Utah is one amazing state! It has mountains, rivers, beautiful red rock, and an amazing array of State and National Parks. Even the drive through the state is breath taking and an adventure in itself. If you have a week to spend and energy to spare, this is the trip for you. We had a group of 24 flat landers from the western burbs of Chicago taking this week-long adventure through the “Mighty 5” parks. We did this trip in late June, while visitors to the parks and the temperatures were high, but it is a dry heat, so 100 degrees doesn’t feel so bad. Armed with camel backs, cameras and a desire to cram as much as possible into the week, this group of type A marathoners and triathletes hit the ground running.
How we did it:
Salt Lake City – Moab: We flew into Salt Lake City and drove about 4 hours to Moab to start the adventure. Moab is located very close to Arches and Canyon Land National Parks. It is also close to Green River and Colorado River and is probably best known for its mountain biking on Slick rock trails.
Lodging: We stayed in condos at Moab Springs Ranch. These were perfect as they housed many people in one unit, had full kitchens and were located between town and Arches. http://www.moabspringsranch.com
Rafting: Some rafted the Colorado with the rafting company which took the better part of one day, but included beautiful views up to class 4 rapids and a lunch.
Mountain Biking: Others rented mountain bikes from Moab Cyclery which provided the bikes, trail maps and drop off at the trail head. Most of the group were new to mountain biking and several fell, but all enjoyed the scenic and endless trails that can appeal to every level of rider.
In the afternoon, everyone headed to either Canyon Lands or Arches for hiking.
Canyon Lands: There are many trails, but the favorites of the group were Mesa Arch Trail, which is a scenic easy hike that features this beautiful arch, and Upheaval Dome, which is more moderate hike.
Arches: There are many trails in this park as well and during our stay in late June of 2017, Fiery Furnace was closed. Favorites here were Delicate Arch which is a 1.5 miles up to a beautiful view of Delicate Arch.
It was quite windy on the day we did this. This is considered a moderate hike. Also a great hike is Devils Garden where you can see 7 spectacular arches and beautiful scenery. There were other wonderful hikes and ones that you can climb up into the windows in the rocks to capture some awesome photos.
Capitol Reef: Some of the group stopped at Capitol Reef before heading to Bryce. It was about 2 hours from Moab and they said worth the time for sure. The overall distance was about the same, the roads after Capital Reef to Bryce not as easily traveled as the main highways that you would take from Moab, but described as a beautiful drive. The park is filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges and contains the Waterpocket fold, a wrinkle in the earth. Named for the light sandstone domes like those you find on Capital buildings. There are many hikes and scenic drives and even an orchard left from the early Mormon Pioneer community. Fruit can be picked from these orchards when in season. This is less popular than the other parks allowing easier access.
Bryce Canyon: At all the other parks on this trip, you hike in and up, but at Bryce, you are on the rim when you arrive and hike down into the largest collection of hoodoos which are the pillar type structures that are left after erosion. It is unique in so many ways. First because the lodge is at 8,000 feet elevation so the temperatures are cooler. The views are spectacular and hikes are incredible. It is a smaller park in comparison to others, so our group watched the sunrise and mostly did two major hikes and I felt we had a good well rounded experience. The first and most spectacular was Queens Garden to Peekaboo ending with Navajo Loop. If you are not up to this entire 8 miles, do Navajo Loop which includes wall street where the canyon walls are close and not far from the top. The other hike we did was FairlyLand Loop which is 8 miles total including about 3 miles of a rim trail. Also beautiful, but falls way short of the Peekaboo – Navajo loop hike.
Lodging: We stayed right in the park at Sunset Point. These were great for lodge rooms as they were roomy and a patio and a refrigerator and coffee maker. There is a town not far from the visitor center that had hotels even chain hotels, but always nice to be close to the hikes. In order to get the park lodge, we made these reservations about a year in advance.
Kanarraville Canyon Trail: This was an unexpected incredibly beautiful hike that we stopped at on our way from Bryce to Zion. It is a slot canyon like the Narrows in Zion but without having to hike as far to get the impact. This hike is through the water and the canyon narrows into these beautiful waterfalls with ladders or ropes on the side to climb to next level. Amazing and beautiful and well worth the $10 parking fee. Wear closed toe water shoes or old running shoes. Poles are helpful, but not necessary.
Zion: This is a very popular park especially in the summer months when school is out. Although the adjacent town, Springdale, is quaint and nice, I suggest staying in the Park Lodge if possible during high season since shuttle lines can be quite long. Since we stayed in the Park Lodge, we were able to start our hike at 5:30 a.m. They offer a nice shuttle service, but it is only as fast as the crowds permit. Only people staying in the Lodge have parking permits to drive past certain points and shuttles are the only motorized thing allowed past the Lodge.
Lodging: Again we stayed in the park here at the park lodge. At this park it is a huge advantage as you receive a permit that allows you to drive to the lodge that would otherwise be off limits. If there is one park to stay inside of, it is this one. We made our reservations about a year ahead. The rooms themselves were fine, but they included an unnecessary TV, but did not include a refrigerator. They did have common areas in the room wings which was great for our large group to gather.
We did several hikes at the park, but the highlight would be Angel’s Landing. This hike starts out as a big winding steep grade hike to the point where the chains begin to ascend the remaining section of the hike. The chain section can be a bit frightening, but once you have done it once, it is a piece of cake and when you descend, you will wonder why you were scared. It has excellent views of the park and since we were one of the first up, we didn’t have to fight crowds for the way down.
Another highlight hike for this park is the Narrows. This is a hike mostly through water to the slot canyons which is really the highlight of the hike. Wear either old running shoes or closed water shoes as you are walking on river rock the entire time. Also a hiking pole is very beneficial. While most people start hiking this in the morning, it is a great afternoon hike as it is mostly shady and in cold water. We did this in the afternoon after Angel’s Landing and another hike called west rim. My feet felt revived after the narrows. It is a slow go because of water, rocks and crowds, but well worth the time.
As a side note, we did a tube float down the Virgin River which leaves from where Springdale ends and Zion park starts. The cost was $20 for the tube. The river is clean and clear and plenty of rapids to keep you moving. At the time we went in June the water level was good, not so high it was too fast and not too low that you had to walk. We floated down river to a designated point and caught the free Springdale shuttle back to the start. Well worth the time and money especially on those hot days of summer. This outfitter also does rentals of water shoes and poles for the narrows.
Utah is a spectacular state with so much to offer from mountains and skiing to dessert and hiking, mountain biking, rafting and simply breathtaking views just the car drive. It was one of the few areas where you can cover this much territory, terrains and activities in one visit. Don’t miss your opportunity to see this amazing state – Visit Utah today!
Check out the below gallery of pictures from our trip: