Please help me plan a trip to SW UT in mid-September

We moved to Park City, UT last winter, and we’re excited to explore more of the state this fall. We’re planning a trip to SW Utah in mid-September. We’ve never been to any of the national or state parks down there, so it’s a little overwhelming to make a plan.

We’ll be towing a 23’ Airstream. We will drive down on a Wed 9/16, arriving in the early afternoon, and we have to drive back on Sunday mid-day 9/20. So, that gives us about four days.

We’re trying to decide between the Zion area, Bryce area, or both. We’d like to do a combination of camping in campgrounds and boondocking. Given that we only have 4 days, would it be best to choose one of these areas? From what I can tell, Bryce is about 3 hours away from Zion towing a trailer, and that might be too much driving given that we have a 4-4.5 hour trip to get to/return from SW UT.

We managed to get a spot at Watchman on Wed/Thu night, then I was thinking of doing some boondocking on Sheep Bridge Road, Smithsonian Butte, or the Virgin Dam area on Fri/Sat night. We could explore the main area of Zion on Wed afternoon, Thu, and Fri AM, then maybe Kolob Canyons and Cedar Breaks on Sat/Sun?

We also reserved a spot at Kodachrome Basin State Park from Wed-Sun. If we choose the Bryce area, we could use this campground as a home base and explore Bryce, the Kodachrome Basin, Red Canyon, and even Cedar Breaks (though it’s a bit further away).

I know both would probably be great trips, but which would you choose at this time of year?

Fishlake National forest, Doctor Creek campground. We were there the same time last year. Had the entire campground pretty much to ourselves. We have a 35’ trailer and there were plenty of spaces to choose from.

Great hiking and fishing. We were there 4 days. One day was very windy, but the other days were gorgeous.

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There is so much cool stuff in SW Utah, I have also stayed in Kodachrome State Park. I used it as a “home base” of sorts for a similar trip. We came from SE Idaho, through Capitol Reef then to Grand Staircase Escalante then to Bryce; and back up to Idaho. Both Zion and Bryce could be done in 4 days, although it might not leave you much time for activities like hiking or exploring. Maybe focus on Bryce Canyon this trip, since Kodachrome is pretty close, and save Zion for another time?

I would focus on one area at a time. A lot of people who visit both places don’t give themselves enough time if they are trying to cram it into one long weekend. If you have the option, I would honestly stay at the Watchman campground the entire time, as you’ll have a guaranteed parking spot. Kolob Canyons is currently closed due to COVID-19 - you’ll have to keep checking the Zion NP website to make sure it’s open when you’re there. You may or may not miss out on Cedar Breaks NM, it depends on whether there is snow - Cedar Breaks is at almost 11,000 feet above sea level, and the NM turns into a snowmobiling haven in late September/early October.

If you need things other than Zion NP to view in the area, check out Snow Canyon SP in St George - this is one state park that could be a national park. Lots of trails, lots of cool scenery, and not nearly the crowds you see at Zion NP. There’s also some camping available at the two state parks in Hurricane (20 miles from Zion NP) - and both have lakes for boating and swimming.