Tag Archives: Camping

Family Adventure: Zion & Capitol Reef National Park

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We made a trip south this Fall to Zion and Capitol Reef National Parks.  This completes our tour of the five national parks in Utah.

We camped in both parks.  Anytime we grab a camping spot in a national park, I feel privileged as that can be hard to find, especially in popular parks like Zion.

Here was our trip itinerary.

Day 1: Drove to Zion

Our first day was all about getting down to Zion.  It is about four and half hours for us, mostly down Interstate 15.

We did stop off at the park entrance on the northeast side, the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center, for about half an hour.

And then drove a short bit to the main entrance, near the town of Springdale, and to the South Campground.

Day 2: Zion Hiking

The main area of Zion is not that large.  During the main season, you have to take the trolley, which was easy and convenient, especially already staying in the park.  There are nine shuttle stops.  We did two stops – the Temple of Sinawava and the Grotto.

At the Temple of Sinawava, we hiked out the Riverside Walk to the start of the Narrows.  The ranger told us the flow rate was pretty high, to the point of not being fun, so we opted out of doing the Narrows.

At the Grotto, we hiked up to the Upper and Middle Emerald Pools, and then down the Sand Bench trail to the Court of the Patriarchs.  I might opt out of the last part, the Sand Bench trail.  It was a fine hike and all, but probably the least interesting.

Day 3:  More Zion Hiking

Sort of the same programming as Day 2.  We took the trolley up to the Grotto and hiked up to Scout Lookout via the West Rim trail.  We did not fight the people and the permitting process to do Angel’s Landing. 

 But we did see California Condors – which I consider a bigger win.

And after regrouping at camp for a bit, we hiked the Watchman trail – which was accessible and had some nice views.  And we saw Big Horn Sheep.

Day 5:  Driving Over To Capitol Reef

Not too much exciting here; about a four hour drive over to Capitol Reef.  We did drive out the east side of Zion on Route 9 – the Zion Mount Carmel highway and that was worth it.  We likely would not have ventured over to this part of the park otherwise.

Campsites at Capitol Reef were pretty domesticated.

Day 6:  Capitol Reef

We were fairly low key at Capitol Reef.  We caught a ranger session, did the Cohab Canyon hike to the lookouts, and ate pie.

Capitol Reef is not a super popular park, partly due to its location away from most other major sights.

Day 7:  Home

And then we drove home, which was about four hours from Fruita.

All in all, both parks were great. Glad we saw them. We covered a lot of ground in Zion and got the main feeling for Capitol Reef. I certainly would go back to either, but if we didn’t, would feel like we saw the main highlights of both.

Grand Teton N.P. Map

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We love Grand Teton Natoinal Park. We’ve had many adventures there. See some highlights:

  1. Camping In Grand Teton N.P.
  2. Teton Canyon
  3. Camping In Grand Teton National Park #3
  4. Winter in Yellowstone N.P.

Recently, we had some family come out this way and I put together this interactive Google Map of the Grand Teton area with a bunch of points of interest, places where we have had good wildlife sightings, and camp spots.

This was a heck of lot easier than trying to explain where some of these places are, since they area by definition, in a fairly undeveloped area.

I will update as we have more adventures….

Family Adventure: Camping Over Thanksgiving

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We finally got our van back from our builder in early November and decided to take her on a fully built maiden voyage down to the Bryce Canyon National Park area over Thanksgiving.

This was our first trip to the Bryce area.

Day #1

We drove down to Kodachrome Basin State Park Wednesday knowing that we‘d be fighting some holiday traffic…and we did.  The wind was kind of nuts as well.

Kodachrome Basin S.P. is about 30 minutes east of Bryce Canyon N.P. and so by the time we arrived at the Bryce View Campground, we decided on a short bike / hike to Shakespeare Arch / Sentinel Trail.  Note: Shakespeare Arch is no longer, but we knew that going in.

Day #2

The first full day of our trip, we went to Bryce Canyon N.P. We stopped by the Visitor Center, went to Sunset Point, and hiked the Queen’s Garden / Navajo Loop (modified for Winter hiking).  Worth it.

And, then stopped by Mossy Cave on the way back to camp.  If pressed for time, I would tell you to skip Mossy Cave and spend that time elsewhere.

These were all pretty popular sites, but since it was our first trip to the park, we wanted to get an overview.  We talked to a Park Ranger who recommended the Fairyland Loop for a bit less populated trail.

Day #3

We had originally planned to try to do Bryce N.P. and Zion N.P. in the same trip, which seems like a relatively common strategy.  But since our campsite at Kodachrome Basin put us approximately 30 minutes east of Bryce, that made the trip down to Zion close to two hours and more windshield time than we wanted to spend given our relatively short stay.

Instead we pivoted to a day in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (GSENM).  For more on the different types of public lands, check out That Wild Country by Mark Kenyon.

Initially, I had some trouble figuring out where GSENM was located.  This is because the GSENM is close to 1.9 million acres.  It turns out, Kodachrome Basin is surrounded by GSENM and a main access point is very close to the entrance of the State Park.

