Exploring Utahs National Parks
I’m a New Yorker, born and raised. Though I appreciate my roots, I’ve always had a craving for new sites, vibes, and experiences. Before venturing out and going on cross country road trips (I can thank my boyfriend, Billy, for that) though having an idea, I didn’t realize how much beauty our own country has to offer. Growing up in the suburban streets of NY can make it quite easy to forget how diverse in nature our country is. It’s incredible how entering each state feels like a new world, bringing on a new lifestyle and culture. Once hitting the open road I got a serious case of wanderlust, and I never quite recovered. Exploring Utahs national parks only fueled my desire to see more.
I’ve always loved the Adirondack mountains, but once I got to Utah that mountain love hit new heights (literally). I fell in love with the states raw, diverse beauty. One day I’m skiing in towns that resemble the village under my moms Christmas tree, the next I’m exploring Moab and climbing red rocks. Utah is home to 5 of Americas fascinating national parks, all offering their own adventure. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited all 5 of Utahs national parks and only feel it’s necessary to encourage all who have not, but may be curious about paying this special state a visit, to make like Nike and “just do it”.
Although to get the most out of every park you’ll need to stay for a couple days or break it up into 2 trips. That being said, I by no means am a park expert, but I love sharing my experiences. Hopefully this article can give you some insight on Utahs national parks and further peak your interest. One of these parks actually made it on the list of “most famous national parks in the world”. That being the well renowned, Zion National Park.
Disclaimer: There’s more to Utahs national parks than what I mention. I’m simply discussing some of my favorite features that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience.
Zion is #50 on the totem pole for most famous national parks in the world, with good reason. That’s #50 out of 3,044! With about 4.3 million visitors per year. Also making it the most famous of Utahs national parks. The park offers 43 hiking trails, amazing site seeing, and a truly special vibe like no other. While being the home of 68 species, you’re bound to encounter some incredible wildlife.
One of the parks top attractions and at the top of countless bucket lists (if it’s not on yours, it should be). This trail is 5.2miles round trip consisting of 21 switchbacks, bringing you to an elevation increase of 1,500ft. Eventually leading you to a guideline chain you’re encourage to use for safety. The trail gets very narrow with steep cliff drops on either side, its awesomely exhilarating. Once getting to the top, man oh man, you’ll realize every step was worth it. I encourage anyone who makes it to the top, to walk away from everyone for a minute, and have a moment with yourself to take it all in. It’s a very spiritual experience.
My mind started picturing what the land before me may have looked like before this canyons formation. How dinosaurs were once livin’ it up in this very spot some million years ago. How walking through this land on a daily basis was the norm for Native Americans for thousands of years.
*P.S. Pack a lot of water and stretch those legs! Them switchbacks ain’t no joke. Cooling down in the Virgin River at the base of the mountain is a great way to end this adventure.
* Click Here to watch my friends and I hiking Angels Landing!*
Again, an experience at the top of many bucket lists. While walking through The Narrows, you cant help but feel like you’re in a fictional story book. Surrounded by 1,000ft rock walls standing about 30ft from one another. It’s easy to feel small, and there’s something really special about that. It’s as if you’ve shrunken down and fell into a crack in the floor. Come to think of it, all of Utahs national parks make you feel small.
The further into the Narrows you allow yourself, the more beautiful and exciting it gets. You’ll run into obstacles where you’re climbing between rocks, swimming through the river, then walking in ankle deep water again, back to being fully submerged. You feel the excitement of not knowing whats around the bend. It’s also super cool to experience the park from down below, prior to being so high up at Angels Landing, or vice versa.
*P.S. The Narrows gets very crowded, being that it’s family friendly and easily accessible (and radiating copious amounts of gorgeousness). The true Narrows adventure begins once you’ve out walked the tourists. Unfortunately we didn’t get any footage/pics of the Narrows because we didn’t want to risk damaging the camera, but we’ll be venturing back with the GoPro!
A Climbers Treat
The parks 2,000 ft sandstone cliff’s draw in serious rock climbers from around the globe. While driving through the park you can see some climbers scaling the rock walls. Although not a climber myself, I have much respect for anyone who does so, and can only imagine how beautiful this climb must be. You’re a bunch of badasses.
