You can find the Travel Montage of my Road Trip on YouTube!
April 11-April 16, 2019
6 Days + 4 National Parks + 2 States = 1 Rejuvenating Road Trip
To hear about an adventure consisting of: girl power, national parks, climbing mountains, eating meals out of the trunk of a rental car, turquoise rings, and driving on backroads blasting Rascal Flatts - keep on reading! But buckle up: it's a long trip!
My best friend, Lauren, and I share a passion for traveling, so we decided to go on a girls trip. We entertained the idea of visiting San Francisco or Banff (both are places I still see myself visiting in the near future!), but when Lauren pitched the idea of a road trip hitting 4 National Parks in 2 different states on a reasonable budget - we had a winner!
I haven't had the opportunity to adventure over to Arizona or Utah before, so as a photographer, I was ECSTATIC for the beautiful views. I wanted to explore and see as much as we possibly could, and luckily for me, Lauren created an itinerary jam-packed with adventure in the limited 6 days that our PTO policies allotted for. (Trust me, we could have spent WEEKS adventuring!)
After getting very little sleep (we talk a lot lol), we checked out of our hotel room to secure our rental car. We picked up our snazzy Toyota Corolla, loaded it up with road trip essentials and snacks, and we began our 2-hour drive to Sedona, Arizona.
A few granola bars, a million cacti, and various road trip songs later - we arrived in Sedona. The photos I've seen of how red the rock formations were - were no joke! I've never seen anything like it, and this was when I first started asking Lauren, "Where are we?!" and saying, "We out here!!" (which I continued to do during the entirety of the trip).
We only had enough time to do one hike in Sedona before we had to continue on with our road trip, so the hike we chose was Doe Mountain Trail (1.6 miles with a 538 feet elevation gain). It was a starter hike to ease us into our ambitious hiking plans. While we weren't able to find cacti as tall as the ones we saw along the highway, the hike was filled with beautiful red rock formations and desert vegetation that I was not used to seeing. With multiple photo and water breaks, we climbed to the top and the view was breathtaking. The hike was moderately crowded so we shared the sights at the top with other hikers, including a kind elderly couple who enjoyed having their photos taken by us. I was already satisfied from our trip then and there! But with our limited time and a brewing storm on the horizon, we hiked down, made a victory sandwich in the car, and began our drive to the Grand Canyon.
3 hours later with a tank full of gas, and matching turquoise rings (newly purchased at a Native American stand in Oak Creek Canyon, AZ), we arrived at a National Park that I was finally able to witness first-hand! And let me tell you, it lived up to the hype with its colorful peaks and geological history. Given that we arrived in the early afternoon, we weren't able to do any of the longer hikes, but we walked along an easy trail along the rim to soak in all the scenery. After a half hour filled with coffee, obligatory postcard souvenirs, and a wildlife viewing of an elk family, we drove for another 3 hours to Page, Arizona for Hotel #2. On our way to Page, we saw Mountain Lion warning signs, stopped at a sandwich shop for dinner, and encountered much darkness. However, the drive made for some good conversations!
I thought I was already satisfied with the trip on Day 2, but Day 3 was ready to prove me entirely wrong. After another night of getting minimal sleep (we didn't learn our lesson the first time and spent hours talking despite our plans of sleeping early... who's surprised?), we woke up before the sun had time to make its morning coffee to attend a tour at Antelope Canyon.
Am I a morning person? Occasionally, but the views at Lower Antelope Canyon made my sleep-deprived self very content that Saturday morning. We rode on a bus of about 10 or so people to find the stunning canyon located on Navajo land. Witnessing the sand formations creating different pictures and light beams was an unreal experience. With the direction of our awesome tour guide, our morning was spent taking beautiful photos and learning about the land. At this point of the trip, I remember declaring to Lauren that that was my highlight. This statement would soon be countered within the next few hours of that Saturday. Literally EVERYWHERE was beautiful.
We had originally planned to stop by Horseshoe Bend near Page, AZ on Day 2 but ran out of time that day. So instead, we decided to make a quick stop before heading to Utah. The Horseshoe Bend trail was a short one, only about 3/4 of a mile from the parking lot. Once we took our pictures, we drove for 2 hours to discover that the East Entrance to Zion National Park was closed. With spirits lowered, our 30 minute commute from the East Entrance to the Visitor Center became another 2 hours. Our spirits didn't stay low when a tumbleweed comically attached itself to our front bumper and when candy kept our sugar levels high.
We finally arrived at Zion National Park in the early evening, and it was BEAUTIFUL. The mountains were layered with color that towered over us and everything in me was screaming to never go back home. It was THAT beautiful. We met up with two of my "clients turned good friends," Melissa and her husband, Ed. They flew down to Utah the same weekend as Lauren and I so we could all cross off an item on our bucket lists together. We took pictures at the very beginning of Pa'rus Trail, and after an hour, we parted ways while Lauren and I completed the rest of the hike along the Virgin River (3.3 miles with 147 feet elevation gain). As the sun started to set, we made our way to Hurricane, UT, where Hotel #3 was located. We stopped at Zion Pizza & Noodle Co. for AMAZING pizza and at Dairy Queen for some well-earned dessert.
We attempted to be on the first shuttle bus out on Sunday morning at Zion National Park. However, some early-morning hiccups occurred (e.g. lost the car keys behind the tv stand, couldn't find the ice machine that the employee incorrectly directed us to, and we were just tired okay? lol). Despite the bumpy start to the day, we made our way back to Zion to conquer the hike we were most hyped about - Angels Landing (4.1 miles with 1,617 feet elevation gain). Hands down, my FAVORITE hike to date! Despite the 80 degree weather and noticeable elevation gain (you really feel it in your lungs when you're used to being closer to sea level!), there was a slight breeze to make the trek practically perfect.
