We rushed out of Capitol Reef NP on a Sunday afternoon so we could beat the snowy weather headed our way. We don’t have a heater in the van so anything under 20-ish degrees is quite chilly! As we drove toward our BLM camp spot near Natural Bridges National Monument we could feel the temps drop. We braved the cold night awoke to snowy & icy conditions the next morning. While the temps were below freezing, it was a clear and sunny day so we headed for Natural Bridges National Monument. We were the only ones at the visitor center when we arrived and after grabbing a map and getting our passport stamp, we hit the scenic loop drive around the park. It was pretty awesome to have the park to our selves and with the proper gear on the freezing weather wasn’t so bad!
As its name implies, this park is home to some of the largest natural bridges in the world. While there are numerous bridges in the park, the main attractions are Sipapu, Kachina, and Owachomo bridges whose names give homage to the Puebloan people who once lived in the area. We had originally planned to hike the ten mile loop from bridge to bridge but, because of the cold, we decided to stick to the loop drive and hop to each bridge in the van then take the short hikes to them once at the parking lot.
This small national monument has much to offer and made for a great day trip in between Capitol Reef and Canyonlands. My favorite natural bridge was Sipapu and Alan’s favorite was Owachomo.
Our fourth stop in Southern Utah was Capitol Reef National Park. This park is like its Utah relatives in that it contains many sandstone formations such as cliffs, canyons, and natural bridges. The park’s main distinguishing geologic feature is a 100 mile long monocline (a fold in the rock strata characterized as “a wrinkle on the earth”) known as the Waterpocket Fold. The Waterpocket Fold can be seen throughout the park and appears to be a never-ending large cliff that extends as far as you can see. We spent three days exploring and hiking around the Fruita district of the park.
Upon arrival to the park we stopped by the visitor’s center to get a map an speak with the rangers about recommended hikes. We then headed for down the scenic drive past the historic farming community of Fruita which still contains many old buildings and orchards of fruit trees. Continuing down the scenic drive, we eventually reached the turnoff for the Grand Wash. This dirt road led us along a large drainage with towering sandstone walls on either side eventually ending at the Grand Wash Trailhead.
After parking the van, we continued on foot following the wash into a narrow canyon. The trail through the wash is 4.5 miles in length and is mostly flat. The erosion formed canyon walls are filled with thousands of large and small pockets that make this other worldly place feel even more alien. The canyon eventually widened and we hiked until we reached the trailhead on the other end near highway 24. To our delight, this meant we had to turn around and go through the Grand Wash again!
Cohab Canyon & Hickman Bridge
On our second day, we returned to Fruita and stopped at the trailhead for Cohab Canyon. This trail is about 3.5 miles long with 800 feet of elevation gain. From the trailhead we climbed up switchbacks until we reached the canyon entrance. The views at the entrance were spectacular, on one side we could look down the length of Cohab Canyon and on the other we could look out and see the cliffs of the Waterpocket Fold extend for miles.
We continued into the canyon following the wash at its center. Occasionally, the trail intersected with other small narrow drainages that had cut their way into the canyon walls. Of course, we had to turn off and follow the narrow drainages as far as we could. One of them extended 100 yards until reaching a large pour off and was barely wide enough for us to squeeze through. Once we returned to the main trail, we hiked along Cohab Canyon then took a side trail that led us up to a couple of beautiful overlooks of the park.
After the overlooks, we continued on until we reached the trailhead on the other end of the canyon at highway 24. By this time, Ashby and I had worked up quite an appetite so we found a scenic spot (pretty much anywhere) and had lunch. With full bellies, we left the canyon and walked across the road to the trailhead for Hickman Bridge, a 133 foot long natural sandstone bridge that stands 125 feet tall. The trail to the bridge is a 2-mile round trip with 450 feet of elevation gain.
While climbing up to the bridge we had awesome views of the Fremont river and surrounding cliffs below. Once we reached the bridge, we were at first taken by its size (natural bridges are always larger than you imagine) and, after taking it in, we hiked under and around the Hickman Bridge then returned to the trailhead. Once again, we had the joy of walking back through the Cohab Canyon to the trailhead parking lot.
For the morning of our last day in the park we chose to explore Capitol Gorge, another deep and narrow canyon off the scenic drive through the Fruita district. The trailhead is off a 2.4 mile gravel road that leads through Capitol Gorge. The experience of driving our van through this narrow canyon with huge sandstone walls on either side was surreal and made us feel very remote (until we got the trailhead parking lot with 10 other cars). The trail through the gorge is a 2-mile round trip with little elevation gain. We parked the van and hit the trail continuing our exploration of the gorge.
The first half mile of the trail is like the Grand Wash trail we had hiked two days prior then it opens with large dome like formations on either side. Towards the end of the trail we took a side trail that led us up some large naturally formed holes known as “tanks”. These formations almost look like circular swimming pools and it’s easy to understand why they are called “tanks”. From the tanks we turned back and rejoined the main trail. We hiked for about another half mile then returned to the trailhead the way we came.
