Exploring Utah's most beautiful National Parks was a non-negotiable part of our road trip from Southern California to Colorado. Only slightly out of the way off Interstate 70, we couldn't miss Zion, Arches, or Canyonlands National Parks. Below are some of our highlights and ideas to inspire you to explore as well.
Zion National Park
If I could change one thing about our trip to Zion National Park, it would be to visit on a non-holiday. Our presence at the park added to the madness over the 4th of July weekend, making it "the busiest I've ever seen it," as described by one ranger we spoke with.
Despite the crowds, we were able to appreciate the beauty. Strategically, we chose two of the shortest and easiest hikes in the park; the semi-steep 1/2 mile round trip hike to weeping rock, and the semi-flat 1 mile round trip hike to see the gorgeous emerald pools.
I can only imagine that the more challenging hikes were dangerously overcrowded that weekend, so I don't regret not doing one. Next time for sure, though!
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Weeping Rock is a little alcove where water is seeping down from the rocks above. It appears to be crying. When standing close, or directly underneath the falling water, it feels like a rain storm, and if you climb up the slippery steps to take shelter under the alcove, the views are gorgeous (if you can see past the people taking selfies of course).
Emerald Pools path is where Nick spotted the husband and two wives from the reality show Sister Wives, unquestionably the highlight of our entire trip. #not
The path to the lower pools was very accessibly to Nick, and he sat and people watched while I took off up the steep path to the Upper Emerald Pools with our friends Nick and Liz.
The walls surrounding the pools were rounded by erosion, covered in moss and seeping water that collected in the pools below. The path to the upper pools has a really cool, totally secluded turn-off that provided my favorite views of this hike.
Cool spots in Moab
Our next stop was 4 hours east in Moab, the gateway to both Arches National Park, and Canyonlands, Utahs largest National Park. We stayed at a quiet and rustic little RV park on the south end of town called Moab Rim RV park, which meant we got to drive through the little town every time we ventured out to explore. Super cute!
To me, Arches National Park takes a very close second place to The Grand Canyon in terms of wow-factor and uniqueness. The arches currently standing that have been carved by the elements over thousands of years are breathtaking. I couldn't get enough!
We spent a good amount of time at the "windows" area of the park, where three very large arches are within 1/4 mile of each other, creating an alien, surreal feeling that we are nothing but small little lives on this giant planet.
I stopped at the double arch and hiked around a bit, appreciating the way the sunlight shone in from the arches above me, and to the sides of me, knowing this landscape is ever evolving and will look completely different a few generations from now.
We also took a sunset 1 3/4 mile hike to see the landscape arch, which we were no longer able to get right up to after a partial collapse in 1994. The arch spans the length of a football field, suspended high above the ground. I stood and watched the waning light shifting across the beautiful arch as birds soared around in the updrafts.
Amazing Canyonlands National Park
Our favorite moments in Utah were in Canyonlands National Park. We enjoyed overlooks on The Island in the Sky that felt like vast landscape paintings of the Green River and beyond.
On our way out, we took advantage of our 4x4 truck and went off-roading.
We followed the beginning of the 100 mile White Rim Trail down into the canyon, along harrowing cliffs and hairpin turns. I was devastatingly nervous at first, as our truck felt very wide on that narrow path, and I was not the one driving.
We got to see the National Park from both vantage points, high above for the big picture, and deep inside to appreciate the many layers of earth and how it eroded.
Along the path we found Gooseneck bend, a part of the Colorado River that bent so dramatically it looked like all the pictures I've seen of Horseshoe bend, but without any tourists! Absolutely beautiful, and a huge surprise to find.