Dhruv and I recently did a road trip to Utah (with a small detour to Arizona) and were stunned by how beautiful it is. We were surrounded by orange-red hues of sandstone rocks and a skyline that was not buildings but unique geological formations. We were not tired of staring all around us in wonder and taking pictures. We covered Arches, Canyonlands and Dead Horse national parks in Moab, did a river-rafting trip in Moab down the beautiful Colorado river, drove through Monument Valley, spent a day at Lake Powell in Page and ended our trip at Zion in a 6 day itinerary. Even after spending a whole week in Utah, we felt there was so much more to do that will someday take us back there.
As promised, I will keep my writing limited to few experiences that made our travel memorable and I highly recommend including in your itinerary (not in any particular order)
Kayaking at Lower Antelope Canyon in Lake Powell (Page, Arizona)
Dhruv and I love water sports and adventures (Dhruv tries more things than I do, my poor swimming skills are something I need to work on) and kayaking is one of our favorite things to do. We did a half day kayaking trip in Lake Powell Antelope Canyon with Kayak Lake Powell.
We had not heard of Lake Powell until this trip and accidentally discovered it on the map while planning our Utah trip. We are so glad we did. Lake Powell is straddling the border between Utah and Arizona and includes many canyons and sand dunes. The water was cool and a beautiful green while Antelope Canyon was stunning shades of orange and red. Our guide from Kayak Lake Powell was great and made stops along the way for swimming and cliff jumping. Swimming in this 583 ft (178m) deep lake was absolutely amazing.
Hiking the Zion Narrows (Zion National park, Utah)
I’ve been wanting to hike Zion narrows for a long time. This is one of the most famous Canyon hikes in the world. The trail is the Virgin river flowing between narrow walls of Zion Canyon. The hike can be done either as a one day trip (where you hike bottom-up and then turn back) or as an overnight camping trip (where you hike top down and camp in the Zion Canyon along the way). The latter option requires a permit. We did a single day bottom up hike. Majority of the hike was walking through knee to waist deep water. It was initially crowded but as we went past wall street section of the hike, we had the river mostly to ourselves. It was so much fun walking in the river with sunlight trying to make its way through canyon walls going as high as 2000 ft. Walking in a river was definitely hard and I highly recommend renting neoprene socks, wooden hiking poles (standard fiber/steel hiking poles could break due to the rocky river bed) and water shoes before venturing on this hike. A number of companies right outside the Zion park provide rentals at a very nominal price.
Rafting in Colorado river (Moab, Utah)
While in Moab, we took a day out for river rafting in the Colorado river. We did a 7 mile stretch with Moab Adventure Center. The rapids were mostly between level 1-3. Our guide was very friendly and gave us plenty of time to jump/swim in the river. I was thrilled as this was my first time floating/swimming in a river and the beautiful red cliffs all along made it so much picturesque. Our guide gave an entertaining commentary about the vicinity including pointing out the rock that Tom Cruise climbed in the opening scene of MI2. We stopped midway on a riverside lodge (Red Cliff lodge) for a barbecue lunch which was delicious. The lodge itself was beautiful and was surrounded by huge red cliffs.
Camping in Canyonlands and sunrise hike to Mesa Arch (Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah)
Canyonlands National Park is located just before you enter Moab (coming from Salt Lake City) and can be easily combined with a trip to Arches. The landscape here is canyons, mesas and buttes eroded by Colorado and Green rivers over thousands of years. The park is divided into three districts-Island in the Sky , Needles and Maze. We camped in Willow Flat Campground in Island in the Sky. The campground was easily accessible from Moab, available on a first come basis and had a beautiful setting. It’s definitely the best campsite you could get in Moab without much prior planning (All campsites in Arches are reservation only and get booked months ahead of time). The campground was next to an overlook with a 1000 ft drop looking down at Green river. We couldn’t have asked for a better view.
It is also close to the Mesa Arch famous for it’s spectacular sunrise. Staying at walking distance from the arch made it very easy to wake up early and make it for the sunrise. It was stunning to look at the sun slowing peeking through the mountains lighting up the bottom of the arch.
Arches-Windows section at sunset (Arches National Park, Moab, Utah)
Arches National Park in Moab is famous for it’s natural sandstone arches and other unique geological formations. 18 miles of scenic drive takes you through this beautiful landscape. Dhruv and I specially loved the windows section at sunset. Windows section of the park has a series of scenic arches that are located in close proximity of each other. There are a number of short hikes in this area that take you closer to the arches. It’s a wonder to see these natural bridges up-close and marvel at how fascinating nature is. The orange glow at the golden hour was a spectacle I will never forget. Utah with all it’s wonders is etched in our memories forever.
Other resources to help in your trip planning: