08 March 2016

Spring Road Trips: Utah

Bryce Canyon NP

My husband and I both teach, and so, as grown adults, we are still able to enjoy that magical invention known as "spring break".  When I was growing up in the Great Lakes region, that title was often a cruel joke, and I recall more than one college-era spring break spent snowed in at my apartment  watching movies on PBS and eating chocolate chips right out of the bag because I had given up on life.

Thanks to global warming, and also moving out West where life is so much easier, I can hit the road and enjoy a multitude of scenery and climates.  I'm focusing on Western states here because they truly are road trips for me, but it's not terribly expensive to fly out and rent a car for a few days if you want to join along in the fun.  Remember to  book on Tuesdays or Wednesdays for the cheapest flights. And whether you're flying or driving, review some of my very basic tips here for making it as fun as possible.

You don't have to be a Mormon to love Utah. Obviously, you'll fly in to SLC if you're too far to drive. Or if you're driving, SLC is still a terrific little city to visit, and it will definitely be your best chance at eating and drinking well. I have extolled its virtues before, and I still think it's a good place to visit. Check out Gastronomic Salt Lake City for more restaurant reviews, if you're into that sort of thing. Honestly, the rest of the time I just like to hang out in the downtown area and marvel at its utter weirdness (and of course, its progressive public transportation system). Then, get out of town...

Did you know how many stunning national parks there are in Utah? And every single one of them is, like, the most insane, Mars-looking place you've ever seen.  And you can't stop taking pictures, which turn out to be useless because they cannot capture the pure amazingness that is Utah. Here's a short write-up of the big ones, but I really cannot do any better than National Geographic's guide, handily published for free right here.
(stolen from National Geographic)

Capitol Reef National Park

Although less popular than some of the other Utah parks, Capitol Reef National Park. has consistently fewer crowds, meaning you’ll get a far more intimate experience with nature than previously afforded.

Two miles east of the visitor center is the park’s most popular hike, the Hickman Natural Bridge. One of the best hikes in the state, the natural bridge traverses 133 feet over a small stream. From the trail, you’ll be able to view one of the white sandstone domes that lends the park its namesake.

After exploring the rocky terrain all day, take the scenic byway to the small Mormon town of Fruita. Venture into the orchards, and spend the afternoon picking fresh fruits. For a small donation, you can take some of your harvest on the road to fuel your next adventures.

Arches National Park

Known internationally for the dramatic Delicate Arch, Arches National Park will have you spinning in circles while thinking, “Huh, I’ve seen pictures of that before.” Arches boasts over 2,000 naturally-formed arches, forming red monolithic bridges and awe-inspiring windows in the rock.

Some hire a guide to help you navigate through the labyrinth of spires and hoodoos that comprises the Fiery Furnace. This hike, named for both the heat the canyon retains and the bright red color of the walls and pillars, leads you through narrow passages of swirling and towering rock.

For family groups, the easy 1-mile Arches Window Primitive Loop will take you to see the north and south window arches that serve to frame the outlying scenery.

Zion National Park

A short 2.5 hour drive from Las Vegas is Utah’s most popular park, Zion.

Experienced hikers will want to experience Zion’s most popular trail, the Narrows. The hike will take you between the 1,000 foot cliff sides and into the shallow waters of the Virgin River below. Yes, you will get wet. But spring means the waters will be warmer than they will be the rest of the year. For those not willing to get wet, you can also view the Narrows from the wheelchair accessible Riverside Walk. Emerald Pools is a fun 3-mile hike, perfect for families with kids.

If hiking isn’t your thing, you can appreciate Zion’s natural beauty from the Zion Park Scenic Byway. You might even spot some of the local wildlife like the Peregrine falcon or bald eagle that call Zion home. More advanced adventurers can take on the sheer rock walls with rock climbing. And many canyoneering outlets in the area can take you rapelling, bouldering and exploring.

Bryce Canyon National Park

From Zion, it’s a 2 hour drive to your next destination, Bryce Canyon. Made popular by its brilliant colors and awe-inspiring “hoodoos,” Bryce will prove to be a treat to hikers and campers, alike.

Although many of the popular hikes will require investing a few days, Bryce’s trail system often intersects, meaning you can combine trails to make your hike as long or as strenuous as you like. Their shuttle service will actually pick you up and drop you off at the trailheads, meaning there’s no need to retrace your steps.

Due to Bryce Canyon’s high elevation, amateur astronomers will want to camp out at one of the two campsites and stargaze. The park’s stargazing programs provide telescopes that allow you to see thousands of stars in the night sky, the Milky Way reaching across the sky, and on moonless nights, even Venus and Jupiter.

Canyonlands National Park

Just 45 minutes outside of Arches, and the largest National Park in Utah,Canyonlands offers something for every kind of adventurer.

Two rivers divide the massive park into three distinct districts: Needles, The Maze and Island in the Sky. The Needles District, named for its abundance of pinnacles and spires, provides the most trails for day hikers and enough variety to suit any skill level. The Maze, a labyrinth of rock and stone, is only properly suited to experienced travelers who can take care of themselves out in the wilderness. This area is more remote than any of the aforementioned hiking spots.

You’ll probably want to start in the most popular district, Island in the Sky. The mesa protrudes 1,000 feet up out of the deep canyons, providing stunning and ethereal views of the surrounding desert, red rocks, and flowing Colorado River. Want to skip the hiking? Take to the road and drive the 20 miles of scenic roadway. Early mornings and late afternoons will provide you with complimentary warm sunlight to capture photographs with the best light you can't buy.

Darling SLC in the summertime.