Family Road Trip in Utah

Genie Davis January 21, 2013 No Comments

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Driving in Utah

Car trips are never dull traversing the state of Utah.

One of my favorite states to explore is Utah. My family and I have taken many trips around the state, from the red arches of Arches National Park, the stunning canyons of the aptly named Canyonlands, Salt Lake City, Park City, well, the list goes on. Driving distances collapse when they’re broken up by one stunning vista after another, and you’ll find them throughout the state.

For a long weekend, you can’t beat heading to Utah, and from the Los Angeles area, you can get to its edge in just about six hours. This is one of our favorite and closest Utah sojourns – to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, and Escalante National Monument. You can stay car centric and see a great deal of scenery and get a lot of enjoyment with short, child friendly walks; or settle on one spot and explore all that nature has to offer at easily reachable overlooks and simple trails.

The pleasures of reaching the park starts just outside of the traffic sprawl that is Las Vegas. Red cliffs and the muddy Virgin River below them replace the billboards and empty desert with a head spinning suddeness and we know we’re getting close. We always make a stop at the first lookout point, and small children firmly in hand, toss a few random rocks down into the river gorge.

We like to stay outside the park in Springdale, at the Desert Pearl. Pool and hot tub, check. Rustic but contemporary furnishing, balconies, views of the hills and the Virgin River up close. A big treat: the bathroom floors are heated.

Desert Pearl, Springdale, UT

A sleek room at the Desert Pearl, Springdale, UT

Moving into Zion, in high season, spring through fall, you need to decamp from the car and take the park shuttle, which is free, and designed to reduce congestion in the park’s main area. If you circle through this area on your way to Bryce Canyon or other area attractions, you can stay in your car and see some overviews and overlooks on the perimeter of the park.

And what a park it is from any angle – whether you’re hopping off the shuttle for a close look and a short loop trail that allows you to snap photos of the Virgin River gorge, wading through the river itself in the summer, or loping across a green valley that leads to one of the parks lodges, and an excellent place to relax and enjoy the view from the outside tables at the lodge restaurant.

Millions of years of sedimentary deposits created these rock walls and palaces, through layering, erosion and time. Vertical red and white rock, the curving river, these stunning vistas form the core of the park for simple hikes, longer trails, river wading, or photography pit stops – your choice to experience.

A view of Zion National Park’s heights

Zion is wonderfully accessible – trails, river walks, and just perfect views wherever you stop.

We were there in the summer, and carefully donning rubber beach shoes, we waded through the cool river along with many other groups and families. With the towering, multi-colored rock walls on either side, the clear water splashing over colored stones, the sky an indomitable blue above, this simple trek is a must-do for families who enjoy getting a little wet.

Driving on from Zion, the next stop is Bryce – not far away, but a world of different shaped rock figures and forms that create a fairy tale of frozen figures and spires and hoodoos, particularly potent at sunset. A steep but easy path flows down through the rock sculptures, which bring to mind everything from elves and trolls frozen in time to distorted church spires. The path is easy I should say going down, coming back up – you’ll be carrying the smallest travelers.

While Bryce Canyon Lodge lacks the amenities of the Desert Pearl in Springdale, with small rooms and dated furnishings, it has the enormous advantage of being perched right over this trail to the heart of Bryce’s most popular rock formations. It’s hard to resist being able to take strolls here early in the morning and at sunset. If you travel in the winter, you’ll thrill to see these astonishing rock shapes dotted with snow. In the winter, although the Park Service salts the path, it can still be slippery after a snowfall, so approach with caution.

A view of Bryce Canyon

What child wouldn’t be captivated by these fairy land rock forms?

Bryce and Zion draw the most visitors each year of any Utah national park, but there’s so much more to see in the state, even staying within a long weekend’s driving radius. Just a few hours outside of Bryce, you’ll find the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument; with layered rose and rust and orange colored rock faces that can take your breath away, even as observed through a car window.

This is one of our favorite drives. Without any specific destination or landmark, you can stop at countless overlooks, viewing other worldly scenery with the same ease that you can spot a gas station from a freeway.

Add a day to your journey and you’ll come to Capitol Reef National Park, which unlike Bryce and Zion, boasts so few visitors that as you drive up to caves and cliffs and along easy to navigate and well graded dirt roads through the canyons, you’ll feel practically alone in nature. You’ll find petroglyphs and the farms of early settlers, and their improbably laden and well tended fruit trees, too.

Waterpocket Fold, arguably the most famous sight in the park is a monocline, or a sedimentary rock fold that sweeps upward, exposed in all its glory by the forces of erosion, ocher, white, and deep red-brown streaks look especially amazing at sunset.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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