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Preparing for Your Active Vacation

What to Pack & What to Rent -- Planning for a trip into the great outdoors may conjure images of vacationers loaded down with golf clubs, skis, cameras, tents, canoes, and bikes. If a car or light truck is your mode of transportation, try to keep the heaviest items between the axles and as close to the floor of your vehicle as possible; this helps improve handling. If you have a bike rack on the rear bumper, make sure the bike tires are far from the exhaust pipe; one local bike shop owner once mentioned that he does a good business replacing exhaust-cooked mountain-bike tires. Those with roof racks will want to measure the total height of their packed vehicles before leaving home. Underground parking garages often have less than 7 feet of clearance.

One alternative to carrying all that stuff is renting it. Many sporting-goods shops in Utah rent camping equipment; virtually all ski areas and popular mountain-bike areas offer rentals; and major boating centers such as Lake Powell and Lake Flaming Gorge rent boats and practically every water toy imaginable. You'll find many rental sources listed throughout this book.

In packing for your trip, you'll want to be prepared for all your favorite activities, of course, but you'll also want to be prepared for a land of extremes, one that often has an unforgiving climate and terrain. Those planning to hike or bike should take more drinking water than they think they'll need -- experts recommend at least 1 gallon of water per person per day on the trail -- as well as high-SPF sunblock, hats and other protective clothing, and sunglasses with ultraviolet protection. Summer visitors should carry rain gear for the typical afternoon thunderstorms, plus jackets or sweaters for cool evenings. Winter visitors will need not only warm parkas and hats, but also lighter clothing -- the bright sun at midday, even in the mountains, can make it feel like June.

Staying Healthy & Safe in the Great Outdoors -- The wide-open spaces and rugged landscape that make Utah such a beautiful place to explore can also be hazardous to your health, especially if you're not accustomed to the extremes here. The isolation of many of the areas that you'll seek out means there may be no one around to help out in an emergency. So, like any good Boy or Girl Scout, be prepared. Also, be sure to carry a basic first-aid kit that includes a pair of tweezers -- very handy for removing tiny cactus spines from tender flesh. Most important of all, check with park offices, park rangers, and other local outdoor specialists about current conditions before heading out.

Outdoor Etiquette -- Many of the wonderful outdoor areas you'll explore in Utah are quite isolated; although you're probably not the first human being to set foot here, you may feel as if you are. Not too long ago, the rule of thumb was to "leave only footprints"; these days, some of us are trying to not even do that. Being a good outdoor citizen is relatively easy -- it's mostly common sense. Pack out all trash, stay on established trails, be careful not to pollute water, and, in general, do your best to have as little impact on the environment as possible. The best among us go even further, carrying a small trash bag to pick up what others have left behind.

Adventure Travel

Opportunities for adventure travel are plentiful in Utah -- as are some terrific outfitters to help you plan and execute your trip. You can take part in a cattle drive; thrill to the excitement of white-water rafting on the Green or Colorado rivers; scale a sheer rock wall in Zion National Park; or head out into some of the most spectacular scenery in the country on foot or on bicycle, or in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The variety of tours available seems almost endless, but the tour operators can help you find the one for you. In many cases, you can work with an operator to plan your own customized trip -- all it takes is money.

Below are some of the most respected national companies operating in Utah. Most specialize in small groups and have trips geared to various levels of ability and physical condition. They also offer trips in a range of price categories, from basic to luxurious, and of varying length. Numerous local outfitters, guides, and adventure travel companies are discussed throughout this book. For a complete list of outfitters in Utah, as well as a lot of other useful information and Web links, contact the Utah Office of Tourism, 300 N. State St., Salt Lake City, UT 84114 (tel. 800/200-1160 or 801/538-1030; www.utah.com).

  • AdventureBus, 375 S. Main St., #240, Moab, UT 84532 (tel. 888/737-5263 or 909/633-7225; www.adventurebus.com), offers trips on customized buses with an emphasis on outdoor adventures, including multi-sport and mountain biking tours in the Arches, Zion, and Bryce Canyon national parks areas, as well as Hovenweep National Monument.
  • Austin-Lehman Adventures, P.O. Box 81025, Billings, MT 59108-1025 (tel. 800/575-1540 or 406/655-4591; www.austinlehman.com), offers guided multi-day mountain biking, hiking, and combination tours in the Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Canyonlands national parks areas.
  • Backroads, 801 Cedar St., Berkeley, CA 94710-1800 (tel. 800/462-2848 or 510/527-1555; www.backroads.com), offers a variety of guided multi-day road biking, mountain biking, and hiking tours in the areas surrounding southern Utah's national parks.
  • Bicycle Adventures, P.O. Box 11219, Olympia, WA 98508 (tel. 800/443-6060 or 360/786-0989; www.bicycleadventures.com), offers guided multi-day hiking and biking excursions in the Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks areas.
  • Escape Adventures, 8221 W. Charleston Ave., #101, Las Vegas, NV 89117 (tel. 800/596-2953 or 702/838-6968; www.escapeadventures.com), offers guided multi-day hiking, mountain biking, road cycling, and multi-sport trips in the Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Capitol Reef national parks areas.
  • Ski the Rockies, 4901 Main St., Downers Grove, IL 60515 (tel. 800/291-2588 or 630/969-5800; www.skitherockies.com), provides customized skiing and snowboarding packages at many of Utah's major resorts.
  • The World Outdoors, 2840 Wilderness Place, Ste. D, Boulder, CO 80301 (tel. 800/488-8483 or 303/413-0938; www.theworldoutdoors.com), offers a variety of trips, including multi-sport adventures that include hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and rafting to the Canyonlands area, plus hiking/biking trips in the vicinities of Bryce Canyon, Zion, and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Visiting Utah's National Parks

For many people the best part of a Utah vacation is exploring the state's five national parks (www.nps.gov). Unfortunately, these beautiful national treasures have become so popular that they're being overrun by visitors at a time when the federal government is cutting budgets, making it difficult for the parks to cope with their own success.

To get the most out of your national park visit, try to go in the off season. The parks are busiest in summer, when most children are out of school, so try to visit at almost any other time. Fall is usually best. Spring is okay, but it can be windy and there may be snow at higher elevations. Winter can be delightful if you don't mind snow and cold. If you have to travel in summer, be patient. Allow extra time for traffic jams and lines, and try to hike some of the longer and lesser-used trails. Rangers will be able to tell you which trails are best for getting away from the crowds.

Passes = Free Admission on Most Federal Lands --Those who enjoy vacationing at national parks, national forests, and other federal lands have opportunities to save quite a bit of money by using the federal government's annual passes. The America the Beautiful -- National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass costs $80 for 1 year from the date of purchase for the general public. It provides free admission for the pass holder and those in his or her vehicle to recreation sites that charge vehicle entrance fees on lands administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation. At areas that charge per-person fees, the passes are good for the pass holder plus three additional adults. Children 15 and under are admitted free.

The passes are also available for U.S. citizens and permanent residents 62 and older for a lifetime fee of $10 (Senior Pass), and are free for U.S. residents and permanent residents with disabilities (Access Pass). The Senior and Access passes also provide 50% discounts on some fees, such as camping.

The Senior and Access passes must be obtained in person at national parks, U.S. Forest Service offices, and other federal recreation sites, but the general public version (the $80 one) can be purchased in person, by phone (tel. 888/275-8747, ext. 1), or online at http://store.usgs.gov/pass, a website that also provides complete information about the passes.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.