Utah National Parks
Our first stop visiting the national parks in Utah was Zion National Park. We didn’t realize we needed to book shuttle tickets months in advance, so we spent our first day walking into the park.
We decided to hike the Angels Landing trail, one of the park’s most popular trails. It is known for sweeping views of the park.
The trail ascends quickly, which makes for great views early on.
We made several stops along the trail to catch our breaths and take in the views.
One of the last views following the initial ascent. From here, the trail turns inward towards a canyon, and eventually to a series of switchbacks to the top.
We reached the top, but did not go all the way. There is a very narrow pass that multiple people fall and die on every year.
The view from the (almost) top of Angels Landing.
The next day, we decided to leave the park to try our chances at the Wave lottery (in Kanab, Utah). We spotted this guy along the road leaving the park.
We didn’t get into the Wave lottery (the chances are very slim). We made up for it by finding a really great hike nearby Kanab in Buckskin Gulch.
The drive on the way to the trailhead. This hike was inside Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, where we had previously visited during our trip to Arizona.
About a mile into the trail, there are petroglyphs carved into the canyon wall.
The trail continues along a slot canyon. The canyon (Buckskin Gulch) continues for over 13 miles. We hiked about a mile of it.
The slot canyon reminded us both of Antelope Canyon, without the crowds and required guide.
Back in the park, we stopped at the Canyon Overlook trail, located just before the Mount Carmel tunnel.
Views from the Canyon Overlook.
The drive from the eastern entrance of the park takes you through the Mount Carmel tunnel. It’s a dramatic entrance to the canyon itself.
The next day, we attempted to get shuttle passes, but we were unsuccessful. We opted to rent electric assist bikes to venture further into the park.
The e-bikes turned out to be a great way to experience the park. We were able to take in the surroundings much better than being inside a bus.
The road inside the park is shut down to traffic, so only shuttle buses, bikes and pedestrians are allowed. This made for a very calm ride, with only an occasional bus passing by.
Riding bikes along Zion Canyon Road.
We woke up early the next morning to rent cold water gear and make our way to the Narrows. We were lucky enough to have scored shuttle bus tickets this time. Otherwise it would have been a 6 mile bike ride to the trailhead.
The river runs through a slot canyon, which offers some pretty special scenery.
The “trail” is the Virgin River. The water was too cold to walk in without some sort of protection, so the gear was necessary.
In between the swift current and the river bed of large stones, it was difficult navigating the river/trail. Frequent breaks were a necessity.
The trail runs for over 11 miles. We did about a mile of it and turned around due to the difficulty and precariousness of the hike itself.
After returning our cold water gear, we made our way back to our campground, which was a short convenient walk from the rental center just outside the park entrance.
The Pa’rus Trail is an easy walk just outside of the Watchman campground, where we were staying.
The paved trail is flat and has some fantastic views of the park. This was a nice stroll following our morning of water hiking.
Our campsite – the Watchman Campground. We spent half our nights in a nearby hotel, and half camping inside the park. Springdale is a short walk away from the site, which is convenient for dining. The outfitter just outside the park also has public (paid) showers, which was a nice bonus when tent camping.
The next day, we spoke with a ranger about “Zion must dos.” They suggested Observation Point, the highest point in the park.
The primary trail (accessible via Weeping Rock) to Observation point was closed due to falling rocks, but the ranger told us about a different route – the East Mesa Trail. The trailhead is accessible outside the park itself, and requires a 4 wheel drive vehicle.
The view from Observation Point, overlooking Zion canyon.
We were thankful for having taken the “back” way to the overlook. The trail inside the park would have been quite a climb. The East Mesa trail was a relatively flat 7 mile hike vs an 8 mile vertical climb.
Back at our campground for one more night in Zion.
After leaving Zion, we made our way to the next national park on our list, Bryce Canyon.
Bryce Canyon is much higher in elevation than Zion, so it was much colder. We spent most of our first day driving around, checking out the sites. This is the natural bridge located in the park along the main road.
The next day, we woke up and drove to Sunset Point to hike the Queens Garden trail. The trail descends into the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater, famous for its “hoodoo” rock formations.
It was cold and snowy at the top of Bryce Canyon, much different than the 80+ degree weather back home.
The Queens Graden trail starts from the rim and descends into the canyon, providing up close views of the hoodoos (rock formations carved out by wind, water and time).
The topography and scenery change as you descend into the amphitheater.
Views looking to the east as we descended into the canyon.
Beginning our ascent in an area of the amphitheater named “Wall Street.”
The switchbacks going back up were the most difficult part of the trail, but it was worth it.
As we reached the end of the trail, we had a good view of one of the more famous hoodoos in the park, Thor’s Hammer.
We drove to the end of the road in the park for a final sunset view. The viewpoint is named Rainbow point, and is at the highest elevation in the park.
Braving the cold at Rainbow Point.
More great Bryce views from Rainbow Point.
Sunset at Rainbow Point.
On our way back down from Rainbow Point, we stopped at the natural bridge for a better look. The wind had died down a bit from our first day, so it was a little more tolerable.
The next stop on our national park list was Capitol Reef National Park. The drive in between the two parks was picture-worthy in itself.
