Day Hiking Utah

In April of 2016 I found myself with more vacation time than my hubby and my best friend from elementary and middle school, Amy, ready to go adventuring. After not much debate given limited options in mid spring, we settled on Utah. We flew to Salt Lake City, rented a car, and were off to see the sights.

Snowline in the Wasatch from the airport. And because we’re from Minnesota, of course we had to take a picture of mountains:)
Day One (4/5/16): Mount Olympus in the Wasatch

After landing and learning our rental car was a red minivan, we headed into Salt Lake City where we met up with my good friend from high school, Kathryn, at a Taqueria, for the best fish tacos ever. Then it was time for our first hike: 3,500 foot of vertical ascent in an attempt to climb Mount Olympus.

My Garmin track: 5 hours and 6.87 miles.

The first part of the hike is very open and dry, winding through dessert sagebrush as we got good views of the Salt Lake Valley and mountains beyond.

View of the Salt Lake Valley and mountains to the west.

A little while after crossing the creek, we hit snowline and continued hiking on a well packed down trail.

Getting above snowline.

We hiked up to the saddle where the views farther into the Wasatch opened up. We also had good views back to the south. After some debate, we turned around here rather than going for the summit as it was getting late in the day and Kathryn said the climbing was more class 3 from here- not a big deal but we figured there might be some ice. This was Amy’s first mountain climb and being a flatlander (I know cause I’m one too), she was a bit surprised at how the trail just kept going up and up and up.

View south.
Myself and Amy with some higher peaks in the background.

It was close to dark when we got back so I think we made the right decision.

Kathryn and I heading down.
Day Two (4/6/16): Bryce Canyon National Park’s Fairyland Trail

After spending the night at Kathryn’s apartment, Amy and I got on I-15 heading south towards Bryce Canyon National Park. Of course we jammed out to 90s music in our red minivan and didn’t quite drive the 85 mph Utah speed limit, cause again, we’re from Minnesota, the land of slow drivers.

Once arriving at Bryce, we found our campsite in the north campground, set up our tent, and got out on our afternoon hike on the Fairyland Trail.

My Garmin track of the Fairyland Trail, 8.45 miles from our campsite, 3 hours and 30 minutes total time including for all the photos, and 1,600 feet of vertical.

If I had my pick of the best day hike in the United States, this would probably be it. The scenery was no doubt spectacular, but the trail flow was equally as special. Gentle grade, rolling, completely smooth.

View from on top of the canyon.
Me, the sign, and the scenery.
Descent into the canyon…were just getting started.
Love the pine trees, the wood, and the rock formations.
Magical! Happy- at least here- to find the trail free of snow.
Looking back up at the rolling trail from whence we came. So fantastically level.
The Chinese Wall
One of my favorite photos from the trip. I just love the light on the formations and the trees seemingly growing out of the sand.
The Tower Bridge
Another great rock formation and you can see the trail going right next to it.
Climbing back up before we dropped down again.
I loved being able to see the trail wind around the landscape.
Back up high before dropping down again… so many hoodoos.
Me on the very level trail with more hoodoos and a softer light.

As the pictures and map show, the trail wound around, up and down, up and down, gradually, mystically. Finally we ended with a bit of a continuous uphill back to the rim that felt long compared to the other climbs but that really only took 10 minutes.

Phallic rock formation once back up on the rim.
Day Three (4/7/16): Rim Trail from north campground to Bryce Point, then Peekaboo and Navajo Trails and back to the campground

It got cold overnight- well into the 30s and we were up early trying to get warm- we may have jumped in the van and cranked up the heat:)

But we didn’t drive the van anywhere and instead took off from our campsite hiking south to Sunset Point even if it was sunrise. This was going to be our big day of hiking, taking the Rim Trail all the way to Bryce Point before dropping into the canyon on the Peekaboo Trail (clockwise direction only), and then up the Navajo Trail back to Sunset Point and then Rim Trail to our campground again for about 11 miles of hiking.

Middle section trail map of Bryce Canyon National Park in what is called the “Bryce Amphitheater” from Sunset Point to Bryce Point. We hiked south along the rim, then down into the canyon and back to Sunset Point (plus to and from our tent in the north campground).
Early morning light obscuring most of the canyon features.

It was a cold beginning to the day and we were happy to have the warm sunlight on us but it still took awhile to get warm as we hiked along the easy Rim Trail.

