During our Western USA roadtrip in 2022 we explored Utah. It is such a magnificient State which has much to offer. Each National Park has is uniqueness and make sure to reserve enough time to explore everything. Below you can read about our experiences and advices for Utah.
Angels Landing is world famous. You will always see it listed in world’s most dangerous hikes. Plenty of people died during this strenous hike. Mostly because they are impatient when the track gets too crowed. We doubted whether to do this hike, as Marie-Claire has fear of hights and research on the internet didn’t make us much wizer. But, as we already did some crazy hikes, and survived them, we decided to give it a try and see how far we could get.
Since a couple of years the number of daily participants has been limited to 800 and you need to enter a raffle in order to gain a ticket in one of the 3 slots. We were lucky to get tickets for the slot 09 am – 12 am. It means you need to start within that slot. We started hiking around 10:30. We crossed two check points where we had to show our hiking permit. Although everybody is free to hike up to Scout Lookout. The hike is quite heavy and there are many steep parts. Even if you were unable to get a ticket from the lottery, it’s worth hiking till Scout Lookout. From there on it really starts. The path gets narrow, the drops increase to hundreds of meters at both sides, but luckily there are chains at the most difficult and dangerous parts. You do need to pay attention for people in the opposite direction. After the first part, at the feet of the steep and final part, a lot of people decide to stop. If you are feeling not safely, please do so. Marie-Claire was about to stop, and I would go alone, but then she found an extra portion of courage and joined me. We took our time and it went well. The last part is difficult and steep, it feels like it never end and all people coming down keep on saying it’s only 5 minutes to the top. They are lying! Just keep going and like mostly, suddenly you reach the top. The views are insane, but please be careful and pay attention to the wind! We decided to eat our lunch at enjoy the views.
Conclusion? If you are healthy and sporty, take it easy and don’t rush, you should to fine just like we did. Also make sure to take advantage of the chains.
Zion National Park
Sky high expectations we had from Zion National Park, as all people were talking about how great this National Park was. During peak season you can’t explore the park with your own car, but you have to park and take a shuttle bus that rides up and down the park with 8 or 9 stops along the ride. It feels a bit like an amusement park when you enter. When the parking lot is full, you have to park outside the park, in the village, where you easily pay 20$ for a day ticket.
The most famous thing to do in Zion National Park is Angels landing, see above. We also explored the Emeralds Pool hike. To be honest, without Angels Landing, I’m not convinced that this park is so exceptional as most people seem to say. Crowded, the shuttle busses, … made it feel a bit too much hyped. In my opinion there are better parks to spend your time.
We did learn a very important lesson about navigation. You should always use the visitor centre as address, and not just the name of the park, even if it’s the first pick in Google Maps or Waze. We did ended up in the National Park, but we used some kind of back entrance which led so outback camping spots. Our car was not suited for the roads and when we spotted some workers they told us we were at the wrong side. It took us another 40 minutes to reach the main entrance. Travelling is an adventure and you keep on learning 🙂
Arches National Park
Arches NP has over 2000 natural stone arches of which many are reachable by the scenic drive where you find close by parking lots. Some parking lots are not that big so you might need to come back later during the day when the parking lots are full. When you go early in the morning, you shouldn’t have too much trouble. We spent some time to catch sunrise at the South Window Arch. Quite some people gathered here to take the perfect picture. In the end we weren’t much impressed by the result. But as we often say: you win some, you loose some.
We spend quite some time on Devils Garden Trail (see later) and this made our experience of Arches National Park extra valuable. If you only drive with your car from parking lot to parking lot to observe the close by arches, it’s gets …. boring in our opinion. Don’t get me wrong, the arches are beautiful, but we need something more. So the combination of the view points with some longer hikes are really what stays as memories in our mind.
Devils Garden Trail (Primitive trail)
You have different possibilities when you want to hike Devils Garden Trail. The easy part is relatively flat with hard packed surfaces to walk on. You will be able to explore Landscape Arch. Earlier you were able to get close by, but now this arch is closed and you can only admire it from a distance. There is also an option to explore Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch which are accessible via a short side track.
When you continue further at Landscape arch, you can reach Double O Arch, but you need to overcome a steeply climb on the sandstone fins. The footing is rocky and there are narrow ledges with steep drop-offs. When you have a fear of heights, you might want to skip this part. There are short side trails to Navajo and Partition Arch. You have an extra side hike to Dark Angel, it’s quite a distance and it’s an out and back trail. We would advise to skip this one if you don’t have too much time to spend. It’s a 45 meter height sandstone tower and we were not impressed by it.
