Utah moved up on my list of places to visit after one of my friends went for a week and said it was incredible – and it rocketed to the top when another friend moved out there with her boyfriend and asked if I would be coming to visit. You don’t have to ask me twice! I knew I had to see all 5 National Parks, but I knew there was more off the beaten path I wanted to see too. 2,200 miles and 12 days of adventure later I would say we made the most out of our time.
Duration: 12 days – land Wednesday night, leave Monday night the following week
Season: Fall (October, 2017)
- Day 0: Evening flight out of Boston (8pm), land in Salt Lake City around 11pm
- Day 1: Bonville Salt Flats, Antelope Island, and explore Salt Lake City (night in SLC)
- Day 2: Arches National Park (night in Moab)
- Day 3: Sunrise at Dead Horse State Park, then explore Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky, and one more quick hike in Arches (night in Green River)
- Day 4: Goblin Valley State Park and Capitol Reef National Park (night in Teasdale)
- Day 5: Grand Staircase-Escalante and drive the Burr Trail (night in Ticaboo)
- Day 6: Bullfrog Marina in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Natural Bridges, and Monument Valley via ferry (night in Monument Valley)
- Day 7: Dip into Arizona for Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and then back into Utah for Vermilion Cliffs* (night in Tropic)
- Day 8: Bryce National Park (night near Zion East Entrance)
- Days 9-11: Zion National Park (nights in Springdale and Cedar City)
- Day 12: Kanarraville Falls Hike, Meadow Hot Springs, then dinner in SLC before a 10:30pm flight home
* The original plan was to visit the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but we decided to do a short hike in the Vermilion Cliffs to see another slot canyon and to cut down our driving time and get to our hotel sooner – I think either option would have been great!
Utah is known for its “Mighty 5” national parks and none of them disappointed! Each is drastically different and uniquely breathtaking, and if possible I would recommend visiting all of them.
Red rocks carved by wind and water into sandstone arches contrast with the blue sky to transport you to another world. Some appear enormous and indestructible while others look fragile and as if they could collapse at any moment; some stand alone, grand and calling for attention, while others blend in with the surrounding landscape, framing nearby trees, ridges, and fins.
- Delicate Arch: There are three ways to see delicate arch, but only one option you should consider to really SEE delicate arch and understand why it was given the great honor of being on Utah’s license plate. This requires a 1.5 mile hike that gets you up close and personal with the arch (~3 miles round trip). It has elevation gain and will leave you breathing heavy, but the view at the end is worth it. It’s a popular destination for sunset and you’ll likely see both professional and amateur photographers setting up their tripods to capture the setting sun turning the arch an even deeper orange. If short on time or averse to hiking you can go to Upper or Lower Viewpoint (0.5 mile walk or 100 yard walk from a separate parking lot) for a mediocre view of a tiny arch in the distance, about a mile away. I say take the hike.
- Devil’s Garden: This hike has a number of arches nestled into the landscape and is definitely worth a visit even if you only have the time or energy to see a few. I would suggest following the trail that leads to Landscape Arch first and then continues on to Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, and Double O Arch. The trail to Landscape Arch is easily accessible, fairly flat, and easy to follow.
- Past Landscape Arch there are two spurs to Partition Arch and Navajo Arch that are short and worth visiting – but note you have to walk on a ridge with steep drop offs and ledges (it’s wide and feels safe!)
This path continues to Double O Arch, at which point you have 3 options: you can take a spur to Dark Angel (a large, towering rock that I personally didn’t find worth the extra time), you can continue on the loop of the primitive trail with the option to see Private Arch (Note: We did this loop, coming from the opposite direction, and managed to get lost inside of the Devil’s Garden. Take care to look for cairns to make sure you are following the proper trail and be prepared to scramble up some rocks, make your way over pools of water, and walk along some ledges!), or you can turn back in the direction you came. If I could do it again I would have either done an out and back to Double O Arch via Landscape Arch, or I would have done the primitive trail loop starting in the direction of Landscape Arch.
- The Windows: These arches left my jaws wide open with their size and proximity to one another. Turret Arch, North Window, and South Window are located on a short, relatively flat hiking loop (less than 1 mile round trip).
