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Trip Report Hiking Grand Canyon & Southern Utah Parks May 2014

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Thanks everyone for the advice when I was planning my trip last year. It seemed so far away then, and now it’s over! I visited the Grand Canyon and southern Utah parks May 1-15, solo, with hiking as my primary focus. Much of this came from my personal travel journal, and editing is not my strength. If you love details (I do!), read on! If you love pictures, all of mine are here: https://melgallery.shutterfly.com/pictures/1962

Overall impressions- words are inadequate to describe the scenery. Breathtaking all around. I need to be a park ranger in my next life, I think! I’m really in my element out there on the trails and still having withdrawal symptoms. This was also a perfect time to visit, in my opinion. Weather was lovely overall, and crowds were rarely an issue. It helps that I’m an early riser- usually on the trail by 8, which is the perfect hiking time anywhere if you ask me. Much more peaceful. And the flowers! I loved the contrast of so many different colors to the sand/stone. I can’t even fathom doing most of the hikes in summer heat, let alone with more people.

Day 1: East Coast to Las Vegas. I picked up the rental car and was on my way to the Grand Canyon. After all the negative reviews I read about Dollar from McCarran airport, I feel I should give a positive plug. I didn’t have one single problem with the company, and they had the cheapest rates by far for the ‘big name’ companies. I signed up for their express club, walked right by the lines, and right to my car- a Mitsubishi Calant.

The drive was about 4hrs with one glitch when I set off fraud alerts on two credit cards trying to purchase fuel near the Canyon. I arrived at the Village about 5:30 and expected parking to be difficult. It was VERY difficult! I ended up illegally parking in a handicapped spot near my room in Bright Angel lodge so I could run my bags in. I’d made a Target stop on the way to pick up supplies as well. Finally on the third circuit I snatched up a parking spot near Thunderbird lodge.

Energy was zero by then, so I just wandered around the lodge area for sunset, which was ok.

Day 2: An early start- caught the 5AM hiker’s shuttle to South Kaibab trail. The sun was already risen by the time I got there, but there was still a nice sun glow on the way down the trail. I hiked down to Cedar Ridge in about 30min and spent a nice 20min or so snacking and marveling at the scenery, including seeing the mule train go by. It took me another 1.5 hrs to get back up. I saw a big horn sheep on the trail and lots of peaceful Elk helping themselves to the water at the trailhead, unconcerned with the people. Seeing the busloads coming in, I was glad I started early.

After some Visitor Center shopping, I picked up lunch at the Marketplace and headed back to the room to relax a bit. After, I really enjoyed the native dance exhibition by Hopi House. I was tempted to stay and watch the next performance, but the Hermit’s Rest viewpoints awaited. I spent sunset at Mohave Point, which was quite nice and not crazy crowded. I regret not spending some stargazing time, but I was falling asleep standing up on the shuttle by then!

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    Day 3: Well, I’m a sunrise failure, but I really needed some extra sleep this morning. I enjoyed an early breakfast at El Tovar, watching some deer wandering the Rim Trail. Then I started the drive to Page via Desert View drive. Very nice! After being thoroughly confused as what time it actually was, I enjoyed a tour of Lower Antelope Canyon in the afternoon, the hike to Horseshoe Bend, and the scenic drive around Lake Powell. I didn’t quite manage the Glen Canyon Dam tour, but it was nice to see. Horseshoe Bend was more of a slog than expected, but the heat wasn’t helping- great view regardless! Outside of Vegas, this was probably the warmest day with temps in the 80s. I stayed the night at Red Rock Motel, which was quite adequate, though I was right next to the office and could every word spoken like it was in my own room- kind of creepy, actually.

    Day 4: A slow morning, then off to Moab. Winds had picked up, with lots of sand blowing across the roads at some places- bit nerve wracking. I checked in to the Rustic Inn and did a quick grocery run as I’d be here for 4 nights. Then it was off to Arches to hike to Delicate Arch for sunset. I arrived at the trailhead at 5 and it was packed- I did manage a spot and there were still groups hiking down as I went up. It wasn’t so crowded as I expected at the Arch, and I admit it was entertaining watching people getting pictures taken. It was SO windy. This would become a theme for Arches, unfortunately, but didn’t take away from the arch. Amazing. For my first Arches experience, I was hooked. Love this park.

