If you’re staying for a week, these forces of nature are all you’ll need for entertainment.
Within the immense canyon walls of Zion, tourists traversed up and down the numerous trails like ants at a picnic. As my wife gazed up at the vertical canyons, she had a moment of clarity: “We are nothing.” That makes this park truly something.
Zion’s organization made exploring a breeze: A shuttle picks you up at the visitor’s center and can drop you off at several points along its 40-minute route. The stops and trails are clearly labeled, and the pamphlet they hand you upon entering the park tells you the difficulty and distance of them.
The Lower Emerald Pool trail is nice for beginners, but we continued up to the Upper Emerald Pool for more of a challenge. Once at the top, it felt like the penthouse suite of the canyon, with a cozy enclosing so peaceful that I almost took a nap.
More or less what you can expect while traversing The Narrows.
But the true gem of this park is an area called The Narrows, which takes you upstream through a gorge with walls that reach as high as 1,000 feet. To access this area, I highly recommend renting some gear from the Zion Adventure Company, such as water pants, water shoes and a walking stick. Despite the 80-degree temperatures, the water down there was freezing. Again, one of the themes of Zion is the enclosed feeling, but no sunlight gets in down here.
I can’t recommend The Narrows to everyone, as you’ll be sloshing through knee-deep water and battling for balance for most of the trail (which goes on for a couple hours). But if you’re up for the challenge, this is guaranteed to be a highlight of your trip. An alternative would be the death-defying Angel’s Landing, which I did not attempt.
In comparison to Zion, Bryce Canyon seems more like a traditional park as it puts an emphasis on the great outdoors. But where Zion has steep walls and linear rock structures, Bryce Canyon is all about the rugged hoodoos (top photo) and sunburnt sand.
The most popular trail, and with good reason, is the Navajo Loop Trail, starting at Sunset Point. You actually hike down into the canyon, which is breathtaking through every step. From there, you can take the short loop or keep going through Queens Garden Trail.
My wife and I ended up just doing the whole Sunset to Sunrise loop, which took about three hours. This hike had my favorite views of the entire trip, which cannot be replicated through photos. It’ll make you appreciate how impressive the Earth truly is.
Only 20 per day are allowed to hike this unique formation, known as “The Wave.” Member Diana D. was one of the lucky few!
This town is about an hour and a half south of the condo, but it has two points of interest for your stay:
- Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is down here, which my wife and I recognized from the “DogTown” television series. They have daily tours and, being the biggest shelter of its kind in the country, it is a special place to visit.
- The Wave. If I have one regret/lament about this trip, it’s that we didn’t get to see The Wave. A me onto this unique attraction, one so preserved that only 20 people per day can visit it. Basically, you go to the visitor center and enter a lottery, which is an attraction all on its own. People from all over the world congregate for the slim possibility of touring yet another one of Utah’s mind-bending natural constructs. We tried twice because it was a relatively slow season (the lottery is never truly slow). We were one group out of 38 then 31 on the respective days. No dice, but we’re glad we tried.
Salt Lake or Las Vegas
The magnificent Salt Lake Temple.
If you are craving a vibrant city atmosphere, as I was by the end of the trip, you can spend a day out in either one of these big cities. They are each two to three hours away. We opted for Salt Lake City and spent some time in Temple Square before we flew back to Kansas City. Going by what we saw, the area is highly underrated, especially the City Creek Center.
To unlock the full potential of Cedar Breaks Lodge, you should go during skiing season. Brian Head has all sorts of slopes nearby and I can imagine how convenient skiing would be with that kind of access. However, when you throw in the Zion and Bryce Canyon, you’ll have almost too much to do.
The resort has a restaurant with fantastic food, a laundry room onsite and a nice little grilling area. We weren’t in our rooms much, but the king bed and fireplace made evenings delightful.
Cedar Breaks National Monument is 10 minutes down the road, and it’s a perfect first stop when sightseeing.
- We were lucky in the timing because all of the mountain roads were open for traffic. I know that parts of the mountains are closed off when snow hits, but I’m not sure how that will affect getting around. Make sure to check with the resort.
- When checking the weather, remember Brian Head is 9,000 feet in the mountains whereas the attractions are much closer to sea level. Zion and Bryce Canyon are significantly warmer than the resort.
- There is a small store across from the resort with plenty of food and supplies, but I recommend doing your large grocery shopping in a nearby city. We did ours in Cedar City.
- The entry fee for Bryce Canyon and Zion is $30 each, but the passes are good for a week.
- Alcohol laws are pretty strict in Utah. For example, licensed restaurants can only serve you alcohol with food, and you can’t stray too far from your table while drinking. There are all sorts of limitations, so I just went the week without buying any alcohol.
All in all, it was a memorable stay. We traveled the week of the election and there is no place I would have rather been than outside among these glorious slot canyons, hoodoo gardens and skies so blue that you could actually see serenity.
My wife purchased a book of National Park quotes – 18 whole pages for 10 dollars. Regardless of the price per page, there was a nice entry that summed up a trip to any National Park:
“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, ‘This is what it is to be happy.'”
– Sylvia Plath
And so we were.