Utah National Parks Road Trip

Highlight reel 🙂

In the heyday of the pandemic freak out last year I took off on a month long road trip west with a friend, we did so responsibly and with the goal to get outside and away from people, but when I asked for advice on camping and hiking so many people mentioned Utah that I quickly understood there is so much to see that it would NOT fit in the big road trip I was envisioning. Fast forward to 10 months later, and I am on what is probably the last month of voluntary leave with my airline. AKA back to the real world of working with delays, angry passengers, and hotel rooms next month.

When I realized I would have this month off my wheels started turning deciding how to best take advantage of it (without going back to Tulum, Mexico again lol), and Utah came to mind. I sent the first text, ‘soo how do you feel about Utah?’, and 2 weeks later 3 girlfriends and myself were on a flight out there to rent a car for a week. Times like these make me so thankful for my ‘yes people’. All of that to say, if you’re looking for an extremely well planned out and no stone left unturned kinda advise… this aint it. But, I do think we got a huge bang for our buck and logged almost 2,000 miles in our 7 days. So here’s what we did…

If you’re a visual person like me- here’s the basic route.

We flew into SLC and rented a car. It’s funny now that we thought 4 girls and all of our camping gear and extra crap we brought (ahemmm… a peeps shaped pancake maker, & selfless tanner are the first that come to mind) could fit in a mid size SUV, and I’m so thankful the rental agency girl asked if we wanted to upgrade. That Durango was comfortably stuffed. We had lunch in town and then checked into an airbnb for the night before heading to Bonneville Salt Flats near the Nevada state line.

Salt Lake City- Bonneville Salt Flats- 1 hr 45 min.

We didn’t really know what to expect and were just blown away with the flats. It was nice and dry while we were there and we decided to off-road out onto them (after seeing others do so) and popped the back of the SUV and chilled out watching an epic sunset behind the mountain range in the distance of the flats. The flats exist from ancient lake Bonneville that at one point filled most of the Great Basin, and the salt ranges in thickness from 1 inch to 6 feet. If you’re wondering (you’re probably not), yes we had to taste it. You may also have heard of the Bonneville Salt flats as being where numerous land speed records have been broken, and races take place on. Overall, I’ll let the photo speak for themselves and just say that it was totally worth the out of the way from the direction of the rest of our trip. We picked up a pizza in nearby West Wendover (Nevada), which is where you would stay for extended time at the sat flats (or to hit a casino), and drove back to our airbnb completing a long day 1.

Salt Lake City-Moab – 3 hours 45 min

We got up early to start the drive becauuuuse we did not book a campsite and needed to try and snag a first come first serve somewhere. We wasted a couple of hours striking out on campgrounds, but then discovered our secret weapon for the rest of the trip. Visitors Centers. Why have I always considered them to only be for senior citizens lol?! The lovely senior citizen who was working the center pointed us in the direction of Sand Flats recreation campground where we found our campsite for 2 nights. This rec area is HUGE for off-roading and the line of jeeps and buggies to get in can be quite long during peak hours. We all set up our brand new tents for the very first time, yes we were amateurs ranging to never set up a tent before. And I’m dang proud of us girls for taking on the challenge and totally knocking it out of the park. We had our string lights up (ok i’ll take that out of the category of completely unnecessary, Laura), and were drinking wine out of our cute plastic tumblers and roasting marshmallows for s’mores over a campfire in no time. It was cold, lows in the upper 30’s and low 40’s also speaks to how big of yes people these girls are to agree to this trip. We didn’t get a hike in that day, but the priority was hitting the Moab brewery in town and doing a little walk around the campsite to watch a beautiful sunset from our high viewpoint.

Moab National Parks and hikes

I could have done an entire week in Moab alone, but be as it was we had 1 day to try and do 2 National Parks, Canyonland and Arches. Not to be confused with Candyland national park (purely fictional) like our last minute addition Laura who had no idea where we were going thought it was. We hit it first and knocked out Mesa Arch, the Grand View Point hike, and a couple of quick photo stops along the way before we made our way over to Arches National Park to do the Delicate Arch hike. Seeing as it’s on the Utah license plate, it was a must do for us. Insider tip- when you’re almost to the opening when you’ll see the delicate arch there’s a small (pretty vertical) hill to a little arch you can climb up and take in the full view of Delicate Arch from. More importantly, all of the basic tourists who are standing in line for their photo in front of the arch will not be joining you there.