The Double Arch trail is across the parking lot and requires some rock scrambling to explore inside of the arch, but you can still get an incredible view without scrambling. We visited the Windows in the afternoon (we came back to Arches a second day just to fit in The Windows!) and hit Double Arch at sunset – an experience I found even more magical than the famous Delicate Arch sunset the night before.
- Balanced Rock: You’ll see many rocks balancing impressively while exploring Utah, but this one definitely seems to defy gravity. A huge rock (i.e., sandstone boulder) balances precariously on a pedestal. It’s easily seen off the park road (with a parking lot you can pull into quickly for a picture), or you can opt for the 0.3 mile hike around it.
Canyonlands has 3 main districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. Island in the Sky is the easiest to get to and most popular to visit, and offers a little something for everyone. The Needles provide more options for backpacking, and The Maze is remote and harder to get to. Due to time we only had time to visit Island in the Sky.
Island in the Sky:
- Mesa Arch: A popular location for sunrise, but beautiful at all times of the day. This 0.5 mile round-trip walk will lead you to a beautiful arch on a cliff edge with a deep canyon in the background. A must see in Island in the Sky.
- Grand View Point: They call this Grand View Point for a reason – but make sure that you take the time to walk the Grand View Point trail and get away from the roadside viewing platform where most of the tourists stop. The hike is only about 2 miles round trip and will bring you along the canyon rim to the end of a mesa with incredible views – but if you’re not up for the entire hike, even going a few hundred yards will let you escape the crowds and take in the beauty of your surroundings.
If people tell you that this is the least visited of the 5 parks and that it’s not worth your time, I have to disagree. Smaller crowds means you’ll often have the trail to yourself. This park also has a Historic District, petroglyphs, and is a Dark Sky Park meaning that you have incredible views of the night sky.
- Cassidy Arch via Grand Wash Trail to Frying Pan to Cohab Canyon: We had two cars so we were able to do this as a one way hike, starting at the Grand Wash Trailhead Parking and ending at Cohab Canyon Parking (near the campground). The Grand Wash Trail is a 2 mile relatively flat hike through a wash that connects to Grand Wash Road. (Note: You can park at the Grand Wash Road parking lot if you want to save time and skip the hike through the wash, but I thought it was pretty and relatively easy compared to the rest of the hike!) The Wash gives the feeling of being underwater due to the unique geology of the rocks. Off the Grand Wash Trail is the Cassidy Arch Trail. It’s not easy to spot if you’re not looking for it, so be on the lookout for a sign or people beginning the assent up the wash wall. If you reach the bathrooms at Grand Wash Road you know you’ve gone too far!
The Cassidy Arch trail is where the elevation gain begins (670 feet). Eventually you will reach a sign indicating you can go to Cassidy Arch or you can continue along the Frying Pan Trail. Take the short spur to Cassidy Arch, and once you reach the slick rock make your way across it to the back edge near the overlook to the road. Here you will find Cassidy Arch, which looks like more of a hole as it drops into the rock top and allows you to walk over the arch. We had trouble following the cairns to find the arch, so know what you’re looking for and just keep walking!
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Double back and continue on the Frying Pan Trail 2.9 miles for some incredible views until you reach the Cohab Canyon Trail. Depending on where you parked your car hop on this trail going left or right. If you have time, be on the lookout for side canyons you can explore.
- Fruita: In the center of Capitol Reef is Fruita, a Rural Historic District. Buildings are scattered throughout the park as well as a number of fruit orchards that you can pick to eat when they’re in season! We didn’t have much time but I would have loved to pop into some of the buildings and learn some more about the history.
- Petroglyphs: Two panels of petroglyphs (prehistoric rock carvings) are right off the main road and only require a short walk along a wooden bridge.
<picture from Alex?>
- Star Gazing: Since this is an official Dark Sky Park, the number of stars that you see are breathtaking, and as someone from Boston I didn’t realize that the Milky Way was something that many people get to enjoy every night! The park was holding a Star Gazing special event led by two rangers who had an enormous telescope set up as well as a very impressive laser pointer that appeared to stretch all the way to the stars. They walked us through various constellations, set up the telescope so that we could see double stars and anything we asked for, and answered all of our questions about the Milky Way, the stars, and the planets.