With MANY stops along the way to capture some photos and video footage, Lauren and I spent a majority of Day 4 enjoying every step of the Angels Landing trail. The trail was paved for the most part, and very loved (a.k.a. crowded) since it was a Sunday morning. The hike began at the Grotto shuttle stop along the West Rim Trail. After some time, it reached the canyon where we were able to catch a bit of shade before approaching Walter's Wiggles - a series of switchbacks that definitely got your blood going after a few minutes. The last half mile or so consisted of chain links to help guide you around the steep drop-offs to the very top. I highly recommend this hike for adventurous souls, but wouldn't suggest the last half mile to those with a fear of heights. Being an adventurous soul myself, I was smiling ear to ear at this point of the hike and undoubtedly understood why it was on so many hikers' bucket lists. If given the opportunity, I would ABSOLUTELY hike it again... and again... and again.
Many hours later, we decided to make more turkey and cheese sandwiches for a quick lunch while we hit the road again. We brought trail mix and granola bars for the hike, but we definitely worked up an appetite by the time we arrived back to the parking lot. Our next destination for the afternoon was about 2.5 hours away - Bryce Canyon National Park. This drive consisted of Antelope sightings, more backroads, and snow!
We arrived in Bryce Canyon in the very early evening, with just enough time for one last hike for the day. We decided on Queen's Garden Trail and Navajo Loop (2.6 miles with 623 feet elevation gain), which started at Sunrise Point and weaved amongst the hoodoos (tall and thin spires of rock). At the end of the hike, there is a hoodoo known to resemble Queen Victoria. We discovered while we were walking this trail that Navajo Loop was closed, so instead of walking the loop we had to turn around half-way and hike back up to Sunrise Point. This hike was where I learned to NEVER hike on a empty stomach (or around dinner time), but luckily for me, Lauren stocked up on granola bars to keep me going.
The sun was setting by the time we reached the car that evening, so we decided on something quick for a late dinner. We stopped by the General Store, connected to Hotel #4 to purchase chapstick (so necessary), snacks, and the dinner of red barons - frozen, microwavable pizzas. Cheese for Lauren, and pepperoni for me. Trust me, after Day 4, that pizza tasted as good as wood-fired gourmet pizza.
Day 5 was our last full-day before heading home. It also included our longest drive - 4.25 hours to Arches National Park. To prepare for the long drive, we took advantage of our complimentary breakfast buffet and filled up our energy levels through unlimited pancakes, eggs, bacon and coffee.
With our stomachs full and content, we drove past free-range cattle, farmhouses, and land as far as the eye could see. We drove through towns so small that it took us maybe 5 minutes to drive through the entire town. Fortunately, Lauren had service for most of this drive so we took advantage of her Apple Music by playing Bruno Mars, classic Jonas Brothers, and Maroon 5.
As we approached Arches National Park, the rock formations started to turn into a deep reddish brown, rather than layers of lighter colors like we were used to from Zion or bright orange like from Bryce Canyon. This park was definitely another beautiful sight to cross off of the bucket list! With limited time, we chose the Delicate Arch trail (3.1 miles with 613 feet elevation gain) because of its popularity. Delicate Arch is the most recognizable arch due to its presence on Utah license plates.
Even on a Monday, this hike was still well-loved by hikers. Completely exposed with no shade, this hike started out on a defined and somewhat paved trail; however, it then turned into a wide rock face and the trail became a bit more tricky to follow. Once the rock flattened out at the top, we completed the most difficult portion of the hike, and the rest was a breathtaking and steady walk to the Delicate Arch. We were prepared for the beautiful view that we've seen pictures of previously, but we were not prepared for the intense wind at the top. With kids crying about sand getting in their eyes, and hikers trying to secure their hats, we were only able to briefly take in the view of Delicate Arch before we decided to take cover from the gusts of wind.
After completing that hike quicker than we anticipated, we decided to hike the short trails to the Double Arch (0.5 miles with 32 feet elevation gain) and the North and South Window Arch and Turret Arch Loop (1 mile with 150 feet elevation gain). At this point in our trip, we were ready for a sit-down dinner versus our usual turkey and cheese sandwiches. Therefore, instead of completing an additional hike at Arches, we agreed to drive into Moab to find Pasta Jay's. I chose Jay's Famous Jumbo Shells and Lauren chose Spaghetti, and we finished off our Moab stop with a quick dessert at Crystal's Cakes and Cones.
Once we fueled ourselves as well as the rental car, we made way towards our last 3.5-hour stretch before heading home on Day 6. The drive from Moab, UT to Salt Lake City, UT consisted of heart-to-heart conversations over Rascal Flatts' Top Hits as we made our way to "Hotel #5", a.k.a. an Air BnB that was a short drive to the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC).
Alas, our trip came to a very sad end. The last few hours of our trip was spent in Salt Lake City, Utah. We ate cinnamon roll pancakes at Eggs in the City, explored the City Creek Center, and even picked up some Dunkin' Donuts for my mom (she's a big fan lol) before returning our rental car and making our way to SLC. The sky was crying with us as our adventure was ending.
Annnd that's a wrap!
If you made it this far into my blog post, THANK YOU! :) Before this trip, I had spent 7 consecutive months in the office without using any PTO. To say this trip was much-needed for some soul-searching, would be a VAST understatement. I am extremely blessed for the opportunity to have gone on a refreshing adventure with such incredible views with my high school best friend! 6 days was just enough time to get a taste of all these beautiful places, but I cannot wait to return and explore some more!
Cheers to road trip adventures!