Although having gone to this park, there’s still so much I didn’t see. At the time I was only able to spend two days in the park. If you’re on a time crunch it’s best to explore the northern half of the park, known as Island in the Sky. Majority of this district is car accessible, allowing you to see much of the park in a short period of time. It’s also very close to Arches National Park, ideal for “park hopping”. I’ll definitely be venturing back to hit up the Needles District.
That being said, I’m going to shine light on what I did get to experience during my stay. If you’re into hiking and traveling or live in the midwest, where Utahs national parks are more frequently talked about, then you’ve probably heard of Canyonlands. For those more in the east, this park may jump to the top of your list.
Before venturing out to Canyonlands I didn’t really know what to expect. After experiencing this park, it was insane to me how, compared to other national parks, the human traffic was much lower. Which is great in the sense that it gives you a more intimate experience, but a shame that more people aren’t aware of the parks beauty. Something special about this park is that, no matter where you look, you’re seeing canyons or mesa’s all around. Not to mention the home of where the Colorado and Green river join together to form the Wind river. With landscapes like no other, the views seriously seem endless. Another cool theme of Canyonlands is they cover a lot of Native American history. Some hiking trails feature Navajo battle forts made of stone, which are still standing, it’s incredible.
Grand View Point Overlook
This site is suitable for both hikers and non hikers. With a flat 1mile rim-trail to the Grand View Point Overlook, its suitable for site seekers of all ages. This site blew me away with its unique landscape, which is a product of the Colorado and Green River carving into rock for millions of years. The vibe is not far from that of the Grand Canyon, but with less people. You view the canyon from a birds eye view. It looks like parts of the ground got pushed down while the rest remained untouched, giving it an almost stencil like affect. The view is captivating.
White Rim Road
If the weather is right and you have a 4WD vehicle, this feature of the park is an absolute must. Dirt road switchbacks lead you down into the heart of the canyons, surrounding you in the luminous glow of the red rocks. You can see the road ahead for miles, forming all sorts of twists and turns. It’s truly an exhilarating experience. The closer you get to the bottom of the canyon, the more difficult the road gets, so navigate with care. All day and night trips require a permit, and it’s totally worth it. Camping down in the heart of Canyonlands is one of the most memorable nights of camping I’ve ever had. Waking up to that view was like a dream, and something i’ll never, ever, forget.
*P.S. When exiting the park via White Rim Road it spit us out on to Potash Rd, which featured petroglyph carvings and led us straight to Arches National park.
A reason why I found this attraction so cool is because scientists are unsure of the root of its formation. Upheaval Dome is a large crater in the earth with rock risen in the middle. They’re leaning more towards the meteor theory. How cool would it be to have been at the site of an earth, meteorite collision?! The hike in was scenic and not difficult. On a map, the crater looks small in the grand scheme of things. But once getting there yourself, it seems massive, which really puts into perspective how small we really are. I love it. If you’re lucky you’ll come across some beautiful desert wildflowers. Showing that beauty can bloom in even the harshest of conditions.
* Click Here to watch Billy and I’s Canyonlands adventure!*
A red rock playground loaded with diverse rock formations. Arches is an amazing park with a lot of easily accessible sites that can be seen in a short period of time. Every which way you look, you’re gazing upon arches, pinnacles, balanced rocks, needles, and other rock formations that make Arches what it is today. My analogy of this park is viewing it as the organically formed version of New York City, made up of sandstone and red rocks. I say this because these formations are massive structures bound by nature, creating incredible skylines. Something else I really love about this park, and Moab in general, is at a lot of points, you can see snow-cap mountains in the distance, clear as day. Displaying the states true diversity.
Arches Scenic Drive
This drive is the perfect, convenient way to see the park. The road takes you to some of the main sites. I remember embarking on this drive, right off the bat you feel like you’re on another planet. Pretty much Mars with people and cars (okay Briana, spitting bars). Throughout this drive you’ll see so many sites from the seat of your car, picking and choosing which ones you want to get up close and personal with (pretty much all of them). You’ll see rock formations that look like giant buildings, the famous Balanced Rock, and countless arches (duh).
Arches Scenic Drive eventually turns into The Windows Rd, leading you to the North Window, South Window, and Turret trail head. The Windows are incredible dual, eye shaped arch formations. They seriously look like the eyes of the desert, they say eyes are the windows to your soul. The name fits this rock formation perfectly and the view beneath these arches is stunning, representing the beautiful soul of Arches National Park.
