There is just no other way to say it… Utah is BEAUTIFUL. This state honestly has everything… you can go from the airport to the mountains within a few minutes. Going from the mountains to the desert takes less than 5 hours of driving. Honestly, if my entire family wasn’t on the East coast, I would be tempted to move there. I love it THAT much.
Continuing from my previous post, it’s really hard to come back to ‘normal life’ after (an amazing) vacation. I’ve been wanting to share my Utah trip on the blog for days, but work has been crazy! This post has been a work in progress all week, and finally here is the first part of our trip. We honestly did so much and I have tons of awesome photos. In a nutshell, it’s hard to find the words to describe how amazing our trip was. I think our pictures say it all. It also helped that we had FANTASTIC weather. If rained on the day we arrived, and it rained on the day we left… but in between, it was perfect. Todd and I were able to check everything off our wish list plus more!
I thought it would be appropriate to split it up into two blog posts: Zion + Bryce Canyons and Park City. You are being forewarned… there are LOTS of photos!
Saturday 9/20 – Travel Day
Looong day of travel…. We flew Boston to JFK then to Salt Lake City. The first leg of the trip Boston to JFK (New York) did not go as planned… we were delayed 3 hours due to ‘winds’ in NY and some kind of ground delay program they are doing in New York. Who the hell knows, but it was annoying. We were supposed to have a lay over in JFK, but since we were delayed in Boston, we had NO layover.
There were many times we thought the flight would be cancelled all together. Thank God it wasn’t! The pilots actually held the plane for us and 11 other people coming from Boston, phew! We literally sprinted through the airport to catch our flight. Then it was 4.5 hours to Salt Lake City. We finally got to Salt Lake around 11 PM, which was 1 AM Boston time. Completely exhausted, we settled into our hotel. Dinner that night was microwave Digiorno Pizza in the hotel lobby…classy and delicious:)
Sunday 9/21: Woke up early and drove to my friend Annika’s house in Salt Lake. She is my friend who was getting married on 9/27 (the reason we went to Utah in the first place!). The plan initially was to pick up our camping stuff from her and then drive to Zion, but the weather was crummy, and we wanted to spend time with her and her fiancé, since I had never met him before! The day started with a trail run in Mill Creek with Annika and her sister. This trail was gorgeous!! The girls joined me for 3 miles and then turned around… I kept going for a few more and then turned back. Running a total of 9.5 miles literally on the side of a mountain. It was quite honestly the most beautiful run of my life. Even though the weather was foggy and rainy, it was STILL gorgeous.
Me & the bride-to-be
After our run, we headed back to her house where we ordered yummy Thai food and lounged around on the couch. It was so much fun to meet her husband-to-be for the first time and their dog, Ozzy… an adorable mini aussie shepherd (I wanted to steal him!).
At around 2:00 PM we grabbed the camping equipment Annika and Zac lent us, stopped at the grocery store, and we were on our way to Zion!
The drive alone to Zion was breathtaking. For most of the drive, all you see if mountains.. which eventually turns into canyons. Along the way we stopped at a rest area that had a petting zoo! Only in Utah:)
After 4.5 hours of driving, finally we made it to Zion National Park, at around 9:30 PM. We have set up our tent in the pitch black before, so we weren’t too worried..that’s what headlamps are for! I reserved a camp site at the Watchman Campground (highly recommend this campground), and we were able to park near it, very convenient! While Todd set up the tent, I cooked us delicious, buttery grilled cheese sandwiches on the stove, yumm! I swear everything tastes better when you’re camping. After dinner it was off to bed, and we were excited to wake up and see the sites around us. It’s always exciting to arrive somewhere you’ve never been at night, because you get a nice surprise in the morning! We borrowed Annika’s 2 person tent, so it was nice and cozy in there. Temps were in the 60’s at night, which was perfect for sleeping.
