Utah’s iconic national parks, plus Grand Canyon’s North Rim, make for travel bucket list inclusion

Make a trip to Utah’s iconic national parks, plus the Grand Canyon’s North Rim, part of your travel bucket list

Many of us have been homebound, or mostly so, for more than two months – often dreaming of past and future travels. With states across the US beginning phased re-openings, as well as our national parks, now’s the time to firm up one or more of those bucket list trip destinations. Just in the past 10 days, California’s Joshua Tree, Redwoods and Lassen National Parks have announced re-openings, as have Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and several of Utah’s iconic parks. Here are suggestions for ultimate trips in the West.

Utah’s five iconic national parks: Plan a 10 day or two week trip in early to mid-Fall, taking in all five of Utah’s lovely national parks on a grand loop, and, include the north rim of the Grand Canyon to make it six parks. Begin your trip in Utah’s oldest national park, Zion and spend several days hiking these huge valleys flanked by vertical cliffs curve by the Virgin River, and shades of white red and blue hues, going to iron manganese shading the limestone.

View down Zion Canyon, carved by the Virgin River.

For easier hikes, tackle the Lower and Middle Emerald Pools trail and the Grotto Trail above the Virgin River. A short hike takes you to the Weeping Wall, a pleasant, drippy and misty respite on a day that can often get quite hot during summer months. Don’t miss the opportunity to hike The Narrows, a section in the narrowest part of the canyon with walls only 20 to 40 feet wide, towering thousands of feet above your head. You’ll need good foot gear that can get wet, and heed weather forecasts, for thunderstorms can breed flash ones that have recently killed unsuspecting tourists.

Water cascades lightly over Zion’s Weeping Wall on a hot day.

Bryce Canyon National Park is just east of Zion, about two hours away. With the main road and campground on the canyon’s rim, views are mind-blowing of the land that Ebeneezer and Mary Bryce homesteaded in 1862; when asked about the awesome canyon behind his homestead, Bryce noted “it’s a tough place to lose livestock”. Highway 63 traverses the canyon rim, running 16 miles south to Rainbow and Yovimpa Points.

Stop for amazing views of hundreds of red rock spires, called Hoodoos, repeated in the succession at Aqua Canyon, Natural Bridge, Farview point, Swamp Canyon, Bryce Point, Inspiration Point and Sunset Point. Camping is lovely, and Bryce Canyon Lodge, opened in 1926 by the Union Pacific Railroad, offers lovely lodge and cabin accommodations.

Hoodoos balance precariously in Bryce Canyon National Park.

From Bryce, continue to Capitol Reef National Park, then onto Canyonlands and Arches National Parks; the latter two are only miles apart. Capitol Reef is named for a section of the earth’s crust where overlapping plates create white rock domes atop red cliffs, looking like the US Capitol and rocky ridges looking like marine reefs. Hike a portion of the Waterpocket Fold, where overlapping layers of white Navajo Sandstone, red Wingate, shale and pink Entrada Sandstone offer hues like a colorful wedding cake. You’ll also find evidence of ancient indigenous people’s settlements and the Fruita Valley, where early Mormon settlers planted apple and peach trees, still producing well over 100 years later.

Bryce Canyon’s Natural Bridge is always a show-stopper!

Moving onto Utah’s final two national parks, expansive vistas are presented in Canyonlands, while Arches features not a few dozen, but 2,000 natural rock arches, from very small to spans more than the length of a football field. Canyonlands, in addition to stunning views, offers serious hiking opportunities into the Green and Colorado River canyons, while Arches offers numerous rocky spans just a short hike off the main highway.

Author and spouse Susan in front of Landscape Arch,
spanning well over 300 feet in Arches National Park.

In two days in Arches, we hiked to 15 of the 2,000 arches; the visitor center helps plot your destinations in this amazing park. Treks to Turret Arch, South and North Arches, then Double Arch (at 144′ wide, 112′ tall, 3rd largest in park) were eye-openers. Later that cloudy, cool day, we climbed from the Arches campground to Tapestry Arch – and had it all to ourselves.  We continued onto Broken Arch, following three hikers – equally impressive – logging 3.5 miles hiking over all. That night we enjoyed spectacular starry night skies above our campsite.

Our second day, we started early to hike Arches’ Devils Garden area.  Our reward was the Landscape Arch; a 1.4 mile hike to this famous arch, tall, thin and spanning over 300 feet, attracts a large crowd.  Spur trails to nearby Tunnel and Pine Tree Arch both proved memorable.  Nearby  Moab is a busy town, humming with restaurants, motels, bike shops and canyon tour-providers!

Young couple admires the view from Canyonlands National Park, with the Colorado and Green Rivers in the distance.

If you still have time and energy, complete your parks tour with a stop at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Here you will find all the park’s jaw-dropping vistas, only 10 percent the tourism of the South Rim, and spot some of the 400 bison that populate the area since a small herd was imported from Yellowstone over 100 years ago.

Next week, we’ll bring you suggestions on a “volcanic legacy” trip, taking in Lassen National Park, Mt. Shasta, Crater Lake National Park and Mount St. Helens National Monument.

Bright Angel Point, looking serene, from the Canyon’s North Rim; unparalleled views and about only 10 percent of the visitors that jam the canyon’s South Rim area.

For more info: For Utah travel insights, go to visitutah.com. For Bryce Canyon National Park, nps.gov/brca, (435) 834-5322;for Zion National Park, nps.gov/zion, (435)772-3256;Camping can be booked through recreation.gov, 877.444.6777.

Contact Tim at tviall@msn.com; find his archive, recordnet.com/travelblog. Happy travels in the west!

Pictures to use:

Zion NP:

  View down Zion Canyon, carved by the Virgin River

  Weeping Wall’s dripping water keeps summer visitors somewhat cool

Bryce Canyon:

  Natural Bridge in Bryce Canyon

  Hoodoos tower precariously hundreds of feet above canyon

  Ascending the Wall Street Trail in Bryce Canyon

Grand Canyon:

Grand Canyon North Rim’s Transept Trail offers grandeur, but modest crowds

This entry was posted in Mountain West (Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado), Southwest USA (Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives