It's been a week since I came home from a wonderful vacation to visit so many beautiful National Parks. I love traveling around and seeing all these natural wonders and I'm so lucky to live in Colorado so that many are a few hour drive from me.
I want to share with you these beautiful locations because, well, I think they 1) might not be on your radar and 2) you should totally visit all of them. Think of this as your wanderlust/inspiration/motivation to go see some of America's most beautiful places and support your National Parks!
There has been a lot of talk lately about increasing National Park prices but everywhere we went (we were there opening weekend for many places) the prices were still $25-35 for a 3-day pass and we opted for the annual pass at the bargain price of $80. We are excited to have this pass again so we can check off a couple more National Parks and visit Rocky Mountain NP a couple time this year too!
So with that let's jump in!
Arches National Park (Moab/Grand County, Utah)
This park is gorgeous. It's known for it's... well... arches! These are naturally occurring rock formations that happen through rain, wind, ice, and other natural events that create fins, hoodoos, and arched rock formations. We camped at the Hittle Bottom Campground which is about 20 min north of the park entrance. It was already busy in the area and we didn't get to the area until the mid-afternoon so many campsites were already claimed.
We opted to drive to the back of the park to do the longer hike to Devil's Gulch along the primitive loop. This is a really beautiful 7-ish mile loop that takes you not to just see the fins but to actually climb over and on them. It was really cool but I would suggest doing the trail clockwise since the trail indicators (signs and small cairns) seemed to be laid out better for that direction. We did it counter-clockwise and accidentally strayed from the path for a bit before finding our way again. This trail was more adventurous than I thought (you will be scrambling up the fins and having to really do some climbing) so come with lots of water, good shoes, and ready for some adventure! Most of the rest of the park is very drivable though and we can see a lot of the most beautiful structures from the road and overlooks.
Bonus: the visitor center has some great spouts to get water where we were able to fill up our large camp water reservoir, don't want to mess around in the desert even if it's just one night!
This is a beautiful park and the canyons surrounding the area are breathtaking. We were already figuring out how to visit Moab again as we were heading out the next morning!
Lake Powell National Recreation Area/Antelope Canyon/Horseshoe Bend (Page, AZ)
This small city is chock full of natural beauty. The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is the largest recreation in the US and the lake has more coastline along its 168 miles than California. This lake was created by the Glen Canyon Dam which filled up Glen Canyon so it's actually a gigantic and deep canyon, similar to the others in the area, that was just filled up with water. This makes for beautiful landscapes and unique scenery all around. We were lucky enough to take a boat tour and get into the South Antelope canyon, in monsoon season waterfalls cascade into the lake which I can't wait to see one day!
Another popular spot is touring the Antelope Canyon. This is a slot canyon on Navajo land that was made most famous by the million dollar photo.
The whole canyon is beautiful, ever-changing due to intense flash floods and wind, and is just really beautiful to capture. If you do a tour out to this canyon just be ready for it to be very photography focused and very busy. We were still technically there early in the season and it was busy but so, so beautiful!
Finally, we made it to Horseshoe Bend at sunset and I'm so glad we did. This spot that is technically a part of the Grand Canyon and was made famous by a photographer who originally went off trail to find this overlook but now there is a full parking lot and well-kept path.
There is a short hike down to the canyon edge that can be a little steep so wear good shoes, it's totally worth it. This is one of those things that is hyped a lot but totally lives up to the expectations and is worth the hike/stop if you are in the area.
Pro-tip: When traveling in and out of Arizona remember that Arizona doesn't do Daylight Savings and so when we were there they were actually on Pacific Time, not Mountain time. So if you travel in from Utah, you might change time zones even though you are just traveling south.
Bryce Canyon National Park (Bryce, UT)
I LOVE HOODOOS! This place is so cool and so unique. As we drove in we stopped for a quick hike up some hoodoos in the adjacent Dixie National Forest and got to get a first taste of the landscape to come. This region was the inspiration for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad which is my favorite ride at the Disney Parks too!
Hoodoos are these magical rock formations created when fins are made and then ice breaks apart the rock to create standalone rock pillars. It's truly amazing and breathtaking. We only made it to a couple spots in Bryce Canyon but it was worth it to hike down to the Queen's Garden and the Navajo trail. To be amongst these towering formation and get to touch them was a highlight of the trip. It ended up raining a bit too which really brought out the red in all the rocks even more.
Pro-tip: We camped at the Cannonville KOA which was really nice and has cabins for those that don't have an RV or camping gear. It was about 20 minutes from Bryce Canyon but was extremely clean, friendly, and well kept!
Grand Canyon National Park (South Rim, AZ)
As with many of the above places, we are already making plans to come back to the Grand Canyon. Both my boyfriend and I really want to get into this canyon (he wants to kayak down the Colorado River and I want to do rim-to-rim-to-rim). This place I knew I would appreciate but it truly took my breath away.
The vastness of it can't be properly captured in any photo and this trip shifted my geological curiosity into high gear. The canyon took 2 billion years to make and it's crazy that down at the bottom you can touch billion-year-old rocks that were exposed through geological events, water, and wind erosion. It's just crazy.
We stopped at the Desert View when we entered to get our first glimpse and it really took my breath away (we also made a Parks and Rec joke "Where are the faces? Like of the Presidents?). We then headed to the main visitor center stopping at the other rim overlooks along the way. The visitor center was closed when we got there but we headed up to the geology museum to do some learning and watch the sunset which was the perfect way to end the day. I highly recommend stopping here!
The next morning we decided to get up early to check out the sunrise. We were staying at a hotel in Tusayan so it was a short 15 min drive back to the geology museum to check that out and I'm so glad we did. We grabbed a couple more hours of sleep before heading back to the park, wanting to check out Hermit's Bend and the stops along the way. There is a shuttle bus that takes everyone up and even though it was busy at the park (opening weekend) it was easy to get around. We hopped on and off the shuttle a few times before making it to Hermit's Bend and then headed back to the main area.
We grabbed a quick lunch from Bright Angel Lodge (my yearly hotdog) and then decided we wanted to hike into the canyon a bit before hitting the road again. Totally worth it. We hiked down Bright Angel Trail for 25 min or so before turning around but I would highly recommend it to anyone! Being inside a canyon is just so much different than just looking at it.
Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)
This was a last minute addition to our trip but I'm so glad we made this stop. We were able to easily get a campsite at the campground in the park, Morefield Campground, which was cool. It was clear we were definitely back in Colorado though because there were bear warnings everywhere so something to be mindful of!
The next morning we hopped in the car (this is a very protected park) to go see some ancient pueblo structures! We didn't have a ton of time but the goal was to see some of these amazing cliff dwellings that were made in the 13th century or earlier. There are 2 main loops. One is a self-guided driving tour that takes you through the architectural history from pithouses to four-story cliff dwellings where you learn all about the Pueblos along the way. Highly recommend (because it's the one we did)! There were other ranger-led tours but unfortunately due to timing we were able to go on these to actually go into the dwellings or walk amongst them.
Also, we wished we had had more time to check out the visitor center/museum. Lots of amazing Pueblo history and artifacts, at its peak there were an estimated 30,000 Pueblos living in this region before an event (the strongest theory is a 24-year drought took its toll) forced them to leave.
This park is super cool because of all the history but is also gorgeous. It's a very verde (green) mesa for sure and is just so expansive!
So there it is, a quick recap of the places we visited and hopefull some inspiration for you all to get outside and explore the natural wonders that surround us here in the US!