#utah #hiking #nationalpark #moab #arches #desert #scenicdrive #scenery
As a New Yorker, the first time I ever went out west was in 2015. My wife and I visited southern Utah, to visit Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. It was only a four-day trip. The second I left, I knew I had to go back and spend more time in Utah.
In 2018 I decided to finally make it happen. This time for seven days, and solo (my wife really is not into the long drives and hiking. She is more of a cocktail on the beach vacationer). It was the first solo trip that I had ever taken. I was nervous at first, but now I feel that solo travel is something that everyone should experience at least once. I feel that mid-October was a perfect time to do this trip. The weather was perfect, and the crowds were not bad at all.
This trip does require a decent amount of driving. This can be a turn-off to a lot of people, but not for me. I really enjoy driving out west, and specially chose destinations that required extra driving. Every drive is amazingly scenic, and is such a stark contrast than to what I am used to here on Long Island, NY. If you are the type of person who likes to relax on vacation by staying in one place the whole time, this is not the itinerary for you. If I had to estimate, I would say this trip includes around 20 hours of driving. I rented my car from Budget Car Rental in SLC airport. I reserved a basic SUV, and was nicely surprised that the car they gave me was a Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk, with adjustable air suspension and off-road tires. It was the perfect vehicle for this type of trip.
I stayed in five different hotels. I usually choose basic hotels (e.g. Best Western and Holiday Inn Express) that are around $100-$200 a night. This trip could be done for much cheaper if you decide to stay in motels, cheaper hotels, hostels, or camp.
I honestly think about this trip every single day. It was such an amazing experience and I would love to do it all over again (and most likely will).
- Day 1 - I flew from JFK to SLC. I arrived in Utah around 8pm. I got my rental, checked into my hotel in Provo, which was the Crystal Inn. After I brought my bags in to my room, I did what every east-coaster should do when they head out west; go to In-N-Out burger for dinner. I stayed in Provo because it was pretty close to SLC, and I knew I wanted to make the drive to Moab during daylight in order to see all the amazing scenery.
- Day 2 - I woke up in time to be at Target when they first opened. There, I purchased a cooler, ice, case of bottled water, bread, cold cuts, etc. Having a supply of food and cold water in the car at all times makes the trip a lot easier. If you are on the road, or just finished a hike, and get hungry for lunch, you can just pull over at a scenic overlook, and make a sandwich. After Target, I drove to Moab. I arrived there around 11:30am, and headed straight to Arches National Park. The Delicate Arch hike is a must, and I also did a few other hikes. I spent around 7 hours in Arches, and could have spent a lot more. After spending the day hiking, I was really in the mood for a burger. I wound up going to the Moab Diner. It wasn't anything special, but it definitely satisfied my craving. Then I stayed in Moab at the Holiday Inn Express.
- Day 3 - This was my early day. I woke up before sunrise, and drove to Canyonlands National Park. I then immediately headed to Mesa Arch to watch the sun rise above the canyon. I feel like this is a must. It isn't fun waking up so early on vacation, but it is 100% worth it. It is honestly breathtaking. There's a reason why there are always groups of people there every single morning no matter what time of year. After that I hiked the Murphy Point Overlook trail. It isn't one of the most popular trails, but it was so quiet and peaceful with barely any other people there. I spent many more hours in Canyonlands, then an hour before sunset, I headed to Dead Horse Point State Park to finish up the sightseeing for the day. After that I headed back to Moab to stay at the Holiday Inn once again (the only time this trip I spent two nights at the same hotel). You can easily spend multiple days in Canyonlands, and if you have never been there before, I recommend that you do. The only reason I spent one day here is because I already did two days here on my previous Utah trip.
- Day 4 - This is an action-packed day! I checked out of my hotel and drove to Valley of the Gods. It is an amazing drive on a dirt road through various different rock formations. Then I drove up Moki Dugway which is a twisty dirt road up the side of a cliff, a must see! At the top of Moki Dugway is perhaps my favorite spot on Earth, Muley Point. It is an amazing overlook only accessible after a few miles down a (well maintained) dirt road. It was eerily dead silent, and you can see Monument Valley twenty miles away in the distance. It is the only time I literally got goose bumps from an overlook. It was also a perfect time to make a sandwich and enjoy lunch with a view. Shortly after that I drove to Goosenecks State Park. It is another quick stop with some amazing views. Then I drove to Monument Valley. I arrived there around 4pm. After doing the overlooks I decided to hike the Wildcat Trail. You get to hike down into the middle of the famous buttes. This hike was another highlight of my trip. There were very few other hikers there, with seemingly endless views and perfect weather. I finished the hike just before sunset, then headed to the town where I would spend the night, Mexican Hat. I ate dinner there at a place called Olde Bridge Grille. It was ok, but options are very limited in this tiny little town. I then stayed at the Hat Rock Inn, which is right on the San Juan River.
- Day 5 - This is more of a relaxing day compared to the last. I left my hotel room in Mexican Hat, and went to see the actual Mexican Hat Rock, which is right off the main road. There is an area to pull off the main road, so I did and ate breakfast there. Then I drove back to Moab for a free afternoon. I just walked through the town visiting various shops, ate lunch there, then spent an hour at a nice little coffee shop called Moab Coffee Roasters. Then around 3pm I drove to Goblin Valley State Park. This was a really cool park with some really unique rock formations. It is actually where a scene of the movie 'Galaxy Quest' was filmed. Then I drove to a small town called Torrey. I enjoyed a really nice dinner at a place called Red Cliff, but I think it is called Slackers Pizza now, so I am not sure if it is the same place or not. Then I spent the night at the Red Sands Inn, which is a gorgeous, newly renovated hotel. Captiol Reef National Park is very close by, so if you have to time to go there, I recommend it. I was there in 2015.
- Day 6 - Scenic Byway 12 starts here in Torrey, which is why I spent the previous night here. I really took my time driving Scenic Byway 12, stopping at pretty much every scenic overlook pullout there was. It was well worth it. Some say this is the most beautiful stretch of road in the US, and I would have to agree with them. About halfway through the drive, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, there is a little coffee shop called Kiva Koffeehouse. This place is a must. I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee and a nice little pasty, and enjoyed it while sitting out on the back patio. After finishing my drive on HWY 12, I arrived in Bryce Canyon National Park around 2pm. I hiked the Navajo Loop trail, and a couple other shorter ones, and also did some overlooks. After spending around three hours there, I left and headed towards a very small town called Brian Head. When I planned out this trip, the only reason I chose to spend the night at Brian Head was because the drive looked amazing, and it was kind of on the way back to SLC. Brian Head is a ski town, although there was no one there when I went, because it wasn't ski season yet. It is also the second highest town in elevation in the US. There was actually snow on the ground when I went, which was a nice surprise. I enjoyed dinner at Sook Jai Thai Cuisine (I got the chicken pad Thai), and spent the night at Best Western Premier Brian Head Inn and Spa. It is an amazingly gorgeous hotel.
- Day 7 - Perhaps my least favorite day of the trip, and most boring (except, of course, for the amazing driving), I drove back to Salt Lake City to catch my flight back to New York.
I hope this helps anyone looking to plan a trip in southern Utah!