Category Archives: Utah

Canyonlands National Park

Overview

Canyonlands National Park was established in 1964, part of a large expansion of the National Park Service (NPS) system during the Johnson administration.  It is divided into four distinct areas that are not easily connected by roads: The Needles District, The Maze District, Horseshoe Canyon Unit, and the most heavily-trafficked Island in the Sky District near Moab, Utah.  Backpacking is a major draw to this park, as is whitewater rafting on the Colorado and Green Rivers.

Learn more in our guidebook to the 62 National Parks, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Mesa Arch, Grand View Point, Chesler Park, Druid Arch, The Maze, Great Gallery

Must-Do Activity

Horseshoe Canyon is a separate unit of Canyonlands National Park accessible by good dirt road from Highway 24 southwest of Green River, Utah.  Its main attractions are four large pictograph panels estimated at 3,000 years old at the bottom of the 800-foot deep canyon.  The largest panel, dubbed the Great Gallery, stretches over 200 feet with numerous life-sized human figures painted in red and white on a sandstone wall.  It is a 3.5-mile hike to get there from the trailhead on top of the canyon rim that drops down to and then follows a meandering stream which passes three smaller panels.

Best Trail

There are miles of incredibly scenic trails in The Needles District, many of which leave from Elephant Hill Trailhead.  We recommend the six-mile roundtrip hike to Chesler Park where you will see the pointy formations that gave this district its name.  Druid Arch or Angel Arch make great destinations for long day hikes, but you should at least stop at Slickrock Foot Nature Trail to get a feel for sandstone beneath your soles.

Instagram-worthy Photo

You may have never heard of the Island in the Sky District, but you have surely seen a sunrise photograph of Mesa Arch since it makes it on many calendars.  Walk the half-mile loop to the edge of the cliff where this famous formation frames distant mountains.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cany/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

There are seriously rough 4×4 roads throughout this park, so ask a park ranger about road conditions before attempting any drive.  The scenic drive that dead ends at Grand View Point in the Island in the Sky District is entirely paved.

Camping

There is running water at Squaw Flat Campground in The Needles District, but none available at the small Willow Flat Campground in the Island in the Sky District.  White Rim Road and Chesler Park are also famous for their backcountry campsites accessible by 4×4 vehicles (permit required).  Due to high demand, backpacking permits within this park are among the most expensive in the entire NPS system.

Related Sites

Arches National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah)

This design we created to celebrate Canyonlands National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – It may look small in photographs, but just how tall is Druid Arch in The Needles District?

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Overview

Bryce Canyon is not really a canyon at all, but instead a cliffside amphitheater eroded away into extravagant creamsicle-colored hoodoos.   Your first view from Sunrise or Sunset Point will surely take your breath away and not just because you are standing above 7,000 feet in elevation.  A portion of the main park road is only open during the busy summer season, but seeing the amphitheater under a fresh carpet of white snow makes the effort worthwhile to get here in the winter.  Learn more about the logistics of a winter visit in our first travel guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon).

Highlights

Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Navajo Loop Trail, Queens Garden Trail, Natural Bridge, Rainbow Point

Must-Do Activity

The amphitheater is beautiful from the overlooks, but to really experience this park you have to hike down from the rim.  Peakaboo Loop is a strenuous four-mile hike with approximately 1,700 feet cumulative elevation gain that offers up close views of the hoodoos.  It is accessed from Sunset Point or Bryce Point.  You could easily spend your whole trip in this northern section of the park and not be disappointed, but be sure to take a slow drive south with stops at Natural Bridge and Rainbow Point to complete the experience.

Best Trail

It is four miles out and back on the Under-the-Rim Trail from Bryce Point to the Hat Shop, in the quiet backcountry area where hoodoos are topped with boulders (like they are wearing hats).  Ask a park ranger about the “I Hiked the Hoodoos” program to earn a prize.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Douglas-fir trees snake their way to the light in the narrow Wall Street section of the Navajo Loop Trail.  A photograph of Tiff walking into a snowy Wall Street made the cover (see below) of our first travel guidebook to the National Parks (available on Amazon). 

Peak Season

Summer due to long, snowy winters at this elevation.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main park road is paved, but there are dirt roads that access the lower elevations of the park, though we have been warned that they are in rough shape.

Camping

The National Park Service has a campground that is open year round, but we prefer camping along the dirt roads in adjacent Dixie National Forest.  A free permit is required to camp in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Related Sites

Cedar Breaks National Monument (Utah)

Zion National Park (Utah)

Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

This design we created to celebrate Bryce Canyon National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Who described Bryce Canyon as “a hell of a place to lose a cow?”

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

Dinosaur National Monument

Overview

As its name suggests, Dinosaur National Monument was first created in 1915 to protect an archaeological dig.  The 200-foot long wall of unexcavated fossils at Dinosaur Quarry outside Jensen, Utah is still the park’s main attraction.  A major addition of 200,000 acres was added in 1938, stretching into the neighboring state of Colorado.  More than 90% of the National Monument (click here to see where it ranks in our Top 10) is managed as wilderness and is best explored by whitewater rafting the Green and Yampa Rivers.

