Traveler: Kat Calvitti
When: July 2016
Places visited: Salt Lake City, National Park: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, and Arches
Overall Experience: I have a passion for the parks and plan to visit every National Park at some point in my life; however, this trip was planned as a result of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games being held in Salt Lake City. I’ve been volunteering with the NVWG for a few years and plan trips around the location of the games, which changes every year (stay tuned for Cincinnati this year). The Utah sky is amazing—enjoy beautiful sunrises/sunsets, star-gazing at night, and the ability to see storms in the far distance! This was a great introduction to Utah and we were able to pack a lot in during a short time (4 national parks in 3 days)! I can’t wait to go back and explore more!
Logistics: $1000-1500 depending on flight, length of stay, and activities. My roundtrip flight (Washington, DC (DCA) – Salt Lake City (SLC)) was about $500 and the car rental was about $150.
Getting Around: Renting a car is a must if you plan on exploring Utah. Expect long, beautiful drives through the desert to get to your destinations! Note: Cell phone service was pretty scarce during the majority of our road trips.
Tip: I highly recommend purchasing an annual park pass if you plan to visit more than one national park in a year. The cost of the annual pass is $80, which covers the entrance, standard amenity fees and daily use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per vehicle fee areas (or up to four adults at sites that charge per person). There can be long car lines to enter the parks and some parks offer a second line to allow annual park pass holders expedited entrance.
Salt Lake City: We stayed at the Homewood Suites our first and last night in Utah. The location was convenient to bars/restaurants and only about a 20 minute drive from the airport. I am obsessed with nachos and came across this Buzzfeed post about the 30 best nachos in America, so I had to check out the Red Iguana. The nachos and margaritas were amazing—highly recommend! I was also introduced to the strange Utah liquor laws on my first night. Bars will only serve alcohol if you order a food item (you can typically find chips or pretzels for a minimal fee on every bar menu to satisfy this absurd law), the beer is watered down (cannot exceed 4% per volume), and if you order a mixed drink you can expect 1.5 oz of liquor—no heavy pours due to the metered systems calibrated to dispense no more than that amount! Don’t worry folks, you’ll still be able to enjoy adult beverages despite these strange liquor laws!
Zion National Park: We left SLC bright and early in the morning and drove about five hours to Zion with a stop at Kolob Canyon on the way. When we got to Springdale we found a campsite at the Quality Inn Springdale with a vacancy (we packed our camping gear; however, there are places that rent gear in town). I had a bit of anxiety that we wouldn’t find a place since the first couple campgrounds we passed didn’t have any vacancies (it was a holiday weekend—if traveling on a busy weekend, book your lodging in advance)! The location of the campsite was perfect—it was in walking distance of the park entrance and all of the bars/restaurants in Springdale. We relaxed at the campsite (aka drank beers in the tent because it was pouring rain), then decided to brave the weather and grab dinner at the Whiptail Grill (the food was amazing!) before calling it a night.
Upon entrance to the park, there is a shuttle which takes you to various stops throughout the park. There were a couple trails on my must-hike list: The Narrows and Angel’s Landing. The Narrows is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon and requires hiking through the Virgin River. Be sure to check the flash flood potential at the park entrance to determine whether hiking the narrows is possible. The flash flood warning was moderate on the day we went; however, we decided to hike in about one mile anyway. It was absolutely gorgeous with new scenery around every bend (I secretly sang “Just Around the Riverbend” to myself as I trekked through the river)! I felt so small surrounded by the giant walls of the canyon and was in awe of the canyon’s beauty.
Angel’s Landing is about 5.4 miles and considered a strenuous trail. In my opinion, only the last section was strenuous—this portion of the trail was quite steep, narrow and crowded at times (there are folks making their way up to the summit and heading back down on the same narrow trail). Once I reached the summit I felt like I was on top of the world!! It was so peaceful and you could see for miles!
After hiking The Narrows and Angel’s Landing, we stopped for a lunch/beer break at the Zion Lodge (one step up from cafeteria food). Since there was still a lot of daytime left, we decided to check out the Emerald Pools (lower Emerald Pool trail is 1.2 miles; upper Emerald Pool trail is 1 mile). I expected to see beautiful emerald pools so I was pretty disappointed to see what appeared to be large puddles of murky water, especially since The Narrows and Angel’s Landing were absolutely fascinating!!
After we explored the park, we stopped at the Zion Brewery, which is located near the entrance to Zion, for a few beers (and the requisite cheap bar snack) to celebrate our many miles hiked! We had a nice dinner at The Flying Monkey with a new friend we made on the Emerald Pool trail then checked out a band at the Bit & Spur before retiring back to the campsite.
Bryce Canyon: We left Zion first thing in the morning and drove about two hours to Bryce to see what these hoodoos (tall, thin spires of rock) are all about. There is a shuttle to take you to various locations within the park; however, the shuttle line was quite long so we decided to drive to Sunset Point and park there. I’ve seen pictures of Bryce before, but I honestly was stunned by the beauty of the canyon (which wasn’t visible until after we parked the car and headed to the trail)! My jaw seriously dropped when I got to the starting point of the trail—I couldn’t get over how I went from walking in a parking lot to staring out these crazy hoodoos!! Our time at Bryce was limited so we hiked the Navajo Loop trail (1.3 miles) to the Peekaboo Loop trail (5.5 miles) for some fantastic views of the hoodoos!
After our hike we drove for about four hours to Green River, UT to spend the night with my friend’s friend. I learned so much about this tiny town in the short amount of time I was there! We ate at Ray’s Tavern, which had great food and service.
The Arches: We drove about an hour to The Arches the next morning and stopped in Moab for breakfast at Eklecticafe (based on a recommendation from the person we stayed with). The food was amazing and the atmosphere was so adorable! The park is rather large and you have to drive through the park to the various trails and viewpoints. We made stops to see the double arch, balanced rock and the parade of elephants. By this point of the trip we were pretty hiked out, which worked out well since the trail to Delicate Arch was only three miles. The trail was moderate in my opinion (it’s listed as a difficult trail) and you can’t see Delicate Arch until you’re close to it even though it is massive!!
Warning: the parking situation at Delicate Arch was a nightmare. The lot was full and we had to drive around the lot for about 30 minutes until we were able to get a parking spot. There were a couple of park rangers directing traffic; however, they didn’t assist with the parking process so there was no priority to those who circled the lot 15 times.
Canyonlands: After we got our amazing view of Delicate Arch we drove about 30 minutes to Canyonlands based on recommendations from people we met along our travels. We drove to the Island in the Sky to see Mesa Arch, which had amazing views! I would have loved to check out some of the trails if we had more time, but we had to drive another four hours to get back to Salt Lake City since our flights were the next morning!