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Exploring the mighty 5 of Utah

We had been home for almost 6 months. This is the longest we have stayed home in the last 5 years & taking no flights or traveling anywhere. As travel started to open, we decided to travel locally. We booked our flights to Salt Lake City- Utah 10 days before we decided to leave. There was excitement as well as lots of nervousness. How would traveling in the COVID era look like?

The first flight in 6 months during pandemic

We always wanted to do the Might 5 National Parks of Utah but had only been to Zion National Park & Bryce National park before. We absolutely love Bryce and have been there 3 times now. We did an 8-day trip around Utah & covered quite some amazing places that you may have never heard of. Our trip started with Salt Lake City where we flew in from Seattle and stayed a night. We felt quite safe flying on Alaska Airlines. Masks were compulsory all times and one entire column of aisle seats was blocked to maintain social distance. However, we were flying business, so it was much better.

Colorful sunset at the Great Salt lake

Upon arrival, we picked our rental car and drove to the Great Salt Lake State park to catch a beautiful sunset. We had plans to visit the Salt flats in Bolivia this year which would not be working out so when we read more about the Salt Flats of Utah, we were so fascinated and wanted to explore more. There are lots of popular photos online of a pink lake on one side and blue on the other, that road is not accessible to public and those shots are taken by drone. However, we could still find some pink lakes along the drive on the freeway I-80. That is where we spent our next morning and it was so fascinating to see huge panels of salt flats all around the city.

ARCHES NATIONAL PARK:

Our first stop then was to Arches National Park where we spent 2 nights at hotel Hyatt Place Moab which was 10 mins drive outside the park. We were incredibly happy with the precautions taken by this hotel and the level of hygiene maintained throughout. Also, not to mention they were serving full hot breakfast as to-go.

Sunrise hike at the delicate arch

The most popular spot of this park is the Delicate Arch. It is a 3-mile round trip difficult hike with an elevation gain of 480 ft with no shade at all & exposed to heights. We wanted to avoid the crowds and also the harsh sun, so we decided to hike here at the sunrise. It was extremely beautiful to be up there early morning however it still gets crowded so you might want to plan it well. Daytime is extremely hot, and the sun is very strong so highly recommend carrying lot of water. After this hike, we headed to the landscape Arch which is a moderately easy 1.6-mile round trip hike. This hike is a part of the Devil’s Garden which is 7.2-mile trail having some difficult hikes – for those who want to explore the fins to discover hidden arches.

Landscape Arch, biggest arch in Arches National Park

We completed the above 2 hikes and had some quick photo stops in the park along with visiting the Visitor Center & straight headed out for lunch to Quesadillas Mobile food truck- the best quesadillas one can ever have. A must go when in Moab! We decided to avoid the afternoon time in the park as it gets extremely hot and sunny so we can back rest for some time before heading back to park.

Balanced rock is accessible with a short walk from the parking lot
Park Avenue Viewpoint

We drive back to the park around 4:30 pm as the sunset was around 7:15 pm. We started with the Park Avenue viewpoint and the trail could go all the way to Courthouse towers if you would like to hike. However, we decided to take it easy as we wanted to do some short hikes as well. We made quick photo stops at the courthouse towers, Balanced rock, sand dune arch & straight headed to Fiery Furnace. Due to COVID-19 the hike is closed but you can visit the viewpoint.

Fiery furnace was closed due to covid, but viewpoint is open

We ended our day at the Windows which is about a mile long trail covering the North & South Window & the Turret Arch. This is a great spot during the sunset followed by the Double Arch which is another 0.5-mile trail. You can also stay here a little longer and do stargazing. This park is one of the best places for stargazing. It has been a certified international dark sky park.

Double Arch near the windows section

Things to know when visiting Arches National Park:

The park has no food or lodging facilities except the campground. Closest is Moab.

Parking lots are small compared to the number of people visiting so if parking lot is full you may need to return at another time.

Summer days get extremely hot (up to 110 degree Fahrenheit )and all the hikes in open and uncovered. Always carry lots of water and keep yourself hydrated.

If interested in adventure tour- check out the Hell’s Revenge UTV tour or other 4×4 as per your choice.

Beautiful sunset at Arches National park

CANYONLANDS & DEADHORSE STATE PARK:

Canyonlands is certainly very underrated when it comes to people visiting the MIGHTY 5. Exploring the Canyonlands and the Dead Horse State Park was definitely the right decision we took. This park is very close to Moab about 45-50 mins drive. And if you are in this area, we certainly ask you to stop by. If you have ever visited the Grand Canyon and felt how tiny you could be when it comes to mother nature, the Canyonlands would exactly make you feel the same. The views are expansive and make you feel so amazing!

