Our epic Utah adventure was just that… EPIC! If I was given the chance to travel around the United States to be a travel and adventure photographer, I totally would! That would be my dream job!
To be honest, traveling is what got me into photography in the first place. My husband and I love to travel and I love documenting our trips! I started with photographing landscapes (and our travels) and it has snowballed into where I am today.
I don’t know what it is about the west, but I am just drawn to it! I love the red rocks and the diverse landscapes. The whole area is incredible! Not to mention I am on a mission to visit as many National Parks as possible. This country is absolutely amazing. Even if you only get to see one small part of it, consider yourself blessed. I HIGHLY recommend getting out there to experiencing different areas though. You’ll find yourself feeling inspired and in awe at just how magnificent (and big!) it really is. Planning a trip is half the fun for me and this one was over a year in the works. With the help of a National Park Facebook group, I was able to plan our most epic adventure yet!
We flew in and out of Vegas and drove over 1400 miles during our trip. It was myself, my husband, our two kiddos, and my mom. We visited Las Vegas & Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, Zion National Park, Kanab UT, the Great Chamber, Peek-a-boo slot canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Scenic Byway 12, Capitol Reef National Park, Red Canyon in the Dixie National Forest, and Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park. The plan was to also do a hike in Grand Staircase Escalante, but my kids were not having it that day so we skipped it. But it can easily be done if you are ever traveling along Scenic Byway 12! I think the biggest piece of advise I can give with a trip like this is willing to be flexible when needed.
After a long travel day, we spent our first night in Vegas. We took advantage of the hotel pool and also took a ride on the High Roller Observation Wheel – which was very cool!
Valley of Fire State Park
During our trek from Vegas to Utah, we broke up the drive with a stop at Valley of Fire State Park. Believe all the hype when people tell you Valley of Fire State Park is awesome! Because it really is!
We started with the White Domes Loop. This trail includes a small slot canyon.
And then the Fire Wave trail.
I loved this park and could have definitely spent more time here. But my kiddos were cranky and still adjusting to the time change so we decided to call it quits and drove to our Tiny Home Airbnb in Apple Valley UT – our home base for the next 2 nights to do Zion National Park.
Zion National Park
We hit the park early to guarantee we could find parking and get on the shuttle. I’m not a big fan of crowds or waiting in lines (I mean, who is??), so I’m glad we got there early!
We took the shuttle all the way to stop 9 to do the Riverside Walk. It was COLD. Temps were in the 40s and with the walls of the canyon blocking the sun, it was chilly the entire walk!
After that we got off the shuttle at stop 5 to do the Kayenta Trail to the Lower Emerald Pools and back to the lodge. I loved the Kayenta trail! Hiking along the path with those views was an incredible experience! Bonus that the waterfalls were really flowing due all the snow Utah has had this winter.
Our last stop before leaving the park was to the Zion Brewery Pub for some delish food & beer! YUM!
On our way back to our airbnb we stopped in Virgin UT at this interesting Gift shop. My kids had fun going in the little houses and feeding the animals carrots, and we all enjoyed the “cactus” icecream!
Kanab ATV Tour
I wanted to break the trip up a bit from all the hiking, so I booked a 4hr ATV tour with Expedition Kanab. My kids don’t love to hike, so I planned this excursion with them in mind. The tour took us to two stops. The Great Chamber and Peek-a-boo slot canyon. This tour was one of the highlights of our trip. It was AWESOME!! We all had a blast, even my 70yr old Mom!
Bryce Canyon National Park
After the ATV excursion, we made our way up to Bryce Canyon National Park and spent one night in the Lodge. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the rooms were actually pretty great! We had 2 adjoining rooms with 2 queen beds each. Rooms were very clean and the beds were comfy! The reason why I wanted to book something in the park was because the rim of the canyon would be within walking distance for both sunset and sunrise. I’m glad I went with my gut because we took advantage for both and it was perfect!
We woke up at 6am to catch the sunrise from Sunset Point. If you ever find yourself in Bryce National Park, be sure to catch the sunrise! It’s magical!
Next we went to the lodge for their buffet breakfast – OMG! SO GOOD! We fueled up for our hike and were ready to go!
My original plan was to do the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop, but the Navajo Loop portion of the trail was closed so we did Queen’s Garden as an out and back. Some portions of the trail were still ice covered, so I’m glad we all had our spikes! There was lots of snow in Bryce still!
Scenic Byway 12
If you plan to drive from Bryce to Capitol Reef (or vice versa), definitely take scenic byway 12. The views! Oh my! So many different landscapes due to elevation changes. It’s definitely something to see! There are also some cool stops along the way.
Capitol Reef National Park
We stayed in an Airbnb in Torrey UT (with yet another amazing view) for 3 nights. We used this as our home base while doing 2 full days in the park. Capitol Reef is a hidden gem and less visited than some of the other parks in this area. Don’t skip out on it because Capitol Reef has it’s own incredible and unique qualities. My main attraction was renting a jeep to drive the Cathedral Valley loop, but we also did the Capitol Gorge trail, saw the Petroglyph panel, got homemade pies from the Gifford House, checked out the view from Panorama Point, star gazed and hiked Hickman’s Bridge trail.
Cathedral Valley Loop
This was the main reason why I ended up including Capitol Reef National Park into our trip plans. I love off the beaten path type things and I somehow stumbled upon some photos of the Temple of the Sun and the Moon. SOLD! That was it for me!! This loop is all back country with zero cell service and not many travelers. There is also a river crossing, so it’s best to have 4 wheel drive, check weather forecasts and with the visitors center before heading out. We did the loop counter-clockwise (they recommend going clock-wise because of the river crossing) and it took us 5 hours. There was so much to see! The Temple of the Sun & Moon, Glass Mountain, Gypsum sinkhole, the Morrell Cabin, the upper Cathedral Valley Overlook, and the Bentonite Hills.
Red Canyon – Dixie National Forest
After leaving Capitol Reef, we were headed back to the Zion area. We took Scenic Byway 12 once again and made a stop at the Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest. Had to get one last glimpse at those hoodoos! Red Canyon was a great stop to get out and stretch the legs.
We LOVE Yurts!
We love camping, but we’ve never stayed in a Yurt before. I thought it would be a cool experience while we were in Utah. We stayed at the East Zion Resort in Yurt #6 and it fit all 5 of us comfortably with 2 king beds and a pull out couch! They thought of everything in this thing… from hooks to hang your stuff to even providing marshmallow sticks! Plus there is a food truck right next door. I highly recommend! We LOVED it!
Zion Canyon Overlook Trail
If you only have a short time at Zion National Park, this would be the hike I would suggest. It’s short and you don’t have to take the shuttle inside the park. The only issues with it are the parking and the number of people on the trail. The view is 100% worth it though. We got there early (around 7:30am) and parked down the road a little bit from the trail head. The trail itself is only a mile and we got to see some Big Horn sheep while on the trail.
Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park
One of the things my kids really wanted to do was sand sled. So I made some tweaks to our itinerary and made it happen with a last stop at Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park. We rented sand sleds and a sand board from the visitors center and went out to the dunes for some fun. And what fun we had!!! My kids had a blast!
The last few days of our trip we stayed in an Airbnb in Washington UT that had a pool and hot tub for some downtime after 10 days of being on the go. It was just what we needed before hoping on the red eye flight home from Vegas.
Phew!! What an amazing, incredible, magical, EPIC trip! As tired as we were and as crazy as it was jumping from place to place, I still didn’t want it to end! Absolutely LOVED every minute of it! Definitely a trip of a LIFETIME!!
Want your most epic adventure captured?! I’d love to be your adventure photographer! Contact me and let’s chat!
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