My Utah National Parks Adventures
By Suzi Caffey
I should start by saying this was my husbands birthday trip...he wanted to go to a dude ranch, Las Vegas, a spa and hike the parks so I tried to accommodate his birthday wishes! We flew into Las Vegas, rented a car and gambled the night away. We stayed in a suite at the Venetian Hotel, had a fantastic suite. Took a gondola ride after we lost our gambling money... then hit the road early so we could get to the next destination.
The Red Mountain Resort & Spa is a very nice place, got scrubbed and rubbed and a good nights sleep. The next morning we had a healthy gourmet breakfast which I enjoyed but the birthday boy looked at me like where is the bacon and eggs! So off to the Rocking R Ranch, where he got his bacon & eggs and more! We arrived rather early, checked into our room and wandered the ranch. Lots of horseback riding, stage coach rides, hay rides and of course Chuck Wagon Cook Outs! Very accommodating people...even made him a birthday cake! A real old west working Utah dude ranch where cowboys brand cattle, grow and harvest crops, and know how to have fun when the work is done. We enjoyed a couple of days of the old west then headed to Zion National Park.
We got to the Cliffrose Lodge early enough to check in and hit the park. They are very good at accepting early check-ins. The rooms were fabulous and the pool and gardens were very inviting. The name "Zion" means a place of peace and refuge. As a sanctuary with over 146,000 acres of cliffs, canyons, diverse plant and animal life, and uninterrupted beauty, Zion is well-named. Designated in 1919, Zion is Utah's oldest national park. The park is known for its incredible canyons, including The Narrows, which attract canyoneers from around the world. Hiking possibilities are endless. We took the schuttle into the park and hopped off to start our day of hiking. For a day trip on the shuttle, you should take: water, snacks, map, sunscreen, hat, camera, sunglasses, binoculars and a rain jacket. Dress for the weather and bring everything you need for a day in the park. Be sure to bring your Interagency Pass or Park Entry Receipt for re-entry into the park.
Our first hike was the Emerald Pool-Lower hike, 1.2 mile roundtrip. The Lower Pool is popular among hikers for its beauty and accessibility. The trail is short and gently sloped—with only 70 feet of elevation gain.
Number two was the Pine Creek Waterfall, .5 mile roundtrip. This waterfall is beautiful, yet accessible, which is not the case for many of the more remote waterfalls of the Zion area. The hike itself is very short, though rugged, complete with boulder and sand obstacles, and a lot of water.
Number 3 hike was Riverside Walk, 2 miles roundtrip. Also called the Gateway to the Narrows, this path is wide, paved, and as easy to navigate as your neighborhood sidewalk. The end of the hike is the entrance to the Narrows, and most hikers who take the time to stroll down the Gateway take at least a half an hour or so to wade around in the mouth of the Narrows.
Number 4 The Narrows, is up to 16 miles...we did about 5 miles. One of the most popular hike in Zion Park, and one of the world's best canyon hikes. It is pure fun and can be tailored to suite any ability level. The trail is the Virgin River. The canyon is so narrow, the river covers the bottom in many spots and you've got to wade or swim to proceed. Plan on getting wet.
The second day we did one hike that was Angels Landing, 5 miles roundtrip. This is the hike which kicked my butt! The first 2-miles are paved and well-maintained. Most of the path is sunny, but Refrigerator Canyon offers shade and often a cool breeze. This is a good early morning hike. One of the most famous hikes in all of Zion National Park, this one is not for the squeamish or those easily affected by vertigo. But if you are up to the challenge, it would be a crime to leave the park without experiencing Angels Landing. If my legs could have vocalized their feelings, they probably would have asked what I thought I was doing. Especially after all the hiking I did the day before. This hike will take between 3-6 hours; your legs will burn, your knees may shake, and the view will take your breath away! I made it to Scouts Lookout and rested there while my brave dare devil husband finish the trek to Angels Landing. (Did I mention I am not good with heights) It is mentally challenging because the final leg is very steep, with sheer drop-offs. Chains have been bolted to the cliff to provide secure handholds. Is this brave or stupid????
We headed to Red Rock Canyon for more exploring. A 13-mile scenic loop drive exposes visitors to the geological history and splendor of the canyon. Red Rock Canyon is part of the Mojave Desert, which stretches out to the corners of California, Utah, Arizona and Nevada. There are many photo opportunities at various locations including Calico Hills' colorful sandstone, limestone Indian roasting pits, Indian "handprints" and pictographs at Willow Springs. 19 different hiking trails, on certain trails you can even see waterfalls cascading into the canyon. A good place to spend a day or a few hours.
Our next stop was the Zion Mountain Ranch. Buffalo roaming on the grounds and little cabins to stay in. Cool place to spend the night. Off to Bryce Canyon National Park the next morning.
It's a 37-mile round-trip drive to Bryce Canyon's 15 most popular viewpoints. Bryce Canyon is filled with incredible red rock formations. From brilliant red sandstone hoodoos and mazes to open amphitheaters and lush green forests, Bryce Canyon National Park inspires awe and appreciation for one of Mother Nature's greatest miracles. The wonder of Bryce can be experienced by horseback ride, guided tour or a solitary hike. We were not able to hike very far, it started snowing on us and this was late April! We had to buy a Bryce Canyon sweatshirt at the visitor station....we weren't expecting snow and wasn't prepared for snow. We tried two days in a row to hike some but snow got us every time. Still the sight was breathtaking. I must have taken 1,000 pictures there, you just can't get enough... These parks have something for every age, so get out there!
These are the items I would recommend to take for this kind of hiking trip. North Face Venture Rain Jacket, ExOfficio Dryflylite Long Sleeve Shirt & Quick dry Underwear, Merrell Siren Hiking Shoe, Swarvoski Binoculars with SWAROVISION, SmartWool Socks, North Face TKA Fleece, Day pack