We are so excited to be sharing a bit of our current National Parks experience with you all! We have been following Don and Shelly since we started planning our adventure just as they were kicking off their own. Their work promoting the U.S. National Parks definitely inspired us to follow in their footsteps.
Since we have only finished visiting 15 parks of our year-long 59-park tour, we are not yet able to speak to all 59 National Parks. But after spending about a month in Utah, we felt we have a good grasp on the National Parks there.
If there is a common thread weaving together Utah’s five National Parks, also referred to as the “Mighty Five,” it’s popularity.
The gorgeous Colorado Plateau, which uplifted then eroded in amazing rock formations, is responsible for the beauty of this area. Hundreds of thousands of people, from the U.S. and everywhere else, flock to southern Utah each year to see the wonders of the Mighty Five. And, after seeing them for ourselves, it’s clear why.
However, it was also quickly clear that if we wanted to enjoy the wilderness and peace of these sacred areas, we had to make some plans to avoid the crowds.
We believe we were pretty successful in both capturing the famous essence, and experiencing immense solitude in each park. And now we’re here to share our favorite, off-the-beaten-path moments that led to maximum enjoyment with minimum crowds.
Known for its awe-inspiring slot canyons and narrows, we think it’d be a crime to visit Zion and not explore for a bit. The Subway route from the “bottom up” is non-technical and is a moderately easy hike, save for a steep beginning section that leads to the creek. Follow the creek for a few miles, walking up waterfalls and around turquoise pools of water, to The Subway, a short section of a parentheses-shaped open canyon with “rooms” of pools and waterfalls. A paid permit is required for this 9.5-mile day hike.
2. The Fiery Furnace // Arches National Park
Many of the iconic features at Arches National Park can be seen via an overlook or short, easy trail, so much of your time will be spent with other people. If you want to get away, register for a paid permit for The Fiery Furnace, accessible via $10 guided tour or $4 solo exploration. Venture into this maze of rock spires, squeeze through narrow cliffs, and discover secret arches. Getting lost is inevitable (and part of the fun) without a guide, but the area is small enough to stay oriented.
3. Sulphur Creek Route // Capitol Reef National Park
If The Narrows in Zion thrilled you, but the crowds were frustrating, this is the perfect alternative. Sulphur Creek is a 5.6-mile one-way route located near the Visitor Center. It is a gorgeous hike, consisting of three moderately difficult waterfall downclimbs. You’ll see narrow cliffs surrounding the creek of glistening water, and most likely you’ll have the whole route to yourself. If you have bikes, you can use them to shuttle you back to your car, or hike the extra 3 miles along the road.
4. Murphy Point // Canyonlands National Park
Although it’s deemed the “best sunset” in Canyonlands by National Geographic, this overlook is commonly passed by because it requires a 1.8-mile walk to get there. We saw not a soul as we made the easy trek out to watch the sunset and set up camp. Only one permit per night is issued for this zone of the backcountry, so if you want to camp overnight, you’ll have the whole area to yourself. We had no trouble snagging a day-of permit and will remember the site as one of our favorites of the trip so far.
5. Observation Point // Zion National Park
Zion is full of popular activities, but they also boast plenty of lesser-known activities and trails like this one. Observation Point is actually higher than Angel’s Landing below, so the views are spectacular. The 8-mile round-trip hike is moderately strenuous, but you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of Zion Canyon and beyond.
6. Waterpocket District // Capitol Reef National Park
If route exploring is your style, don’t skip Capitol Reef just because it is a little out of the way. The slot canyons in Capitol Reef rivaled any we had trekked through before. There are many backcountry route options, but we chose Upper Muley Twist Canyon, a 15-mile easy-to-follow route that traversed above and below the canyons, as well as past five natural arches.
7. White Rim Overlook // Canyonlands National Park
If the rest of these adventures we have listed are a bit out of your comfort zone, keep reading. White Rim Overlook in Canyonlands was our favorite of the overlooks, and we had the entire thing to ourselves. While most tourists seemed to flock to Grand View Point Overlook, we veered over to the nearby White Rim Overlook. After experiencing time at both, we enjoyed White Rim much more. It is 1.6 miles from the parking lot, which somehow deters just about every visitor, and the views were wider and better than Grand View.
No matter how you visit Utah’s Mighty Five, you can’t really go wrong. Plan ahead and know your abilities and preferences. For us, we knew that we wanted to see a balance of popular tourist spots and off-the-beaten-path secrets.
And we did.