Even after visiting only the Fruita district, Capitol Reef National Park is now high on mine and Ashby’s list of best parks. Much of the other areas are explorable only with the use of a high clear 4×4 vehicle and we just didn’t feel like risking damage to our home in order to reach them. We plan to return in the future with a capable vehicle so that we can see all of this park’s wonders.
Following our visit to Cedar Breaks National Monument, we were excited to see the Hoodoos of Bryce Amphitheater, the park’s main attraction. This amphitheater is a vast basin of rich oranges, pinks, and reds in which stands thousands of statuesque pinnacles known as “hoodoos”. We spent two days hiking in and around the wonderland that is Bryce Amphitheater.
Navajo, Peekaboo, & Queen’s Garden Loop
On our first exploration day in the park we chose to hike what the visitor guide describes as “The Figure-8 Combination”. This trail combines the Navajo Loop, Peekaboo Loop, & Queen’s Garden trails into one awesome 6.4 mile trip through Bryce Amphitheater. After parking near the Sunrise Point overlook, we packed our packs and headed for the trail.
We first stopped at Sunrise Point for our first overlook of the amphitheater. Our initial reaction was similar to that of Cedar Breaks, the hoodoos seem infinitely different to one another and each stand as their own unique statue dressed in orange and red sandstone. From Sunset Point we headed down into the amphitheater via the Navajo Loop giving us a chance to get up close and personal with the hoodoos. At the end of the Navajo Loop, we found a nice spot for lunch and took a break before continuing on to Peekaboo.
The Peekaboo Loop is a constant up and down hike completely below the rim of the amphitheater past beautiful sandstone formations and stunning overlooks. There are also multiple places on the trail blocked by natural walls and can only be passed via a tunnel, which only added to the adventurous nature of the trail. After completing Peekaboo Loop, the final section was Queen’s Garden.
Named for a famous hoodoo in the shape of a statue of Queen Victoria, Queens Garden is fun hike that led us up out of the amphitheater and past some of the more interesting hoodoos we had seen that day. Once at the top, we headed to the general store for some post cards and a couple of popsicles. All in all, a great first day at Bryce Canyon!
For our second day at Bryce, we chose to hike the Fairyland Loop. This trail is 8 miles in length and is lesser travelled than the trails near Sunrise Point. We parked at the same location as the day before and once again prepared our packs then headed for the trail. The trail led us up and down through the northern portion of Bryce Amphitheater along various overlooks and down into valleys with majestic hoodoos on either side.
The hoodoos in this area felt more grouped together and it seemed that they were more eroded causing them to look different to their neighbors to the south. We hiked through the amphitheater until climbing up to Fairyland Point from which we could see the whole area we had just walked through. The rest of the hike back was along the rim of the amphitheater and we were treated with stunning overlooks until we reached the trailhead.
Upon returning the van, we hit the scenic drive through the remainder of the park, stopping at the points of interest and overlooks along the way.
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of those “out of this world” places that is unlike any other park we have visited. This was our second of southern Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks and we were stoked to see the remaining three. We highly recommend you make the journey to this awesome piece of mother nature’s artwork.
Our second stop in southern Utah was Cedar Breaks National Monument. This is a relatively small park that is located high up in the Dixie National Forest East of Cedar City, UT. Its main feature is a half mile deep amphitheater of pinnacle like sandstone formations. The amphitheater is painted in the browns, oranges, and deep reds characteristic to the rocks of southern Utah.
We spent a day exploring the park and hiked the Ramparts Trail to both the Spectra and Ramparts Point overlooks. The formations within the amphitheater below were much different than those we had seen before although they did slightly remind us of those at Chiricahua National Monument. After our hike we drove the rest of the road through the park stopping both the Sunset View, Chessman Ridge, and North View Overlooks.
This park is another example of the unique beauty that makes up the southern Utah landscape. After seeing the amphitheater in this, we were even more excited to see Bryce Canyon National Park, our next stop!
Thanks for reading! See gallery below for more photos of our Cedar Breaks adventure!
We finally made it to southern Utah! Alan has been excited about Utah since we started planning this trip. Southern Utah is home to “The Mighty 5” national parks which include Zion NP, Bryce Canyon NP, Capitol Reef NP, Canyonlands NP and Arches NP. Our first stop was the infamous Zion National Park. Zion is known for having some of the most scenic canyons in the U.S.
Due to the pandemic, Zion is currently running a shuttle service for the busiest area of the park. We were only able to snag shuttle reservations for two days. Our first day in the park, we decided to start by hiking the Zion Narrows Riverside trail. This trail leads you to the start of The Narrows hike, one of the most iconic trails in the park that takes you through the narrowest section of Zion Canyon.
We opted out of doing The Narrows trail due to Toxic Cyanobacteria found in the Virgin River which we would have been in contact with because 60% of the hike is spent walking in the river. In the end we were glad we decided against this trail because it was way too crowded!
