It was a busy Labor Day weekend for us! In just four days, we visited five National Parks throughout Utah; Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion, and Capitol Reef.
If we were to drive straight through, the trip from home in Boulder, CO to our hotel in Brian Head, UT would be a 9 hour drive. However, with so many fantastic National Parks situated along our route, Ryan and I decided that we would make a few stops on our way down to Bryce and Zion National Parks.
Friday: Arches National Park
We promptly left town after work on Thursday and drove the 3 hours to Glenwood Springs for the night, effectively giving us a head start on our long drive the next day. We got to the Glenwood Springs Inn around 11pm. For a budget inn, our room was very clean and the bed comfortable, and we fell asleep right away. Our alarm went off at 7am on Friday, and we enjoyed their continental breakfast before getting back on the road at 8am.
At 10:30am, we reached our first stop.. Arches National Park! We would spend the next hour driving through the park and getting out for a short (1mi) hike through the Windows Section. Here we were able to get up right under the North Window, South Window, and Turret Arch. This was a very flat, easy trail and it only took us about a half hour to hike the loop, take photos, enjoy the scenery, etc.
We left the park about hour later, at 11:45am.
Friday: Canyonlands National Park
Our next stop? Lunch in Moab! We arrived at Ryan’s favorite place.. Milt’s Stop and Eat! We enjoyed a hearty, all-american lunch of burgers, tater tots, and a milkshake before getting back on the road at 12:30pm. Yum.
After about 45 minutes, we arrived to our next destination; Canyonlands National Park! Our first stop was a 0.7mi loop to see the Mesa Arch. The trail is relatively flat and it only took us about a half hour to complete in total. When we arrived to the arch, it was very crowded with people exploring and taking photos all around it; Ryan and I simply waited a few minutes and soon everyone had continued back on the trail, leaving the arch to outselves!
We continued along the Scenic Drive until we reached our final place in the park; the Green River Overlook.We took in the sights for a while, and if we had more time we would have continued along the Scenic Drive to the Grand View Point Overlook, but it was already close to 2:30pm and we still had a lot of driving to do so we left the park and continued towards Brian Head, UT.
Saturday: Zion National Park
We arrived at our hotel at 7pm where we were finally able to meet up with my family! We enjoyed some pizza and beer in the ski town before heading to bed, as we had an early morning and busy day in Zion National Park ahead of us!
Leave hotel: 6am
Arrive at the Zion Lodge: 7:30am
Hop on a shuttle, and arrive at the trailhead for Angels Landing: 8am
First up on our list of things to do in Zion National Park was the popular hike to the top of Angels Landing. At 5 miles and 1,500ft in elevation gain, this hike would take us a grand total of four hours to complete. The first two miles were paved, and we quickly made our way up the switchbacks that led us away from the floor of Refrigerator Canyon. The last half-mile was along a sandstone bridge.. with sheer 2,000ft cliffs right beside you. There were anchored support chains for you to hold on to to provide some extra “comfort”.
We made it to the top where we enjoyed the views, took some pictures, and had a quick snack before heading back down.
It was now around 10am, and the way down was as crowded as Disneyland. We were contantly having to share the trail with people who were making their way up, which often meant waiting for a clear time to make your way down a section or having to let go of the chain and make your way around the line of ascending people. It was very crowded and often times unnerving having to squeeze past other people– all the while trying not to look down! If we were to do this hike again, we would do it even earlier in the morning to ensure an empty ascent and descent.
We enjoyed a break at one of the picnic tables at the Grotto Shuttle Stop to eat lunch and rest our feet before boarding the shuttle once again. Our next stop of the day was to the famous.. Narrows! We got off at the Temple of Sinawava, changed out our hiking boots for more water-friendly shoes (we just wore mesh tennis shoes, like Nike Freeruns, to protect our feet/toes from the rocks), and off we went!
