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Epic 8 Day Utah National Park Road Trip

Alternate title: The sort of 8 day trip that turned sort of 9 days thanks to a canceled flight. But more on that later.

I’m about to attempt to cram 5 National Parks, 1 National Monument, 39.4 miles of hiking and one extra afternoon/evening stuck in Salt Lake City in to one post. Stick with me here and I promise you’ll be rewarded with (1) an epic vacation idea and (2) some pretty amazing photos.

My cousin and I recently embarked on an 8(ish) day journey through 5 Utah National Parks and a National Monument. I had been to 4 of the parks before, but I’m always willing to go back for more. This was our route: Las Vegas > Zion National Park > Bryce Canyon National Park > Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument > Capitol Reef National Park > Moab > Arches National Park > Canyonlands National Park > Salt Lake City

Let’s begin at the beginning – Las Vegas.

Day 1: Las Vegas > Zion National Park

We landed in Las Vegas in the morning, picked up the rental car and drove immediately to In-N-Out before driving the 2.5(ish) hours to Zion. We stopped for some groceries for lunches and snacks for the week in St. George and arrived in Zion around 2 or 3pm. We had time for a hike so decided to do the Emerald Pools trail. There are 3 Emerald Pools: lower, mid and upper. It’s 3 miles round to the upper Emerald Pool.

Emerald Pools Trail

 

After the hike, we grabbed some dinner and headed to the bridge at Canyon Junction for the sunset. The sun actually sets on the opposite side, but the view down the river gets a great glow from the sun, making it a prime (and popular) spot.

Bridge at Canyon Junction

Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Springdale, Utah – Recommend it! Great location (right off bus stop to get in the park or 1 mile walk) and very nice management.

Hiking Miles: 4 (including the 1+ mile walk back to our hotel)

Day 2: Zion National Park

Day 2 started with one of my all time favorite hikes: The Narrows. Photos don’t do it justice. Last time I hiked The Narrows, the water temperature was very cold so we rented boots and pants. This time, the water was a bit warmer (in the 50s), so we decided to hike with our hiking boots and rented sticks and a water-proof bag for some of our stuff.

The Narrows

You can access The Narrows for a day hike through the Temple of Sinawava. It is a 1 mile easy, paved hike on the Riverside Walk Trail to the opening of The Narrows where some people continue on and others play in the water, picnic, and/or head back. I’m guessing we walked about a mile in, give or take.    

Prepare to hike through waist deep water, be cold at first, walk against the current, and (probably) ultimately fall.

Pa’rus Trail

One of the best gems of Zion is located right behind the Visitor’s Center. The Pa’rus Trail is paved and an easy walk along the river that has great views of the canyon peaks. We were a bit tired from The Narrows so we decided to walk a bit on the Pa’rus Trail in the evening. Make sure to cut in to the river and play around. 

Hotel: Holiday Inn Express Springdale, Utah

Hiking Miles: 5

Day 3: Zion National Park > Bryce Canyon National Park

Angel’s Landing (Sort of)/West Rim Trail

We set out to do the iconic Angel’s Landing hike. I did it once before. It’s terrifying. Unless you like 1,000 foot drops and holding on to chains on the side of a cliff.

This part is the last 0.5 miles of a hike that starts at The Grotto and gains elevation up Walter’s Wiggles for about 2 miles before getting to this point.

We had fully planned to go up Angel’s Landing, but when we got there, the line to go on was LONG. There’s only one way up and down, so factoring in the fact that people weren’t moving up and there was a wait time to start, we decided to opt out and continued up the West Rim trail instead. It was the BEST decision! The views were spectacular and the trail was much less crowded. We had a lunch spot all to ourselves.

 Bryce Point – Bryce Canyon National Park

After our hike we hit the road for our 2 hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. We got in, got dinner, and drove out to Bryce Point for the sunset. It did not disappoint.

Hotel: Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn – It was OK, there aren’t many options around Bryce

Hiking Miles: 5

Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park > Escalante, Grand Staircase National Monument

Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop

We started with the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop 3 mile hike. It’s a great, not too long hike that goes down in the canyon, through the hoodoos and back up.

Peek-a-Boo Slot Canyon

After the Bryce hike we drove to Grand Staircase National Monument in Escalante, Utah. We wanted to get to the slot canyons which are about an hour drive down a non-paved road, where the last part of the road is essentially completely off-roading (they say to only attempt in a 4-wheel drive vehicle). WARNING: follow the cairns. Not the tiny little ones people make, but these like huge, gigantic, can’t-miss-them piles. We missed them (of course) and got a bit lost in the desert. All ended well and we found our way back to the path.

Once you hike down the canyon, go to the right for the entrance to the Peek-a-Boo Slot Canyon. It looks like this when you get close.

We had to climb up. There are some places for feet, but they were built for tall people. If you’re like me, you may end up looking like this:

I believe my technique was jump and put all my weight on my stomach, then scooting. Anyway, all the scooting, crawling, jumping and climbing was totally worth it.