After the short narrows hike, we hiked to Upper, Lower and Middle Emerald pools. We had amazing views into Zion Canyon and the Virgin River from this trail. The natural pools weren’t as impressive as we thought they would be but the surrounding rock formations made up for it!
Weeks before arriving at Zion, we learned that the chain section leading up to Angel’s Landing was closed due to COVID-19. Alan was bummed out because this is a famous must do hike at Zion. I on the other hand was pretty relieved that the chains section was closed because I am very scared of heights! But as luck would have it, a few days before we arrived at the park the chains section was opened back up to the public.
Angels Landing Trail is considered a strenuous five mile hike with 1,630 feet in elevation gain. Once you get to the chain sections there is scrambling involved and oh yeah, there are 1,500 foot drops on both sides of the trail. We decided that we would both hike up to Scout’s Lookout right before the chain section begins and Alan would continue on to Angel’s Landing while I waited for his return.
As we made our way up Walter’s Wiggles, (the switchbacks leading up to Angel’s Landing) we found the trail to be fairly easy. Once we arrived at Scouts Lookout, I scoped out the spine of the trail and decided to just do it! Turns out it was not that scary after all!
On our third day at Zion, we ventured out to the less visited side of the park to explore the Kolob Canyons. A park ranger recommended that we hike the Taylor Creek Trail and we are so glad we did! This hike was filled with fall colors and followed a flowing creek the entire way. At the end of the trail was a double arch alcove which was pretty neat to see.
Zion is awesome and you must go see it for yourself! Every view in the park is mesmerizing and breathtaking. It is no wonder why this park is so popular. Zion holds a special place in our heart and we can’t wait to return!
After exploring Great Basin National Park, we made our way to the town of Page, AZ to rendezvous with my mom for a 5-day adventure of the many surrounding national parks and monuments. Centrally located on the Arizona/Utah border, Page is in the heart of the Colorado Plateau and is on the shores of the amazing Lake Powell (more to come on that). This was our first time to experience the immense red sandstone formations and canyons that the Colorado Plateau if famous for and we were certainly not disappointed.
Grand Canyon North Rim
Since we had visited the south rim of the Grand Canyon with Ashby’s family in March and it is closer to Page, we decided to check out the north rim this time around. The two-hour drive to the park was, not surprisingly, a very scenic one as we drove past Vermillion Cliffs National Monument and the beautiful Aspen trees in fall color near the entrance to the park.
Once we got to the park, we stopped by the visitor center for a short hike to Bright Angel Point and our first glimpse of North Rim. The views were equally beautiful to South Rim and my mom and her husband Steven were astonished by the indescribable beauty of the Grand Canyon. We spent the rest of the day going from scenic overlook to scenic overlook and were sad when we got to the last one on the map, Cape Royal, which in my opinion was the best of the day.
Wire Pass Slot Canyon
The Colorado Plateau is well known for containing many narrow canyons known as “Slot Canyons”. These slender drainages are formed by water erosion and have sheer walls that wind and twist through the sandstone. Page is home to one of the most famous slot canyons, Antelope Canyon, which can only be accessed by guided tour. Unfortunately, Antelope Canyon and all other guided canyon tours in the Page area were closed as a COVID precaution.
We were determined to take a hike through a slot canyon and after some research, we were able to find a trail to a slot canyon known as “Wire Pass” in the Paria Canyon Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness. From the trailhead we hiked through a wash with beautiful red sandstone on either side until reaching the entrance to the slot. The slot has an 8-foot drop at the entrance that hikers can attempt, or they can enter via an easier scramble located near the entrance. We chose the scramble, which was still a little tricky, but we pulled it off.
The canyon was beautiful, the sunlit sandstone reached heights of 40 feet and narrowed down to 18 inches wide at some points. Once we reached the end, we turned around and went through the slot once more (equally cool the second time) and scrambled out and back onto the wash for the return to the trailhead. When we returned to the parking lot, we drank water and snacked while reminiscing on the unique and other worldly hiking experience that is shared among slot canyons.
Lake Powell sits within Glen Canyon National Recreational Area and was formed by the damming of the Colorado River near Page. Given Page sits on the shores of Lake Powell, we felt we had to explore this immense reservoir that is unlike any other. What’s the best way to experience Lake Powell? From the water of course!
We rented an 18-foot ski boat for a day and hit the water at 9am leaving from Antelope Point Marina. Our first stop and farthest boat ride was to Rainbow Bridge National Monument which gets its namesake from a semi-circle shaped 234-foot span of sandstone that is 42 feet thick at the top, most impressive! We then headed south making our way back towards Antelope Point stopping at Dangling Rope Marina then made some stops to take a swim near Gregory Butte and Padre Bay.
The whole day we were repeatedly amazed by the gigantic sandstone formations and deep red canyon walls of Glen Canyon. We could not stop talking about how much we had on Lake Powell and would like for a multiday house adventure on the lake.
Page, AZ is an awesome destination for exploring the spectacular wonders of the Colorado Plateau. We feel we could have spent the whole year in this area and still not explored it all. This was a special week in a special place, and we hope for many more to come.