- Sunrise Point: Based on the name we assumed this would be a great place to watch the sunrise, and we weren’t disappointed. The sunlight slowly waking up the canyon was beautiful, even in the freezing cold temperatures. We got there early for a good view, but we could have arrived later and still been okay (note: we weren’t setting up a tripod so we didn’t need to claim a large spot). After walking around the rim trail we were convinced that watching the sunrise from a number of overlooks would have been just as beautiful!
- Scenic Drive: We knew that we would see Bryce up close and we wanted to make sure that we saw Bryce from above so we opted for the scenic drive that brought you to the highest points in Bryce Canyon. This required an 18 mile drive to Rainbow Point, which has an elevation of 9,115 feet!
On our way back we didn’t have time to stop at all of the view points so we opted for Yovimpa Point (practically sharing a parking lot with Rainbow Point), Natural Bridge, and Inspiration Point.
- Navajo Trail: We had some time before our horseback ride so we opted for the popular Navajo Trail. This started with a series of incredible switchbacks down into the canyon, with an immediate reward of dancing orange and red sandstone. The path was easy to follow and relatively easy difficultly level – until you had to make your way back up the next set of switchbacks! I would definitely recommend this trail, and if you don’t do the horseback ride then you have the option of combining this with the Queen’s Garden Trail or the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail.
- Horseback Riding: This was definitely a highlight of my trip! We booked the half day (3 hours, $90) ride through Bryce Canyon Trail Rides. You can book on site, but I would recommend booking online in advance to make sure that you get the date and time that works with your schedule. You can’t bring a purse, backpack, or water bottle – but you can bring a camera that goes around your neck or a phone that had a safe spot to go! You can put your phone in your sweatshirt pocket (this is what I did) or if it’s too hot for that I would suggest a good old fashioned fanny pack (I had this with me too).
The trail takes you down into the canyon and unless you are an experienced horseback rider you will probably feel like your horse is going to gallop off of the edge of a cliff, casually walk off the edge of the trail down a steep ledge, or not move at all. In any case you will surely feel more confident as you go and get to know your horse (Paquos and I were best friends by the end of the day and he knew exactly when I wanted him to speed up or stop) and you will be distracted by the beautiful scenery that is enveloping you.
About half way through the ride you stop for a quick stretch and some water that is provided to you, and then you are back on your horse to finish the ride! Although my booty and my legs were happy for it to be over, I could have rode through those canyons all day and been happy.
I heard so many great things about Zion, so I knew that I needed to to spend some extra days there to try to fit everything in. We gave ourselves 3 days there and even that was hardly enough! Note that since there are so many visitors they have started a shuttle system and you can’t drive directly to the trail heads. If you start early and get to the visitor’s center by 8:30am you should have no problem parking – otherwise you can take a Springdale shuttle in to the park entrance. A park map will let you know which shuttle stop to get off for each hike. While this shuttle system gave Zion a “Disney” feel, it was very efficient and we never had to wait long for a shuttle – be aware that shuttles may be full at the beginning of the day (don’t get off at stop 1 and expect for there to be room for you to hop back on!) or at the end of the day!
- Angel’s Landing: The main advice that we were given for Angel’s Landed was to start early to beat the crowds – the last thing you want is to be on the chains with people trying to pass you. I definitely agree with this advice, and I wish that we got started earlier (we were delayed by stopping at the wilderness information station to get a permit). The trail starts with a series of switchbacks and a lot of elevation gain in a short amount of time. Once you reach Scout’s Lookout you start making your way, via chains, to the top of the landing. For those afraid of heights this might put you on edge, but if you take your time and take care letting groups pass you will be totally fine. I was constantly more worried about other around me than myself. My only advice is to know yourself and what you’re comfortable with and make the decision at Scout’s Landing to continue on or not.
After you make your way to Angel’s Landing you should have time for more hiking if you started early in the morning (it only took us about 3 hours). We opted for the Emerald Lakes Trail, but I would suggest doing the West Rim Trail from Scout’s Landing (I wasn’t impressed with Emerald Lakes).
- Emerald Pools (Upper and Lower): This was an easy path to make it to the Upper and Lower Pools (the Middle Pools were closed when we visited). We started at shuttle stop 6 (once we completed Angel’s Landing) and took the path first to Upper Falls and then to Lower Falls, ending at shuttle stop 5. I think that this hike could be very beautiful in the spring when there is more water flow and waterfalls, but in October I didn’t find this impressive or a good use of time.
- Canyon Overlook: Hoping to get in one more hike we opted for this short 1 mile round trip hike. It’s located on the East Side of the park and can’t be accessed by the shuttle, so you have to drive there. I thought that this was a beautiful hike that was relatively easy that provided beautiful views! To get there you have to drive through a long tunnel that can’t allow two way traffic of RVs, so be prepared to wait to get through during busy times.
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- Observation Point: While Angel’s Landing is more popular and more well known, this hike gives it a run for its money. The hike is 2.5 miles longer and has 550 feet more of elevation gain – which gives a beautiful view of Angel’s Landing.
- The Narrows: We almost didn’t have time to fit in this hike, but I’m so glad that we squeezed in a least part of it! The first part of this hike is one mile along the Riverside Walk which is a beautiful, paved path that allows everyone of all abilities to enjoy part of the Virgin River at its narrowest part in Zion Canyon! If you don’t have a permit you will be doing this hike from the “Bottom Up” meaning that you can hike up the river as long as you want (or as far as Big Spring where you’ll need a permit to continue). We only had a few hours so we just went as far as we could in an hour and a half – and it was beautiful. The entire hike to Big Spring and back is about 10 miles round trip.
The Narrows are at the end of the bus line, and we went to the Narrows after hiking Observation Point so we didn’t have any time to rent gear. We saw a lot of people with canyoning shoes (which I would definitely recommend) and a lot of people with dry pants (which I would recommend if the water is cold!) We only had our hiking boots and and it was cold but not unbearable – I think I would have been fine without pants if I had the shoes to keep my feet warm! The depth of the river varies and requires some care to find shallower sections to cross and walk in, but there were times where it was up to my upper thigh (I’m about 5’4″), and we saw some people swimming over their head. Some areas the water was running faster which made the crossing more difficult, especially when the rocks were slippery. Surprisingly we only saw one person fall!I would recommend having a waterproof case for your phone, and a plastic bag for any of your important belongings that you don’t want to get wet. We were able to find a walking stick that someone left at the beginning of the trail, and my friend found this very useful for keeping her balance and knowing how deep it was, but I was able to make my way without one. As always when in a canyon be aware of the flash flooding conditions.
- The Subway (Bottom Up): You need to get a permit for this hike (they only allow 80 people per day in order to preserve the trail) but if you can get one and have an extra day this hike should definitely be on your list.
Getting the permit: If you know your dates in advance (3 months prior) you can apply for the advance lottery. Any remaining spots can be booked directly on the website. Once those slots fill up you can apply for the last minute drawing (7-2 days in advance). We went to apply for the last minute lottery and couldn’t find the day we wanted and found out that was because there were still remaining spots left we could book directly – so check that out first!
Our gear: We opted for canyoneering shoes since we’d be walking in water for part of the hike and we wanted our feet to be warm, but I think I would have been fine in my hiking boots (if I didn’t mind them being wet for the rest of the trip). My friends also decided to get dry pants, and they we happy to have them (they walked through the deeper parts of the river more while I had to scramble over rocks and boulders more) but I think I would have been too hot. The water is a little warmer than the narrows and we never had to go much deeper than ankle high. We all also had walking sticks (they came with our shoes). My friends liked having it to use as a hiking stick and for walking through the water, but I found it to be more of a hindrance when I was climbing over rocks. It’s all about personal preference!
Getting to the hike: The trail head is on the west side of the park at the Left Fork Trailhead, and the shuttle system doesn’t go there so you will have to drive yourself (Google Maps will get you there!)
The hike: The hike starts with a steep accent (almost 400 feet) into the canyon to bring you down to the river. It looks frightening, but if you watch your steps on the lose rock and are careful it’s not too bad. Once you reach the river look around and take in your surroundings – you’ll need to know where to exit when you’re making your way back later! We heard horror stories of people missing the path and continuing down the river so we took pictures, noted the dark rock face, as well as some ribbons and trail markings, and had no problem finding the exit on our way back.
Once you’re at the water you just turn left and start hiking! Follow the river all the way up until you reach the mouth of the subway. It’s about a 3 mile hike and there are numerous paths (called “social” paths) which really means that there are multiple ways to get to the same spot – don’t over think it! You will be walking in the river, walking up red stone cascading waterfalls, climbing over boulders, following trails along the river, and eventually entering the subway.
Inside the subway there are emerald pools, and if you’re brave enough to swim through them you go a bit further to see a waterfall (we didn’t do this since we were short on time and it was cold!)
State Parks, National Monuments, and Other Worthwhile Visits:
While the National Parks in Utah are stunning, don’t think that Utah has nothing else to offer!
- Bonneville Salt Flats: It must have rained recently when we visited because a layer of water (in some places calf deep) coated the salt flats creating a salt speckled mirror to reflect the mountains in the background. The Bonneville Salt Flats are located only ~1.5 hours from SLC near the boarder of Nevada with little around and little to see along the way, but don’t let this stop you! It was truly stunning.
You can view the flats from the rest stop right before Exit 4 (the view is better from the rest stop on the side of the road driving West, so if you plan to stop here do it on your way to the flats), but I thought the better view was off the exit. Take Exit 4 and then take a right where you will pass a gas station. Follow this road all the way to the end and you’ll find yourself in the middle of the flats! When the flats are dry you have the option of driving off the main road, but be warned that if you get stuck it is very expensive to get your car towed. It can also be disorienting driving on the flats so be sure to plan ahead and know where you are and how to get back to the road. Also salt can ruin the underside of your car so be sure to wash it after, and if you’re driving a rental make sure that there’s nothing in your agreement that prevents you from doing this.
- Antelope Island: Easy hikes, scenic drives, and free ranging bison make Antelope Island a great place for everyone to enjoy. We only had a couple hours so we did the Lady Finger Point Trail (0.5 miles round trip) and Buffalo Point Trail (1 mile round trip). Both were short, easy, and beautiful and gave a great view of Great Salt Lake.
We also went on a search for bison, and we succeeded! If we had more time we would have driven the scenic drive along the East coast of the island. If you have bikes you can also explore the entire island by bike!
- Dead Horse State Park: We didn’t want to deal with the sunrise crowds at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands so we opted for the smaller, lesser known view of the Colorado River winding through the canyons from Dead Horse Point Overlook. With only a handful of others around it was magical to see the sun’s rays light up the canyon walls.After sunrise we fit in a quick hike to Big Horn Overlook from the visitor’s center (3 miles round trip) for a different view of the park. It was isolated from the rest of the park (East Rim and West Rim are most popular) so we had the trail to ourselves most of the way. Expect canyon views, desert potholes, and dramatic cliffs.
- Goblin Valley State Park: If hide-and-go-seek is something that you love, then this is the adult playground you’ve been looking for. Sandstone goblins litter the valley transporting you to another world, and you’re encouraged to wander around and explore on your own – just make sure you don’t get lost in the goblins! We also added in a short hike through Caramel Canyon to explore a slot canyon and see more of the park.
- Grand Staircase-Escalante: We wanted to see Zebra Slot Canyon but when we stopped by the visitor’s center to check the conditions we found out water in the canyon was chest high and stagnant and that was enough to turn us away. Instead we decided on the popular Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike which is an easy-moderate hike with a stunning waterfall at the end.
- Bullfrog Marina/Glen Canyon National Recreation Area/Lake Powell: Lake Powell is beautiful! A dam was built that caused the river to fill the canyons, spreading from Arizona to Utah in the middle of the desert. Because of this there are tons of hikes in Bullfrog Marina that can only be accessed by boat – how cool! In peak season you can rent a boat, canoe, kayak, or paddle board to explore. Things were quiet in October (even the visitor’s center was closed) so we opted for a short slot canyon hike from the visitor’s center, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The trail was difficult to find to get into the wash, and once you are in there it’s not clear how far into the slots you can go (we encountered an 8 foot climb with a pond of water at the base!)Our main reason for being here was to take the ferry across Lake Powell (from Bullfrog Marina to Halls Crossing) rather than driving around, so we had some time in Bullfrog Marina the morning before our ferry left. Ferry info: The ferry schedule can be easily found online (be sure to check that it’s still running because they stop during off season!) and following the signs to the ferry ramp is easy. The ferry is small so if you’re going in high season be sure to arrive early to get on the time you want! You purchase tickets right on the ferry (pay with cash).
