Trip Report by Anna
We had the pleasure of spending a week in the southern Utah area. I am kind of a spaz. Why go to just one place when you know there are at least 5 cool places near by? Even better, you find even more cool places by accident! I really wanted to spend a week backpacking and canyoneering in Zion. And in Bryce Canyon. And spend a few days in Snow Canyon State Park. Oh, and maybe do a half dozen slot canyons and some long hikes in Escalante. Oh, wait, I only have 6 days.
Not surprisingly, the trip ended up to be a beautiful whirlwind. Everything we did was a day trip. Or part of a day. Photos from the entire trip can be viewed in the gallery while some of the trip highlights get their own articles and photos. (Jump to the links below!)
We flew into Vegas. I considered flying into Salt Lake City, however, Vegas was cheaper in airfare and car rentals. It is also slightly closer to Bryce Canyon and as an added bonus took us right by Valley of Fire and Snow Canyon State Parks. If you live anywhere in the somewhat vicinity, I would recommend driving. The southwest is, in general, gorgeous. (though not as gorgeous as Alaska.... but I am biased) In order to be in so many places in a short amount of time, we drove a lot. One thing that caught us by surprise was snow in May. In the higher elevations, we encountered snow, while driving and in the southern end of Bryce Canyon NP.
We picked the dates for the trip based off my work schedule (construction starts in May in Alaska), my ACL being healed (I had surgery in mid December and was cleared to do most things "within reason" by April), and finals (schools have finals the last week in April here). That said, the first week of May was a pretty good time to go. It was not outrageously hot, the sun was fairly abundant, and tourist season was not quite in full swing (though it was certainly headed that way). If I could pick any dates, I might go in early April to avoid more tourists.
The only unfortunate part about the timing was that the Narrows were closed. In doing my research, it looks like melt water in the spring tends to fill up the canyon to the point of being dangerous. So if the Narrows are on your absolute must-do list, I would suggest another time.
The only time we stayed hotel was in Vegas the night we got in. Because it is Vegas and we wanted to spend some time on the strip losing some money. Well, I lost money, Lindsay broke even. Fuck gambling. Anyway, we were able to camp in both Zion and Bryce NP. Camping was relatively easy to find in Bryce. We got in super late, and were able to find a spot. Not a great spot, but a spot all the same. If you got in before 11 pm, your options might be even better.
Zion was another story. We got in late and ended up paying almost $90 to stay in an RV park right outside. A couple of friends we met up with along the trip got up early and stood in line at the ass crack of dawn to get spots at the Watchman Campground in the park. I believe there are two campgrounds in Zion; the other takes reservations. Of course, it books up weeks to months in advance. So, keep that in mind when planning your Zion adventure. There are options, but the RV park was less than charming and expensive as fuck.
Luckily, a friend of mine has a vacation home in Escalante. We were able to crash there for our days in that area of Utah. I would imagine that there would be vacation homes available through sites like AirB&B. There are also campgrounds in the town of Escalate. As another option, just camp out in the national monument.
Permitting and Crowds
Bryce Canyon was easy and permit-free for us. The park is low enough volume that once you get a mile or so down the trail, the crowds really thin out. We did the Fairland Loop and saw maybe 3 other parties the whole 8 mile hike. We didn't plan any overnight trips or look into permitting for it.
Zion is a permitting and crowds nightmare. All overnight trips require a permit. The main drag that does not require permits is packed. All slot canyons require permitting. Some are day-of and relatively easy to get. Others, like the Subway, are done on a lottery system. The website is pretty easy to follow as far as figuring out what permits you need. Many hikes have permitting available a few months out and then also as a last minute lottery. So do your research. We didn't and made it work anyway.
To avoid crowds, the eastern side of Zion is much more mellow. The mountains off the road are pretty attainable (see below) and require no permits for day trips. The slot canyons in the area do though.
As a note, permits for canyons are not issued if significant rain is in the forecast. Something about trying to prevent another disaster... the worst in Zion's history.
Being Alaskans, we are prepared for cold weather, wind, snow, ice, and maybe even earthquakes. Hiking in the Chugach, we are accustomed to shitty rock that sometimes crumbles when you grab it or step on it, scree to twist your ankle on, and somewhat slick rock. We are used to moose and bears, but not so much snakes and venomous bugs.
That said, we were super cautious when it came to flash flooding danger. Rain in the forecast? Nope, no slot canyons today. Flash floods can turn a pleasant jaunt through a canyon into a deadly massacre in moments. You might think that you will just shimmy up the sides of the canyon to avoid the water. Well sure, if you are a spider monkey and the canyon happens to be that narrow where you are. Just don't do it. Respect the weather, especially the heavy rains in the area.
On another note, the sandstone rocks get very slick when wet. It's nicknames "slickrock" for a reason! Oh, we only saw one snake while we were there, but watch out for those and other creepie crawlies too.
Day Trips and Such
Click the photos below for more information on specific days and places we visited.