We’re on a 4-month road trip across the southern United States! From SF, we’re going to Utah, New Mexico, Austin, Atlanta, North Carolina, DC, and Vermont. This post is about our Utah portion.
One of the first things I noticed about Utah were:
- Masks are considered very optional 🙁
- There is so much to do!
Given that we’re still working full time, our exploring is mostly on weekends plus a few extra days of PTO. Personally I like this balance. It allows us to settle in and have a routine, while making the most of our weekends (in SF, we were hardly doing anything on weekends, even before covid).
That said, we could have easily taken a month of PTO trying to see everything in Utah. There’s so much! Utah has the third highest number of national park sites, after California and Alaska. And while I thought that national parks were the “only” thing to do, turns out there are national monuments, national preserves, national historic sites, and national historic parks that all fall under this umbrella. There are 421 of these sites in the US, with 16 of them in Utah.
We didn’t do all 16 of them, since there were even MORE things to do outside of that. We did the hits and some under-the-radar hikes based on friend recs. A recap of those spots is below.
Overall, the Utah portion of our road trip felt very quick. I’ve mentioned before that I’m waiting for it to really hit me that we’ve left SF. It’s a city I’ve been unabashedly mercurial about depending on how many privileged tech people complained about their company’s free food that week, but a city that was nonetheless my home for 9 years. Maybe it will never hit me, because I’d wanted to leave for so long. Or maybe it’ll hit me way too hard at some inopportune moment.
I’ve also been trying to stay present in what’s happening right now, which is a LOT. Nationally, the country is in disarray, no matter what happens on November 3rd. Personally, I’m on this unique road trip, seeing many parts of this disarrayed country, and redoing my schema of what being American really means, at scale and for me as my own person. There’s a bigger story in there somewhere, and I’m not sure what it’s about quite yet. So I’m keeping track of my feelings large and small, marveling in all the things we’re seeing and doing, and reminding myself how lucky I am to be doing this thing with my favorite person and with friends and family (and friends who are family!) in all sorts of places.
The Utah part of our road trip:
Where we stayed:
- Brian Head, UT—a mountain/ski town at 10k feet elevation and the second highest town in the US! This was a tiny, mostly deserted town since it wasn’t ski season yet. The nearest grocery store was 30 minutes away, and the only neighbors we saw was a porcupine. But it was 1.5 hours from Zion and 1 hour from Bryce, and so a good spot for us to explore from.
- If you are only doing southern Utah, you can stay in Kanab or St. George.
What we did:
- Zion: I’d visited before (this blogpost has details for a 3-day trip!), so we just did the iconic Narrows hike this time and went super far in. Come early, take a right a the fork, and know that Strava GPS does not work in canyons so your mileage will be very off.
- Bryce: Great as a half-day option. Do the Navajo to Peekaboo Loop and back through Queen’s Garden for a 7-mile hike. Stay for the sunset and do a constellation tour at night; Bryce is a designated dark sky area and is one the darkest places in North America.
- Cedar Breaks: A small but mighty monument that you can explore for a couple hours. The 4-mile walk/hike is flat and easy to do on a weekday evening.
- Buckskin Gulch: Our favorite hike of the trip! This 15-mile slot canyon is beautiful and sparsely populated, so go early to hike as far as you want. It’s a bit out of the way and you’ll drive on a gravel road for a good 30 minutes to get there (get that AWD), but it’s worth it. Take a right at the fork to get the best canyon views—this video about summed it up for us.
- Moqui Caverns: Don’t go out of the way for these, but if you’re in the area, they’re fun to stop at. A quick 1/4-mile scramble up the rocks lets you explore these cliffside caves and grab photos of the sunset.
- Taylor Creek at Kolob Canyon: This is actually the west part of Zion that people rarely go to! It’s a chill, mostly flat hike through beautiful fall colors and a creek that you cross something like 15 times. Nice to do the day after a strenuous hike.
- We didn’t feel the most comfortable eating out, so we stocked up on groceries and cooked at home. Note that things take longer to cook at elevation—sometimes 20 minutes longer! More on that here.
- We did enjoy stopping at Thunderbird Restaurant to try one of their ho-made pies, LOL. Gotta say, the pie did not disappoint.
What to pack for fall in Utah (besides the usual stuff):
- Layers! Desert climate means warm, even hot in the day and chilly at night.
- A tripod – great for taking steady, self-timed photos or videos.
Don’t forget to:
- Buy an annual park pass at the visitor center. It’s $80, and you more than get your money back for by visiting 3 parks. It works for all the other national park denominations too.
- Stock up on audiobooks and podcasts! A Utah road trip means a lot of driving.