Ask Me: Advice On Dayhikes in the Southwest
I was wondering if I could capitalize on your expertise and talk to you about a trip I am planning to southern Utah this fall. We are planning on visiting several national parks and am curious about how much time is recommended in each—we are getting mixed messages from my various travel guides.
We have 15-16 days to visit the following:
1. Arches National Park
3. Glen Canyon – Want to see the slot canyons there near Page, AZ
6. Grand Canyon
I had spoken to a manager at the Bryce Canyon Lodge and he suggested 2 days each in Arches, Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon, and Glen Canyon, and 3 days in Bryce and Zion. What do you think, and are there additions or substitutions I should make to this itinerary?
Byram Township, NJ
Here’s how I’d do it if I had two weeks and wanted to see all of these parks. Bear in mind that the biggest logistical challenge is combining the Grand Canyon with all of the southern Utah parks, because the driving distance is significant; you’ll spend a lot more time in the car. That said, I know getting there is a special trip coming from the East. You can find more info about everything I mention below online or in books or at my website, including this post about a family trip to Capitol Reef, Escalante, and Bryce.
Spend 2-3 days in Zion. Zion is a real gem, and there are fantastic photo opportunities without having to hike much. My favorite hikes there are Angels Landing, West Rim Trail, Hidden Canyon, and the mouth of The Narrows (where you’ll be able to walk upstream a ways if you have sandals or water shoes). Perhaps later on your last day, drive to spend that night at one of the hotels near the entrance to Bryce; it’s an hour or so from Zion’s east entrance (going by memory).
Dayhike in Bryce, the Navajo Loop/Queens Garden Loop for a short hike (a few miles), or combine it with the really scenic and less-crowded Peek-a-Boo Loop for six miles. Given how much you’re trying to see in two weeks, I’d only spend a day at Bryce. Spend another night outside Bryce.
Drive an hour to the little town of Escalante, and a few miles farther on Rt. 12 (one of the most beautiful drives in the country all the way from Zion to Capitol Reef) to Hole-in-the-Rock Road, a right turn (south). That’s the road to Peek-a-Boo Gulch and Spooky Gulch, the slot canyons you saw in my photos, if you want to hike them. The hike will take 3-4 hours at a leisurely pace, and you’ll drive about 90 mins. round-trip just on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, which is good gravel, fine for cars. The side road to the trailhead gets much more rutted, you’ll have to be careful driving a car, but I think you would make it. Not knowing what kind of hiking experience you have, I would say that this “trail” (very vague, though there are some cairns) can be tricky to follow, and it’s easy to get disoriented in the desert and lose your sense of direction. Just fair warning. It’s an amazing hike and you are likely to see other people in the middle of the day, making it less likely you’d get lost.
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There are places to stay in the town of Escalante. It’s more than an hour’s drive north on Rt. 12 to Torrey, where there are big chain hotels. It’s the best part of the drive, too, so do it with daylight and plan time to stop and take pictures.
Take a half-day hike in Capitol Reef. All options are good, beautiful park, but I suggest either the Chimney Rock Loop (3.5 miles, good trail), Hickman Bridge combined with part of the Navajo Knobs Trail (go out as far as desired and then turn around), Grand Wash, or Cohab Canyon to Fruita Overlook or the Frying Pan Trail (the lead photo at top of story was taken just off the Frying Pan Trail).
I think it’s 3-4 hours drive over to Moab, maybe a little farther. Maybe do one more short hike in Capitol Reef in the morning, or just get on the road. If you arrive near Moab with a couple hours of daylight left and aren’t starving or too tired, drive in the entrance to Arches and along the park road about as far as Balanced Rock. The late-afternoon/evening light is amazing there. Balanced Rock is a short walk from the road, very nice in early evening, with fewer people around. It’s very popular, so an evening or early-morning walk there is much nicer than during the day, with fewer people and nicer light.