9/22: Hiking agenda: Angels Landing Hike + Watchman Trail Hike
This was the view from our campsite when we woke up:
Angels Landing Hike:
Angels Landing is the steepest and probably the most strenuous hike in Zion. It was on our to-do list and we were excited for the challenge. We started the hike at around 10:00 AM (I wanted to start earlier to beat the crowds, but we were tired). In order to do this hike, you need to take the Zion Shuttle bus to the trailhead. Most of the Zion hikes you actually need to take the shuttle bus to get there and you can’t drive yourself. The $25 weekly park fee covers the cost of the shuttle. We packed PB&J sandwiches for lunch and we were on our way. The hike started on the East Rim trail, and was a steady climb from the start. The start of the trail was along a river and the rest of the time there were lots of switch backs, twists and turns.
Hiking the East Rim Trail towards Angels Landing
The trail was crowded and we passed a lot of people on the way, politely of course. It can get frustrating when big tour groups are taking up the entire trail! The entire hike is about 2.7 miles one way. The last 1.5 miles is literally straight vertical. There are literally chains to hold onto in the rock where you can climb up.. without holding on, there is a big chance you can fall… and die. The most fatalities at Zion have occurred on this hike (at least that’s what I heard).
Looking at the top of Angels Landing
Finally made it to the top!
And why not do a plank:)
It was HOT at the summit! We had lunch at the top (which was crowded) and enjoyed the view:
Not a bad place to eat lunch…
Best lunch spot ever!
After eating out sandwiches and taking lots of photos, we headed back down… going down was hard because it was getting more crowded and there was a lot of ‘traffic jams’ on the trail.. since the steep section could only fit 1 person across, you had to stop and wait for people to go up or down and vis versa. Overall, I highly recommend this hike, I just recommend that you go REALLY early… like 7:00 AM, to avoid piggy backing on the trails and the crowds. Also if you are afraid of heights, this hike is NOT for you.
Looking down at the trail we climbed up!
Overall, the Angels Landing hike took us about 2.5 hours to complete the entire hike.
Watchman Trail Hike:
As if Angels Landing wasn’t enough, that afternoon we hiked the Watchman Trail. This was 4.3 miles round trip and was a gorgeous hike! You could start the hike right from the visitor center, which meant no shuttle and very convenient. We started at around 1:00 PM, which meant it was VERY hot! Lots of sunscreen!
The view from the road walking towards the Watchman Trailhead
By the end of the Watchman hike, we were both really tired and STARVING. I decided to make pasta with a meat sauce for dinner on the camp stove… yum! And then it was early to bed for more hiking tomorrow.
Starting this night, we slept without the rain fly on our tent (since it was blowing around in the wind the night before). This allowed for cooler temps while sleeping AND seeing the stars from ‘bed’… it was awesome and I’ll never forget the stars there.. you could see the Milky Way Galaxy from our tent!
9/23 The Narrows AND Watchman Trail round two
Today was the adventure we were most excited about THE NARROWS. The day prior, we each renting a walking stick for $25/day, which was highly recommended for doing the Narrows. We also heard from some insiders that we didn’t need to rent waterproof shoes (which a lot of tourists do), and we could just wear our own hiking shoes. At first we thought this might be a little crazy, but then were really happy we didn’t rent them. Our shoes just dried afterwards in the hot desert sun.
We woke up really early that morning, wanting to beat the crowds. We caught the shuttle at 7:30 AM, and got to trail-head at the narrows for around 8 AM. It was chilly and I wore a lot of layers on top to keep my core warm (very important to prevent hypothermia!)
To get to the start of the Virgin River i.e. the start of the Narrows, you walk for about one mile on a paved trail. When you get to the end of the trail, you can either go in the river or turn around:)
When hiking the Narrows, you have a few different options: to hike from the TOP DOWN or the BOTTOM UP. The Top-Down option, is about 16 miles in length and often has people camping along the Narrows (which requires a backpacking permit). I also believe that doing this longer hike in general requires a backpacking permit. Some people do the 16 miles in one day, which is very strenuous. Since we only had a few days in Zion, we decided on the more popular, shorter option, Bottom-Up. We hiked into the Narrows for approximately 3.5 miles, and turned around when it got so deep that we would be up to our shoulders. On the way out in the river, there were not many people at all and it was fantastic (early bird gets the worm!). I was so excited because it appeared that we beat the crowds! The people we did meet along the way were from all over the World and did not mind taking some photos of us.
I can’t even put into words how beautiful and spectacular the Narrows are. I’m sure my photos say it all… It honestly felt like we are on Mars. The red rocks, the blue/green water, the sunlight peaking through, it was glorious! I could not get over the shear BEAUTY of it all.
Seriously, is this place for REAL?!
September is a great time to hike the Narrows because the water levels are typically pretty low (unless there is a storm). It is actually one of the ONLY months where it is safe to hike the Narrows. We lucked out and the water ranged from ankle deep to waist deep. I would say the majority of the time we were walking in knee deep water. The walking stick was a great guide and allowed us to judge the depth of the water. It got tricky when crossing the river from side to side, because there was definitely a current. I was pleasantly surprised that the water wasn’t too cold, but actually refreshing. Think of it as a constant ice bath for your legs, sign me up!
After the Narrows it was back to the campsite for lunch and a little bit of rest. Let me just say it’s REALLY hard to find shade in Zion.
Sadly, our SD memory card crapped out on us from the day prior and we lost all of our photos from our DSLR Camera. This meant all of the photos from the Narrows and the Watchman trail taken were gone (if anyone knows how to recover a memory card.. .please please let me know). Luckily, I took a TON of photos with my iPhone in the Narrows. We bought a new memory card and decided to hike the Watchman Trail again. The views were spectacular the day before and we wanted more photos! We even saw two guys that we made friends with at the campsite at the summit and they took some photos of us:)
Watchman Trail Photos:
All in all it was about 11 Miles of hiking on this day.
That evening we had a nice little campfire and had more grilled cheese… I love camp food!
9/24 Bryce Canyon: Fairyland Loop
On Wednesday it was time to leave Zion and head to Bryce Canyon for the day. It was about a 1 hour 45 minute drive to Bryce from Zion.. not bad at all! We decided to do the Fairyland Loop Hike, which was a hike just outside the park. Since we had to drive up to Park City (4.5 hours) after the hike, this was our best option… plus we had a late start at 12:00 PM.
The Fairyland Loop hike is approximately 9 miles and it absolutely gorgeous. The hike is pretty strenuous due to the sun exposure and the elevation (topping out around 9,000 ft!). The total evelcation gain throughout the hike was 2,300 feet. Lots of ups and downs! The trail wasn’t crowded at all and Todd and I just had a blast hiking it. It took us about 3 hours to do the entire loop. I did notice the elevation on some of the climbs… was definitely more short of breath than usual:)
Bryce Canyon is so unique because of these rock formations called Hoodoos:
Hoodoos are tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and “broken” lands. Hoodoos are most commonly found in the High Plateaus region of the Colorado Plateau and in the Badlands regions of the Northern Great Plains. While hoodoos are scattered throughout these areas, nowhere in the world are they as abundant as in the northern section of Bryce Canyon National Park.
While the Fairyland Loop has less Hoodoos than the rest of the park, we did get the chance to see a few of them!
Climbing a Hoodoo
The entire hike was very magical… it honestly didn’t feel like I was in a ‘real’ place. From the bright blue sky to the contrast with the orange rocks… it was just amazing.
I highly recommend the Fairyland Loop hike to anyone who is visiting Bryce and is short on time. I was sad we didn’t get to see the rest of the park, but we will definitely be back! This hike was well worth the effort required.
After hiking, we were on our way back to Park City. At this point it was 4:30 PM and we had a long ride ahead of us. I will be writing more about Park City in my next recap post! Let’s just say the drive to Park City was beyond beautiful…
If you are looking to visit Utah, I HIGHLY recommended both of these National Parks (and the hikes that we did!). I will always keep the days we spend exploring Zion and Bryce close to my heart.
Stay tuned for the recap of the second part of my trip! Have a lovely weekend!!