We also walked a little in this larger canyon next door.

Hotel: Entrada Escalante Lodge – This was a great option! Cabin type rooms, new, clean and the beds were pretty comfortable. We also had a back patio that overlooked the mountains.

Hiking Miles: 5

Day 5: Grand Staircase National Monument > Capitol Reef > Moab

This was the craziest driving day because we had to cover three locations in one day. However, it really wasn’t that bad since each drive itself wasn’t too long.

Lower Calf Creek Falls

This is a 6 mile out-and-back hike to a gorgeous waterfall. The 6 miles really weren’t too rough because there wasn’t a huge elevation gain (not like some Zion and Bryce hikes), but there is a lot of walking on sand, and that’s not exactly fun at times. All worth it of course for the waterfall. You can actually swim in the water, but it was pretty cold, so I just went about half way in.

Hickman Bridge – Capitol Reef National Park

After the waterfall hike we drove to Capitol Reef, a National Park I hadn’t been to before. The weather wasn’t great and it looked like it was going to storm, so we did a quick hike to the Hickman Bridge and back. Capitol Reef was gorgeous to drive through and I’ve read of some really cool long backpacking trips/hikes, so I may need to go back. But, given the trip schedule and our long hike that morning, I think we spent the perfect amount of time there.

After Capitol Reef we hit the road again and drove about 2.5 hours to Moab.

Hotel: Comfort Suites Moab – Recommend! Close to the “downtown” Moab area and both Arches and Canyonlands.

Hiking Miles: 8

Day 6: Arches National Park & Moab

We were debating the Primitive Trail at Devil’s Garden (7+ miles and the hike I did my first time in Arches) or a few shorter hikes. We ultimately decided on a few shorter but the decision would have been made for us anyway because Devil’s Garden was closed.

Delicate Arch

The most iconic hike in the park (and probably crowded) is Delicate Arch. It’s a 3 mile out-and-back we started the day with. This was one of our hottest days on the trip. Bring lots of water and sunscreen (there is no shade on the hike).

  

The Windows

We then did The Windows short 1.1 mile loop. Easy hike. Great views.

Bonus: the drive through the park and viewpoints are unbelievable. This is the Park Avenue viewpoint.

Corona Arch

A friend recommended the 3 mile Corona Arch hike. It’s outside Arches, less crowded, and a great hike! A definite must do if you are in Moab.

Hotel: Comfort Suites Moab

Hiking Miles: 7.1

Day 7: Canyonlands National Park & Moab

We spent our last day in Moab in Canyonlands National Park. I love Canyonlands. It was the second National Park I’ve been to and after going I made my National Park goal.

Grand View Point Hike

The first hike we did was a 2 mile out-and-back. A lot of people don’t go far out, so as you continue, the hike gets less crowded. The end of the hike has a large rock you can climb on for a near 360 degree view of the park. Highly recommended.

Mesa Arch

Mesa Arch is really popular at sunrise. We didn’t make it there for sunrise, but still worth it to go. It’s only a 0.5 mile round trip. Easy with a nice view through the arch at the end.

Upheaval Dome

This is a 1.8 mile round trip with decent elevation gain. There are two view points (we went to the second) of the Upheaval Dome. It’s pretty cool. I recommend it.

Red Cliffs Lodge

My first trip to Moab we found a random hotel online to book and it happened to be 15 miles into a canyon. This time we stayed in town but decided to drive to the Red Cliffs Lodge for wine, dessert and a sunset.

Hotel: Comfort Suites Moab

Hiking Miles: 4.3

Day 8: Salt Lake City

Day 8 was supposed to be driving from Moab to the Salt Lake City Airport but as we were driving we found out our flight was canceled. We were able to book a flight for the next day and a hotel by the SLC airport. We explored a bit of SLC but one thing to note, it was a Sunday, and in SLC, almost everything is closed on Sundays, so if you’re going to be stranded due to a canceled flight, hopefully it’ll be one of the other 6 days of the week.

Great Salt Lake State Park

We drove over here to see the Great Salt Lake. You can get out and walk around. Some people went in, we did not.

Ensign Peak

This was a recommendation from a woman at our hotel. We hiked up to the top of the peak at sunset. It’s about a mile round trip. The hike isn’t difficult (long) but is a decent incline. Pretty nice views of the city from the top.

Hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Salt Lake City Airport – a good option if your flight is canceled and you have to stay in Salt Lake City

Hiking Miles: 1

… and that’s a wrap! 8 days, 5 National Parks, 1 National Monument and 39.4 miles of hiking. Until next time Utah!

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2 Comments

  • Reply Jenny

    We usually do a 2 week trip to Colorado in August & try to hit as many parks, monuments & hikes as possible. Your recap of your Utah trip is great. Perfect amount of info & great pics. Thanks for the idea! We are Utah bound next year!

    October 25, 2017 at 10:21 am
    • Reply Mara

      That’s awesome! I did a two week trip through some Pacific Northwest parks last year. Have fun in Utah!

      October 25, 2017 at 10:22 am

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