- Natural Bridges: Arches, windows, bridges – we just couldn’t get enough of them! This was only a little out of our way so we decided to add this stop (bonus: they accepted our National Parks Pass!) There are three natural bridges all accessed by the 9 mile scenic (one way) main park loop road. Each bridge has a parking area, a view point from the road, and a hike down to the bridge. If you’re feeling extra ambitious you can hike the 8.6 mile hiking loop around the base of the park to see all three bridges. We were short on time so we picked two bridges to hike to (but make sure you stop at all the views points!) The first bridge, Sipapu, is the largest bridge and has the “wow” factor! Standing underneath the bridge gives you a true feeling of amazement as your realized how grand and impressive the bridge is. The 1.2 mile hike to the bottom is steep and has a few ladders and hand rails. If you’re afraid of heights this might not be the hike for you, but there is an excellent view point about half way down that provides an excellent view. Our second hike was the third bridge, Owachomo, which was my favorite due to how delicate it was (its the smallest and thinnest of the three). The 0.5 mile hike is also the shortest! Be sure to stop at Horse Collar Ruin if you are interested in the ancient Puebloan Site. Bring a pair of binoculars to view from the short hike view point, or be prepared to make the hike down into the canyon!
- Monument Valley: I wish I had more to say about Monument Valley, but we only got to see it from the road and from the visitor’s center because we got there after the road had closed (pro tip: check the hours, we planned to go for sunset but in October they were on winter hours and closed much earlier than we expected!) We stayed in a tipi (more information on this below) and got to experience Navajo tacos (we ate at Goulding’s and our host recommended these – think fried dough bottom with taco toppings) and I’m looking forward to go back and check out inside the park!
- Antelope Canyon: Since the first picture I saw of Antelope Canyon, I knew I would have to see the swirling colors and narrow slots for myself. You can visit Upper Antelope Canyon or Lower Antelope Canyon, with each having their pros and cons. Upper Antelope Canyon gets the beautiful light beams that you see in photos (but make sure you go at the right time of the day), has a single entry/exit point to the canyon, requires being driven by the tour company to the start of the canyon, and is slightly more expensive. Lower Antelope Canyon won’t get the same light beams but will get beautiful colors, has separate entrance/exit point, is only a short walk to the entrance from the tour company with stairs into the canyon and in the canyon, and is slightly less expensive (~$40). We opted for a 10:00am tour of Lower Antelope Canyon and left with beautiful pictures (pro tip: put your phone on chroma and if using a DSLR put your settings to Mode P, ISO 400, and white balance cloudy) and extremely happy.
- Horseshoe Bend: If you’re in Page or visiting Antelope Canyon, this is a stop that you need to set aside an hour to make. It’s right off the highway, it’s free, and only requires a short walk for a breath taking view (and great photo op!)
- Vermilion Cliffs: On our way from Page, AZ to Bryce we decided to stop for a hike in the Vermilion Cliffs since we now had a love for slot canyons. The Wire Pass Trail requires driving 8 miles down a dirt road, but we were able to do this successfully with some patience and care in our small Ford Fusion. There’s a $10 fee per car (envelope at the trailhead). The hike is easy to follow: hike until you reach the wash, take a left, and then follow the wash until it turns into a slot canyon. At one point there is a drop of about 8 feet, but a tree has been strategically placed assisting you in climbing down and making your way back up. After Antelope Canyon the day before I found this slot to be refreshingly empty. While we didn’t get the beautiful colors, it was still beautiful in its own way.
We found this hike last minute so weren’t aware of the trail description, so in our attempt to find the slots we turned out of the wash onto a trail that looked well-traveled. It ended up being a beautiful detour! We didn’t see anyone else on this spur and we continued on until we felt like the trail ended and we might not be able to successfully follow our trail back.
- Kanarraville: Not sick of hiking yet we decided to squeeze in one more hike on our last day before driving back up to SLC – Kanarra Creek Falls (another slot canyon!) We drove the trailhead and paid the $5 entrance fee, laced on our damp/wet hiking boots (we knew that we would be in the water again soon), and started the hike. At first we were disappointed – we seemed to be walking on a dirt road for an eternity. We then came upon the river, the trail became more narrow, and the river crossings began. When we reached the slot we both decided that this was one of our top hikes on the trip. We continued climbing ladders, climbing up waterfalls, and jumping on rocks before declaring it a success and turning back.
