Utah – The Mighty 5

This trip to Utah was 3 years in the making. It was originally planned for summer 2018. I bumped it back to 2020 after finding out I was pregnant with my little one (YAY!) and 2019 plans that were already in the works – the cruise to Alaska! Then the Covid pandemic hit and it was bumped again. I am happy to say that in 2021, I finally went to Utah! This itinerary was jam-packed with 5 national parks (The Mighty 5), 1 state park, kayaking, horseback riding, and canyoneering.

Day 1 was mostly travel. We landed in Salt Lake City, UT around 2:00 PM, got our rental car, stopped for a snack (which I highly recommend), and made the 4 hour drive to Moab. Once in Moab, we checked into our Airbnb, went to the grocery store for fruit, and picked up Thai for dinner.

Bruges Belgian Bistro

Day 2 we were up extremely early and left the Airbnb at 5:15 AM so that we could catch the sunrise in Canyonlands National Park. We chose a very short and easy trail (less than a mile) to do in the dark. Although we were early, we were not the first ones to arrive at Mesa Arch! If you want a front row spot to set up a camera and tripod, leave earlier than 5:15! I was able to weasle my way through the crowd and prop my GoPro up for a timelapse video. Then I walked around in other, less crowded areas. If you go in August/September like I did, the sun should be peaking through right around 7:00 AM.

Mesa Arch

After sunrise, we stayed in the park for a slightly longer hike around the Grand View Point – just about 2 miles out & back. We had the trail to ourselves and the views were absolutely beautiful!

When we were done with Grand View Point, we left Canyonlands and went to visit Dead Horse Point State Park. Although the views were pretty from the lookout point, the trails were unimpressive and I wish I would have picked another trail in Canyonlands. Plus, my America the Beautiful Pass didn’t cover the entry fee so I paid $20 for a very quick trip. BUT I have seen pictures of this spot at sunset and it is absolutely incredible.

Then it was back to Moab for a quesadilla and kayaking!

Day 3 was another sunrise hike! We left at 5:15 AM again and headed for Arches National Park. The plan was to do the Windows Loop trail but when we arrived, we found out they closed the access road for just THAT DAY. So we kept going and headed to the Delicate Arch trailhead, which I had planned on our group doing after Windows Loop. It was absolutely beautiful! After taking pictures at the arch, we found a little nook over to the left and watched the sunrise.

Delicate Arch

With extra time on our hands, we asked fellow hikers for any other recommendations and settled on Landscape Arch. You can’t go wrong with any of the trails in Arches!

Landscape Arch

After Arches, we made the 2 1/2 hour drive to Capitol Reef National Park. On our way through the park we stopped at the U-Pick orchards for peach and apple picking! It was so beautiful and the fruits were delicious! You pay $1 per pound and there is a scale and money box at the entrance (honor system). After picking, we went to our Airbnb to drop our bags and order dinner. My plan was Capitol Burger (5 star reviews!) but they are closed on Monday – I was so incredibly sad. We picked up burgers from another local place and ate dinner in the park – there is a section near the Gifford Homestead that has picnic tables – and also picked up pies and cinnamon rolls from Gifford. Then made our way to the Hickman Bridge trailhead. After, we went to Sunset Point to have our pies and watch the sun go down.

U-pick orchards
Sunset Point

Day 4, we packed up and left the Airbnb at 7:30 AM to head to Mystic Hot Springs for our private soak. We all forgot to pack towels but luckily there is a Walmart close to the springs! This is a man-made area that is fed by a natural hot spring. I laughed when we arrived – it was the weirdest/coolest little spot and a great break from all of the hikes we had been doing.

Mystic Hot Springs

After our time slot was up, we drove 1 1/2 hours to Bryce Canyon National Park and did the Queens Garden / Navajo Loop hike (about 3 miles). It’s no wonder that this is one of the most popular hikes in the park – it was beautiful! Later we checked into our Airbnb and had dinner at IDK Barbeque. Try to go early, before they run out of mac & cheese!

Day 5 was raining and cold – only 53° F. But we continued on with plans and went horseback riding through the canyon! Despite the weather, it was still so much fun and the park was absolutely gorgeous!

After our trail ride, we changed into dry clothes at the visitor center and made our way to Zion National Park. How were we already heading to our last stop?!

When we arrived in Zion, we drove to the visitor center to park (most trailheads in Zion are only accessible via their shuttles). It was a Wednesday, so parking was easy. If you go on a weekend or during high season, its unlikely that you’ll find parking in the afternoon. Once on the shuttle, we took it to the Emerald Pools stop, which is right in front of the Zion Lodge. We hiked the lower, middle, and upper. It was really pretty but definitely a little crowded, so be patient on the narrow parts. After our hike, we checked into our Airbnb and had dinner at Meme’s Cafe.

Upper pool

Day 6 plans were up in the air due to the rain up at Bryce – it had created possible flash flooding conditions in Zion so The Narrows ended up being closed for the day, but we didn’t know that until we arrived and spoke to a Ranger. We opted for the Angel’s Landing hike that morning instead. Of all the videos you watch about Angel’s Landing, they mostly show the parts that are very narrow and have a chain built in so that you have something to hold onto. But no one mentions the switchbacks to get to that point! Getting from the viewpoint to the actual landing was easy after the 1,400 elevation gain on the switchback part of the trail. Also, watch out for the chipmunks! They are super cute and sweet but I kept worrying that I was going to trip on one.

After the hike, we left the park and had a late breakfast / early lunch at Deep Creek Coffee Company and then waited for our canyoneering guide to pick us up!

Canyoneering was so much fun and I would definitely do it again. Our guide did all of the work, and we got to enjoy repelling down 40, 60, 80, and 100 foot rocks on a beautiful day. He recommended Bit & Spur for dinner and I am glad we followed that recommendation!

Day 7 – The Narrows opened back up! We left the Airbnb at 6:15 AM both mornings (the first shuttles start running at 6:00 AM). The Narrows is the last stop on the shuttle route. Once you arrive, there is a 1-mile walk to where you enter the water. After that, you can go as far as you’d like. The total length (Top Down) is 15.5 miles. We went about 2 miles in after the Riverwalk and turned around at that point, for a total of about 6 miles to and from the shuttle.

“And when you want to go explore, the number you should have is four” -Sandra Boynton

There is a shop in town where you can rent special shoes for The Narrows. This late in the season, we didn’t feel they were necessary and just wore regular hiking shoes and wool socks. The only downside is that we had to pack our wet shoes in our suitcase because we were heading to the airport right after.

After our hike, we stopped by Deep Creek Coffee Company again for late breakfast / early lunch. We still had some time so we started heading toward Las Vegas, drove along the strip, and stopped for ice cream at Ghirardelli before making our way to the airport.

We had the most amazing week in Utah and will definitely be back for more adventures.

Canyoneering https://rockodysseys.rocks/canyoneering/

Kayaking https://mild2wildrafting.com/kayaking/colorado-river.html

Mystic Hot Springs https://mystichotsprings.com/

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