Southern Utah Road Trip

Since I was a kid, there’s always been something about the desert that has fascinated me. The dry, desolate landscape where solitude can truly be found. Where there’s not another soul in sight for a hundred miles.

A little over a month ago, I packed up my life, said farewell to my home that was Sydney, Australia and set flight over the Pacific into Los Angeles for a new beginning (more on that in another post soon). Since I’ve been in Los Angeles, I wanted to make the most out of the time I’d be spending here. One of the ways to do that was to take a road trip with our destination of choice being southern Utah.

Before I get into the details, here’s a summary of our trip itinerary:

  • Day one: Leave Los Angeles for Zion National Park in Utah. We planned to stop in Pahrump, Nevada so the route we were on took us through Death Valley. We’d arrive in Zion National Park at 19:00 that evening and check-in to Zion National Park Lodge
  • Day two: Hike the Angels Landing trail in the morning, have lunch at Cafe Soleil in Springdale, then hike the Hidden Canyon trail in the afternoon. Spend the night at the lodge again
  • Day three: Take off early for Arches National Park where we’d hike the Delicate Arch trail in the afternoon before spending the night in Moab
  • Day four: Leave Moab in the morning, head towards Bears Ears, the newest National Monument named by Barack Obama. Go for a 5km run through the Valley of the Gods. Drive through Monument Valley to Horseshoe Bend in Arizona before spending the night in Las Vegas to see Cirque du Soleil’s O
  • Day five: Leave Las Vegas after breakfast and arrive in Los Angeles in the early evening

Stopping by in Death Valley on the road out of California

Getting creative with the elements and a birds eye view

After a long day of driving from Los Angeles to Zion National Park, we were relieved to have finally arrived at the lodge. As the sun had already set by the time we were driving through the national park, we weren’t able to see the giant steep red cliffs that surrounded us so, waking up the next morning to the magnificent beauty of the sheer, snow-capped walls was certainly a pleasant surprise.

Once we had looked at the park map and assessed the trails on offer, we decided to tackle a couple in the ‘strenuous’ category – our first being Angels Landing. As we were visiting in the middle of winter, the trail was slightly icy and snowy in some areas. We didn’t have any crampons or snow shoes though, but were particularly careful when walking through areas that were iced over. The round trip hike took us about 4.5 hours.

Our accommodation in Zion National Park: Zion National Park Lodge

On the way to Angels Landing

6’2″ man amongst all that red rock

The view from the top of Angels Landing. A little bit of a scramble to get up here, but well worth the hike!

The second trail we chose to hike was Hidden Canyon. The trail head for Hidden Canyon was a little further from our lodge, so we drove to the trail head instead of walking to it like we did for Angels Landing. When comparing the Hidden Canyon trail to Angels Landing, we found Hidden Canyon a little sketchier in terms of terrain – there seemed to be a lot more snow and ice throughout once we got to the shade of the canyon. The round trip took us a couple of hours.

The trailhead where you’ll see Weeping Rock

Major scrambling required!

L: The snowy and icy walk up to Hidden Canyon – without any snow shoes or crampons! R: Finally made it to Hidden Canyon after some of that major scrambling

After a spectacular day of hiking Angels Landing and Hidden Canyon, we grabbed a bite to eat in town and noticed that a lot of the stores and restaurants were actually closed. We initially wanted to have dinner at a Thai restaurant in Springdale (just outside Zion National Park), but had no luck as it seemed that a lot of businesses had shut down during the winter season and the business owners gone out of town. 

The lodge and trails were also quiet because it was still cold, snowy and icy, but this made the whole experience very enjoyable as we weren’t battling crowds of people. I  imagine it would get crazy busy when the weather warms up!

Stopping off at Ghost Rock on the way to Arches National Park from Zion National Park

The following day, we set off early and made our way to Arches National Park. Our drive from Zion to Arches took us through some altitude (roughly 7,000ft) and we passed fields covered in snow with snow-capped peaks in the distance. Once we had reached Arches it was already mid afternoon, but we wanted to get out on the trails anyway. We opted to hike the Delicate Arch trail. Delicate Arch was also graded as strenuous, but compared to Angels Landing and Hidden Canyon, it was like a walk in the park however, with easier accessibility also comes a lot more people. We shared the trail with other visitors and it was really the opposite of what we had experienced in Zion – there were very few moments – if any, that we got to enjoy the trail to ourselves.

Regardless of the fact that there were more people around, it was still great to get out and about, enjoy the sunshine and abundance of red rock after spending half a day in the car!

Driving into Arches National Park

On the hike to Delicate Arch

Marvelling up at Delicate Arch; don’t let this fool you, there were many other people around and we were lucky to get a shot with nobody else in it!

L: Watching the moon rise on the way back from Delicate Arch | R: Looking over at Delicate Arch from another angle

Petroglyphs at the start of the Delicate Arch hike

After our hike to Delicate Arch, we drove to Moab which is the closest town to Arches National Park where we would spend the night. The next day began early once again, with another long day of driving. As Barack Obama had named Bears Ears as a National Monument during his final months of presidency, we wanted to check out the beauty of this territory ourselves. 

On the drive into Bears Ears, we didn’t really see another car for a while and the only people we stumbled across were a lovely couple who were spending some time living on the road in their truck and trailer with their Border Collie, Buddy. Buddy was welcoming and excited to see us, mostly because he probably just saw us as new frisbee throwers but regardless, I happily threw Buddy’s pink frisbee for him over and over again!

After spending some time chatting to the couple and trying to figure out how and where to access the trails to the ruins (because Bears Ears was only recently named a National Monument, there were very few signs and directions about plus zero phone service throughout), we headed towards a windy dirt road that would lead us to the Valley of the Gods and stopped for an impromptu 5km run to get the blood flowing through our legs again.

The latest National Monument, as named by Barack Obama in his final months of presidency: Bears Ears

Somewhere in the Valley of the Gods

With a deadline to get to Las Vegas for a 21:30 Cirque du Soleil show, we hurriedly made our way through Monument Valley and on towards Horseshoe Bend in Arizona for a quick photo stop en route to sin city. Having seen many photos of Horseshoe Bend, it’s been a landmark I’ve wanted to see for a while and making a stop on the drive back was the perfect time for the visit. At just a 15  minute walk from the parking lot, it was definitely way more accessible than Delicate Arch and saw a lot of tourists and visitors – they even came by the bus load.

Driving down towards Monument Valley

Horseshoe Bend in Arizona

After our photo stop at Horseshoe Bend, it was time to get back in the car and head to our final destination for the day: Las Vegas. Vegas isn’t really for me and I’ve never had any desire to go there, but if you must – I’d definitely recommend seeing Cirque du Soleil’s O show at The Bellagio. It was the perfect excuse to spend the night in Vegas and break up the drive from Utah to Los Angeles.

All in all, it was an awesome time spent on the road. If I were to do this trip again, I would choose to spend more time in Zion National Park (four days would’ve been perfect), but not having done all the hikes gives us the perfect reason to go back there.

Before you go, here’s a short video I put together from our road trip:

  • Fortuitous Foodies

    Love everything about this! Looks like y’all had an incredible adventure and the photography is fantastic!
    IG: @fortuitousfoodies:disqus