Mesa Arch with its mesmurizing morning views

Canyonlands is divided into 4 districts by Green and Colorado rivers. Island in the sky is the closest to Moab and the most visited. That is what we explored in the couple of hours we had before we could head out to Capitol Reef National Park. The Needles is a farther drive & great for backpacking & hiking. The Maze is the most remote and require 4 wheel drive with high clearance vehicle in most of the parts. Last is the The Rivers which offers great boating opportunities. While most of them look quite closer in the map, traveling between the districts may be anything from 2-6 hours.

We made a quick stop by the Island in the sky visitor center to learn what points we could cover given the time we had. We started with the most popular hike of the park- The Mesa Arch. Again, it gets extremely hot during the day, so sunrise or sunset would be a great idea to explore if you have the time. We reached the hike about 9 am which was fairly fine as it was pretty windy although the sun was strong. It is a 0.5 mile hike to the Arch and we would definitely recommend this point being the best one of all. The views are absolutely splendid and we bet it won’t disappoint you. Its a popular destination for sunrise as well.

Giant Canyons is Canyonlands National park

After this hike, we haeded to the uphavel dome area, however, it was getting hotter so we decided to not do the entire 2 mile hike but just did the 1st overlook which was about 0.3 miles. Some of the other stunning points that we covered were the Holeman Spring canyon overlook, Buck Canyon overlook, Grand viewpoint overlook & the last Shefar Overlook. One can also go dirt biking or 4×4 off roading with high clearance vehicle.

After visiting the Canyonlands, very close to 15 mins drive is the Dead Horse State Park. This is great for hikers and bikers or for those who would like to take a quick stop for the main dead horse overlook. If you have visited the Horseshoe bend and have liked that spot, the Dead horse overlook could be considered as a bigger horseshoe bend. From the overlook, one can also get a far away site of the colorful potash ponds which are in between the canyons out of anyone’s imagination.

Dead Horse point has amazing vista of the colorado river that carves through the canyon

Again, the closest town for lodging and food would be Moab. However less number of visitors visit these parks compared to Arches National Park.

CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

Our wonderful stay in Capitol Reef Resort

The landscape here offers a vibrant palette of colour spills before you. The hues are constantly changing, altered by the play of light against the towering cliffs, massive domes, arches, bridges & twisting canyons. We did not go for more hikes here but drive around the park and enjoyed our time in the resort. We spent 2 nights in the Capitol Reef Resort.

Orchards near Fruita scenic drive

Once you go to the visitor center, you can follow the road ahead which has some orchards along. I know sounds contrasting to have orchards in the canyons. This road is called the Scenic Fruita Drive & there are quite a few stops to make. Orchards have apple, pear, cherry plums depending on the season you go. We are a bit early for the apples and pear and they also let you pick by paying a small fee. We grabbed some Vegan brunch at Wild Rabbit Café in Torrey. Torrey is the nearest small town with very less restaurants.

Amazing vista points throughout the park

We made some photos stops ate Panaroama point from where you can get a great 360 degree view, Goosenecks point for dramatic canyon views & then finally the sunset point. All these 3 are very close to each other and you can just park at one spot and hike around. We really were craving Indian food so upon researching we came across a restaurant named Curry Pizza in Bicknell- a town about 10 miles from our resort. They sevred Paneer Tikka Pizza! Sounds tempting right. It indeed was & when you find your choice of food in a small town, the excitement is just uncontrollable. This resteraunt is also covered by Guy-fieri on the popular food network.

Drive through the Capitol Reef resort is very scenic with plenty of pictureseque spots

This park also has the famous Cathedral Valley offering stunning canyon views and rock formations. However, it is accessible by 4×4 high clearance vehicles only. And the area gets flooded many times so check before heading there or join a tour.

Along the scenic drive
Mid afternoon strolls in Capitol Reef National Park

BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Bryce Canyon is one of our favourite. We have visited this park several times and love the formations here. While on our way to Kanab from Capitol Reef, we had a chance to stop by at Byrce. Having been here several times, we had always explored it during sunrise or ran and caught the sunset. However, sunrise is undoubtedly beautiful & worth waking up early for.

Angels Landing in Bryce Canyon

Our favourite spots in this park are Sunrise & Sunset point with Navajo loop hike which is open only in summer. The Inspiration & the Bryce points are our favourite and most popular lookouts too. All these points fall under the Bryce Amphitheatre and you may spend about 1-3 hours depending on your pace. The next thing we did was the Scenic Southern Drive. Drive on the main road for 18 miles (35 km) until it ends at the park’s highest elevations at Rainbow and Yovimpa points. And then in return keep stopping at spots that will all come to the right side of the road. Out of those Natural Bridge and Agua Canyon should not be missed! There are lot of hikes as well from easy to difficult ones to choose from & more information can be obtained from the visitor centre. If you wish to visit this park for sunrise, sunset & star gazing then we recommend to stay right outside the park at the Best Western as the nearby towns of Hatch, Tropic, Panguitch etc are easily 45 mins to 1 hour drive 1 way to get to the park.