Mesa arch
The arch before delicate arch I mentioned
And the famous and touristy Delicate Arch

Moab-Monument Valley -2 hours 30 min

We knew it was mostly about the views driving through Monument Valley as the indian reservation is closed still due to Covid, so we spent the morning roaming around the cute town of Moab and even hit a winery on our way out of town. Spanish Valley vineyards and winery was teeny-tiny, and certainly not Napa, but we enjoyed our little stop and chatting with the locals over a wine tasting. We drove through some of the Valley of the Gods, I really appreciated the names but they all started to look the same after a little bit. Lady in a Tub, Setting Hen Butte, Castle Butte, Seven Sailors, you get the point of what these massive formations are supposed to look like. We stopped at the forest gump photo op of course, and had a good time just running around on a major highway before we continued on to our campsite for that night.

I love a good random immersion experience, maybe a little more than others lol. I booked a campsite in the backyard of a Navajo indian family, and to fully complete the experience they cooked ‘navajo tacos and tea’ for us for dinner. As you can imagine with all of the flat dry land, it was dusty as hell and windy when we arrived, we had dirt everrrrywhere trying to set up camp. And they had dogs, and the neighbors had dogs, and we had wine and alcohol to forget about the dirt and no shower for 3 days, and we forgot about the dogs. The dogs made off like kings throughout the course of the night. The next morning while looking for her missing shoe in the field next to us Laura found a rug (her front door mat), a plastic wine glass, her chewed up shoe, and Johnas pillow. I forget what all we realized later was missing.

BUT, we could (well, we were pointed in the direction of the trail and told we weren’t suppppppposed to go) walk onto the indian reservation via their local trails to an amazing view over the Mesa’s for sunset. The sunset view was totally worth the dirt and dogs experience, but that’s easier for me to say as I didn’t get sick from the navajo tacos nor have any items go missing lol.

Monument Valley-Kanab (via Page,AZ) – 3 hours 15 min

It’s about 2 hours to Page and our intended stop, Horseshoe Bend. I will say that this is really not a hike, as it’s a paved walkway, but is totally worth seeing. We packed a little champagne picnic and posted up for a bit enjoying the stunning scenery in front of us. Antelope Canyon, the other major attraction in the area was closed as it’s on an indian reservation. The other hikes I had saved were Cathedral Wash and Hanging Garden, but we didn’t get around to them…. Becauuuuuse, we found ourselves on a helicopter. Flight attendant/pilot lifestyles are nuts y’all and I really do try to take a step back and be grateful for the opportunities that come from it. Like this day, we called the ‘Grand Canyon scenic airline’ that somehow we have an airline agreement with and asked if they had open seats for any tours that same day. He said if we could make it there in like 45 minutes we could hop on a helicopter tour. We just finished the little horseshoe bend hike, were stopping at walmart, and keep in mind haven’t showered in 4 days (and we are supposed to be business casual/represent our airline well while we are using the flight benefits). So, we slapped on some lipstick, lots of deodorant, I bought a $15 dress to look halfway presentable, we changed in Walmart or in the parking lot and hauled tail to the little airport in Page, AZ. And that’s how my first helicopter ride came to be, and it was gorgeous! We really enjoyed our experience with Grand Canyon Scenic Airlines as well. We left Page after that and it took 1 hour 15 min to get to Kanab.

Kanab- The Wave Lottery & Wire Pass Slot Canyon

First thing first, we showered in a little hotel we booked in Kanab. Kanab is known for its old Hollywood movie making, and the little town is still adorably stuck in its old western glory a little bit. But that shower was glorious and so was a real bed. We booked the converted and renovated upstairs of one of the old theaters right on Main Street on Airbnb and it was perfect for what we needed. We woke up the next morning early to enter the Wave Lottery. If you’re unaware (as I was), to do the famous Wave hike you must be one of lucky 16 people or 4 groups, whichever comes first, that wins a lottery to do the hike the next day. It was quite the experience just entering, 76 entries the morning that we tried, and we did not win. BUT, at the community center they are set up and ready to help the losers find alternative hikes. That’s how we were advised to do the Wire Pass Slot Canyon. It’s in Buckskin gulch and connects to the Wave eventually and somewhere, so we thought it would be a good alternative :). It’s a bumpy 20 min or so drive once you exit the hwy, but so worth it! There’s a fork when the slots open up at one point (look for the petroglyphs too), you can go either direction (we went right) and we just followed the canyon for around 3 miles or so before turning back around. ALWAYS CHECK THE WEATHER before attempting a slot canyon hike. After seeing some of the logs and debri stuck at the top of the canyon I was terrified thinking about a flash flood, even though we knew there was nothing in the forecast.

