One of the main attractions to the state of Utah is the limitless opportunity for outdoor adventure.
That is especially the case at the Mighty 5 National Parks in the southern part of the state. On a recent tour, I had the opportunity to explore two of them, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, both of which showcase the natural beauty of this remarkable state.
Snow Canyon State Park
Before exploring the national parks, we stopped by Snow Canyon State Park near St. George on a tip from some locals. Used as a backdrop for such Hollywood films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid because of its unique terrain, the park’s geology is something of a marvel. Navajo Sandstone – the cemented remains of the ancient Navajo Sand Sea – cover most of the park with a reddish hue, which contrasts beautifully with the aged black lava rock.
Hiking to Amazing Views in Zion National Park
Nearby, Zion National Park is a vast and beautiful area with steep cliffs, winding roads and breathtaking views – if you’re willing to make the hike. If that sounds intimidating, let me reassure you that there are several family-friendly trails, some of which are wheelchair-accessible — so there are hiking opportunities for every level of experience. If you’re planning on tackling one of the more difficult hikes, make sure to bring enough water and food to keep you hydrated and energized.
One of the most popular trails is the Angels Landing Trail, which is accessible from the top of Scouts Lookout. Although the hike to Angels Landing isn’t necessarily challenging, it is definitely steep and narrow. Nevertheless, the view is exhilarating. I was overcome by the the scope of the lush green forests that spread along the base of the mountains. Alternatively, Scouts Lookout gives you an amazing view of the canyon with a shorter and milder hike.
If you’re looking for an easier hike at a lower elevation, check out Weeping Rock Trail. It’s a short, leisurely hike that leads to an overhanging cliff where water trickles down to join pools of water below. Unique and easily accessible, Weeping Rock is a nice option among Zion’s many trails.
Highway 12 Scenic Byway: Utah’s All-American Road
Conveniently, Zion and Bryce Canyon are just an hour and 20 minutes away from each other. While on my way to Bryce Canyon, I drove through some amazing rock arches on the Highway 12 Scenic Byway and took in the beauty of the surrounding Dixie National Forest and Red Canyon. The byway is an easy and quiet road with a beautiful landscape, which makes for a comfortable drive from park to park.
Seeing Hoodoos on Horseback in Bryce Canyon National Park
Upon my arrival to Bryce Canyon, I was immediately captivated by one of its most unique features, the hoodoos. These limestone pillars range from average human height to more than 10 stories high. Because of Bryce Canyon’s unique erosional patterns, hoodoos are more abundant in Bryce Canyon than anywhere else in the world. The easiest way to see them is by looking down from the canyon’s rim, but there are a handful of opportunities to hike or ride horses through the canyon with local guides. Notably, the most popular trail is the Navajo Loop Trail because it wends its way through a multitude of hoodoos and slot canyons.
Beyond being one of the most spectacular outdoor destinations of your life, a trip to Zion and Bryce is also convenient. Whether you’re camping in one of the national parks or staying in any of the nearby towns, there’s a variety of lodging to choose from for all tastes. The only question left is: Where to start?