In May-June 2017, Daniel and I spent 5 weeks roadtripping through Western America (and a little bit of Canada). We spent time in Washington, Oregon, Vancouver, Michigan, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and – featured in this post – Utah. (You can watch our compiled footage from the entire trip here.)
Though Western America is beautiful in general, Utah was probably the most scenic state we visited. There is a lot of natural beauty to see, so keep reading to learn more about our time spent exploring Utah’s parks, deserts, canyons and cities.
Zion National Park
When we got on the shuttle that was going to take us into Zion National Park, we noticed that we were just a little bit out of place. I had my bathing suit on underneath a cover-up that looked like a dress, and Daniel was wearing a tshirt and shorts with our daypack and sneakers. Everyone else on the shuttle had waterproof hiking shoes, floppy hats that would protect from the sun, hiking backpacks and water bottles. That’s when we realized that Zion National Park is, primarily, a park for hiking.
If you want to hike while in Zion, then this blogpost won’t be very helpful. Though we saw the mountains that many were hiking while on the shuttle, that was not our plan for the day. We planned, instead, to swim!
The most famous hiking path at Zion is The Narrows. If you decide to hike the Narrows, you’ll be following the river though a gorge (you’ll literally be walking in water.) But instead, we followed the river downstream and found place where it was deep enough to swim and the current was just strong enough to add some extra fun. The water was a beautiful blue and the sheer cliffs that lined it were a beautiful backdrop for the day. We spent hours swimming against the current and floating farther downstream until the sun ducked behind the cliffs. Some may say those few hours spent at Zion were not a true experience of the park, but it was one of my favorite days of the trip.
Do note: parking lots fill up in Zion National Park very early. The park has an efficient shuttle service to make up for it. Learn more about their shuttle service here.
Also note: The Narrows looks like an awesome hike, but we had just hiked Oneota Gorge – a very similar hike - a few days before. We absolutely loved that hike and would highly recommend it.
Salt Lake City
This pristine city hosts the Mormon Tabernacle. The city was founded by Mormons in 1847 and has been the ‘Mecca’ for the religion ever since. It’s very interesting to visit the city and see how strongly influenced it is by its religious history. Statues of Joseph Smith and other influential Mormons adorn its streets, while busy men in the staple white button-down shirt trot to and from the tabernacle. Center city is spotlessly clean and the locals are nice; even the public transit was an enjoyable experience. I’m sure there is some grunge to be found in the city, but we spent our time wandering around the spotless and manicured Mormon Tabernacle, City Creek Center and the state Capitol.
Bonneville Salt Flats
About an hour and a half outside of Salt Lake City, on Interstate 80, are the Bonneville Salt Flats. These otherworldly phenomena were my favorite Utah experience. When you arrive at the salt flats, be prepared to walk: the longer you walk, the more it seems like you’ve left planet Earth behind. You’ll be surrounded by 30,000 acres of salt! Bright white and totally flat salt, from horizon to horizon (and picturesquely hugged by the Utah mountains.) I felt reckless enough to actually kneel down and lick the ground: it’s salt, alright!
Do note: If it’s a sunny day, be sure to bring your sunglasses! The sun’s reflection on the miles of bright white is blinding.
This famous ski town hosts the Sundance Film Festival, so it was on Daniel’s list to stop by. I had never been to a ski town before – but like most resorts and resort towns, I found it to be just a little bit too perfect. Swanky, upscale neighborhoods lack the culture that I love exploring when I travel. It also happened to be a really hot and crowded day because there was a summer festival in the works, which didn’t improve my first impression. However, though I am not raring for a second visit, I do admit that the few hours we spent there were, perhaps, not enough for me to have a fully-formed opinion of the resort town. Put it on your itinerary if you like shopping, (expensive) food or – of course – skiing.
This beautiful destination is a part of the Navajo Tribal Park on the Utah-Arizona border. We decided to wake up extra early so as arrive when the sun’s shadows were hitting the rock formations just right.
Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park – any tours you do will be directly supporting Navajo locals. If you decide to do the drive yourself, the cost is $20 for every car with four passengers. (Any additional passenger will cost $10.) We want to put this warning in bold because we were caught off guard: if you do the self-driving tour, be aware that Monument Valley has very rough terrain! You will have to take it slowly, and you will need a vehicle that can handle what is essentially ‘off-roading.’ But, bonus: driving through the park yourself allows you to stop for sight-seeing as often as you’d like.
Rock formations were a popular sight on our trip through America’s western states, but Monument Valley has a certain spirituality. The rocks are imposing, silent, and yet somehow alive; the sun leave golden halos and start black shadows across the red rock, and the rest of the horizon is flat, still and seemingly endless. It is the perfect place to slow down and appreciate the beauty of mother nature.
This particular stop is only 1/4th in Utah: the Four Corners is a region in the USA in which the corners of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado all come together at one point. The Four Corners does have an admission fee of $5/adult (again, this money goes to Navajo Nation, so it’s well spent!) Once you pay your admission fee, you’ll be admitted into the park and there’s literally nothing else there except for the Four Corners monument. You’ll find yourself waiting in a long line for your photo op (but this is a great time to make friends!) and then your 15 minutes – or seconds – of fame will come when you reach the front of the line. Pose, snap your pictures, and consider your visit well spent! (Or get back in line to get video this time. That’s what we did.)
Perhaps our very favorite thing that we did during our 'Great American Road Trip' was rent an Escape Campervan. We highly recommend their flashy fleet of vehicles! We rented their smallest campervan: one the size of a mini van with a bed that could only be pulled out when the two front chairs were folded up, and a fridge and oven in the trunk. (Her name was Prism and she was beautiful.) Utah was our favorite state to explore via campervan; the state allows you to park in any National Forest, and a vast amount of their deserts constitute as such. Most memorably, we parked beside the Mexican Hat rock formation right on the border of Navajo Nation and set up camp. We hadn’t seen another car for hours, and the entire desert was silent as the sun set. We cooked ourselves dinner in the back of our car, and then set up our chairs (given to us, courtesy of Escape Campervan) and spent our night counting shooting stars. If you have the opportunity to explore Utah via campervan, we can’t recommend it enough.