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    Day 5: Fiery Furnace hike this morning, after visiting Balanced rock and several viewpoints. I wish I could remember the ranger’s name who led the hike. She was on her 3rd week of leading this hike, and she was great. There was no doubt she was made for the job. I loved the hike- highly recommended! Rock scrambling is my favorite hiking style, especially the more ‘creative’ sections. After lunch, I made my way to Landscape Arch and ended up continuing on to Double O arch. A rock scrambler’s paradise that day! I’m glad I decided to press on- another fun hike, plus walking along the fins in high wind gave me some confidence for Angel’s Landing the next week. I did nearly get turned around several times on the hike back, so not a trail to take lightly! It was about 3hrs roundtrip.

    Day 6: I was really settling in and enjoying Arches NP on this second full day. I started the morning hiking around the Windows section and the primitive trail for a nice loop hike. Double Arch was next, where a man with a baby on his back was making me nervous. I wasn’t quite comfortable climbing the slick rock of the inner arch, but he hopped right on up! I rounded out the morning with hikes to Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch, Skyline Arch, and a brief hike into Park Avenue via Courthouse Towers for about 45min roundtrip. I loved the different perspective from down there.

    I decided to check out Corona Arch that afternoon, stopping to view the petroglyphs on the way. I didn’t quite finish that hike- I made it up the 2nd chain section, but the winds were crazy, and with nothing between me and the next ladder but an angled section of cliff face…no, thank you! All good, though. The arch was clearly visible from there, so I found a snack spot and watched some crazy people jumping off the arch. I had thought I would be annoyed if people were there rappelling, but it proved entertaining.

    Day 7: Theme of the day: no more wind please! Truly, I tried not to let it bother me, but I was really over the wind by this point. Thankfully, this would be the last real day I had to deal with it. After an early breakfast at Moab Grill I headed out to Canyonlands. It was quite hazy that morning, which only sorta cleared with the day, so views weren’t as great as they could have been, but cooler temps were very pleasant. I walked the Grand View Trail, White Rim Trail, Mesa Arch, and to the 1st and 2nd Upheaval Dome Overlooks. The wind and self preservation instincts would keep me from going too far at the 2nd, though!

    Next was a stop at Dead Horse State Park, which I enjoyed. I considered doing a bit of hiking there, but, again, I was out of patience with the wind. So, I returned to a pot of coffee and a lazy evening.

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    Day 8: Off to Capitol Reef. Compared to day 7, today’s theme is much nicer- peaceful! First stop was Goblin Valley, which was a surprising treat. I would have LOVED this place as a kid. I loved it as an adult, wandering aimlessly among the Goblins, searching for faces and other shapes. I also hiked along the Carmel Canyon trail. It’s amazing how many ‘goblins’ there are, and over a large area too.

    I also enjoyed Capitol Reef more than expected. It had been relegated to ‘drive through’ status early on, so I didn’t put much thought into it, but it was lovely! I couldn’t get over all the different colors and layers in the cliffs. I stopped at viewpoints and hiked Hickman’s Bridge first. For a time I had the bridge to myself- peaceful. Then it was the official scenic drive, which was impressive, if a little nerve wracking with trucks and campers whipping around those tight corners. Gifford’s House was all it was promised to be- coffee and mixed berry pie for lunch, sitting outside in that lovely setting- peaceful. And yummy! I bought a cheese and a cranberry scone also, which I ate the next day- melt-in-your-mouth delicious, mmm…

    For a final dose of peace, I stayed at the Red Sands Hotel in Torrey. My room overlooked a horse pasture, complete with grazing horses. Very relaxing to open the window and just enjoy the sounds of nature.

    Day 9: I left Torrey about 7AM to begin the Hwy 12 drive. Dixie Forest was gorgeous in the morning, and the early light provided some stunning landscapes. Just watch out for mule deer- they were everywhere! I’d planned on hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls, then doubling back to Boulder for lunch at Hell’s Backbone and a stop at the Anasazi Museum. This worked out very well, though I didn’t realize I would end up driving the ‘scary part’ (Hogsback) three times with this plan. No matter! It didn’t bother me at all.

    Calf Creek hike was nice, and I had the falls area to myself for a while, which was very nice. What was NOT nice was the caterpillar gauntlet I had to run (literally) to get there and back. All the nests were hatching, so for a good long section of trees, the branches and ground were just crawling with them. They were also hanging off the branches by the webs, so it was a lot of duck and weave action, and I still had them falling on me. *shudder* I also had my only snake sighting on this trail- no photo evidence, but this green/yellow fellow was nicely camouflaged behind some flowering cacti as I stopped to admire the view. It was also quite large, though curled up- several inches in diameter.

    Lunch at Hell’s Backbone Grill was delicious, as expected. The Anasazi museum was ‘ok’. Nice enough for $5, and a good place to stop and look around. The rest of the drive was as stunning as the first part. There’s a reason it’s one of the most scenic drives out there. Wow. After stopping for an appropriately spiced chai latte at Kiva Koffehouse, I made it to Escalante and decided to stop at Petrified Forest SP as I was making great time. I’m glad I did as I quite enjoyed the hike! It’s interesting to see all the petrified wood laying about. I stayed at Circle D motel that night- standard motel.

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    Day 10: An early start to reach Bryce Canyon for my morning canyon ride, leaving around 5:30. I was super careful about critters on the road, with good reason- so many rabbits! And those buggers are quick! I had to stop for a prairie dog at Bryce, which was sorta fun. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one outside a zoo. I had booked a half day Canyon Ride, and it was fantastic! Highly recommended. The canyon was breathtaking, as expected, and Blaze was a great partner, even if he did get annoyed if I tried to direct him too much. The only downside was things getting uncomfortable the last hour or so for this inexperienced rider.

    I hit the scenic drive and viewpoints next, though I was really dragging by the end. Some of those views took effort( hello, Inspiration Point)! Fortunately, I was able to check into the Lodge by then where I promptly had a lovely 2 hour nap. Dinner was at the Lodge- I love that half-portions were available for some things. Perfect amount for me, and saved money! I attended the ‘Dark Ranger’ presentation that night, but, most unfortunately, snow was moving in, so the sky was too overcast for stargazing and telescopes. This was really disappointing, as it was one of my most anticipated vacation activities. Also, I hadn’t really done any stargazing at all as I was usually so tired after early, busy days, and was usually in bed shortly after sunset. I’d put my hopes on Bryce. It was still a great day, though, and also the nicest lodging (and most expensive!).

    Day 11: Most of the morning was spent camped out and cozy by the fire in the lobby, waiting for the snow/wind to let up. I would rather have had clear skies, but the snow had its own charm! I stopped at Bryce Point on my way out, where it was painfully cold with the wind, but still plenty of us out there snapping pictures before running back to warm cars. Then it was off to Zion, my last stop. Sad!

    The drive was somewhat stressful- dealing with some icy roads to start, then reaching the scenic Rt 9 on a Sunday afternoon…oh my. I am a tourist myself, but I really can’t stand tourists sometimes! Driving way below the already low speed limit, stopping in the middle of the road to take pictures, and so on. It was the most stressful driving of the trip. I couldn’t even enjoy the scenery, which just annoyed me more! So, I decided not to make any stops that day. I checked into Zion Park Motel in Springdale, then caught the shuttle into the park.

    I decided to hike the Emerald Pools, and nature soothed my frazzled nerves, as usual. It was a nice hike and the tourists there were much more pleasant! After some shopping at the Lodge, I decided to walk the Pa Rus trail back to the visitor’s center, which was a pleasant stroll. Zion is just gorgeous. I was afraid that I’d be ‘canyoned out’ by the end of two weeks, but nope. Each stop was as awe inspiring as the last, and in such different ways. It never got old.