Via my perspective, Turret arch looks like the front of a massive castle that deteriorated over time. The big arch looks like a jaw-bridge entrance would’ve once filled it’s space, along with what looks like a perfect circle in the middle of the red rock, representing a window. Both of these features are a must see.
This trail is flippin’ amazing, I wanna go back again, and again, and again. The Devils Garden trail is made up of primarily red rock and sandstone paths, not just dirt paths. So yeah, you’re pretty much climbing on rocks the whole time, taking you higher and higher, it’s awesome. This trail is where you’ll see some of the best sites the park has to offer. On parts of this trail you’ll see the massive snowcap mountains and experience the geological diversity I had mentioned earlier. Throughout this trail you’ll come across several arches, all unique in their own way, along with a lone standing spire known as The Dark Angel. This hike can be rather challenging for some at certain points. If you get tired, post up on a rock, have lunch, take a breather, and keep trekking on.
Ahh yes, finally, the main attraction. Almost everyone knows about the famous Delicate Arch. If the name doesn’t ring a bell and you’re thinking “Uuhhh… what the hell is that”, I can almost guarantee you’ve seen a picture of it. This arch is featured on countless post cards, famous travel magazines/accounts, it’s even on the Utah license plate and welcome sign. Why is this Arch so special? It was formed just the same as the other arches featured in this park, but it’s the unique shape and placement of the arch that makes it stand out above the rest.
Hike to the Delicate Arch
The hike up to the Delicate Arch is categorized as “difficult” but really, almost anyone can do it. This hike is a 3.2 mile roundtrip with a 480ft incline, taking about 45min each way. Throughout this hike you’ll witness multitudes of rock formations while hiking alongside the mountain on an incline. You’ll wanna stop a couple times along the way to capture surreal snapshots.
Once getting to the top, I really didn’t know what to say. I was, undoubtably, speechless at best. Billy was adamant about getting to the Arch for sunset, I’m so happy we did. It was one of the most beautiful, special moments of my life. The color’s looked… delicious in a way. That may sound weird, but they really did. The red rocks grew such a warm color in some spots while shadowing a purple hue in others. I could’ve stayed there for hours.
Aside from the awesome sites along the way, there’s a little history lesson as well. At the start of the trail you’ll see a real, well maintained cabin built by John Wolfe, where he and his family lived in the early 1900’s. The ranch is still standing and everything! I’m a sucker for antique culture and I truly felt like I was transported back in time to the cowboy era. I imagined I was in one of my favorite classic movies of all time, Old Yeller. There’s also some petroglyphs once you’ve embarked on the trail (those are always intriguing).
* Click Here to watch Billy and I’s first Arches National Park experience!*
Theres a lot to do in this park that we didn’t get to. But what we did do/learn was really cool and left me wanting more. Capitol Reef is in the heart of the red rocks and offers beautiful, unique landscapes while holding a lot of Native American and pioneer history. The park is a giant water pocket fold (basically a wrinkle in the earth where the ground dips down). Throughout the park runs the Fremont river, which made this an ideal destination for pioneers. Eventually becoming populated enough to become a town known as Fruita. The really cool thing about this all, is that some of the houses are still standing, along with the fruit orchards planted by the pioneers themselves.
The town of Fruita was founded in the 1800’s and is a remaining feature in the park today. Experiencing a town in the middle of a canyon in the red rocks was so special, again, another story book moment taking you back in time. It got the name Fruita due to the orchards the pioneers created. When in season, you’re allowed to pick fruit for yourself which I think is super cool. Although we were there during the off season, so there wasn’t much for the picking. I did manage to grab one apricot each for Billy and I, they were a little bitter but sweet enough to enjoy.
Right next to the apricot orchard is the towns one and only school house. We couldn’t go inside, but you can see through the windows that everything is still the way it was. We also came across a family cabin and a super cute bakery they restored from an old house which is fully up and running with freshly baked goods! (I recommend the apple pie).
This trail is an easy 1mile hike through the canyons. Though short, this hike is so cool and totally worth it. On the trail you’ll come across graffiti from the 1800’s where citizens of the town of Fruita and traveling pioneers carved their names on a great rock wall. It makes you feel a somewhat connection to the people of the past. How, they were really here and they were people like you and I (different lifestyles of course). This may have been their “hangout” spot in town, just like every other town acquires a hangout. Another cool thing on this trail is the wire that runs along it, believed to be one of the first telephone lines in the states.
