Utah's Big 5 (Minus 1) + NoAZ: Memorial Day Weekend/Week 2021
First off: Why Minus 1? Well we went to Zion already a few years ago, and wanted to see so much in only a week, that we decided to skip Zion and replace that with some state parks instead. However, if you are thinking of doing the Utah 5- do not skip Zion! It is amazing- and you can check out my other blog post all about it.
But on this trip, we kept it to 4 National Parks in Utah, plus a National Monument, plus a Utah state park, plus some time in Northern Arizona. We started off flying into Salt Lake City and landing pretty late. Hertz was closed at that point, so we couldn't pick up our rental car, and Ubers/taxis were impossible to get. It took us forever to get out of that airport. Pro-tip: fly in early when everything is still open. It was super frustrating trying to get out of that airport. We finally did and headed to the Hampton Inn downtown. Now, I booked this on points, and really had no idea what SLC is like. There may be a better place to stay. I was not impressed with the Downtown. We are in the midst of coming out of a pandemic, but it was deserted, not much going on. However it is driveable to a good amount of mountains, the Great Salt Lake, etc, so maybe if we had planned on being there more than a night I would feel differently. But IMO- if you are planning on doing this trip, you can skip checking out SLC. However, we did stay Friday and left on our epic road trip Saturday morning. On Friday - I grabbed a bagel sandwich about a 10 min walk from my hotel at the Vosen German Bakery- which was pretty legit. The bagel may have not been the best option, but it had a ton of pastry options and they were very friendly. For lunch we ate at Eva's Boulangerie downtown, which was cute and had some good french onion soup, also bakery options, sandwiches, etc. We then checked out temple square and walked beyond to city creek Park- which was a pretty downtown park. There was a trail that started at the bottom of the mountain- looked pretty popular for hikes and mountain biking, but we turned around there at the base and headed back to the hotel- a good 7mi walk round trip. From there we ubered over to South Salt Lake, which seemed to be where more of the dining options are located (still seemed like most were in strip malls though). Our dinner spot actually ended up blowing us away- I'd say it was one of the best meals I've ever had. We tried Table X- they offered a 5 to 7 course menu with optional wine pairings, and we splurged. Totally worth it, just an amazing meal. They sat us in their back garden area which was so nice, perfect weather! I would highly recommend putting this spot on your list if you check out SLC.
Saturday: The road trip begins! We started out on our 4 hour journey from Salt Lake to Moab. Our first stop was Arches National Park- and of course we had to kick off the trip with 2 of the most iconic hikes in the park- Park Avenue and the Delicate Arch trail. It was about 2ish when we got there, and super, super hot. Park Avenue was about a 5min drive into the park- only about 2 mi total up and back, very easy, but so impressive. You really get a good perspective of how high some of these rock formations are in the park with this hike. Next was the Delicate Arch trail- which was not so easy especially during the hottest part of the day. It is only about 3mi round trip, but the last section is crazy steep and a workout! You will pass a million signs reminding you to drink water- for good reason. But the payoff is worth it. You get up close and personal with the most famous arch in the park. After our hiking afternoon in the park we headed to the Sunflower Inn in Moab. A really cute B&B with a ton of rooms in 2 houses, pool, hot tub, and great location/walkable to the Main street of Moab. After checking in we read a little at the pool, quick hot tub, then walked to dinner at Miguel's in Moab. The restaurant scene in Moab is pretty good- lots of options, but most places do not take reservations, so get ready to wait at least 30mins for a table no matter where you go. The good news is, there are plenty of shops to check out while you wait. Miguel's unfortunately was not the best, I'd skip it if you are in town and go for another spot. We got ice cream after at the Spoke on Center to try to make up for the less than stellar dinner.
Sunday: I really didn't realize that Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest times of the year for National parks- until today. Arches actually closed to incoming visitors at 7:45am! Crazy! Apparently this happened a few times that week, they would fill up in the morning, then re-open around 10am/11am, the close again, then re-open. Annoying! We had planned on doing the Devil's Garden Hike in Arches, and quickly had to change plans. So, we headed to Canyonlands NP instead, about a 40min drive from Moab. By the time we got there, their line was long to get in, but at least we got in! The Island in the Sky area was the closest to Moab, so we checked out a few shorter hikes in that section of the park. First was Mesa Arch- super short .5mi up and back to see the arch/incredible view of the Canyons. Then we drove to Murphy's point to do a 3.5 mi hike to another lookout. From there we headed to Grand Viewpoint for a 2mi hike, and around the corner from there the White Rim overlook trail for another 2mi hike.
After Canyonlands, we checked out Dead Horse Point State Park- about 30 mins drive and $20 entrance fee. The line was also long here, but once in we did the east and west rim trail for about an hour and it was worth the wait. The show Westworld on HBO was filmed here and used shots from Canyonlands NP as well. Only hiked for about an hour - it had already been a long day of hiking for us. After checkout out Dead Horse we headed back to Moab and had dinner at Antica Forma- which had really really good pizza, I was pleasantly surprised since I'm a bit of a pizza snob. After we grabbed dessert at MoYo frozen yogurt next door.