Highlights

Dinosaur Quarry, Harpers Corner Road, Fremont pictographs, Jones Hole Trail, whitewater rafting

Must-Do Activity

Whitewater rafting trips on the Green River can last a few hours or multiple days depending upon where you put in.  We highly recommend a three night trip starting at the Gates of Lodore with Adrift Dinosaur or one of several other outfitters.  They also offer multi-day trips down the Yampa River, which is undammed and only navigable during the spring snowmelt.  If you do not feel like getting wet, simply enjoy a quiet picnic on the shoreline at easily-accessible Split Mountain (or take a high-clearance vehicle down the rough road to scenic Echo Park).

Best Trail

The 4-mile long Jones Hole Trail is accessible to rafters on the Green River and from a fish hatchery at the end of a paved road near the Utah-Colorado border.  It provides access to Ely Creek Falls and the Deluge Shelter pictographs, which are approximately 800 to 1,400 years old.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Dinosaur Quarry may be the only mountainside in America surrounded by its own glass-enclosed, air-conditioned building.  It contains thousands of fossilized bones of giant creatures sitting in the same place they have been for the past 148-million years.  It is a completely different experience than seeing dinosaur skeletons reconstructed in a museum, although they have those, too. 

Peak Season

Spring and summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/dino/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

No entrance fees for the Colorado side, but $25 per vehicle to enter the Utah side to view the Dinosaur Quarry.

Road Conditions

There are many dirt roads in the National Monument, some of which are impassable when wet, so check at a visitor center before entering.  The roads to the Dinosaur Quarry, Jones Hole Trailhead, Deerlodge Park, and Harpers Corner are paved.

Camping

There are several campgrounds within the park accessible by paved or unpaved roads, as well as numerous backcountry campsites located along the Green and Yampa Rivers (plus, one on the Jones Hole Trail). 

Explore More – Who was the one-armed Civil War veteran that led the first exploration of the Green River (and named the Gates of Lodore after a poem) in 1869?

WONDON WAS HERE

Golden Spike National Historic Site

Overview

On May 10, 1869, there were actually four commemorative spikes (made of both silver and gold) to celebrate completing the monumental task to lay 1,776 miles of track connecting Sacramento and Omaha, linking west to east.  In front of a crowd of thousands that gathered at Promontory Point in Utah, Leland Stanford, President of the Central Pacific Railroad, missed when attempting to drive the final spike.

Highlights

Replica train engines, museum, film, Chinese Arch

Must-Do Activity

Thanks to the National Park Service, each day in the summer you can see working replicas of two steam engines, burning wood and coal, come together for a daily photo op.  It took some effort just to figure out where the junction occurred, since it was moved by 1870, in 1904 a shorter causeway was built across the Great Salt Lake, and during World War II the track here was ripped up. 

Best Trail

Big Fill Loop Trail (1.5 miles) leads to a ravine filled by hand to create a gentle grade for the trains.  Two unpaved auto tours (2 and 14 miles) follow the rail route, with the highlight stop being the natural limestone Chinese Arch.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Central Pacific Railroad’s locomotive Jupiter and the Union Pacific’s No. 119 are both beautiful reproductions, but they only run between May and mid-October.  Please note that you are not allowed to mush pennies on the train tracks but they do have a 51-cent mushed penny machine inside the visitor center.

Peak Season

Summer, but also May 10 annually (especially in 2019, the 150th anniversary)

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/gosp/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per vehicle or free with America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main road to the visitor center is paved, but the two auto tour routes follow graded dirt roads.

Camping

None within the park, but Hyrum Lake State Park, Willard Bay State Park, and Box Elder Campground (U.S. Forest Service) are located near Brigham City, Utah.

Explore More – How many miles of parallel grades did the two greedy companies (that got paid by the mile) lay out before Congress stepped in to establish Promontory Summit as the official meeting place?

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Overview

Cedar Breaks National Monument is a red rock badlands full of hoodoos situated at the edge of the Markagunt Plateau and only open during the summer due to its elevation above 10,000 feet.  Its colorful limestone amphitheater is like a miniature Bryce Canyon National Park without all the interior trails.

Highlights

Chessman Ridge Overlook, Point Supreme, Ramparts Trail, Spectra Point

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service visitor center is open late May through October.  From there the short trail to Point Supreme and the longer Ramparts Trail lead to stunning overlooks of the amphitheater.  Also stop at Sunset View, Chessman Ridge Overlook, and North View on Cedar Breaks Scenic Drive. In the adjacent Dixie National Forest, there is free parking at the Rattlesnake Trail that offers two unique overlooks within the first mile before it drops steeply into the forested canyon.

Best Trail

At 10,000 feet in elevation this is no place to try anything too strenuous.  Walk the flat one-mile Ramparts Trail to Spectra Point and stop at the many great overlooks along the way while enjoying the riotous summer wildflowers and gnarly bristlecone pine trees (some believed to be more than 1,600 years old).

Instagram-worthy Photo

On our visit in July, we saw columbine, blue bells, larkspur, Indian paintbrush, elkweed, lupine, wild rose, fireweed, and cow parsnip; many of the same species that grow along the coast of Alaska. 

Peak Season

Summer, though snowmobilers and cross-country skiers can access the park during the winter.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cebr/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The paved Cedar Breaks Scenic Drive remains open until snow closes it usually by November.

Camping

The park contains Point Supreme Campground with 30 spaces and running water from June through September.  The surrounding Dixie National Forest also offers campgrounds and free dispersed camping.

Related Sites

Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)

Zion National Park (Utah)

Great Basin National Park (Nevada)

Explore More – What is the name of the officially designated wilderness that Rattlesnake Trail enters outside the monument’s boundaries?