Theres numerous hiking trails, canyoneering, and rock climbing featured in this park. As mentioned, we didn’t get to do much hiking this time around, but again, what we did do was awesome. We hopped on the Hickman Bridge Trail which is a pretty relaxing hike, but when that desert sun wants to join the fun it feels 10x more strenuous. The views along this hike are continuously scenic and I remember there being this mini red rock cave. Once getting to Hickman Bridge I was so happy, its always cool seeing a new arch. Plus, it was so hot and I was totally worked. I imagined the pioneers traveling through this desert sun with absolutely no outlet and no choice but to keep pushing on.
Camping under the Milky Way
We didn’t camp in Capitol Reef, but we did a little ways outside of the park. Billy wanted to make way to this campsite he had stayed at while riding his bicycle cross country, Hite Marina Campground. We took Utah Route 95 to Hite Overlook, a breathtaking view where you can see the Colorado River and Lake Powell. From the site, Billy pointed out our campsite which was basically right on the river (sweeeet).
We made our way down to the campsite and it was pretty deserted (haha, pun intended) and secluded. There was this couple that came later in the evening from Colorado that we befriended and had a great time with. Billy went to take a group picture of us and unintentionally got the whole Milky Way above our heads. We all looked up and fell silent for a moment, it was incredible. The stars and space has fascinated me my whole life, I can gaze for hours on end, and be completely content. The Northern Lights are at the top of my bucket list. Some of Utahs national parks actually hold stargazing events. I personally find it more special when you seek out the stars yourself in a secluded, quiet spot.
The best Milky Way display I’ve seen thus far was when my friends and I camped at a primitive campsite outside of Zion. We sprawled out on the dunes in the desert and really felt like we were submerged in the night sky. Though I don’t remember the name of that campsite. Hite Marina Campground came second best in displays of the Milky Way. There’s nothing like the desert sky on a clear night.
Bryce Canyon, though this park is the smallest of Utahs national parks, it’s just as special and unique. This park is where the desert and green forest form a family, which I found intriguing and super cool. Billy and I weren’t expecting a hybrid scenery so it was an unexpected treat. The park is made up of arches, pine trees (making up the Ponderosa forest), and closely packed hoodoo’s. What the heck are hoodoo’s? Hoodoo’s are rock formations caused by weather and erosion over millions of years. Bryce Canyon is said to go through nearly 200 freeze and thaw cycles each year (wowza), causing the limestone formations that stand today. I wouldn’t be surprised if the pine trees are a result of the two extreme weather conditions clashing.
This site offered us one of the most beautiful views of the park. During the day, the colors were marvelous, but at sunset, the colors exploded. A variety of purple, orange, red, green, and white, all worked together to bring the limestone hoodoo’s to life. The rock structures come together to form “The Silent City”, which is said to be the frozen souls of the native American tribes that once called this land their home. Though I can see why they say that, I still had my own perspective of the view. To me, the rock structures reminded me of an under water city made of castles, or even a sand castle city. Mother natures artistic detail really shines through here.
Ponderosa Point and the Natural Bridge
This site of the park displays a birds eye view of the red rocks and the Ponderosa Forest merging together. Expressing the true beauty in diversity of Utahs national parks, and Utah as a whole. It was such a cool view to experience. It almost seemed like Mars, with a touch of earth from the trees. Another cool view where you can see the two natural forces collide is at the Natural Bridge. Here you see a massive Arch, and right through the arch displays a beautiful view of the Ponderosa Forest engulfing the red rocks.
I remember how blue the sky was against the red rocks that day. It suddenly made me question if these natural colors are what influenced the traditional native American colors of turquoise and coral.
* Click Here to watch Billy and I’s Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon experience!*
Utahs National Parks: The Mighty 5, over and out
Welp, there you have it. America has some of the most gorgeous, breathtaking experiences/views on the planet. If you’ve read thus far, I really appreciate it and hope this post gave you some insight/ inspiration to get out to the midwest and experience what Utahs national parks have to offer. I’m excited to share my other traveling experiences on here and I’m stoked to have dedicated this first one to beaUTAHful Utah. Now get some fresh air and get out there!
Nomadikally yours, Briana