We haven’t posted in a few weeks as things have been busy, but we wanted to check-in as we have just finished making plans for a National Parks trip to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona for later this month. It’s a trip that we are very excited about and we cannot wait to share our experiences in this amazing area with you.
Southern Utah is an area that we know quite well. In fact, this will be my fourth trip to Southern Utah in the last 10 years. There is just something about this area that keeps drawing me back. It is both breathtakingly beautiful and, for the most part, still mostly wild. In fact, it is one of the most pristine areas left in the continental United States.
I hope to share many of the pictures and experiences we have in the area in the coming weeks, so I have included a rough itinerary of our trip below so that you know what to expect. If you have visited any of these areas in the past, please share with us some of the stories and experiences you have had!
Tuesday, April 17th – Fly into Las Vegas
Las Vegas, Nevada is undoubtedly the best place to fly into if you are planning on visiting the wealth of National Parks in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. Zion National Park in Utah is roughly a 2.5 hour drive North from Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon is roughly a 4 hour drive East from Las Vegas.
After landing in the early afternoon, we will pick up our rental car and then head North towards Zion National Park. I will be traveling with my wife and she isn’t that fond of camping, so we will be staying in a hotel near the park. We will be staying at the Hampton Inn and Suites Springdale/Zion National Park because it is very close to the park and will allow us to get there bright and early the following day.
After checking in, we will be stopping by Zion Adventure Company to pick up some gear that we are renting for our trip to Zion National Park. It will be absolutely necessary for one of the hikes that we are really looking forward to doing in the park. The Narrows hike involves hiking up the Virgin River into the narrow slot canyon at the far end of Zion National Park. Because you are hiking in a river and the water is cold, renting the right pants, socks, and shoes to keep you warm is essential.
We will be renting the Dry Pants Package for $45/person, which includes the following items that are essential for hiking the Narrows during the spring:
- Gore-Tex Dry Pants
- Canyon Shoes
- Neoprene Socks
- Hiking Pole
Wednesday, April 18th – Zion National Park
On Wednesday morning we will wake up bright-and-early and make the 5 minute drive from our hotel to the park. We want to be there early so that we can catch one of the first shuttles into the park. From Spring until Fall, the only way to get into the park is by shuttle to minimize congestion within the park. Catching one of the first shuttles will allow us to avoid the crowds. There is a lot that we want to see in Zion, but three hikes stand above all else.
The Narrows Hike (Up to 16 miles)
The Narrows hike is a hike that we are really, really excited about doing. It is a hike that I haven’t done before because of either a lack of time or the conditions weren’t right. The hike involves navigating the Virgin River (which is what carved Zion Canyon) thru the narrow slot canyon at the far end of the park.
The hike can be made one of two different ways. You can either hike up river from the Temple of Sinawava, which can be done only as a day hike and you must turn around at Big Springs. You can also choose to do a top-down hike, which starts at Chamberlain’s Ranch. This is a strenuous hike that requires a permit to do, so if you plan on doing the top-down hike, make sure you are capable of completing the hike and plan ahead to make sure you get a permit.
Angels Landing and the West Rim Trail (5 miles)
The Angel’s Landing hike is one of the more infamous, and dangerous, hikes in the entire National Park System in the United States. Since 2004, it is estimated that roughly 15 people have lost their lives attempting to complete this hike. The Angel’s Landing hike involves scaling the spine of a rock fin that juts out into Zion Canyon. You are confronted with narrow paths that only allow one-way traffic, with jaw-dropping 1,000-1,500 foot drops (sometimes on both sides).
The Park Service has done their best over the years to make this hike less perilous by installing chains and carving foot holds into the rock, but the hike is still quite treacherous and not for the faint of heart. I did this hike when I was much younger, and the views from the top of Angel’s Landing are quite stunning. However, I do not know that I will have the nerve to try this hike again when we visit in a few weeks. It almost seems like I would be tempting fate.
The following guidelines should be strictly followed if you are going to attempt this hike:
- Wear proper clothing and foot gear – If you are going to attempt to do the Angel’s Landing hike, make sure you are dressed properly. This means no jeans, no restricting clothing, and no extra loose fitting clothing that can get caught up on branches or rocks. Most importantly, make sure you are wearing proper hiking shoes. This does not include tennis shoes or athletic shoes. You should be wearing proper hiking shoes that are designed to grip and not slip on rock.
- Do not bring young children on this hike – This should go without saying, but just this year a 13 year-old girl fell from the Angel’s Landing hike to her death. Personally, I don’t think this hike should be attempted by anyone who isn’t old enough to understand the true danger and consequences of the hike. However, if you are bringing your children on the hike, make sure you stay with them at all times. There is no shame in turning around.
- Do not attempt this hike if you are afraid of heights – I am not one who is overly afraid of heights, but this hike really scared the crap out of me. You are walking on a very narrow trail, up-and-over rocks, with 1,000+ foot drops on both sides of you. If you are afraid of heights, I would not attempt this hike.
- Do not attempt this hike if you are ill, tired, or not feeling 100% – If you aren’t at your full capacity, you should not attempt this hike. There is literally zero room for error on certain parts of this trail. One slip, one stumble, or one momentary lapse of concentration and you will die. Again, there is absolutely no shame in not doing this hike.
- Always follow proper trail etiquette – You should always use trail etiquette when hiking on any trail, but it is especially important on this trail. Some spots on the trail are only wide enough for one person, and the trail is used by people heading to the summit and returning from the summit. So make sure you step aside when possible to allow hikers coming from the opposite direction to pass. One accidental bump could prove fatal on this trail.
- Always stay on the trail – It should go without saying, but ALWAYS stay on the trail. Again, this is something you should be doing on any trail, but it is especially important on the Angel’s Landing hike. The Park Service has installed safety chains along the trail for good reason, so use them.
- Do not attempt this hike if you don’t have enough daylight or the conditions are bad – This hike is dangerous enough during the day and under the perfect conditions, and it can be downright lethal at night or in poor conditions. Make sure you check the trail for ice and refrain from hiking on this trail if the rock is wet (which can make the trail slippery). And if you don’t have enough time to make it to the summit and back during the daylight (with time to spare), then wait to do the hike another day.
If you want to see some great views, but don’t feel up to doing the Angel’s Landing hike, then the West Rim Trail is a great alternative. The West Rim Trail is the trail you take from the Grotto on the canyon floor up to the Angel’s Landing Trail head at Scout’s Lookout. If you don’t feel up to doing the Angel’s Landing hike, you can continue on the West Rim Trail to the rim of the canyon. While the views might not be 360 degrees like they are on the Angel’s Landing summit, they are still quite breathtaking.
Emerald Pools Hike (1.2 to 3 miles)
The Emerald Pools hike is one of the most popular hikes in Zion National Park. The hike takes you up past three pools that collect water that is cascading down the canyon. The lower pool can be found at the end of a short hike from the canyon floor. From there, a further ascent up the Emerald Pools Trail will take you to the Middle Pool and Upper Pools.
While the name of this trail might make it sound harmless, don’t be mistaken. Many people have lost their life while hiking on this trail. Although the fall from this trail might not be as high as the fall from Angel’s Landing, it is more than high enough to kill a person.
Thankfully, the Park Service has chained off some of the more dangerous areas of the trail and the trail has become much safer in recent years. However, you should still exercise caution when hiking on any trail that involves exposed cliffs.
Thursday, April 19th – Grand Staircase Escalante
After spending the day in Zion National Park, we will be driving to Bryce Canyon National Park that night. We will be staying in the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn, which is one of my favorite places to stay in Southern Utah. If you haven’t read the history of Ruby’s Inn, I suggest you do so. It is absolutely fascinating.
On Thursday, we will wake up and head to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. This monument is one of those that is being cut in half, so we want to make sure we get to do some more hiking and exploring within the monument before that happens.
Zebra and Tunnel Slots (5.3 to 7.2 miles)
We cannot wait to explore the Zebra and Tunnel slot canyons. They are both prime examples of what makes this area so special. It is a relatively easy hike that should take between 3-5 hours to complete. Some parts of the canyons get very tight, so if you are extremely claustrophobic, this may not be a hike for you. However, if you can tolerate some tight places, this hike is one of the more fascinating hikes in Southern Utah.
Spooky and Peek-a-Boo Slots (2.9 miles)
The Spooky and Peek-a-boo Slot Canyons are another set of slot canyons that we hope to explore while within the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. These are some of the other amazing slot canyons that you can hike inside the Grand Staircase. This hike is a little more difficult than the Zebra and Tunnel Slots hike, as there is some rock scrambling that is involved. However, it isn’t too difficult and it is definitely a hike that we recommend.
