After an amazing time in Sedona, the Grand Canyon, and Monument Valley, we left 4 Corners and headed north towards Moab, an approximately 2 hour and 45 minute drive. We stopped along the way for some snacks and a bathroom break. You can read about the first leg of our adventure here. On the way into Moab, we stopped at the Moab Brewery for some dinner and then headed to Under Canvas Moab which is located about 10 minutes outside of town and very close to the entrance of both Arches and Canyonlands. We had stayed at Under Canvas in the past at their Yellowstone location and found this one to be just as beautiful. They do not have Wi-Fi at Under Canvas as part of their philosophy of disconnecting from the stresses of every day and instead exploring and enjoying nature. They do have cornhole, horseshoes, and an activities center where we water-painted postcards on our first night. The activities center also has board and card games that you can take to your room or play in the main lobby, as well as snacks and firepits for making complimentary s’mores. They also have multiple hammocks and egg chairs to relax and enjoy the view, one which words cannot describe. There are also multiple grills complete with spices and cooking utensils so you can grill your own dinner in the great outdoors.
The whole place is built on top of a slightly rounded mound that overlooks the valley on one side and a large butte on the other so everyone has a nearly 360-degree view from their porch. There are no bad views here.
After painting our postcard, we headed back to the tent to play a board game and watch the new Death on The Nile movie (we had downloaded it on our iPad before our arrival) before turning in. The safari tent we stayed in had a wood stove for heat, flush toilet, shower, sink and king-size bed, plus a sitting area inside and a front porch. The boys stayed in a teepee beside us. They each had a comfy single bed with a low-temperature sleeping bag for cold nights. When they say “glamping” they aren’t exaggerating as all the comforts of home are at your fingertips.
It was early to bed again for us to rest up for another exciting day of exploring.
We got out of bed a little later as we were a bit tired. We grabbed a quick bite at the main area in Under Canvas and headed down the road to Canyonlands National Park to explore one of the most rugged National Parks the US has to offer.
Once again, we used the Gypsy Guide to help us find out where to stop and what hikes to do. This park is enormous, and many areas are not accessible without leaving the park and taking a long 100-mile car ride to get to the other part of the park. For this reason, most people explore the portion of the park called Island in the Sky. It got that name because it is an area surrounded but canyons on all sides except at the “neck” which is a 40-foot-wide strip of land that is used to enter this part of the park. Ranchers used this land many years ago to allow for cattle grazing as it only required a 40 foot long fence to keep the cattle where they could find them. On our early morning drive in, we saw some of the remaining cows along the road.
We did three hikes in Canyonlands:
- Whale Rock- A great hike for kids as its relatively easy and the view from up top is amazing. This rock also looks like a whale so it makes it all the more fun.
- Mesa Arch- this is the one not to miss and also the one to do first thing in the morning as we got there shortly after sunrise making for some amazing views. We also noted that the lot was full and many people were trying to find a spot on our way out several hours later.
- Upheaval Dome- This is the one to skip if you can’t do all three. It is a neat feature but not as fulfilling as the prior 2.
Each hike had its own beautiful vista or interesting rock formation at the end and I recommend all three to anyone able-bodied enough to make the treks. A reminder that will be repeated several times in the post is to stay on the paths as the native ecosystem is very fragile and steps in the wrong area can be devastating.
We also stopped at several vistas along the way
- Green River
- Buck Canyon
- Monitor and Merrimac
- White Rim
- Grande View Point
All the vistas had great views but Green River and White Rim were our favorites. Green River and the Orange Cliff overlook are supposed to be the best areas for sunsets and Canyonlands is supposed to be one of the best places to see the stars as it has almost no light pollution. Unfortunately, due to fatigue and planning we never got back for some stargazing but that’s firmly on the itinerary for the next visit.
All in all, Canyonlands is a park with marvelous views and many great hikes but is a most inhospitable place in comparison to parks like Yosemite, Arches, Yellowstone and Grand Teton. We had a great time and would return to do some of the more significant hikes. Additionally Canyonlands does not do timed entry so one can show up to the park as long as you have a pass 24 hours a day without advanced registration.
One word about the special ecosystem at Canyonlands, Moab and Arches. The sand is stabilized by Cryptobiotic soil and it is very important to not disturb this mix of bacteria and fungi that allow plant growth and generally prevent it from being a barren dust bowl. It takes 100 years for the symbiotic mix to grow one square inch and 1 step to kill it so it’s so important to watch where you step and stay on the path. A trip off-trail is devastating to this unique ecosystem, so don’t “bust the crust” and tiptoe around the crypto so future generations can enjoy this park in the best possible condition. You would be surprised that despite how many reminders were posted, folks were stepping all over this soil off-trail.
We worked up quite an appetite and decided to hit Canyon Pizza for some food prior to our UTV adventure with HighPoint Hummer and ATV. This trip put us behind the wheel of our own Can-Am 100hp Commander side by side to take on some rock features in Salt Flats State Recreation Park. Driving the UTV was a bit like a go-cart, albeit one with 4-wheel drive, and 14 inches of clearance, driven on some crazy terrain.
I would say it takes 90% courage and 10% know-how, but 100% fun. It’s a safe vehicle if driven in the right place at the right speed and it really sticks to the terrain. We had Tim as our lead car/guide and he showed us the right route to take and gave us the confidence to slam the gas down and conquer the uphills. The recreation park is a true destination for Jeeps, ATVs, UTVs, mountain bikes, and canyoneers. The trails were marked with yellow diamonds so you could find the best line even without a lead driver as good as Tim. This adventure was amazing and got me juiced to try this again when we return. Definitely a must-do for those who like some adventure.
After the UTV adventure was done, we headed back to Under Canvas to play cornhole, and horseshoes, make some arts and crafts, and eat some dinner. We watched most of King Richard and hit the hay early as we had another full day ahead of us.
We awoke early again to head out for a day of exploration and adventure. Arches currently works on a reserved ticket system April through September for entry from 6am-5pm. The park is open 24 hours a day and you may enter anytime between 5pm and 6am without a ticket. One side note: if you have a ticket to enter Arches you must enter in the hour window after the time on the ticket (i.e., if your entry time is 6am you must enter between 6 and 7 am). You can enter and leave right away to come back later. If, however, you just try to enter later than your one-hour window, you will not be allowed in. This is not written anywhere on the ticket, but is on the website. This fact would become important as our day unfolded.
We went on a canyoneering expedition with Red River Adventures that explored an area past the salt flats called Ephreda’s Grotto. We did a 90 and 120-foot repel before hiking the marvelous Grand Staff Trail on the way back out. This trail was gorgeous, passing across a stream many times as we wound through dense vegetation and climbed over rocks.
After a quick bite at Milts Stop & Eat (amazing burgers!) we tried to enter Arches on our 6am pass. Alas, as I alluded to before, we were denied entry. Upon further looking all we needed to do was enter the park on the way into town and leave immediately so we could reenter later. Live and learn for us, but hopefully, this will avoid you having similar issues in the future.
We headed back to the campsite to relax for a few hours and have some soup prior to entering Arches at 5pm, when tickets are no longer needed, to hike a bit and explore before heading to the Windows for sunset.
We stopped at the Park Avenue and Courthouse viewpoints for some great photos before doing the short hike around Balanced Rock. This rock is a hoodoo formation which means it is a more erosion-resistant type of rock that sits atop rock that has been eroded so it appears as though a larger boulder is sitting atop a column of smaller thickness. It was an easy but interesting hike to get things started.
After Balanced Rock we headed down towards The Windows where we hiked the primitive trail around North and South Window and explored Turret Arch. These are three amazing arches that you can get up close and personal with, without having to do too much work. The primitive trail requires much more intensive scrambling over rocks than the more established trail that leads to the “front” of these structures but is well worth the effort for those capable.
After sunset we took the short hike from the same parking area to Double Arch to catch some beautiful views before dark settled into the park. The night was hazy and a bit cloudy so unfortunately the sunset wasn’t as beautiful as we would have wanted and many fewer stars were visible than on a clear night.
We arrived home and quickly got ready for bed as tomorrow was a very early 5:30 wakeup call to make sure we got in the park for sunrise and got to our preferred hikes early so we had less people around when we arrived at our destinations.
We awoke and got dressed quickly, again grabbing some tea and fruit on our way out to the park to compliment our snack supply for the day. We didn’t have headlamps, nor the energy to get in early enough to make it down a lengthy hike prior to sunrise so we stationed ourselves at the La Sal mountain viewpoint about 10 minutes from the entrance to the park to watch the sun come up. The La Sal mountains got their name as Spanish explorers couldn’t believe it was snow on the mountains and believed it to be salt there, thus “la sal” which is the salt in Spanish.
The sunrise was beautiful watching the valley light up and the shadows change as the sun rose over the gorgeous La Sal mountains. After the sun was fully up, we headed straight out to the parking lot to hike to Delicate Arch.
There are two ways to see the arch. One is to do a 45-60 minute hike from the main Delicate Arch parking lot or to drive to one of the two distant viewpoints that require a much shorter and easier stroll. If you are capable of doing the relatively strenuous uphill hike, it is well worth it, especially if you make it there early before the crowds are too large. Some times of the year sunrise is beautiful in this area but it really would require a headlamp as there are a few areas near the top that are narrow and require more than early dawn light to navigate safely. You could however start the hike just before sunrise as the first mile or so is well demarcated and has no real tripping hazards. Follow the signs closely as there are a few areas where one might make a wrong turn and have to back track. A few hints: take the left path as you climb the large rockface halfway through. Then when you come to a split in the path near the end take the path on the right.
Delicate Arch is an iconic arch depicted on the Utah license plate and is really a symbol of the state of Utah. In my opinion, it is a must-do if you can while in Arches and well worth the hike. We were lucky to be nearly alone at the top as we got there early. It was quite windy and cold which I think scared a few people away. As we were descending though, numerous groups of people were coming up, so we got our experience just at the right time. If it feels safe, try and get a pic standing under the arch as it’s quite flat and not nearly as scary as it looks. Also, don’t forget on the way back to stop off to see the Wolfe Ranch and petroglyphs.
After Delicate Arch, we stopped at multiple viewpoints including the Fiery Furnace before stopping in the lot to hike out to Landscape Arch along the Devil’s Garden loop. We only went as far as the Landscape Arch stopping off at the side trails for Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch before turning back.
The whole Devil’s Garden loop is about 7.5 miles and sadly we didn’t have enough time to hike the whole thing.
After a long day of hiking we headed into Moab for a great lunch at Antica Forma which was spectacular. We had a few pizzas and some appetizers which left us full and satisfied. We stopped at the grocery and purchased some hot dogs to cook at Under Canvas for dinner and to relax on our last day before we headed out to Salt Lake City.
After relaxing for an hour or so ,we showered and went out to play some cornhole and horseshoes again. That night they had live music at the site and we sat around the large firepit and talked to others. We shared stories of everyone’s travels and gave each other tips on what to do and not to do. There were folks from all over the country and many were starting or ending road trips. As the sunset, the temperature dropped and we turned in around 9:30 to grab a good night’s sleep and pack our bags for the return trip home.
We left around 9:30 the next morning to head towards Park City where we stopped to explore a bit and grab some lunch at Annex Burger.
The food was fantastic as we all ordered the buffalo slider trio and shared some buffalo wings. After exploring the town, we hit the road and were off to Salt Lake City to get a good night’s rest before flying home.
We stayed at the Hyatt Place Salt Lake City/Cottonwood which was a great hotel not too far from the Salt Lake City airport. There were also quite a few places to eat within walking distance of the hotel. The lines at the airport were small and efficient and the rental car drop-off was at the airport making for a quick turnaround and allowing us to sleep in a little longer.
All in all, our time in the parks was spectacular and we had a spectacular trip out west.
This is definitely a trip we will do again as we saw so much but there is so much more to do when we return.