Utah is often a state people forget about or think doesn’t have much to offer. Nothing could be further from the truth! Neal and I did 10 days in southern Utah. Here’s what we saw, where we stayed and a few places we ate.
Day 1: Salt Lake City
We arrived in Salt Lake City with no intention of staying. We got our car at the airport and headed straight to the Great Salt Lake.
After marveling at how little lake and how much salt there was, we went to the City to explore and eat lunch. There were lots of weddings and churches in the center of Salt Lake City.
We ate at a great sandwich place called Even Stevens https://evenstevens.com/). They donate sandwiches at the end of every month! We also checked out Epic Brewing Company. We learned the hard way that they only let you drink the beer if you buy food! As we had just had sandwiches, we took a few beers with us. We stayed that night outside Salt Lake City on our way to Moab.
Day 2: Arches National Park
We packed up and made our way to Arches National Park. Check out our full post on Arches National Park here.
We took a wrong turn and ended up going the back way. Highly recommend it! There was no traffic, we saw lots of wildlife, and the view coming into the north side of the park was awesome.
Arches was very cool right from the beginning. You think, I’ve seen an arch, so what? But these large rock masses are everywhere and beautiful. Some of the coolest ones you had to trek up the side of the mountain to get to. Worth it!
We hiked the Skyline Arch, Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch, part of Devil’s Playground, Delicate Arch, Garden of Eden, North Window, Turret Arch, and Double Arch trails. As you can imagine, it took us most of the day to wind our way through Arches and drive into Moab.
In Moab, we ate dinner and had a beer at Moab Brewery. I can’t say the food there was worth eating, but the beer was pretty good! Afterwards, we explored Moab’s main street, bought some ice cream and some art from a drifter, and shopped around at one of the many outdoors stores.
After filling up, we wanted to hit one more trail. We found the Corona Arch trail and hiked it at sunset. This trail has interesting terrain, including ladders up the rocks. It was windy, but beautiful. We were completely alone. The train travels through this rock formation and adds to the wild west feel of Utah. We heard the nightscape here is as nice as the day, but it was too windy and cold for us to stick around any longer.
We left to find our accommodations for the night – a yurt! If you don’t know what a yurt is, it is essentially a large, structured tent. Ours was in Dead Horse State Park and had electricity and heat. A bathroom was accessible in a separate building. We even had a deck with a grill! Although it was freezing (and snowing!), we cooked veggie burgers and sweet potatoes on the barbie that night. It was pitch black when we got to the yurt, so we had no idea what we would see the next morning. It was beautiful.
Day 3: Canyonlands
We drove through Dead Horse State Park to the Canyonlands. It was a beautiful drive. We happened to pass by Mesa Arch at sunrise and caught an amazing glimpse of what nature has to offer.
We then hiked the Murphy Trail that morning and felt like we were the only people in the world. I had looked up several hikes/overlooks before the trip. One such hike was False Kiva. This trail was a little hard to find and we had to trust ourselves to keep hiking. When we got to the end, we were stunned. It ends at a cave where you can look out on the most expansive and incredible view.
We were taken aback by the colors and beauty of the Canyonlands. Even short hikes like the Grand View Overlook and Upheaval Dome revealed awesome sights.
We fell in love quickly with the Canyonlands. While we ate lunch on our way out of the False Kiva, a horned sheep ran by. We knew Utah was going to be great.
Shafer Trail Road via Potash
As amazing as the hikes are in Utah, you’re also in for a treat driving. We took the Shafer Trail Road via Potash on a whim (check out our post on it here!). Saw a turn and made it. It ended up being a windy, scary road down a mountain and into the valley.
This road was so scary that we actually passed cars unable to continue. We were happy to have the GMC Acadia. We drove through some washes and other precarious terrain all the way back to Moab.
We drove straight through to our next accommodation – a horse barn in Monticello, UT. The B&B was nice, but in retrospect, we would not have stayed here. Perhaps a second night in Moab or a stop further south.
Day 4: Bears Ears and Natural Bridges Monument
On our way to Monument Valley we found several fun stops. First, we stopped at Bears Ears National Monument. We had a crazy ride up the side of a mountain and to be honest, didn’t really get it. We drove on back down.
Then we stopped at Natural Bridges National Monument. This was a bit more fun as we got to hike down into some nice gorges.
Gooseneck State Park
We then made our way to Monument Valley. We thought, should we go the easy way or the hard way? We, of course, chose the hard way. Again, at the top of the mountain, we begin the zig-zaggy drive to the valley below. We stopped in Gooseneck State Park. You have to pay $5 to enter the park and it looks like it is nothing from the road. Believe me, it is worth the $5.
We also saw a rattlesnake while we were there. Well, mostly heard its creepy little buzz. I jumped and ran.
After eating lunch at a picnic bench (pb&j we prepared in the morning), we finally made the drive into Monument Valley. Monument Valley is cool from the road. You can see a lot of huge rock walls and oddly shaped formations. But to really enjoy, since you made the trek, you have to suck it up and pay the $20 to get into the park. You drive around an inner circle and see more huge rocks. There’s also lots of horses along the way.
If I’m being honest, I would probably skip this portion of the trip next time and stay in Canyonlands way longer.
We stayed in a dry hotel in Bluff, UT that night. It had its own restaurant (not much else in the town) with lots of virgin cocktails and veggie options.
Day 5: Goblin Valley State Park
We left the east side of Utah to make our way west to Capitol Reef National Park. Along the way, we made an impromptu stop at Goblin Valley State Park. You again have to pay a State Park fee, but I am so glad we did. Goblin Valley is what I think Mars should look like. It was a fun playground. Neal was terrified we’d run into another rattler. I paid them no mind and ran around like a kid at recess.