Arches merits a couple days. The whole park is worth seeing, but especially hiking to Delicate Arch (get an early-morning start, beat the huge crowds that head out there, plus gorgeous photography light early; or hike to it for sunset, which is popular but still beautiful), Park Ave. Trail, the short hike in the Windows Section, hiking into Devils Garden, and the hike into the Fiery Furnace, a maze of narrow canyons that you can only see on a ranger-guided tour.
Spend a day in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, where, depending on your time and energy level, there are various short and longer hikes, like the Syncline Trail, Grand View Point, and Murphy Point. There’s also Dead Horse Point State Park along the road in to the Island District. Drive to the far end of the state park campground and walk the short distance (a few minutes, if I remember right, but it’s very short) out to Dead Horse Point, which overlooks a horseshoe bend in the Colorado River Canyon and is breathtaking.
The next day, drive about 90 minutes south from Moab to the trails in the Needles District of Canyonlands. Chesler Park is a place of towering sandstone candlesticks 200 feet tall, multi-colored, spectacular. It’s a six- to 11-mile round-trip hike, depending how far you want to explore into Chesler.
See this feature story about a family trip dayhiking and backpacking in Arches and The Needles District of Canyonlands.
Then drive south to the Page area, which is a bit out of the way, but you’ll see Lake Powell and the dam. You’ll pass through the Monument Valley area en route. You’ll also pass near Canyon de Chelly National Monument, which I have not visited but friends have told me the Anasazi ruins there are fascinating, so you might consider carving out a day for that.
I’m not sure what canyons in that area you intended to explore, but there are many choices. One of the more famous is Buckskin Gulch; Google it for pictures and directions. It’s a very deep and narrow slot canyon that goes for about 14 miles. You could hike in partway from the top and turn back, though if there are a lot of hikers going in, it could be time-consuming to return against the flow of people. I would plan to drive around to your lodging at the Grand Canyon South Rim on this night, so you have a couple full days there. Plus, the drive along the South Rim can be very photogenic in the evening, so save time to pull over in spots.
Spend two days at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. The South Kaibab Trail is the classic dayhike (photo below; see more photos at The Big Outside, including the one at the top of this page); start early to avoid the crowds and be ready for cold wind early. I also like the Grandview Trail, though it’s narrow and exposed. The Bright Angel Trail is a great hike, as is the Hermit Trail to Dripping Spring Trail; on either, you’d descend as far as you want and climb back out. You can hike along the South Rim without having to go down and back up. Lots of possibilities.
I hope that’s helpful.
This has been very helpful. I do have a few more questions:
1. In addition to the slot canyons near Page – where were the slot canyons shown in the link you sent me?
2. Any suggestions on hotels? I am finding them in all price ranges – do you recommend staying in the Bryce Canyon Lodge inside the park?
3. While we hike on a lot of our trips, I do not really have any special gear – anything you recommend?
4. What kind of camera do you use? I have a Nikon with 3 lenses – (70-200mm, 24-70mm, and 105mm Macro.) Do you use anything different (e.g. super wide angle?)
The slot canyons in my photos are Peek-a-Boo Gulch and Spooky Gulch, off Hole-in-the-Rock Road (see note below and The Itinerary at the bottom of this post).
Lots of lodging options in Springdale, right outside Zion (and free shuttle buses from town). We’ve stayed at Ruby’s right outside Bryce—comfortable, affordable—and at the Day’s Inn in Torrey; there’s also a Best Western. Moab has many options. At the Grand Canyon, try to find lodging in Tusayan, near the South Rim, if you don’t want to pay South Rim lodging prices, but book months in advance.
For dayhiking, some light hiking shoes or boots are fine, and a daypack or two. It’s a little hard to recommend footwear because fit varies so much between individuals, but you can check out my hiking shoes reviews. You’ll see my favorite daypacks reviewed in my daypack reviews and my hiking gear reviews.
I shoot with a Nikon D7100 with Nikkor 10-24 ultra-wide VR zoom and 18-140 VR zoom. I really like the ultra-wide lenses for landscapes and use them a lot.
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