Our first stop in GSENM was Grosvenor Arch – a super impressive double arch.  Highly recommend stopping to see it if you are in the area.

Then we got our first taste of slot canyons by hiking the Cottonwood Narrows.  This is a non-technical (i.e., no rappelling or rock climbing) option that is good for families.

Back at camp we did the Panorama Trail on bikes.  Very worthwhile.

And found the showers at the … campground.  The showers are really nice. Like, really nice.

The weather was finally warm enough to spend a bit more time outside at night and the stars were absolutely amazing.  I tried for a few pictures, but didn’t have any that turned out good enough to post.

Day #4

For our second day at Bryce Canyon N.P., we decided to hike the Fairyland Loop trail.  This one met all the important criteria: beautiful scenery and not heavily trafficked. 

And then we drove out to the south end of the park, did a short hike, and took in some of the vistas.

Day #5

In some of our earlier trips, we tended to have pretty ambitious plans and go pretty hard.  This resulted to a couple of events that we less than affectionately referred to as Daddy Death Marches.  I have tried to learn from these experiences.

Unfortunately, we had another one in Red Canyon.

We decided to hit Red Canyon on the way home.  Red Canyon is essentially one canyon before you get to Bryce.  And since it is in a National Forest, not a National Park, they allow mountain biking on some of their trails.  

We chose the Thunder Mountain Trail.  I had done a bit of research on the trail ahead of time and read the descriptions in a couple of guide books.  I am pretty sure none of the author’s of those guide books have ridden this trail.  A few factors made it not the trail we should have picked this day.  It turned out to be a bit longer than advertised.  It was most definitely an expert level trail (should have a black diamond rating). And there’s a fair amount of climbing and some pretty difficult technical bits – including one stretch along an exposed ridge line with consequential drops on either side.  All in all, just not what we wanted to get into.

But, we did it.  Walked a bit more than intended.  

I would recommend the trail for serious riders, who want a serious ride.

Then we drove home Sunday evening – fighting holiday traffic most of the way.

Final Notes

Overall, an excellent trip.  We enjoyed the area quite a bit and have a list of things we would like to do when we are back in the area including more time in GSENM, getting over to Zion, and possibly catching a meteor shower.

Check out a few prior adventures:

Family Adventure: Camping In Grand Teton National Park #3

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We always go camping for my daughter’s birthday in early September.

And we were back in Grand Teton National Park for our third camping trip in the park, and fifth trip to the vicinity this year (one ski trip and one camping on the Driggs side).

See our prior camping trips to GTNP here: Grand Teton National Park #1 and #2

We had a little more time this trip.  We were there from Thursday evening through Tuesday. So, that gave us a bit more time to explore.  We also, I think, were just generally in a more laid back mood.  We had no major hikes or destinations in mind.  The crowd was decidedly older and maybe more mellow given that school was back in session for families with kids.

Day #1

We drove in kind of late.  But gorgeous drive in.  Saw a bison herd pretty close to the road near Elk Ranch Flats.

We reserved a site at the Lizard Creek campground, which is the northernmost campground in Grand Teton National Park. We liked Signal Mountain Campground a bit better, although this was a good spot. I’d recommend a site closer to the middle of the campground – we were very exposed to the wind.

Not much water in Jackson Lake was kind of a let down:

Day #2

In the vein of a more relaxed trip, Day #2 turned into a spontaneous trip up to Yellowstone N.P.  I had loosely planned to venture into the south end of the park.  But we actually ended up driving up to West Thumb.  We had seen this area during our winter trip (incredible) back in 2017 and it was cool to see it in the summer.

On the drive back to our campground, in the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway stretch, we had this siting:

#bearsiting #poopedmypants

Day #3

Happy Birthday kiddo!

We celebrated our daughter’s birthday.  Then, we drove north again into the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway area.  We did a short hike to a natural hot spring – there are two – and we went to Polecat Hot Springs.  Totally worth it.

Then another short hike over to the river.

It’s that time of year, and the elk are bugling.  Amazing.

Day #4

We hiked this day.  About nine miles.  A really nice, pretty flat hike, to BearPaw Lake.  

Very nice hike.  I’d rate it easy.  Left from the northern end of Jenny Lake, which is a pretty popular trailhead, but the hike itself was not heavily trafficked.  Hiked right up to the base of Mt. Moran.  If you rate your hikes partly on how few other hikers you see, this is a good one to check out.

Watch out for this guy:

Day #5

Packed up camp and on the way to our new site, sited a black wolf.  First wolf siting.  Lots of #poopedmypants moments on this trip.

Found a great little campground in the Bridger-Teton National Forest at Atherton Creek.  Great location.  Well maintained campground with a host.  I’d consider camping here instead of in the park.

And then we did some touristy things.

And learned some stuff about geology.

And skipped rocks.

Day #6

And then home, until the next time.

All members of the party accounted for…

Check out a few prior adventures: