Southern Utah: An Outdoor Lover’s Paradise

Fresh air. Red rocks against a blue sky. No cell phone reception. Horseback rides under the Milky Way Galaxy. Sunset hikes. S’mores in a teepee village. I’m here to tell you that Utah is, indeed, as perfect as it sounds.

After our seven-day interstate road trip, I can confidently say that Utah is one of the most fascinating, underrated states in our nation. It truly offers everything: desert, mountains, salt flats, lakes, and a few of the nation’s most incredible national parks. The unlimited adventure opportunities make the state a mecca for outdoor junkies. 

From a sunset horseback ride near Zion to canyoneering in Capitol Reef, our trek across Southern Utah was one for the books. Keep reading for all the juicy details on our exhilarating adventure out West!

GETTING THERE:

My family and I flew directly into the Las Vegas airport for under $100 from Orlando. We stayed at The Venetian for $150 (there are great deals on top Vegas hotels due to COVID-19) and loved our one-night stay. The next morning we enjoyed the pool and then rented a car to begin our road trip to Zion National Park. The car ride is 2 hours and 45 minutes, but we made a quick pit stop somewhere near the Nevada/Utah/Arizona border to enjoy the scenic rocks and canyons. We just couldn’t wait to get out and explore!

ZION NATIONAL PARK

Towering rock formations. Streams in the middle of the desert. The quaint city of Springdale. Nighttime horseback riding. Roaming deer around the town. The friendliest people. Zion is hands down one of my favorite travel destinations. It is so easy to spend the entire week there! After visiting, it is clear why “Zion” means “The Promised Land” and “a place of peace.” It truly is a spiritual place!

WHERE TO STAY: 

Cable Mountain Resort: Located at the entrance of Zion National Park, Cable Mountain Resort is one of the most convenient locations to stay in Springdale. It is walking distance to Zion Outfitters, the shuttle pick-up and drop-off location, and the Happy Camper Market. One of my favorite parts of our stay was walking to the nearby stream for my morning devotion and waking up to wild deer outside my door 🙂

Desert Pearl Inn: A top-rated lodging choice on Tripadvisor, the Desert Pearl Inn is located in the middle of Springdale with a stunning backdrop of Zion’s cliffs. If you stay, check out the pool and hot tub, as well as the outdoor patio setup. It makes for a relaxing ending to an adventure-filled stay with panoramic views on all sides. 

WHERE TO EAT:

Mexican: Whiptail Grill

Pizza: Pizza and Noodle Co

Coffee/Smoothies: Perks! Coffee, Espresso, & Smoothies, Deep Creek Coffee Company

Burgers/Salads/Beer: Zion Canyon Brew Pub

Ice Cream: Springdale Candy Company

Sandwich/Salads: MeMe’s Cafe

WHERE TO ADVENTURE:

  1. Sunset-to-nighttime horseback ride with Zion Trail Rides at Jacob’s Ranch

Our four-hour ride with Jacob’s Ranch was hands-down one of the most epic outdoor activities I have ever done in my life. We rode off into the sunset and felt like cowboys from a Wild West film. The wranglers on our trip were personable, adventurous, and informative for every type of rider. The ride included steep inclines, trotting, galloping, jumping, and riding on narrow paths under the moonlight. My horse, Pepper, was so smart and trustworthy, even when we found ourselves on an extremely narrow trail with cliff drop-offs on both sides. (In the dark of night, in the middle of the desert…no big deal!) 

Best part of our ride? Seeing the Milky Way Galaxy weave its way through a million twinkling stars while trotting through the silent canyons. 10/10 for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. 

  1. The Narrows 

Hiking The Narrows should be at the top of your bucket list when visiting Zion.  The Virgin River has carved its way through Zion’s slot canyons, creating some of the most unforgettable scenery in the world. The hike is suitable for both beginner and experienced hikers, depending on how far into The Narrows you desire to go. We hiked for 3.5 hours upstream and made it to Wall Street. 

The water level fluctuates day-to-day, with certain parts in the hike going from ankle-high to knee-deep. Once we got deeper in the Narrows, we hit a few pools that were waist high. 

Pro-Traveler Tip: I highly recommend renting the waterproof hiking shoes and walking sticks from Zion Outfitters. It is very important to have good shoes on this day, as you will be trekking upstream with slippery rocks and surfaces. Pack a lunch, several snacks, and plenty of water. 

  1. Angel’s Landing

Quite possibly the most famous hiking adventure in Zion, Angel’s Landing is an unforgettable hike. Even though the final chain section up to Angel’s Landing was closed due to COVID-19, the hike was completely worth seeing one of the most breathtaking views in all of Zion. I’ll be honest, the uphill incline on several of the switchbacks was more difficult than I expected. But nonetheless, I can’t wait to go back and do it all over again (and hoping the top of the hike will be open!). To travel to Angel’s Landing and The Narrows, we used the Zion Canyon Shuttle Service from Southwest Adventure Tours

Pro-Traveler Tips:

  • Stay hydrated and pack a ton of water to avoid dehydration and heatstroke. The desert is a harsh landscape in the middle of the summer heat. Temperatures can soar up to 110° through the months of May to September. 
  • Pack more snacks than you think!  We went through all our granola bars, beef jerky, and trail mix in the first three hours of our excursions (LOL). 
  • Lip balm and moisturizer are your best friends for the scorching sun and dry heat.
  • If traveling during the summer, be prepared for monsoon season. We learned this the hard way! Monsoons can come up very quickly and you can quickly find yourself in a flash flood. Pay attention to daily information posted by the park rangers to be prepared each day!

BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Because we were traveling from Zion to Capitol Reef (about an hour and 20 minute drive), we decided to detour for an hour at Bryce Canyon to check off another national park on our list.

Bryce Canyon National Park looked like a scene straight out of a Star Wars movie with its orange amphitheatre and terracotta-colored “hoodoos.” Because we were on a time crunch, we were only able to visit Inspiration Point, but if you have more time, schedule a hike or horseback ride on the canyon floor! Whether you are passing through or staying for a few days, Bryce Canyon is breathtaking natural beauty worth seeing. 

CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

As one of Utah’s “Big Five” National Parks, Capitol Reef National Park offers towering red rocks, pocket caves, and majestic arches and resembles an out-of-water coral reef in the middle of a desert. With fewer crowds than other national parks, you’ll feel like you have the whole park to yourself!

Remember the movie Cars? My sisters and I joked that the road that led into Capitol Reef reminded us of “Radiator Springs.” We stayed three days at Capitol Reef, but it is doable to see the whole park in 1-2 days. 

WHERE TO STAY: 

Capitol Reef Resort offers an abundance of lodging options, from two-person teepees, to six- person covered wagons and luxury cabins. During our three-night stay, we stayed in the Conestoga Wagons for one night and the luxury two-bedroom cabin for two nights. 

  • Covered Wagon: This was a bucket list stay for me! Our covered wagon included one king size bed, two sets of twin bunk beds, heating and A/C, and a separate private bathroom just a few steps away. I was pleasantly surprised with how clean and spacious the private bathroom was. 
  • Luxury Cabin: Our stay was my favorite part of our time at Capitol Reef. The natural scenery of the Red Rock Cliffs outside our balcony was a view in itself. At night, we roasted hotdogs and s’mores by the community fire pit and watched shooting stars fall over our heads. It was magical! 

WHERE TO EAT:

Sandwich/Salads: The Wild Rabbit Cafe

Continental Cuisine: Red Rock Inn Restaurant 

Coffee: Castlerock Coffee

Mexican: La Cueva Restaurante Mexicano

Pro-Traveler Tip: Capitol Reef isn’t located near any large towns, so restaurant and food choices are limited. I recommend grocery shopping before you enter the town of Torrey!

WHERE TO ADVENTURE:

  1. Hike to Hickman Bridge

The Hickman Bridge is a stunning 133-foot natural arch. The trail is easily accessible, doable in the heat of the summer, and a great workout. 

  1. Canyoneering, Llama Treks, and Jeep Tours

Capitol Reef Resort offered several different adventures and excursions from its lobby, including canyoneering, horseback riding, llama adventures, and four-wheel drive jeep tours. Unfortunately, we got rained out and were not able to go on the llama adventure or the jeep tour, but we went canyoneering through the slot canyons of Capitol Reef!

  1. Scenic Drive to Capitol Gorge

This short drive takes you through narrow canyons, with the canyon walls on both sides of your car! This narrow and curvy dirt road provided us with spectacular views of the Golden Throne. At the end of the road there were a few picnic tables where we enjoyed a packed lunch. We then hit a few trails that went deeper into the heart of Capitol Gorge!

  1. Chimney Rock

The Chimney Rock trail is the best short path to a high elevation lookout point over Capitol Reef. We ventured on the trail after a rainstorm and the sunset views over UT 24 were magical.

GETTING HOME

Our last two days of vacay consisted of driving from Capitol Reef to Salt Lake City to visit my sister’s college (Go Utes!), cleaning and returning the rental car (it needed a ton of TLC after seven days of hiking), and flying back home to Orlando. 

Even though our seven-day road trip was jam-packed with adventure, we only scratched the surface on how much there is to do in Utah. By the time we departed, we already planned our next visit. Can you see now how Utah is a mecca for outdoor junkies like me? Who is ready to pack their bags and head back with me? 

Till the next adventure,

Michaela