We drove over to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument next and explored the Hoodoo’s in Toadstool park. What a weirdddddd place. We roamed around a bit as we pretty much had the place to ourselves, and I just recommend to walk around the corner and keep going, as the landscape and even the stone and colors change dramatically. And try not to think about Aliens or other-worldly thoughts while you do lol…

Kanab-Bryce Canyon- 1 hour 20 min

We hit it early to get to Bryce for a nice long hike. We chose Fairyland loop as it’s 8 miles, rated strenuous, but most importantly not very busy. I do not think it was necessarily ‘strenuous’, but it wasn’t busy and it was beautiful. We just thought we knew what a hoodoo was from the toadstool park, Bryce teaches ya whats up. It was probably my favorite park and landscape in Utah (& i’ve previously done Observation point in Zion). This hike and the Wire Pass Slot Canyon were both up there as favorite hikes I’ve ever done, simply because I’ve never seen nor imagined landscapes that look like these.

Had to stop at Thunderbird for a Ho-made breakfast pie leaving Kanab. We loved the story of this diner and its owner. Stop if you can!!!

We continued another 1 hour and 45 minutes to Monroe, UT where we finished up our week with a glamping night. I slept on my air mattress on the floor with my sleeping bag and still froze, so really it was still camping to me, but it was cute. We finished up all of our groceries by having a fabulous campfire ramen with veggies meal, and Chaney and I roasted probably 15 marshmallows each. We actually chose this spot for our last night because 1. it’s closer to Salt Lake for our flights out the next day, and 2. There are hot springs in the area. We were going to do Red Hill hot springs (the free alternative to the Mystic Springs), but by the time we got to our glamping tent we decided we’d rather get a fire going and enjoy the sunset view from our site.

Monroe-SLC -2 hours 45 min

And that’s a wrap. It was really cold and rained most of the drie back to Salt Lake, and the next day a snow front moved into the state and we 100% timed our trip perfectly because I know for a fact when that first snowflake fell it would have been wasted money on those new tents.

We crammed a lot into 7 nights, and I feel like I need to go back and spend more time in Moab and also Bryce Canyon. In addition i’ll mention some spots I really wanted to fit in, but just didn’t make sense logically. It’s mainly hikes in Capitol Reef national park, the only one of the big 5 I’m missing. You could easily go from Moab to Capitol Reef to Bryce and knock off a lot of miles hitting Monument, Page, and Kanab.

But, I’ll save that for another trip. Angels Landing in Zion is calling my name as well :). I’d love any tips, advice, favorite hikes or campsites some of y’all may have in the area! Obviously this was a very last minute and mediocre planned out trip, and eventually I plan to go back and do more! Hope it helped my fellow planners, and inspired someone to go check out some National Parks in the meantime tho!

Found myself staring in wander at least once a day…

3 replies »

  1. Hey girl, this is Sarah’s mom, Karla.
    REALLY enjoyed your photos, they brought back memories of my western trek in 2018-19.
    We flew into Las Vegas and rented a car to head north to Zion. From there we explored Zion.
    A long but scenic drive along the north rim of the Grand Canyon eventually got us to the south rim.
    We crossed the Hoover Dam on our way back to Vegas.
    Since my brother and his family had never been to LV we spent a couple of nights hitting all the top tourist spots before flying back to Missouri.
    The year before this trip I flew into Albuquerque NM and rented a car. It’s an hours drive to Santa Fe. Following Route 66 west, we saw the Painted Desert, Petrified Forrest and Flagstaff areas.
    If you have never been to Yosemite National Park in CA, I highly recommend it the next time you get the itch to “go west”.


    • Look at you!! Love your adventures! Beyond impressive! You make me want to head straight God the airport and explore the world!


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