Monday: Let's try Arches again- this time super early! Yup we made it for sunrise at Arches NP, all to do the Devil's Garden Loop trail. Yes, of course it was worth it- getting up a 5 and making it into the park by 5:45am. The trail was about 9mi (1mi added on because we got a little lost and had to backtrack, we did the loop counter clockwise- which was the right move, however we missed some trail markers due to this- whoops). It was a moderate to hard trail at times, we had to do some scrambling and scaling of boulders to stay on the trail, but we got to see a ton of arches, and finish a pretty hard hike by like 10am! That called for coffee at Moab Coffee roasters, then a walk to the Moab Brewery, followed by a really good dinner at Sultan Mediterranean.
Tuesday: Time to head to Bryce Canyon NP! But first, to break up the 5+hr road trip, we stopped about half way to do some hiking and check out Capitol Reef NP. Really the only way to do it, Capitol reef is really remote, no towns to stay in outside the park, so the best way to do it seems to make it a pit stop on your road trip, camp there, or just drive through. We did a couple of easier hikes since we were still recovering from Devils trail loop in Arches. We checked out the Hickman Bridge 2mi trail out and back, and the Cassidy Arch trail 3mi- which was a little steeper and harder than we were anticipating (the first mile was all steps), but it ended up being a really cool hike so I'm glad we pushed through! After our hikes in Capitol Reef, we continued the drive to Bryce and checked into our Best Western Plus right outside the park. Pros: location to park. Cons: location in general. The town is nothing, no decent restaurants, only about 3 options and 2 of them are owned by the Best Western. It sounds like if you drive to Tropic you get a few other options- but its about 20mins away. So we ended up eating dinner across the street at the Ruby Inn Country Buffet both nights. Not my usual pick but slim pickins.
Wednesday: Being right next to the entrance to Bryce Canyon, we hit that up first and walked an hour on the rim trail- just to see the amazing view with all the hoodoos in the morning sun! From there we headed an hour and 20mins to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to do the Lower Calf Creek falls hike. A 6 mile round trip hike to a waterfall- it was so sandy this hike. Not my preferred ground type. It made the hike harder than it should have been. The waterfall was a good payoff. Kiva Koffeehouse was on the way back and a really good pit stop to make for coffee and a cookie. The views from the coffeehouse were pretty great too. On the way back we stopped by the Mossy Cave which is on the backside of Bryce. It was a short hike on the bottom of the canyon for a little different of a perspective- took us to a manmade waterfall, only about a mile.
Thursday: To say a fitting goodbye to Bryce Canyon, we did the famous Figure 8 trail loop in the morning- which included starting at Sunrise Point to Queens Garden trail, to Peek a boo loop, up to Wall Street, and ending at Sunset Point. Only 6.5mi but pretty hard! Lots of rolling hills, up and down and up again. But hiking through the hoodoos and getting the views from within the canyon was super cool. After saying goodbye to Bryce, we headed 3 hours south to Arizona. Our first stop once we crossed the border was Horseshoe Bend- which is about about 1mi hike to the overlook. Not a must do, but the photo is, so you might as well check it out and get that pic. From there we backtracked about 25min, back over the border to Utah, to check into Under Canvas Lake Powell, our glamping resort. At this point, I was super nervous about glamping because it was over 100 degrees and sleeping in a tent with no AC was not sounding appealing. It ended up being ok, but not sure if I'd do it again during the same weather conditions. The glampsite itself was really cool- the restaurant on site had really good breakfast and dinner options, the views were amazing, and the location to Lake Powell was perfect. The tents were nice too- we had our own bathroom inside the tent, and fans that worked about 50% of the time powered by battery packs. They even had some live music from 7-10pm which was nice to watch the sunset to.
Friday: All day on Lake Powell! We rented SUPs from Lake Powell Paddleboards and Kayaks online, and started our day on the water at 10am. I was bummed at first since Antelope canyon was closed to tourists, but apparently not through water access! So we SUPped on the open lake to the canyon waterway, and were able to hike some of the canyon which was so fun! This was a long day though let me tell you- about 3+ hours of straight SUPping, some swims here and there, and the hike through the canyon we did about 40mins (basically until we hit the slot canyon, then turned around because it was so so hot). One of my favorite days of the trip though. Lake Powell is amazing, the water temperature was perfect, and it was such a cool experience! I had my moments though- getting to the canyon the water was super choppy, so very hard to stay up on those paddleboards. The way back we were going against the current, and tired, which made it pretty exhausting. But a full day on the water is always a good one. After we went back to Under Canvas for our dinner and live music sesh.
Saturday: I was sad to leave Lake Powell and Under Canvas, but I was so so ready for air conditioning. Our final stop on our road trip was a 3hr drive to Sedona- one of my favorite spots! We only had one day/night here, but if you want more suggestions on Sedona I have another blog entry just on my trip a few years ago. This trip, we did the Bell rock hike, or should I say scramble. This is technically a hike if you stay on the trail, but we wanted to go up and climb this sucker, so that's what we did. Got some amazing views, took us an hour altogether, and then it was finally, finally time to relax (something we didn't do much of on this trip.) We stayed at the Hilton at Bell Rock- and I was super impressed! They had a really nice couple of restaurants on site, a spa, the views were really nice too. We hung out at the pool by the spa (way quieter than the main pool), I did a few laps, read a little, decompressed. For dinner we drove to Shorebird in the main section of town. Our meals at the beginning and the end of this trip were by far the best. Shorebird was so friggin good, and watching the sunset on the mountains from the windows was a nice bonus. Sedona is always a great option.