When getting back from Dark Angel, you can either go back to the start of the trail and park entrance or continue and go back via the Primitive Trail. We doubted to take this route as it’s described as dangerous on the internet, but our desire for adventure made us start the hike. You will have to overcome a couple of harder parts with scrambling and climbing and as there are no chains make sure to be careful. When you are sportive and mobile, you shouldn’t worry too much, certainly when you take your time. A short spur trail to Private Arch is a nice add-on, it was quiet over there and the surroundings are beautiful.
So in summary, this Primitive trail variant of Devils Garden Trail is worth the hike. It’s not to be underestimated and we think best is to start via Landscape Arch.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon is magnificient! We explored the National Park with Sunset and although the name of Sunset Point would give you the impression to be there at sunset, we strongly advice to go to Inspiration Point. It’s the most beautiful point of the park. You frequently hear people saying they don’t have words to describe how marvelous things are, but at this point it’s what happened. Although temperature was dropping very fast, we stayed some time to absorb it’s magnitude.
When we arrived we went to look at Thor’s hammer which is also great to see. We went down into the canyon but it was a bit of a dissapointment as you can’t see that much. It’s much nicer to explore the area from above. One advice, going into a canyon is very easy, but be aware that walking back up is way harder. When not in shape, don’t overdo yourself!
The park has quite some other highlights, but honestly, we were not that much impressed. It took us quite some time to drive to the backside of the park and for example Bryce National Bridge is in essence nothing different than the arches you can see in Arches National Park.
Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park is known for its dramatic dessert landscape carved by the Colorado River. Not far from the entrance you have the Shafer Canyon Overlook. The view is awesome and you can see the twisting road where the jeeps go down to explore The Maze. That area is very difficult to access and you must go with at least 2 different 4×4 cars to be able to help eachother. Obviously we skipped this part with our van.
Mesa Arch can be reached via a very short hike from the parking lot. The view through Mesa Arch is impressive. There was a real queue to take some pictures. Luckily it moved quickly and you can always take some pictures while people go away and get back.
You can continue till Grand View Point where you can continue by foot and walk along the rim. We already collected quite some distance during the day, so we didn’t hike till the end point. Although the view is magnificient, it doesn’t really change, so we turned back and called it a day.
Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park is located between Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park which offers a dramatic overlook of the Colorado River. It should however not be mixed with Horseshoe bend in Arizona.
Both feature a meander and it’s also the only thing both parks have to offer. Luckily you can use the annual park pass to avoid paying entrance. Which is convenient because you don’t see the full meander in Dead Horse Point from the viewpoint. Which was a bit of a disapointment. A guided walk indicates that there is another view point where you can see the meander better, however, you can save yourself the effort. We followed the path, and you don’t manage to fully see the meander. In fact, when you don’t have too much time, you can easily fully skip this State Park.
I would strongly recommend to spend a few moments at the Horseshoe Bend instead, where you really can see the meander from a perfect spot.
Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park is less known but easily reachable when you move between Arches NP and Bryce Canyon NP. You can cross the National Park via Highway 24 and when heading in the direction of Bryce Canyon, make sure to take the Highway 12. You have several pullouts with great viewpoints and the landscape changes constantly. Certainly around Escalante it looks very impressive.
You also have the Scenic Drive which is a 12.7 km out-and-back paved road but it seems to be worth visiting. When weather allows you can even do that by regular car. As we wanted to still visit Bryce Canyon we skipped this one, as our motto is “you need to leave something for the next time”.
Grand Wash (Strava track)
The grand wash hike can be started from two sides, from the Scenic Drive or from highway 24. We started it from the lather to visit the Narrows, which is normally a 2.2 miles (3.6 km) one way hike. As you can keep on hiking, towards the Scenic Drive, we passed this point and our total hike was 8.6 km instead of 7 km. We saw the exit for the Cassidy Arch but we already saw plenty of them in Arches NP, we skipped it and returned to the car. Images on Google show it might still be worth the hike if you want to spent the time.
Hickman Bridge (Strava track)
Between the Grand Wash hike and the visitor centre you can find another short hike to the Hickman Bridge. Although there is a loop at the end, this is mostly an out-and-back hike of around 3.2 km. You can hike under the Hickman Bridge during the loop. It took us roughly 45 minutes but we can recommend this short walk.