Utah Parks, Take 2
February 2, 2019 6:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning a family road trip (two adults, 4 year old, 2 year old) to the less visited Southern Utah Parks. Looking for ideas and guidance!

Last year we had an amazing hiking/road trip in Southern Utah. We went to Bryce Canyon, Zion, Arches, Kodachrome Basin, and the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. This year I want to go back and see some things I wished we had had time for last time and see what else is there for us to discover.

I'm looking for some guidance because the must-dos are not as obvious, the path is not as well trodden, and everything is more spread out than it was on our last trip. If it's not worth it and we'd be better off going to Colorado or Mt Rainier or some other place that would be great to hear too. We would probably fly into SLC and drive from there (we flew into Vegas last year and that worked out great). We are flexible time-wise; anything from 2-3 weeks works for us.

We and the kids are fairly competent hikers, and can handle about 8 miles max for a day hike right now. We aren't going to do any significant scrambling (and certainly none of these "family friendly" hikes with just a little bit of class four scrambling). Short ladders are OK. Challenging terrain is OK, primitive trails are OK. I don't do exposed ridges unless they are pretty wide and even then I don't like it.

My list so far is Capitol Reef, Canyonlands needles and maze districts, Goblin Valley, and Grand Staircase Escalante (I am so lost and overwhelmed on this part specifically). What should I cut? What can I add? Is there enough to do close enough together that we won't be spending tons of time in the car and/or moving house every other day? We can do one medium-long hike or 2-3 short per day if the travel time isn't too bad. How many days would you do in each location? Are there any specific hikes you can recommend? What am I not thinking of?
posted by tealcake to Travel & Transportation around Utah (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I spent a summer a few years ago in Escalante, working on an Americorps restoration crew, so I'm only familiar with the part of Grand Staircase that you access from that town. That said, with two or three nights there you could do some very fun non-technical slot canyon hikes, though there's an infinite amount to do there if you like looking for fossils or backpacking through interesting desert.

I'd also like to pitch a hike through Escalante canyon, which follows the escalante river south out of town, and you can do 15 miles one way and then hitchhike back to town from the bridge. Pack water shoes, the trail crosses and recrosses the river. Vertical red rock canyon walls on both sides, ancestral pueblo granaries and rock art galore, nice sandy places to camp, and now thanks to many many Americorps crews like the one I was on when I worked in that canyon, it's now Russian olive free!
posted by Rinku at 7:34 PM on February 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Devil's Playground is cool, and you're allowed to climb on the rocks (not sure if this is because it's BLM land, or just because it's less touristy) which the kids might enjoy. There are also bits and pieces of old mining equipment. Getting there requires an SUV, preferably, but nothing exotic unless it has rained recently.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:44 PM on February 2, 2019

Slot canyons map.

I adore southern Utah and could spend every vacation for the rest of my life exploring the red rock country. But you mentioned the Pacific Northwest, and that is quite epic as well. Maybe mix it up this year? 2-3 weeks in the PNW could include Mount Ranier, the San Juan Islands, the Olympic Peninsula, the Columbia River Gorge, and the Oregon coast. That is a damn fine vacation.

There is no wrong answer here.
posted by LarryC at 1:19 AM on February 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, if you head toward Moab...you get to an intersection called Crescent Junction. Usually there, you go right down to Moab, if you are coming from Green River, Ut. However if instead of going right, you continue for 5 miles to Thompson Springs, (which is an old train stop,) you can left into there and right off the road is Sego Canyon, and the Sego Canyon Petroglyphs and pictographs, representing several cultures of early Native American peoples. It is the most enormous and varied, energetic, haunting, and beautiful body of work, I have ever seen. It takes 8 minutes to get there you walk around agog for a few whiles, turn around and head back toward Moab, Canyonlands and the Maze. Butler Wash is amazing and a part of The Bears Ears.

If you go to the Grand Staircase, I recommend the Coyote Wash entrance to the Escalante system. Coyote is 33 miles East on the Hole In The Rock road, it is an eight mile hike in from Hurricane wash to the opening to Coyoge. Once you enter Coyote the water comes up and you have a creek to walk in and around. Where you step into Coyote, on the left and up maybe 100 yards, is what we used to call The Coyote Hilton, a big safe overhang that could easily sleep 100 people out of the weather, and safely above the water. When hiking, especially at that entrance, notice where the canyon wall curves in a convex fashion down into deeper water, along the base of the canyon wall, that can be engulfing, quicksandy, I found myself up to my groin with one leg and hitting myself under the chin with the other knee carrying a heavy backpack; this is just a thing about how wet canyon walking works. So it is 12 miles to the Escalante River from that point, you enter The Escalante canyon under Stevens Arch, which is a high, skyline opening. The 12 miles down Coyote is one of the most beautiful hikes anywhere with pools, waterfalls and a good seep for collecting drinking water, just on the other side of Jacob T Hamblin Arch, which is magnificent. Be aware that right up under the arch, is a stand of poison ivy or oak, what ever it is, and all those in innocuous sticks just sticking up out of the ground there, each has three greasy tiny green buds or leaves...potent, they are.

Never miss a chance to see The Mittens at Navajo Tribal Park. Some ladies down there are doing air B&B out of hogans. Best jewelry counter in the west, at The View.
posted by Oyéah at 10:04 AM on February 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Dead Horse Point State Park. It's very near Arches and Canyonlands, and equally as eye-catching.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:05 AM on February 3, 2019

The Escalante and Grand Staircase is on the west side of Lake Powell, and the rest of what you have described is on the east side. So, if you want to hit the grand staircase you have to go down hwy 89 to get there. There are some lesser known roads that are supreme! The Hogback road gets you to Calf Creek Falls, just off the road, to Boulder Mountain, then down to the road to Panguitch, where you head out to the Grand Staircase. You have to cross the Colorado to get over to canyonlands and that is either at Hite, or over Glen Canyon Dam. There are some roads, look up the Moki Dugway, up and over the top out of Garden of the Gods, Utah. In that area is The Goosenecks of the San Juan River, something to see at least once. The Moki Dugway switchback road takes you up to one of the overviews of the Goosenecks.
posted by Oyéah at 11:28 AM on February 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Wave is just across the border in Arizona. A good friend has visited it and it is tremendously surreal. It is also very difficult to visit as there are only a tiny amount of permits available.
posted by mmascolino at 7:59 PM on February 3, 2019

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