Capitol Reef National Park
We drove from Goblin Valley into Capitol Reef National Park. The drive in was spectacular. Huge rock faces with bright reds and whites. We walked through a few washes and enjoyed apple pie while some deer played on the lawn.
Neal fell in love with this area. It was very nice and we would spend more time here next time. We spent the night in a huge house. Our hosts had combined their large families after they both divorced, so this house had a dozen bedrooms and a movie theater! They had horses in the front yard and cows in the back. Lovely stay.
Day 6: Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was another major highlight of the trip. We got up early and had to pull over to watch the sunrise.
There were deer in the grass watching with us. It was a truly romantic and magical place.
We got back in the car to get to our first hike of the day: Calf Creek. If you drive just past Calf Creek you’ll find an adorable cafe called Kiva Koffeehouse. We got hot beverages and scones for our hike. The hike turned out to be beautiful. We didn’t really know what was at the end until we were finally there.
A gorgeous waterfall. And we were all by ourselves. We ate our scones here and one by one people filled in behind us. We were so glad to have gotten here early enough to enjoy it alone.
We had to have a little faith when we made our next stop. A few miles past Calf Creek there’s a turnoff dirt road. We kept driving until we thought we were at the pull off for our hike in Zebra Canyon. We thought for sure we were wrong about this trail. We were mad each other as we wandered into the desert. There was no one around and we thought it would go nowhere. And it was hot. We didn’t talk to each other for the whole first mile. Then we started to think we were going the wrong way. We just kept going and kept going. Finally we heard a few voices coming from a small water-filled canyon off the trail. They had just come out of the water. We thought, there is no way we are getting in that water. But they kept saying, trust us. Get in the water. So we did it.
And it was worth it in the end!
Zebra Canyon was so cool (both literally and figuratively). It was a bit tough and we thought we might get stuck a couple times. But we survived and got to see the beautiful waves through the rock. It turned out to be a must-see. We ate lunch when we came back out of the canyon, alone on its shores. As we were leaving another group came up wary of the canyon. We told them, trust us. You have to get in the water. As we walked back out to find the trail, they shed their clothes and dove in.
We were exhausted after we hiked the 3 miles back to the car. We drove to our next B&B in Tropic, UT. Great B&B, but nothing special about Tropic. We settled in for the night.
Day 7: Bryce Canyon
We woke up early on Day 7 to watch the sunrise over Bryce Canyon. It was 20 degrees. But there is nothing like the sun bathing those hoodoos.
After watching the sunrise, we immediately set off on an 8-mile hike around the park. We wanted to try and get started before a lot of people joined in, which worked. We spent a lot of time alone on the Fairyland Loop. It took us several hours, but we got some great viewing of the different types of rock formations in Bryce Canyon.
We also went to the rest of the overlooks in Bryce Canyon–and there are many. They are largely drive ups, and there’s lots of people sneaking a peek as well. We went back to our amazing B&B (the breakfast was to die for), and got ready for our one fancy dinner of the trip. There was a fancy restaurant just up the street from our B&B. We had a great meal and some wine (one of the few drinks we had in Utah!). We went back to the B&B to rest.
Day 8: Zion National Park
When you leave Bryce Canyon, you hit the highway to Zion. It’s worth it to make a stop or two along the way. First we did a morning hike on Mossy Cave Trail to wake up our legs. Nice little trail with some beautiful water running through it.
Kanarra Creek Trail
Then we took a stop off just outside Cedar City to hike the Kanarra Creek Trail. When we got to the parking lot, we did another one of those are-we-in-the-right-place double takes. There were no cars in the lot. There was a guy selling water boots. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We decided not to buy any shoes. Some guy told us he didn’t think the water was that deep right now. We didn’t realize we were going to be going through water at all, but okay. Ultimately, I think we made the right decision. Besides, we played a fun game of who-can-not-get-their-hiking-shoes-wet. I won.
This place was awesome. It was mostly woods/creek walking until you get to the canyon. The guy was right – the water wasn’t very deep. But the canyon was spectacular. It was autumn, so the leaves were falling gently. It was just a beautiful, peaceful place.
You even get a little canyoning with ladders and ropes in the Canyon.
This trail is really not to be missed. After hiking out of the canyon, we ate in Cedar City. The town is sweet and the food was great. We got back in the car and made the final trek to Zion.
Zion National Park
We got to Zion tired. We checked into our hotel room, which was just on the edge of the park, and walked around the little town. We decided to turn in early so we could get an early start. Coincidentally, a friend from when I taught with Teach for America, was doing a solo trip in Zion at the same time we were there. She met us in the morning to hike Observation Point.
Observation Point was a hard steep hike up. Along the way, there are spectacular views of the valley below. But nothing beats the view at the top.
That rock jutting out is Angel’s Landing. We decided it was far too crowded to do. Neal also has a slight fear of heights when it comes to me and nearby cliff sides. We hiked down and soaked up every minute of it.
We also got to see a bunch of sheep on the trail. Weeping Rock was a nice quick stop near the bottom of Observation Point trail.
Day 10: Zion National Park
We stayed in Zion for another day. We started early and headed to the Narrows. You need gear to do the Narrows properly. We had done enough slot and creek canyons at that point to choose to skip it. Besides, someone broke their leg the day before in the canyon and we were just not feeling that. So we walked straight up to the head of the trail, then turned around.
Instead, we hiked the Emerald Pools Trail, oddly the trail the most people die on (selfie slips). That trail was quite nice, but short. We hiked to the Grotto and along the creekbed.
Once we took in everything we could, we headed back to our hotel. We slept in the next morning and then made the drive to Las Vegas. The drive was actually quite beautiful. We thought we would be happy being back in civilization, but no. We only wished we had longer to be in parks.
We said goodbye after 10 awesome days. Utah was a great adventure!
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