It has taken me a while to decide how to narrow down the hundreds and hundreds of photos we took on our trip. Utah was the hardest for me to sort through; there was just so much to see in Utah. We really had a blast. This was our first time in the state, and we were surprised by how much the terrain varied through the lower part of the state. We went from hot & dry canyons to a gorgeous green meadow up in the mountains. It was jaw-dropping! If you’ve ever been on the fence about seeing Utah, it’s a must. It has so many things to do and see. It is a Hiker-Meca!
Our first night and first full day in Utah, I was pretty worn out and of course, we were late setting up camp, not much sleep, and tired the next day, resulting in me not taking many pictures that whole time.
The first night, we arrived at a campground, which was a mere $5 for a tent site, near the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park at the Ponderosa Grove Campground. It was fabulous! We had arrived so late that night, I slept in the car and hence didn’t sleep well due to being all scrunched up.
The next morning, we were off to Zion and yes we drove thru Zion. Since there wasn’t much we could do with the dogs at Zion, we were going to attempt to take them to a doggy day care; however, we neglected to bring their shot records and between all of the frustration with that and just being tired, it seemed to be more trouble than we wanted it to be. So we drove thru Zion, got out of the car a few times and looked around but that’s about it. Don’t get me wrong. From what I seen, Zion was unbelievable, but I do tend to like the national forests and the places I can go that are a little “quieter.” There were just people everyone at Zion. So if you are going there, definitely expect that. I’m sure if you get deeper into the park on some of the more strenuous trails, the numbers would drop. Zion was the hottest part of our drive too and I was getting tired of the heat.
After Zion, we spent the day traveling around that part of Utah, getting some more supplies. We made the decision to find a campground and take it easy the rest of the day. Wash some clothes. Take a shower!!!! We ended up at a KOA in Cannonville, Utah and while the campground was nice enough and all of that, it was so freaking dry and hot and when you are tent camping, it’s not much fun just to be sitting in the middle of sand with the sun blaring on you. Our puppy, Tilly, did seem to enjoy it. She was running around in circles, making sand tornadoes. However, our older dog, Lilly, and I retired to what very little shade we could find and pretty much sulked that day. However, it did feel nice to take a hot shower and wear clean clothes. We drove down to Cannonville and ordered a nice dinner and took it back to the campsite. If it hadn’t been for the heat, it would’ve been a much better experience!
So the next day rested and clean, we were off….our goal was to see a couple of more of the national parks but we were a little “sticker shocked” that we had to pay $25 just to drive into Zion on a highway, so we weren’t sure how much each park would cost and once again, national parks and dogs don’t mix well. We were headed to Bryce Canyon and on the way, we seen a sign for the petrified forest state park and of course, I wanted to see some petrified wood. We ended up doing a day hike there and really enjoyed it. It ended up being a gorgeous place with canyons and overlooking a very blue, beautiful lake. It was within an hour of the KOA in Cannonvile and we really were kicking ourselves for not staying the night there. The petrified forest was totally unexpected; I didn’t even know about it and that’s what I like about our trips. We have no set plans and no set place or time to be other than being at home for work by a certain day. Since we spent the morning at the state park enjoying the hike around the petrified wood, we made the decision to take Bryce Canyon off our list. As hard as that was, Utah has so many national parks to see…it’s hard to decide which ones come first.
Headed back on the highway, we arrived in the quaint town of Escalante and stopped at Escalante Outfitters for lunch and to see if they had anything for Lilly’s paws (she’s older and they dry out so much in the heat). We found the Outfitters to be very welcoming and charming. They had an outdoor patio and allowed us to bring the dogs up with us so we could eat. They had a nice little outfitter store and the patio was cool and breezy and it just felt so nice. The staff was helpful and kind. They kept our water glasses filled to the brim, nothing better after hiking in the sun! Our waitress was so sweet; she made sure the dogs had cold water to drink. We ordered a pizza and it was delicious! They had free wi-fi and the patio was filled with people sitting around on their “Macs” typing away. The Escalante Outfitters is a definite stop for supplies, rest, food, or all of the above.
Next, we opted for the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, mostly due to the fact that we weren’t restricted so much like the national parks and it was free. Free is always good. We drove thru this place for miles and miles. If you are like us and not from the area and plan on going here, let me give you this advice: The first place to see is the best. Don’t waste your time driving the 45-50 miles to see something better. We spent nearly 8 hours driving around here. We had a good time doing it but if we had only known what was next on our agenda, we would’ve skipped this place, went straight to the Escalante Canyons, done some hiking, and moved on. However, keep in mind that a LOT of dinosaur bones have been found in the Grand Staircase. Do a little research on it if you plan on going there. It is quite fascinating. I wish I had known that before we went there.
