Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks

I traveled to Utah over New Year of 2018. I flew into Las Vegas from Tampa Saturday morning. Over the next 4 days, I traveled to 5 of Utah’s National Parks. If I were to have driven directly to and from each one, it would have been about 21 hours of driving.

Below is a list of the general places I went as well as a map showing the pretty accurate 900 mile route over the 4 day trip.

  • Last Vegas, NV
  • St. George
  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon National Park
  • Capital Reef National Park
  • Arches National Park
  • Canyonlands National Park
  • Moab
  • Antelope Island State park
  • Ogden
  • Salt Lake City

Day 1 – Saturday

  • Flew into Las Vegas NV and landed around 10 AM
  • Stopped for coffee on the way out of Sin City and drove to St. George to stock up on snacks and drinks for the road trip
  • I got to Zion National Park around 3 PM. The sun was setting in a few hours so I didn’t have much time to explore. I took the bus route they had throughout the park and got off to do a quick hike.
  • I left Zion around 5:30 PM and drove the few hours to Bryce Canyon where my hotel was for the evening.
  • I was starting to get altitude sickness, so I stocked up on gatorade and advil and went to bed.

Day 2 – Sunday

  • Since it was winter, and the days were very short, I got up before sunrise to drive out to Bryce Canyon to watch the sunrise. It had snowed overnight, and I didn’t have an ice scraper, so I used my hard cover book to scrape the windshield.
  • I grabbed breakfast at the hotel and then went to watch the sun rise over the canyon. It was purple, and then bright orange, and then yellow and then a hazy pink. It was absolutely worth waking up so early to watch.
  • I drove to the general store in Bryce Canyon ann started off for Capitol Reef National Park.
  • The roads on the way there had magnificent views, but were also terrifying to drive. Utah 12 on the way to Boulder past Escalante should have guard rails in my opinion. There were a few times my heart skipped a beat.
  • The altitude increased significantly and at one point I was at 9600 feet above sea level
  • Capital Reef National Park had snow in it, and I was visiting during the government shut down, so you could only go into the park so far. I was able to walk around and explore a bit, but would have liked to spend more time there.
  • I didn’t have service, and had turned off my GPS, so I had to get out my Atlas and figure out the best route to get to Arches National Park.
  • Arches didn’t have much snow and was open during the government shut down, so I drove the scenic loop through the park and was able to do a two quick hikes before heading back to Moab
  • I ate at Susie’s Branding Iron for dinner and the steak was wonderful and then headed back to the hotel to rest for the next day

Day 3 – Monday

  • I woke up to snow. A lot of it coming down in Moab.
  • I made a very slow journey just a few miles to the entrance to Canyonlands National Park. It goes up a mountain to enter and twists and turns. It took a long time to get up it in my rental Toyota Camry that didn’t have four wheel drive but both the car and I made it.
  • The front gates were open, so I entered and saw a scarce amount of cars in the park. I passed the Shafer trail which looked beautiful in the snow, and parked to hike out to Mesa Arch. There was only one other person on the trail because everything was just covered in snow. It was very peaceful, but also terrifying because some of the bridges through the park were just cliffs on both sides.
  • When I was leaving the park a few hours later, I noticed that the entrance was now closed. Because of the snow, and due to the government shut down, they weren’t allowing anyone else in. I was lucky to have gone in when I did.
  • Dead Horse Point State Park was near the entrance to the National Park so I stopped in. Although it’s supposed to have an incredible view, all I saw was mist and fog which was again VERY eerie. Knowing there’s hundreds of feet drop off in front of you and you can’t even see it.
  • Leaving the park to get back to the main highway in the snowstorm was one of those white knuckle drives. I had ice balls that had formed in my wheel wells and were making awful noises when I drove over 30 mph. I had to figure out a way to break them up so a using a combination of plastic bags, my tripod, and a book, I was able to get them out of the wheel well on the side of the road and get back to driving.
  • About 35 minutes outside of Moab, the snow was gone and the roads were clear. Later that day, I heard that the storm that had hit Moab was more a squall and was confined to the Moab area.
  • I drove north a few hours toward Park City Utah. I wasn’t planning to visit there initially but am so glad I did. I visited a few stores including L.L. Bean for gloves, Eddie Bauer, and Attitcus Coffee.
  • I drove a few hours to the Perry Hotel in Salt Lake City. Since it was New Year’s Eve, I checked in and then ventured out in the cold to find a place to celebrate the evening.
  • I ended up at Salt Lake Brewing and had local beer and tacos and it was a wonderful end to 2018.

Day 4 – Tuesday

  • I woke up after the most glorious night of sleep. The bed was one of the most comfortable I’ve stayed in. I also had clarity on my Word of the Year which I’d meditated on the night before. You can read about that here.
  • First priority was checking out and getting coffee. Since it was New Years Day I wasn’t sure what would be open but I found La Barba.
  • Next stop was Antelope Island State Park outside of Salt Lake City along the flats. I was really hoping to see Bison on the island, but the road only goes on a very small part of the Island. If you want to see Bison, you often have to get out and hike less traveled areas. I luckily was able to see two of them in the field from afar on my way out of the park.
  • At one point there was a ranch on the island called Fielding Garr Ranch. It started during Pioneer times and peaked around the 1980s. The views from the ranch of the mountains and salt flats are beautiful.
  • From the park, I drove up to Ogden. I was familiar with Ogden and some of it’s history from learning about the TransContinental Railroad. Ogden is close to where the last spike was nailed in 1869 that connected the western and eastern portions of the railroad at Promontory Summit.
  • I stopped for a quick bite in Ogden and then headed to the airport for my return flight to Tampa.

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