As most trips do, our trip started at the airport. With my car packed to the brim with camping gear, food, Rinse Kit portable shower, and enough extra layers to make sure no one was cold, I headed to the Salt Lake City airport to pick up my mom and brother for four days of exploring Southern Utah’s National Parks.
From the airport, we began south, stopping at a hotel in Spanish Fork to get a few hours of sleep before continuing on to Arches National Park in the morning.
Day 1 (Friday): Arches National Park
Despite waking up early to make our way to the Park and to find a camp spot (we assumed we’d end up on BLM land – hence the Rinse Kit), we ended up at Archview RV Park & Campground. This campground felt luxurious. In addition to having Wi-Fi near the main camp store, the newly constructed bathrooms had marble counter tops and a stone-tiled shower floor. Camp heaven.
It was noon by the time we set up camp and were finally on our way into Arches National Park!
Following our mandatory stop at the visitor center to get our National Park Passports stamped, we made our way to the iconic Delicate Arch (the arch found on Utah’s license plate) at the far end of the park. You can expect a beautiful, windy, and likely crowded hike as you follow the 2.5 mile trail out to Delicate Arch. Even with the crowds, you can get an awesome shot under the Arch with a little patience.
Without much daylight left, we made our way back towards to park entrance, stopping at Panorama Point, Balanced Rock, Double Arch, and North and South Windows. With trails under .5 mile each, this was a great way to end the day and make the most of our time in the park.
With a major Mountain Bike race in town, restaurants were crowded, and we ended up at good ol’ McDonalds (while not the best, salad + fries satisfies the plant based diet).
Day 2 (Saturday): Arches National Park and Needles Overlook
With a quick oatmeal breakfast, we left camp early to beat the crowd into the park and made our way to Devil’s Garden. The full 7.2-mile loop takes you past 7 arches, ending at Dark Angel tower. We opted for a 4-mile loop to Double O arch, stopping at Landscape Arch, Navajo Arch and Partition Arch along the way. From the parking lot, Landscape is the first arch you make it to. From here the trail becomes significantly more difficult, taking you over steep, sloping rocks, close to drop offs. Make sure to wear shoes with good grip, and leave the trekking poles in the car. You will want to have your hands free for this one! Also keep an eye out for cairns (pronounced Karens) along the way marking the trail.
From Devil’s Garden, we made our way back to the Visitor’s Center for a picnic lunch before starting the 1.5 hour drive to Needles Overlook. This may have been the best decision of the trip. We knew we wouldn’t be able to make it to both the Northern and Southern areas of Canyonlands National Park the next day, but still wanted to experience the Needles… and were blown away with what we found at this overlook. Due to its isolated location halfway between Moab and the Southern entrance of Canyonlands, you’ll have the overlook to yourself. We spent over an hour following the trail around the rim of the canyon, wondering why more people weren’t here!
Day 2 came to a close at El Charro Loco in Moab, because no camp trip is complete without Mexican.
Day 3 (Sunday): Canyonlands National Park and Capitol Reef National Park
Leaving our campsite behind, we headed out for our last full day of the trip at Canyonlands National Park.
First stop, Grand View Overlook. The overlook is the southernmost part of the Island in the Sky, sitting at 6080 feet. A quick 2-mile round trip hike, this you’ll be rewarded with views the Colorado river carving it’s way through what appears to be bottomless canyons.
Next stop, Mesa Arch. As one of the most popular destinations in the park, anticipate a busy trail. Once you arrive at the arch, there is a smaller trail to the right that will lead you to an open area where you can sit and enjoy the views.
Green River Overlook was our final stop before heading out of the park and heading to Capitol Reef National Park!
Our goal was to make it to Capitol Reef for an epic sunset at Goosenecks Overlook. After checking in at the Visitor’s Center, we had time for the 2-round trip hike to Hickman Bridge. Hickman Bridge is a 133-foot natural bridge tucked away in the canyon. Ending the hike during golden hour along the Fremont River, the fall foliage was glowing. We snapped lots of photos, had a quick snack, and set off for our last stop of the day – Goosenecks Overlook.
We quickly grabbed our cameras and headed up the trail…a little too quickly. 50 feet up the trail we realized the car keys were perfectly safe on the driver seat, locked in the car. With some help from some new friends, we managed to use the antenna to unlock the car by sliding it between the door and frame of the car. LESSON LEARNED: BRING MULTIPLE CAR KEYS.
When it was all said and done, we missed the sunset, and made our way to our hotel, Capitol Reef Inn & Café for a great meal after a long day.
Day 4 (Monday): Capitol Reef National Park
After the previous night’s missed sunset, we set the alarm early, and made it to the same trailhead for sunrise. It turns out Sunset trail is also a beautiful trail for sunrise. We watched as the sun rose above the mountains, and filled the canyon with light before heading to the Gifford Homestead for a cinnamon roll and arguably the best apple butter I’ve ever had.
Following Gifford Homestead we stopped at the Petroglyph panel before leaving.
- Moab is BUSY - bring food for lunch and dinner
- Staying in hotels is sometimes easier when out of town guests are coming in
- Utah is beautiful
- It's okay to explore national parks without huge hikes
- Bring an extra key!