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    Day 12: I caught the first 7AM shuttle with my sights set on Angel’s Landing. Amazing hike! It’s official- I am not afraid of heights. I’ve had some opportunity to test that theory, but this hike proved it. And the view…didn’t even seem real. I could say that about so many views on this trip- it’s another world out there. The chipmunks up there were sneaky little devils. I was glad to get an early start- no need to negotiate with passing anyone along the chains, and it was like a trail of ants with all the people coming up as I was finishing. Round trip was roughly 3.5 hrs. I’d really like to do this one again someday.

    For the afternoon, I took in the rest of the shuttle stops and hiked Weeping Rock and the Riverside Walk. I tried to have a nice, peaceful lunch by the river, but was accosted by squirrels instead. I did get a pretty classic nose-to-camera shot though! (https://melgallery.shutterfly.com/pictures/2062) So, no Narrows hiking this trip. I know it’s a ‘must do’, but I just wasn’t feeling it for some reason, and there was still enough to satisfy my time.

    Day 13: My last full park day. I was pleased to know that I can, in fact, have some level of hiking every day for 13 days and still be ready for more. Today would be more strenuous, hiking Observation Point. First, I got out early to re-drive Rt. 9 to take in the views and hike the Canyon Overlook Trail. It was a much calmer drive this time.

    Then, Observation Point. That was hard work! It was worth it in the end, but maybe not one I need to repeat. I would like to explore Hidden Canyon if I make it back, though. I loved the section through Echo Canyon, but elevation gaining switchbacks and just slogging along is one of my least favorite hiking situations. Too bad I love mountains and cliffs, so I must deal. It’s interesting to me that, as great as the final views are, my favorite parts of this hike, and Angels Landing, were the sections through the canyons. Cool, peaceful, and a nice break from switchbacks. It took me about 5 hrs for this hike, including a break at the top.

    For a while, I had seriously considered driving back to Bryce Canyon this night for another astronomy night- leaving around dinner time, and returning about 1-2AM. I so wanted to see the stars there! I was willing to risk the night driving and just drive as slowly as needed, but I was done in. I probably could have gotten a second wind, but it seemed a safer, saner idea to stay put. If that’s the only disappointment of the trip, it’s still a great success!

    Day 14: The end of the road. I started the day at the Kolob Canyon section, with a hike at Taylor’s Creek. I really enjoyed the scenery there (of course), and the hike was a good one. I like a hike that requires some creativity, even just crossing a creek over and over again. Double Arch alcove was great.

    Then, it was back to Vegas, which was just as hot and miserable as when I started! I stayed at La Quinta North, off strip, and never even saw the strip- no interest and no motivation. Perhaps another day! I did return the rental car that afternoon, which was surprisingly nostalgic. I really bonded with my little car! Final stats: 1813 miles driven.

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    Nice Report. We have been everywhere you mention except Antelope Canyon and Page AZ area.

    Personally, I think the best Star Gazing in Utah(it's all great though) is at Goblin Valley and especially Natural Bridges National Monument. Now, the Night Sky Program at Bryce is good though. I think the first part of it is slightly boring, unless your really into the talking about it. I went to Utah several years ago for the first time and imagined it would be my only trip. We have now been back 6 or 7 times since then. I would say Arches is probably my favorite park there, and Double Arch is my favorite arch. The only thing I would say you missed that we really liked(have done it twice) is Little Wild Horse Canyon just about 5 minutes from Goblin Valley.

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    Megan,

    Thanks for the great trip report! I think most visitors don't do as much hiking as you did, so the details are great for inspiration. I've done most of the hikes in the southern UT parks since I live here, but the Narrows is still to be done!

    I'm sure you will come out again!

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    What a great trip, Megan. Thanks for reporting. As others have mentioned, my husband and I are hooked on the southwestern U.S. and return each year. This fall, we are bringing some friends with us who've never been to Utah. They are going to freak out! Can't wait! So glad you enjoyed your trip.

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    Megan--kudos to you for going on such a great trip by yourself!!! So many people (women especially) don't want to go by themselves and they miss out on such great places. You have given a great trip report and I hope it inspires others to go for solo traveling!!

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