This year has been filled with highs and lows. For me, the best of those have been experienced in hiking boots. On the toughest climbs, it’s easy to get lost in just putting one foot in front of the other—again and again. While sometimes it’s all one can do to push through, the moments I allowed myself to stay present – soaking up the sun, braving the wind, consuming deep breaths of the crisp air – those were the times I saw beauty throughout the journey, not just at the top.
In early November, we set out on a week-long adventure to explore Zion National Park and other areas of Southern Utah. Leaving room to adjust for the winter storms that would likely (and did!) greet us, we loosely planned out our schedule:
Due to the mentioned winter storms, the Grand Canyon North Rim and the highway to get there were suddenly closed. So, we swapped that agenda item for Page, Arizona where we visited Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell.
There’s certainly no perfect way to experience these incredible sites, but I’m hopeful our views inspire you to add these spots to your 2021 bucket list!
Zion National Park
Utah’s first national park, Zion is bursting with opportunities to hike, bike, camp, climb, and much more. The park offers adventures for all ages and abilities, so if you’re reading this – these views are waiting for YOU.
Where we stayed…
Wanting to be no more than a short drive away from the park, we explored the area for hotels and Airbnb options. To say we hit the jackpot would be a vast understatement. Located in Hurricane, Utah (about 25 minutes from the park entrance), we found the perfect, renovated loft to call home during our stay. After a long day of hiking, we loved returning to a cozy space where we could cook together and settle in for the evening. 10/10 would recommend a stay at the Zion Lofts!
What we hiked…
With just two full days and shortened daylight hours, we had to be strategic on our hike selections and their order of completion. Knowing we had a slot canyon to visit later in the week, we decided to stay out of the frigid water and skip the Narrows this visit (though we hear it’s fantastic). Our hiking plans included:
Day one: Angels Landing, Zion Scenic Drive (a much needed break!)
Day two: Riverside Walk, Lower Emerald Pool, The Grotto Trail, Watchman Trail
It’s said the best views follow the hardest climb. While I have never doubted this claim, hiking Angels Landing unquestionably confirmed it. This hike is by far one of the most strenuous I’ve completed. Since 2004, 10 people have fallen to their deaths while hiking this trail.
…is this a good time to mention it started snowing about a half mile in?
If you’re up for a challenge and not afraid of heights, put this hike at the very top of your list. I promise you won’t regret it – well you might halfway up, but thank me after!
Starting at the Temple of Sinawava (the final shuttle stop in the canyon), the Riverside Walk is a paved trail that follows the Virgin River and leads to the start of The Narrows. With golden views and an abundance of wildlife, this was the perfect hike to warm up our legs and start the day.
Lower Emerald Pools
A relatively easy hike (though slightly slick with the snow), the Lower Pool Trail is surrounded by the towering rock formations of Zion and bursting with rich color. We also made a friend along the way…
We closed our time in Zion by hiking the Watchman Trail. Listed as a moderate hike, the winding incline brings you to views of the lower Zion Canyon, Springdale, Towers of the Virgin, and the Watchman.
…as we pulled away from the park the sun broke through and we received an unforgettable farewell—does it get more Zion than this?
Post-hike beers for the win!
We passed by this quaint coffee shop as we went to and from Zion. After reading about the sweeping views and promising menu options, we stopped by for a post-hike cheers. Whether you’re in need of a morning pick-me-up or an evening indulgence, River Rock Roasting Company is your place.
Bryce Canyon National Park
We packed our things and headed out for our next adventure. Known for its crimson-colored hoodoos, Bryce Canyon offers endless dramatic views—one panoramic glimpse after another of sprawling goblins and towers. And, for us the magic was kissed by snow!
Our one-day visit was packed with the following hikes and sites:
- Sunsrise Point
- Queen’s Garden Trail
- Navajo Loop
- Sunset Point
- Scenic Drive
A BIRTHDAY TO REMEMBER
This year has been less than desirable, but I’m grateful to all that helped make my 32nd birthday unforgettable. After our time at Bryce Canyon, we drove to Kanab, Utah to check into our room and get ready for my SURPRISE dinner. Tyler planned a beautiful evening at Sego where he coordinated with the dearest of friends who spoiled me with the best of cocktails (still thinking about the Ancho Manhattan). Chef Shon Foster, who we were delighted to meet, made it nearly impossible to choose from the menu selections—making us even more appreciative for the social plates approach. Thank you, Tyler, for making my day so special. Cheers to 32!
Located in Kane County, Utah, Buckskin Gulch is home to the longest and deepest slot canyon in the southwest United States. We accessed our day hike via the Wire Pass Trail—trust the GPS and be prepared for a bumpy ride to the trailhead. The entrance of the canyon appears just shy of 1.5 miles along the trail. We chose to explore a just few miles, but you can elect to spend days exploring the full 20 miles!
Our final day’s adventure was a bit different than we had envisioned, yet far from disappointing! We hoped to visit the Grand Canyon North Rim, but a winter storm had other plans for us. We hit the road for Page, Arizona to explore Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell. Unfortunately, the Tribal Parks are closed for the remainder of 2020. But! When planning your trip, I’m hopeful you’ll consider adding Antelope Canyon to your list.
Hard to miss on Instagram, the famous Horseshoe Bend is an incised meander of the Colorado River. It’s also commonly referred to as the “east rim” of the Grand Canyon…so it’s kinda of like we went, right? The hike to the overlook is about 1.5 miles roundtrip and highly accessible.
It was a little chilly for a boat outing, but the waters of Lake Powell were still impressive from land. The man-made reservoir is a VERY popular vacation spot, welcoming nearly 2 million people per year. It’s said the most impressive views can be accessed by boat—so snag a rental and get that camera ready!
Our final farewell
After exploring options for our travels home, we noted that the east entrance of Zion was on the way-ish. Adding only 20 minutes to our journey, we took another pass along the scenic drive. It was worth every extra minute!