Harsh morning light looking south along the rim where we’d be walking and then towards Bryce Point.
Sunset Point: me with softer light on the hoodoos.
Amy and the view along the canyon wall where we hiked, finally dropping into the canyon just to the left of Amy and Bryce Point above here head.
Note the windows. We’ll be below those in not too long.
Inspiration Point. Still wearing my ski jacket checking out all those hoodos.

Maybe had we not stopped for so many photos we would’ve gotten warmer faster but the views were spectacular and so much different from Minnesota.

About to start our descent into the canyon. Check out that sweet window we get to go through! You can make out the trail on the far middle left.
Shedding some layers (even if there is still some snow) and getting closer to the window.
Peeking through the window.
Amy showcasing the perfect trail and yet another window above her head.
Looking back at The Windows when we got to the junction with the Peek-a-boo Trail.
Now under The Windows
More spectacular green trees contrasting with the pinks.
All the switchbacks on the east Navajo Trail. I had wanted to do the west ones, too, but the trail was closed due to a rock slide.
The infamous Thor’s Hammer.
Looking west towards the rim and Inspiration Point from a ways down the Navajo Trail.
Loved this tree.

It was mid-afternoon by the time we got back to our campsite. We drove into the local town for dinner, stopped by the visitor center, and then drove to the far end of the park to kill some time before it got dark.

Day Four (4/8/16): Little Wildhorse and Bell Slot Canyons

The next morning, we threw our tent into the van without so much as rolling it up and left Bryce and it’s freezing mornings. After driving through numerous scenic canyons, we finally arrived by Goblin State Park where Kathryn had given us the 411 on a couple slot canyons that should be dry.

We didn’t technically go to Goblin Valley State Park but we drove by the sign on the road to Little Wildhorse and Bell Canyons.

Amy doing a great jump shot.

From there we continued down gravel road 1013 marked on the map below until we got to where there were a bunch of cars parked. We then set out on the loop in the clockwise direction.

Crazy Garmin route of the Little Wildhorse (did this one first going clockwise) and Bell Slot canyons. 9.3 miles. Took us 4 hours! 1,585 feet of vertical.

The scenery was arid and a little boring at first but eventually got more exciting.

The entrance to Little Wildhorse Canyon.
Getting some higher canyon walls.
And some off canter walls.
The top of Little Wildhorse Canyon. Can you spot Amy?
Panorama of the road on top that leads between the two canyons.
Tree on the edge of the dry river bed.
The start of the second (Bell) canyon (heading downstream).
Soon it got pretty narrow.
And then it got even narrower.

After our dry canyon hike, we continued our drive to the Moab area where we planned to camp at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) campground along the Colorado River. There are several of these campgrounds and they are all first-come-first-serve without reservations. Somehow we didn’t think these would be so popular and failed to realize it was Friday night in April, aka prime dessert time. We drove through the first campground (Goose Island) we got to and it was all full. Ditto for the second (Drinks Canyon) and third (Hal Canyon) and so on and so forth past a bunch until we got to the Lower Onion Campground. This one was full, too, but we didn’t really want to keep driving farther down the road and it was getting dark. On our second lap of Lower Onion Campground, we found two girls occupying some open land but not a real site and we asked if we could stay with them. They had a whole set-up from their hatchback complete with peace flags. It looked like they were ready to stay a week. They were certainly nice enough and so even though it wasn’t a legit spot, we decided to stay.

The girls were from northern Utah, childhood friends, who had fallen from the Mormon church. As the sky got dark, they got out the alcohol and talked about boys and pot, lots of pot, and we learned that “cush” was the good stuff. They offered us some.  

The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me. Somehow Amy and I managed to make it through middle school at the lowest test-performing institution in the state without ever being offered drugs together and here we were, age 31, twenty years after DARE, in Utah of all states, being offered weed by two Mormon girls 10 years our junior. 

We politely declined. Part of us thought about trying, but we were innocent back in first grade when we got called to the principal’s office and we decided to keep our innocence now.

The girls kept partying but we had lots of arches to see the next day. Us shorties slept in the van.

So stoked to arrive at the Colorado River with the snowy La Sal Mountains behind me.
Day Five (4/9/16): Tour de Arches

The next morning we were up early with the plan of snagging a legit campsite in one of the campgrounds closer to Moab. We got lucky at Goose Island and placed our tag on the site number and headed out for our day’s adventures.

Cattle and rock formations as we drove along the south side of the Colorado River to Arches National Park.
Arches National Park

Arches is big and doesn’t really have trails connecting many of the arches so we mostly drove and then hiked to a few arches at a time. Not my usual way of going but I really wanted to hit up a bunch of arches.

Zoom out of most of Arches. The entrance station is on the lower left, the road to Delicate Arch is barely visible on the middle right, and we made it a good ways north on the road.

Our first stop was the trail to Delicate Arch because that one is most iconic (I mean, it’s on the Utah license plate) and so we had to get there.

Delicate Arch also involves the longest hike for a single arch.

Under cloudy skies we took off for Delicate Arch, trying to acclimate to the vast dry terrain.

Cactuses!!! Or are they cacti?

When we finally got near the Delicate Arch I was really struck by how it was in this seemingly off-camber bowl that looked nearly impossible to walk along. But the rain held and it wasn’t impossible to get footing so we lined up with everyone else to each get our photos under the Delicate Arch.

Crazy off-camber bowl and Delicate Arch.
Me looking so small under Delicate Arch.

The skies got sunnier on our way back to the car and we were able to chill out a bit more and enjoy the scenery.

Amy found some flowers growing out of the rocks!

Next we got back in the van and drove north to an area with a higher concentration of arches.

Area in the north end of the park where the road ends and there are more arches.
Side plank with Broken Arch.
Amy jumping under Sand Dune Arch.
I forgot the name of this arch. Too many to remember.
No arches, just a tree to remind me of Minnesota.
Amy and Skyline Arch.

The skies were turning again and we weren’t jazzed about rain so we decided we’d had enough and ran back to the car.

Running away from the rain and lots of kids. Oh, and that barely perceptible arch above my head is Landscape. So sleek.

After the short drive back to the south part of the park the skies were looking a little less threatening so we hit up a few more arches. I was really glad we did.

More arches off the road to the right. Note the hiking trail at the end- that one has great views back to the Colorado River and La Sal Mountains. Don’t miss it!
We called this one the Okay Arch.

Then we hiked the trail around the North and South Windows and I loved the view looking out to the Colorado River and beyond to the La Sal Mountains (see map above).

Amy with the North and South Windows.
This was probably my favorite view of the trip- dessert, canyons carved by the Colorado River, and snowy La Sal Mountains.
Balanced Rock.

Then we said good-bye to Arches and headed out highway 279 to the Corona Arch Trailhead.

Corona and Bowtie Arches

This arch was made famous by this YouTube video and so of course I had to see it.

Corona Arch hike off of Utah’s hwy 279; 2.75 miles, 1.5 hours, 740 feet of vertical.
Blooming Cacti
Panorama of the bowl that includes both Bowtie (center left) and Corona (center) Aches.

Back in 2012 when we hiked the John Muir Trail and Half Dome as part of it, I’d seen some photos of the cable route and assumed it was optional, such as the cables in the Adirondacks. But I was completely wrong and using the cable was absolutely necessary to climb that route up Half Dome. There was a small cable on the way to Corona Arch and due to some really good carved foot holds, this one was optional as well.

The incredibly brief cable route on the way to Corona Arch that even had nice carved out foot holes (just ignore my shadow in the afternoon April light).
Amy and Bowtie Arch.
Looking back at where the cable was, on the smaller section of cliff band.
Jump shot in front of Corona Arch (as high off the ground as we got).
Mega cairn-age field that further shows how off-camber this bowl/valley is.

Even though the photos don’t necessarily show it, there were some threatening clouds AND we were getting a bit arched-out. Hence, we took the opportunity to refuel at Pasta Jay’s back in Moab and were not disappointed.

Amy got the red sauce and I got the white sauce. It sure filled us up for one last final arch on the day.
Funnel Arch

Kathryn turned us onto this arch. It’s also called Cable Arch as people have placed a cable to climb on top of the arch. Even though I was kinda nervous of climbing up that cable, we still went for it.

Funnel Arch Trail off Utah’s 114 taken from AllTrails screenshot. Note that here it’s called Cable Rock.

It turns out the first part of the hike was pretty intense with some bouldering on very worn smooth rock.

“I learned how to do this from YouTube before we went,” Amy reassured me. Somehow, despite me being the one with way more bouldering experience and longer arms and legs, I struggled more than her. Maybe I should’ve been watching those YouTube videos!

Crux move on very smooth rock.
Still steep but better hand and foot holds.

After the initial steep section, the route flattened out but we had trouble following any kind of trail. The route turns to the right (east) but we weren’t certain which way to go as everything required some hand use and it’s not until the next rise that we could actually see Funnel Arch. See instructions on the photo below.

When you get to this location which looks north, head to the right side (east) of the photo up the gully on the south side of the scrambling rock which is immediately to the right of this photo.

