-reservable camping inside a national park is a super idea, but sometimes it depends on other folks pulling out of their campsites. Sometimes there is a waiting line at 9:00 am, sometimes you can get in by noon. For sure weekends tend to be busier, with down times probably best around mid-week, due to campers taking long weekends. The park entrance stations generally post if the CGs are full, so you can try elsewhere. If this happens, ask the ranger at the entrance station where the best overflow camping would be.
Our Plan B has often been small mom & pop RV parks. These are listed in the big Good Sam guide, or whatever app people may have. (Warning: cell phone service is sporadic in the national parks, and elsewhere may be restricted to Verizon.) Probably the hardest park for overflow camping that is close to Zion Canyon in and around Springdale, UT, is Zion NP, with the other parks seemingly having more RV parks to choose from in the gateway communities.
We've stayed a couple of times at the Shooting Star RV resort in Escalante, which is east of Bryce Canyon. They have old Airstreams on site as stationary overnight rental units, and a drive-in movie theater where you sit in their old cars that is kind of fun.
Walmart is probably not an option-- except for the ones in St. George, Hurricane, Cedar City, and Richfield, Utah. (I just checked.) The distances in southern Utah are vast, and towns are small. We've never tried to stay at a Walmart, but it might be a good idea to phone ahead to make sure that overnight parking is allowed. (In our nearest Walmarts in BC, it's not.) In a pickle, we would probably just ask at a local convenience store or gas station for advice on where to camp nearby.
For people who don't mind or would even look forward to dispersed camping on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) desert lands, there is often a lot of opportunity, notably around Moab/Arches. Southern Utah is mostly public land. You can camp anywhere that's not posted to the contrary, although not all areas are equally accessible or pleasant. The BLM field offices in Moab, Monticello, Hanksville, Cedar City, Price, and Saint George would pretty much cover the canyon country, and they each have web sites. If you phone, ask if they have a recreation specialist that you can talk to, but basically the local staff should know where to direct you. You might confirm the condition of any dirt or gravel roads ahead of time.