This hike is verrry crowded, but that does not take away from the beauty of the canyon walls towering overhead. It always provides some good laughs watching everyone trip (and sometimes fall!) on the rocks hidden under the surface as we wade through the Virgin River which completely fills the canyon at times ranging from ankle deep to depths that require swimming. A walking stick would definitely help to maintain stability, but we just used each other’s hands, backpacks, etc. for support.
We hiked about a half mile into the canyon until we reached Mystery Falls. It was absolutely beautiful watching it cascade down the sandstone walls!
If you had more time in your day, I would suggest walking about 1.5 miles back into the canyon to “Wall Street”, which is the narrowest part of the canyon. It was late in the afternoon, we were tired from our hike to Angels Landing, and we decided that we would turn back at Mystery Falls.
We ended our day with a short walk from the Zion Lodge to the town of Springdale for some drinks and appetizers at the Zion Canyon Brewing Company before heading back to the hotel for the night.
Sunday: Bryce Canyon National Park
Leave hotel: 6am
Arrive at Inspiration Point: 7am
We started our day watching the sun rise at Inspiration Point. We took some photos and enjoyed the sights before retreating back to the car. From here we drove to the nearby Sunset Point, where it was time for breakfast! We brought our trusty camp stove and cooked up some eggs, sausage and pancakes. It was around 8am and there were only a handful of other people around, allowing us to fully enjoy the beauty around us.
Once we were finished eating, we set out on our hike! We started out of Sunset Point along the Navajo Trail. This is my favorite in the park, as the trail takes you down into the canyons surrounding the hoodoos.
We hiked amongst the hoodoos for a while before reaching the Peekaboo Trail, a 3 mile loop leading you through a quiet section of the Bryce Canyon ampitheater. This trail is slightly more strenuous with 1,555ft in elevation gain (and also much less populated!), but it leads you around many more hoodoos, fins, and spires that are absolutely beautiful.
This loop brought us back to the connecting trails, which we continued along to the Queens Garden Trail and ultimately back up to Sunrise Point, where we walked the short connecting trail along the canyon rim back to our car.
We spent the rest of the day driving down to Yovimpa Point; the very end of the park. We stopped at a few of the scenic points, including the Natural Bridge, which is one of Bryce Canyon’s many arches.
It was around 3pm at this point, and we made our way out of the park. Our drive back to Brian Head took us through Cedar Breaks National Monument which was gorgeous! There were lots of scenic vistas, sprawling valleys, deer, and lava flows. Once back to the hotel, it was time for a lazy night spent soaking in the hot tub and making cocktails in the room.
Monday: Capitol Reef National Park
Our last day of vacaion.. so sad. We slept in a bit, enjoyed a nice breakfast in the small town of Parowan (and took in the sights of this sleepy town getting ready for their Labor Day parade– American flags, classic cars, etc.) before saying goodbye to my family and hitting the road around 8:30am.
We reached our first, and only, stop for the day at 11am: Capitol Reef National Park! We drove to the visitor center where we got a map and decided what we would like to do on our quick visit. We very quickly decided that we would have to revisit the park; there were so many different hikes that we wanted to do but simply did not have time for. So instead we decided that we would simply drive the Scenic Drive, take in the sights, and be on our way.
Upon the completion of the drive, we got back on Highway 24 which would ultimately take us back to I-70.. aka our freeway home. We stopped briefly in the Fruita Historic District, where we relaxed and stretched our legs on the lawn that was shaded by the mature Cottonwood trees with the sound of the Fremont River nearby.
Back on Highway 24, we visited the Historic Fruita School and the Petroglyphs before exiting the park. It did not take long for us to leave the oasis of the park as the lush valley and tall trees disappeared behind us.. leaving us with a dry desert and an open highway.
From here, it was a 6 hour drive home spent reminiscing on a Labor Day weekend well spent with family all the while visiting our country’s beautiful protected areas. Four days and five National Parks.. I would say that it was a success!