After winding our way up the gully on the south side of the bowl and gaining a couple contours, we spotted Funnel Arch.

First good view of Funnel Arch from the top of the gully.

As we kept getting closer and closer to Funnel Arch we didn’t see any cable going up it. And indeed, there was none. To be honest, I was relieved.

Close-up of Funnel Arch.
The view, here looking down to a canyon with the Colorado River, was most definitely worth it.

Then we retraced our steps back to the trailhead but that crux section was intimidating. Amy did awesome again and even did some route finding.

Looking back down at the crux start and end of the climb. Amy flew down, perhaps beginner’s luck.

We arrived back to our campsite quite tired only to learn it had been hijacked!!! Since we were planning to sleep in Bertha (nickname for the red minivan) anyway, we were nice enough about it.

Once it got dark, we watched some truck drive through the canyon with super bright lights that seemed to be illuminating the canyon walls. We weren’t quite sure what this was about.

Weird truck with super bright lights driving through the canyon.
Day Six (4/10/16): Morning Glory Bridge and Diamond Fork Road Hot Springs

The next morning, we ran/walked to one final arch (Morning Glory Bridge) before driving back to the Salt Lake City area.

Our run/hiking route from where we were staying at Goose Island Campground to Morning Glory Arch and back. 8.3 miles, 2 hours, 2,000 feet of vertical.

There was a nice paved trail along the Colorado River and then a hiking trail from the trailhead. It was mostly run-able.

Morning light on the trail sign.
Looking up at the arch. This one isn’t terribly photogenic since it’s really close to a rock wall and in a dark canyon (it probably didn’t help that it was early morning).
Amy and the view into the canyon with Morning Glory Arch.

Morning run complete, we hopped in Bertha and drove towards the Diamond Fork Road Hot Springs. To get there, take 6 southeast from I-15 near Spanish Fork. These were popular and we parked a ways from the trailhead on the road with a godzillion other cars.

Garmin track to the hot springs- not exactly a short jaunt at 5.4 miles total and 1,000 feet of vertical.
Nice water color on the way to the main hot springs.
So many people at the hot springs!

We stayed for awhile and checked out the different temps of the various pools but after not too long we hiked back to Bertha and were sure glad we did as every car was marked with a “tow.” We weren’t sure if this was just a warning or if they’d taken down our rental license plate but after we drove away, we parked Bertha for a photo before wiping off the chalk.

That Elspeth and Amy, always getting in trouble since we were in the principals office in first grade!

The rest of the ride back to Salt Lake City was uneventful and we sang off-key to more 90s music and then met back up with Kathryn.

Day Seven (4/11/16): Downhill Skiing

Kathryn and I went downhill skiing at Solitude (free pass for me because Kathryn worked there) while Amy headed down to a coffee shop to prep for her upcoming accelerated nursing program. We reconvened for a yummy dinner at Kathryn’s.

Amy and a fitting beer for Utah.
Day Eight (4/12/16): Frary Peak on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake

Ever since I learned about the Great Salt Lake I’ve wanted to see it and go swimming in it. Upon researching this trip, I learned about Antelope Island State Park and its Frary Peak, a mountain that rises over 2,300 feet above the lake

Route up Frary Peak, 7.3 miles, 3 hours, 2,300 feet of vertical.
Trailhead sign. Note that’s a false summit.

The hike was sunny with wide open views of Antelope Island, the Great Salt Lake, the Wasatch Range to the east and the lesser ranges to the south and west. The trail itself was smooth and we made descent progress although false summits are always a let down.

View to the west.
Another view to the west.
View looking towards the Wasatch.
Summit photo of Amy, myself, and Kathryn.
Panorama of the view looking north.
And the view looking south.
While much of the rest of Utah was either buried under snow or hot in the dessert, Antelope Island was quite lush in comparison and there were lots of wildflowers.

As for swimming in the Great Salt Lake, well, the photo below shows a lot. After driving across the causeway we got to the water, it was very smelly and there were lots of birds pooping so I wasn’t even inclined to stick a toe in.

After the hike we said good-bye to Kathryn and Bertha and headed to the airport.

View of Antelope Island and its Frary Peak from the airplane. This also shows that the lake is quite low/marshy.

I felt so grateful to take this trip with Amy. It was my first ever “girls” road trip and we had so much fun singing and dancing to 90s music and just being silly in general that I never get with my much more serious husband. Early April was definitely a busy time at Bryce and Arches but we escaped the crowds on the longer hikes and the Fairlyland Trail is not to be missed.

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