- Meadow Hot Springs: What’s better after a week full of hiking than a warm bath? A soak in a natural hot spring in the middle of a farm in the middle of Utah! I stumbled upon these hot springs in my research and I knew that we would have to make the stop. It was right on our way home and not far off the highway so it fit perfectly into our itinerary. The springs are located on a private farm that the own has graciously allowed people to visit. There are 3 springs that you can drive to (you could walk, but it would be further than desirable). The first that you come across is the warmest – don’t be turned off by the algae that lines the rocks, just jump right in! This is where we spent all of our time. If you continue around the road you will come across the second spring which is the biggest and has a dock, and the third which is the smallest. These are significantly less hot but could be great to cool off in the summer, and they have fish! There is a donation box at each spring, and remember to Leave No Trace. I would recommend coming here on a week day if possible to avoid crowds – even on a Monday during the middle of the day we ran into two groups.
Due to the cold temperatures at night (it dropped into the 30s!), an attempt to pack light, and a desire to maximize time to fit in the most possible during our waking hours, we decided not to camp and instead to stay in hotels and Airbnbs. Most of our hotels were budget friendly (the cheaper the better) and nothing to write home about, but a few places we splurged on.
Tipi Airbnb in Monument Valley: Staying in a tipi has always been on my bucket list and Monument Valley in Navajo Nation seemed like the perfect place to make that happen. We found a Tipi Airbnb available for the night we wanted an immediately booked. Skye, the person who ran it, was half Navajo half Irish and a great host! The tipi was clean and much more spacious than we expected. It had a comfortable, warm, queen sized bed, a pair of night stands, and a little power bank for charging phones and cameras.
We made sure to arrive during daylight so we could properly check out our home for the night. We had a fire pit and picnic table but unfortunately it was too cold for us to take advantage of that. Behind us, up on a hill, were 4 tents, a playground, a small house, and the bathrooms. In front of us were beautiful views of monument valley which we enjoyed even more in the morning watching the sunrise. I would definitely recommend this experience!
Glamping at Zion Panderosa: I don’t know why but glamping is something I felt I needed to experience and I am so glad that I did. It was so fun! Our tent was big enough to fit 4 more people (it had a queen bed, 2 twin beds, and a futon!), had working electricity (an overhead light and a power strip), had a front porch, and outdoor picnic area/fire pit. We wished we had more friends in Utah!
The tent was at Zion Panderosa which was a great resort full of free amenities (hot tub and pool, tennis and basketball courts) and additional ones you can pay for (mini golf). The on-site restaurant was delicious and reasonably priced, and the stay included breakfast (which we missed because we needed to get an early start in Zion – I was very sad about this). It’s located very close to the East Entrance of the park and only about a 45 minute drive to the Visitor’s Center.
Tips and Tricks:
- Get your groceries before you leave SLC! Things are generally more expensive outside the city and we actually didn’t find many grocery stores along our way.
- Get the Narional Parks Pass. With so many parks so close you’re bound to get your moneys worth if you visit more than 3 parks – as a bonus it will also get you in to Natural Bridges!
- Consider a Utah State Parks Pass. It’s $75 for an annual pass but if you’re planning on visiting many of the state parks we did it might be worth it. Do your research and figure out if it will save you money – we wish that we had bought one!
- Don’t expect to have service for most of your trip. Since I was staying in the US I was looking forward to having my phone to look up information and directions as needed – but most of the trip we didn’t have any service. It was a blessing and a curse – just make sure you’re prepared!
- Some of the parks are HUGE. Don’t underestimate the amount of time it will take you to get to the trail head once you enter the park and make sure you include that time when planning out your day. Sometimes it takes 45 minutes driving inside the park just to get to where you need to go (but it’s a beautiful scenic drive at least).
- Be prepared to get lost hiking. This turned into a joke for us by the end of the trip, but I think we got “lost” on almost every hike! Utah trails like to have few markings and sometimes the cairns are only two small rocks high. Be prepared for this and make sure to have a good description of the trail and pay attention.