We rented a Jeep for the trip for any backroads we might want to check out. We hadn’t used it yet, but we were glad to have it later on.
More roadside scenery in between Bryce and Capitol Reef.
Our route took us over a mountain with some pretty intense snow – especially for April.
We didn’t have much time to spend in Capitol Reef, but we did get a chance to check out some of the petroglyphs.
Leaving Capitol Reef National Park, headed towards Moab.
Our next stop was Moab, Utah. Both Arches and Canyonlands national parks are in the Moab area, as well as many other trails and places to explore. Our first visit was Canyonlands National Park. This is a view from the Grand Viewpoint. The area of the park we visited is called “Island in the Sky,” which is the most accessible portion of the park. The area sits on top of a massive mesa.
The surrounding areas of the park can be seen from Grand Viewpoint, located at the end of the mesa.
Another popular spot in Canyonlands is Mesa Arch. The arch is accessible on a short trail and offers sweeping views of the surrounding landscape.
Views from Mesa Arch.
Next, we visited Upheaval Dome. Scientists have several theories about where how this crater was formed, but they are not 100% sure of its origins.
More views from the Upheaval Dome trail.
The next day, we went horseback riding outside Moab. Lisa brought apples and carrots for the horses and had the time of her life feeding them.
The horse trail ran through areas where the HBO series “Westworld” was filmed. We recognized some of the landscape features.
We spoke with the horseback riding guide and they recommended a trail just down the road, called Fisher Towers.
Another recommendation down the same road was the Onion Creek Trail. The trail is actually a backroad, accessible with a 4WD vehicle. We were glad we had the Jeep for this. The road was very remote and had multiple creek crossings (through the creek).
The Onion Creek trail.
Our next stop was Arches National Park, just outside Moab. Delicate Arch is the most famous of the arches, and is even depicted on the Utah license plate.
A view of Salt Flat Valley, located at the center of Arches National Park.
One thing we really enjoyed about Moab was the variety of things to do and see. We drove over to an overlook near the Sal Mountains where there are preserved dinosaur tracks.
We came for the tracks, but the view was also great.
The tracks were really large and easy to spot. Here’s Lisa for scale. They were scattered around the entire area.
As we left and drove down the mountain back towards Moab, the landscape views were breathtaking.
This area was much greener than just a few miles ahead on the road.
Canyonlands is a designated dark sky park, so the views of the stars at night are nothing like what we normally see in Atlanta. We drove to the park in the middle of the night to stargaze for a bit and take some photos. The Milky Way was visible (although faintly) by the naked eye.
The Milky Way over Grand View Point. The only downside was the wind was extremely persistent and strong, so it was tough to stand outside for very long.
We lucked out and scored a White Rim Road permit for the next day, which was my birthday. The road descends down the mesa through a series of switchbacks, and requires a 4WD vehicle. This is a view near the top of the road looking down.
It’s difficult to describe driving this road without experiencing it. I was probably white-knuckling the steering wheel the whole way down. The switchbacks are single-lane, and there are sheer drop-offs to the side.
There are a few wider areas to pull off during the switchbacks to allow cars coming the opposite direction to pass.
Once we reached the bottom, we came upon a heard of Bighorn Sheep. It was pretty neat at the bottom of the mesa, away from everyone.
The Colorado River was visible from the White Rim Road.
The road is rough, and definitely requires a high-clearance 4WD vehicle.
More sheep along the road.
Our Jeep on the road. The “road” was pretty rough. Our max speed was 5-8 mph the entire time.
An example of one of the drop-offs along the road.
There is another natural bridge accessible from the White Rim Road… much less crowded than the mesa arch at the top.
We only drove a few miles along the road before turning back. The entire loop is a 70+ mile multi-day trip and requires backcountry camping permits. We were both about done with it at this point. It was a very rough ride.
Nearing the turnoff to go back to the switchbacks.
We had a choice at this point to go back up the switchbacks, or take a back dirt road to Moab. We had enough sunlight left, and I wasn’t too excited to drive back on the switchbacks, so we took the Potash road back to Moab. This road was in much better condition than the White Rim road, but still a backcountry gravel/dirt road.
Although not as rough as the White Rim road, the Potash road still required a a 4WD vehicle. As a result, there were very few people we saw along the way.
A view of the Colorado River along Potash Road.
The drive back to Moab going this route took quite a while, but it was nice to be away from everyone and to take in the scenery.
As our trip was coming to and end, we made our way up to Salt Lake City, which neither of us had visited. We came across a group on our Buckskin Gulch/Wirepass hike that recommended Antelope Island State Park. The island is accessible by a causeway road, seen here in the distance.
It was tough to stay outside for any length of time due to a crazy number of gnats. We did manage to get in some nice views from the Buffalo Point trail.
There are pronghorn sheep that roam the island.
Buffalo were everywhere on the island. There were entire herds that would cross the road. They were everywhere we could see.
We spent time in Salt Lake checking out the city, and drove up to Park City to see what that was all about. We did get a hike in that had great views of the city. The trail is called the Living Room Trail, named after rocks organized like couches at the top.
Views of Salt Lake from the top of the trail.
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