Hiking down the sunset point which has many trails

Parking might be tight during summer and peak hours since there aren’t large spaces at many spots, one can also take the shuttle bus that runs inside the park for free and covers the entire scenic drive. After exploring this park, we drove straight to Kanab & grabbed some dinner at The Wild Thyme Café where we had to wait for 45 mins to get a seat. Best is to reserve beforehand.

KANAB & SURROUNDS:

Kanab is a getaway city to many sights around & also to the Zion National Park. We had initially decided to spend a day in Zion however, we both had been there in 5 years ago, so we decided to explore something we had not. Having stepped into the visitor centre we so were so stunned to see so many things we could do in that region and felt that we should spend about a week here easily on our next visit.

A lot of people land up here in the search of the Grand Staircase Escalante & keep asking for the viewpoints. While many of you do not know, The Grand Staircase is an immense sequence of sedimentary rock layers that stretch south from Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, through Zion National Park, and into the Grand Canyon National Park.

Vibrant Paria Townsite, do check it out at sunset

We started our day with the visit to the Paria Townsite, it’s a historic town that was abandoned for a few years in the late 1860’s. Not much remains but a few foundations and wooden fences. Because of its beauty, Hollywood filmed many western movies here making it a popular site to visit. This site is about 33 miles east of Kanab. Once you see the Old Paria Rock marker drive the dirt road for approx. 5 miles down to the bottom of the canyon. Dirt roads can be impassable when wet. 2×2 cars can go during summer times however 4×4 high clearance vehicles recommended. Check road conditions before heading. Also, this place might look better during sunset hours.

Right before heading to the Paria town, we had booked our tour for the most exciting spots in this area which are not easy to self drive. And before taking the tour, we had some amazing lunch at Rocking V café in Kanab town. Don’t miss out this place & do say hello to the rocking Victor 😛

Peek-A-boo Slot Canyon

The most exciting part of our day was to begin. We met our guide Jeff at the visitor centre to start our tour. Jeff had a 4×4 high clearance vehicle to take us to the most enchanting spot of Kanab- The Peek-A-Boo slot canyon. Many photographers call it “Antelope Canyon without the crowds”! This is a slot canyon & was formed by eons of swift water rushing through sandstone rock, carrying along with it rocks, trees and whatever else happens to be in the path of the swift current. Looking around the canyon walls, and you can tell just how high the water has RECENTLY been. There are 2 sections to the canyon, so make sure you hike to the end.

In between the canyon on our private tour with no one around

Things to know before heading to Peek- A- Boo Canyon:

This slot canyon is off the beaten path & is open to visit year-round.

An ATV or a HIGH CLEARANCE 4WD is required. Best is to go with a guide.

Things to know before heading to Peek- A- Boo Canyon:

This slot canyon is off the beaten path & is open to visit year-round.

An ATV or a HIGH CLEARANCE 4WD is required. Best is to go with a guide.

Trailhead is only 9 miles from Kanab but cannot be accessed with normal vehicles and there is very deep sand to hike to the trailhead from where the paved road ends.

Visit to the Great Chambers

After an amazing visit to the Peek-A-Boo, we made our way with Jeff to the Great Chamber. It is a very picturesque place to be at in the Grand Staircase Escalante region. Again to go here, you require a high clearance 4×4 vehicle.

Once you reach the trailhead of the Great Chamber, you’ll need to hike about 0.5 miles uphill to the actual cave. The last section is straight in the sand which feels tough but not to say that, it is quite an easy hike and you don’t need to be a professional hiker.

You’ll be hiking through sand a good portion of your trip so we would recommend wearing an outdoor sandal. Socks and tennis shoes will just end up being filled with sand.

We had a great evening here as the sun was going down and did not feel as hot. In fact, it got so windy at a point of time that it was tough to keep our eyes open & we came back with lots of sand! However, experiencing something so gigantic made us feel how tiny we are in front of mother nature & we just couldn’t say “WOW” enough times 😉

A note on Zion National park

While we didnt cover Zion National park in this trip, it makes for the 5th and last might parks of Utah. We explored Zion in out 2015 trip where we covered narrows, the most popular hike of the park. There is generally a park bus that will take you to the trailhead from which you can hike. The hike itself is about 9.5 Miles and the water can be toxic so one needs to be careful. Hiking in the water narrows can be tricky and slow so not many people complete the hike, but cover parts of the hike that can be done bottom up or top down. Make sure you are cattying good clothes , shoes and sticks and if you dont have one, make sure you pick some up for rent from the trailhead.

Hiking the Narows in 2015

Beyond the famous narrows, Zion national park has some amzing sites and hikes year round with most famous being the Angels landing, canyon overlook trail, Kolob canyons, observation point and weeping rock trails. Most of the hikes require almost half a day so make sure you are planning youe day well in advance.

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