In Europe we always say something about the Japanese way of traveling: 10 Countries in 10 days is insane. Just taking a snapshot and moving on again, off to the next country. While I can be very critical towards other people’s way of traveling, I realized something… wasn’t I driving around like a madwoman recently myself, cruising around the US and doing 4 national parks in 4 days? Crazy all the same!
During my 4 week roadtrip, I visited 7 different states. The one I was most surprised by was definitely Utah. When I look at the places I normally enjoy traveling to most, it’s the mountains, forests and crystal clear lakes. Glaciers and wildlife, that sort of stuff. Not the red rocks and a desert kind of landscape.
I was afraid that I’d get bored after the second park. That I’d seen enough red rocks and that I made a big mistake by spending about a week in Utah, while I could have been out hiking in the Rockies and meeting grizzlies in Yellowstone. I shouldn’t have been afraid though, because Utah was even more amazing that I would have ever imagined. With good planning and a bit of luck, you can see a lot, just by spending one day (or less) in each national park. I’ll be sharing my favorite sights and activities with you:
Best place for hiking: Zion National Park
For most travelers, Zion is the place to go. It’s one of the most visited parks in the US and it’s easy to see why. Located within reasonable driving distance of Las Vegas (approx. 2.5 hours only), it’s an easy trip. Access into Zion Canyon is by organized buses which is a bit of a shame. However, if you wake up early, you should have no trouble escaping the crowds.
Zion is the place to be for hiking. There are two magnificent hikes that are mentioned in every hiker’s wishlist and with a bit of planning, you can do them both in one day. The one I picked as most important was Angel’s Landing. It’s a strenuous 4 hour hike to a plateau high up on a rock, with stunning panoramas all over Zion Canyon. It’s not for the faint hearted; you have to hold on to chains various times with nothing but very steep drop offs on both sides of you. But once you reach the top, the view is just phenomenal and you won’t regret the effort you had to make coming up.
The other hike I can definitely recommend is The Narrows. Basically, the Virgin River is the hike, you mostly just wade through the water. Sometimes it’s quite easy, sometimes quite a challenge, depending on the water level. For shorter hikes I can recommend the Weeping Rock, which makes an easy evening stroll, or the Emerald Pools & Kayenta Trails. For the best views of Zion without doing Angel’s Landing, make sure to do the Canyon Overlook Trail, an easy 45 minute trip.
( For a detailed hiking guide to Angel’s Landing, go here: http://www.we12travel.nl/angels-landing-in-zion-should-you-do-it/ )
Best place for sunrise: Bryce National Park
Even though Zion and Bryce are often mentioned in one sentence, they are completely different from each other. The most amazing sight within Bryce is the natural amphitheater and its hoodoos. Never before I have seen such a stunning geological feature. You just can’t help but wonder “how?!?” If you are visiting Bryce, make sure to start all the way at the far end of the park and work your way back to the entrance. If you really want to see something special, then make sure you are at Sunrise Point to see … the sun rise! It’s pretty amazing to catch the first rays of sunshine lighting up the massive hoodoos one by one. Just make sure you are there early since you won’t be the only one…
Best place for sightseeing: Arches National Park
Arches National Park is relatively small and that makes it a perfect day trip from the nearby town of Moab. If you make it a long day, you can easily see all the important sights in one day. I spent around 12 hours in the park and started off with breakfast near Balanced Rock. Then I drove up to Devil’s Garden where you can find the fragile Landscape Arch. A piece of this arch collapsed a couple of years and nobody knows how long the rest of the arch is going to last. Most arches are easy to reach, no need to walk a lot. The best place to be for sunset is Delicate Arch, however once again you won’t be alone. The sun lighting up the arch with its final rays of the day is just stunning, as are the snow covered La Sal Mountains in the distance. Other sights within the park worth visiting are Tower of Babel, Fiery Furnace (book your entry ahead, I was too late!) and Park Avenue. You will definitely be amazed by the beauty of Arches National Park!
Best place for viewpoints: Canyonlands National Park
When you are looking for 360 degree panorama’s, Canyonlands National Park is the place to go to. The park is divided into three sections by the Colorado and Green Rivers and the best accessible part of the park is Island in the Sky. I spent just one morning here, my aim was to witness the sun rise on Mesa Arch. Just Google Mesa Arch and you will get the image I wanted to get. Even though the gentleman at the Moab Visitors Centre told me I would be disappointed that the orange glow wouldn’t be there, I was not disappointed. Waking up at 3.00 am was definitely worth it. Further down the road, the views into the distance at Grand View Point overlook are just amazing. Just sit down and imagine how this was all formed centuries ago… On the way back out, also make a quick stop at Upheaval Dome. Very impressive.
( For a blog about how to capture sunrise at Mesa Arch, go here: http://www.we12travel.nl/sunrise-at-mesa-arch-how-you-can-capture-this/ )
Unfortunately, I had no time to visit Utah’s fifth national park: Capitol Reef. Instead of being sad about it, I’m happy to still have something to come back to, which makes a great excuse to also head back to the other parks one more time.
As you can see, each of Utah’s national parks has its own unique features. I won’t decide which was my favorite because basically, I loved them all. Sure, the first park you go to is always the most impressive because it’s all “brand new” but still, looking back at this great adventure, I can definitely say that Utah has been given a lot of mother nature’s best…
About the author:
Antonette is the female half of we12travel, an outdoor adventure blog. She loves to go on treks all over the world and enjoys camping in nature. When home, she’s an office worker and travel writer for her own blog and various Dutch travel websites. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.