So onward and forward. Next was the travel toward Capitol Reef National Park which we planned to tour the following day. Since we depend on parks and forests for camping, our plans are decided as we go. It was a very gorgeous drive up highway 12 out of Escalante toward Boulder, which would be our next stop. Supplies were limited on this route. There were not a lot of opportunities to eat or fill up the tank but the views were amazing.
We pulled off highway 12 in the town of Boulder and took a quick drive around to see what opportunities there were to get something to eat late in the evening on a Sunday. There was one choice and that was the Burr Trail Grill. This was another quaint place right on the highway. It sits right on a sharp bend going from east to north on highway 12. It also included an outdoor patio which we were allowed to bring the dogs with us again. Mike had a burger and I had a wedge salad and let me tell you, we were overwhelmed by how good the food was. It really was unexpected so far out in the middle of nowhere. Mike mentioned many times that the burgers in Utah had the freshest tasting meat he ever had and the Burr Trail Grill was no exception. I was in the mood between being hungry and not being hungry and I either ate here or did without. I picked a house wedge salad and it was so good! By far the best wedge salad I have ever had. The lettuce was perfectly crisp and so fresh. There were a few pieces of unbelievable-tasting bacon on the side, peppered just the right amount, and served at a perfect temperature. Not too greasy. A few pickled beets on the side and an amazing thousand island-style dressing and it was a 10/10 when it comes to wedge salads.
So our stop for the night was 20 miles or so north of Boulder in our favorite type of place to stop and camp at and that would be national forests. I really have grown to appreciate them. We found ourselves setting up camp at the free Deer Creek Lake Campground in Dixie National Forest. Right now at this particular second, I wish I was a writer so I would know how to find the words to put pictures in your head and sounds in your ears of what this place was like. It was just over-the-top! I loved it! I could’ve died a happy woman here. A beautiful green meadow with wildflowers of all sorts of colors. Of course there had to be a babbling brook lined with volcanic rock flowing through a grove of aspen trees. Just amazingly beautiful and free! So we definitely got our camp set up, had a quick campfire, and called it a night. By this point in the trip is always where you’re about ready to be at home.
However, the next morning we woke up and took the “perfect” hike. We headed up in elevation from about 9000 feet toward 10,000 feet to reach Deer Creek Lake. I was surprised that Utah was so green! One of my favorite parts about this hike is once we got out of the aspen groves, past the babbling brook, across the green meadow, and up the hill a little ways, you could stop and turn around and look south and see the canyons. It was just surreal to be standing in such a green meadow looking at the dry, desert canyons. Just amazing.
So onward and upward, still hiking on the trail meandering through the green meadow, by the babbling brook, through the wildflowers…you get my drift here right? Oh it was beautiful and the temperature was so perfect. I am not much for hot weather. I definitely prefer cooler weather. This was the perfect temperature for hiking. We finally reached Deer Creek Lake after a few miles of huffing and puffing and trying to get air…I’ve yet to adapt to higher elevations! We passed a few spots of snow on the ground and reached a nice big boulder by the lake…perfect spot to sit for a bit, grab a snack, and take in the views. We decided that would be the perfect location for us to build a cabin….now just figure out how to make that happen!
After a beautiful hike, we went back to the campground and packed up for our next stop, Capitol Reef National Park. Capitol Reef was very different than I expected. It was not very touristy at all and seems to be a little forgotten but if you want to see canyons in Utah, this is a great place to drive through. We skipped Arches and stopped for the night on the Colorado / Utah border.
I loved Utah and will have to visit again. There are just so many trails, variations in scenery, and just hundreds of places to see. Utah Rocks!
Enjoy this slideshow below of all of the places we went in Utah. It is about 12 minutes in length and has background music, so mute speakers if you don’t want to hear it!
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Links to places mentioned above:
- Visit Utah
- Zion National Park
- Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
- Ponderosa Grove Campground
- Cannonville KOA
- Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
- Tourism Site for Escalante & Boulder, Utah
- Escalante Outfitters
- Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument
- Devil’s Garden Escalante
- Burr Trail Trading Post & Grill on Facebook
- Dixie National Forest
- Deer Creek Lake Campground
- Capitol Reef National Park
- Dinosaurs in Escalante’s Grand Staircase