You know it is spring in Eastern Utah when the rivers are running high, the sun is shining, and the roads are full of Colorado license plates. There is no better way to celebrate the end of seasonal ski resort employment than to leave the high country in favor of the red rocks of Utah. I started this tradition prior to meeting CD and we continued it together every May until we moved from Colorado. Utah has so much to offer that I don’t even know where to begin. While the order is irrelevant, I will start southwest, go roughly northeast but stay south of I-70 and then end southeast near the four corners.
Zion National Park is my favorite, hands down. We have been there over and over. We have hiked end to end, climbed its peaks, and waded through its slot canyons. Its red rock is made more brilliant by the Virgin river and green trees. The proximity to the town of Springdale with its cold drinks and hot breakfast doesn’t hurt either.
Angel’s Landing is its most well known hike. It starts with switchbacks called Walter’s Wiggles. It is well known that I love switch backs for the exercise alone. There is no better way to start the day.
It isn’t until after the switchbacks that this hike really separates itself from the rest. Angel’s landing is no joke in terms of exposure and drop offs.
The trail narrows to one way. There is a chain link railing. You are exposed to the depths of the valley floor, more so in some places than in others.
My first time up Angel’s Landing was with my brother. Making it to the top was a rush. Making it back down alive was even better. The next time was with CD. The rush was not as great but the feeling of relief after was even greater. The third time was with CD again. The steps felt more narrow and the valley floor seemed a bit further than before. With that, I decided that three times up Angel’s Landing is likely enough for me.
We looked for other routes with bigger and better views. Observation Point hit the mark. It is a more physically challenging and longer hike. It climbs 2100 feet and rises 700 feet above Angel’s Landing.
Back country sites are accessible from the main entrance. Below is the view from our camp site along the West Rim Trail. It is worth noting that we started the hike with a crowd headed to Angel’s Landing. As soon as we turned away from that route, we were on our own. It was super windy and we were surrounded by dead trees. We woke up in the morning to distance runners coming down the rim trail.
Kolob Canyon is Zion’s less known North entrance. It offers day hikes and backpacking trips with few other people around. Our back country site was in an old river bottom. Much of the hiking was in loose sand. Snakes loved it.
If you have seen the wide open spaces of Zion and are ready for a change, the Narrows may be your next stop. Do your research. Be informed. Watch the weather. These slot canyons are beautiful and it is good to pay attention if you plan to do much exploring. CD met a friend there for his fortieth birthday and they didn’t end up finishing their chosen route because of flash floods.
From Zion, you can get to Bryce Canyon in a short day. It is higher and cooler. This is great in the hot months and not as great in the early spring. It is smaller and more compact. The Hoo-doos are unique and impressive. I tend to pass through Bryce westbound to Zion or eastbound to Capital Reef but CD is a fan of the views at sunrise. He also has told me good things about a coin operated shower at the general store.
Apparently, he has a great memory of enjoying a post-hike beer from the general store while sitting on the lodge porch at sunset after a hot shower.
I rarely hear people talk about Capital Reef but we have found it to offer great hiking, impressive rock formations, and amazing views. I don’t recommend hiking there if you are hoping to meet people and chit chat over hand fulls of trail mix. The trails are largely empty.
At this point it is worth mentioning the San Rafeal Swell. It offers slot canyons with campsites tucked away on BLM land. My advice: Go there, if you have time. Bring your own shade. Do what I did and go with someone that has been there before – hopefully someone proficient at navigating slot canyons. Goblin Valley State Park is near by and may be a better choice if it is your first time in the area.
Canyonlands is easier to access from Moab than from the Southwest. The views are endless. The hiking is interesting and fun. Regions of the park have names like Needles, Island to Sky, and The Maze. Mountain biking the White Rim Road loop is popular and it is on my to-do list for sure. We have not camped in the back country but we have camped just outside the park and there are beautiful starry skies.
Arches is a straight shot from I-70 and is complimented by it’s close relationship with Moab. The Colorado River provides contrast to the red rock backdrop. The La Salle mountains rise up with snowy peaks and provide further contrast and depth to the scenery.
Moab is like the old west meeting a trendy art gallery. The restaurants and shops are full of personality and there are tour companies to suite everyone’s needs. You can sign up for 4 x 4 tours, mountain biking, hiking, river rafting, paddle boarding, horse back riding, and pretty much anything else you can imagine.
While I cannot speak to the tour companies, I can attest to the hiking and camping. Hikes range from easy to more difficult. Arches is typically one of the more crowded Utah parks but for good reasons. Campsites are dotted along the river banks and range from rustic and isolated to developed and popular. I recommend them all!
Just a bit East and on BLM land, you can find Castleton.
Pretty much everyone was there to climb. CD climbed with friends while I hiked and then read a book at the campsite. It was great. Everyone was happy.
If you don’t climb, it is still beautiful to see but you will likely enjoy camping somewhere else more than camping here. This was packed with climbers and surrounded by wide open desert.
Dropping down to the four corners, you can hop into Mesa Verde. While the cliff dwellings are interesting and worth seeing, you may find a bit of crowd. My favorite feature is its proximity to Durango. Check out the Silverton Narrow Gauge railway and head North to Ouray or East towards Pagosa Springs on your way out of town.
I could keep going on and on about Utah but will stop myself here for now. Utah is dense with natural wonders. I recommend going there and seeing it first hand.
Red rock dust from ten years ago still stains my hiking boots. Seeing it makes me smile.