Friday, April 20th – Bryce Canyon National Park
After checking out the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on Thursday, we will head back to Ruby’s Inn outside of Bryce Canyon National Park for a good night’s rest. On Friday morning, we hope to be able to take a helicopter ride over Bryce Canyon National Park and parts of Grand Escalante National Monument. Seeing these beautiful places from the air will give us a different perspective of these gorgeous landscapes.
Navajo Loop Trail (1.3 miles)
One trail that we are very much looking forward to hiking within Bryce Canyon National Park is the Navajo Loop Trail. I have visited Bryce Canyon National Park three times in my life, and on all three occasions I have taken this hike. This loop trail takes you thru some of the most beautiful and picturesque parts of Bryce Canyon.
The trail is rated as a “moderate” hike by the Park Service, but there really isn’t anything technically challenging about the hike. There is a very steep decent, with gradual switch-backs, at the start of the hike and then a steep accent, with more switch-backs, at the end of the hike. This elevation change likely explains the “moderate” rating. I think this is a must-do hike for anyone visiting Bryce Canyon National Park.
Queen’s Garden Loop Trail (1.8 miles)
The Queen’s Garden Loop Trail is another fantastic loop trail within Bryce Canyon National Park that is worth exploring. If you are looking for a longer hike thru some of Bryce Canyon’s prettiest areas, you can do the Queen’s Garden Loop Trail instead of the Navajo Loop Trail.
The Queen’s Garden Loop follows the Navajo Loop Trail going out into the canyon. However, instead of heading back towards Sunset Point, the Queens Garden Trail heads North towards Sunrise Point before looping back. It is another fantastic hike that isn’t too technically challenging.
Fairyland Loop Trail (8 miles)
Another great hike in Bryce Canyon National Park that we are looking forward to doing is the Fairyland Loop trail. It is a trail that I have not hiked before, so I am really looking forward to that. At roughly 8 miles, it is a rather long hike. Because of that and the elevation changes, the trail is rated as “strenuous” by the Park Service. However, the trail isn’t too technically challenging, so as long as you are in shape you should be able to complete this hike.
Saturday, April 21st – Grand Canyon National Park
After doing some hiking in Bryce Canyon on Friday, we will drive South to Page, Arizona to spend the night. We are staying at the Hampton Inn and Suites Page-Lake Powell. Waking up on Saturday, we will hit up some of the most beautiful sights in Northern Arizona. Our first stop will be to Horseshoe Bend, which is an absolute must stop location if you are heading to the Grand Canyon. It is an absolutely stunning piece of landscape that is located just outside of Page, Arizona.
Horseshoe Bend (1 mile)
Created by a sharp 180 degree turn of the Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend is one of the more stunning pieces of landscape created by the river. There is a view point trail head that is located just outside of Page, Arizona. From the trail head, a short hike of a little over a mile will bring you to the Horseshoe Bend Scenic Overlook. You will want to make sure you plan enough time because this is a view you will want to take your time enjoying.
South Kaibab Trail (Up to 6 miles for Day Hike)
Our last big adventure of this trip will be a hike within the Grand Canyon National Park. I have been to the Grand Canyon before, but I have yet to do any hiking with in the park. My goal is to one day do the rim-to-rim hike, but we won’t have enough time to do that multi-day hike on this trip.
We have decided to check out the South Kaibab Trail because it is one of the most scenic trails from the South rim of the Grand Canyon. The North Rim doesn’t open until May, so we will have to visit the South Rim on this trip. Both the South and the North Rim have their share of scenic viewpoints and fabulous trails, so this isn’t too disappointing for us.
The trail head for the South Kaibab Trail is located between the Yavapai Point and Yaki Points, near the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. From here it is a strenuous 1.8 mile (round trip) hike to Ooh Aah Point and a 6 mile (round trip) hike to Skeleton Point. The Skeleton Point is the first spot on the trail where you are able to view the Colorado River, so making it to that point will be our goal.
Sunday, April 22nd – Fly Home from Las Vegas
After taking some time to do some hiking in the Grand Canyon, we will make the 4 hour drive back to Las Vegas to spend the night. Our flight home on Sunday morning leaves bright-and-early, and I am sure we will be pretty exhausted by then. If all goes as planned, we should have some amazing pictures, video, and stories to share with you when we return.