I was excited about this trip for months, which sometimes makes me nervous. I mean, keeping expectations in check is rule number one of travel, right? Well, fate was on my side because the trip ended up being better than I even hoped for (at least this first chunk of the week… Vegas was… a lot). But let’s start start at the beginning!
Friday was Hailey’s 12th birthday and we celebrated well. I had packed up all the things on Thursday as to not be distracted on her special day, so when we woke up Saturday, we were ready to roll! We actually attended the first half of Hailey’s soccer game before heading to the airport and flying west. We had a direct flight from Charlotte to Las Vegas, and landed early afternoon local time. We picked up our Turo car from the airport, stopped to load up with snacks at Whole Foods, then drove the 2.5 hours out to Virgin, Utah to Under Canvas just outside of Zion National Park (read my full review of Under Canvas here).
We checked in late afternoon, got settled into our tents, and enjoyed dinner and a relaxed evening at camp before tucking into bed at a decent hour, as we had a big morning planned for our first full day there.
Sunday morning we woke up early, which was easy to do thanks to the time change. We got dressed, packed our snacks, and drove the 20 minutes to park at the Zion Visitor Center. No cars are allowed on the main drag of the national park, just shuttles. There was no line for the shuttle so we hoped on and took off to our first hike of the trip- Angel’s Landing!
Being still half asleep apparently, we missed our stop, and enjoyed an extended ride and a friendly bus driver until we got back to The Grotto, our intended stop. We took off for Angel’s Landing around 7:15 AM or so, which I’m grateful for because it took us roughly 5 hours total to complete! Read about our full Angel’s Landing experience here.
We rode the shuttle to Zion Lodge and got their quick service counter lunch- burgers and chicken sandwiches as we recounted our adventure. After lunch we made the short hike up to Weeping Rock before deciding we were all ready to head back to camp and relax late afternoon.
After showers we headed to the main area where we order dinner and drinks, played Jenga, played tetherball, and watched the sun go down on an exhilarating day!
We slept in and took our time with a leisurely breakfast on Monday. Our plan was to hike The Narrows and we wanted to wait until it warmed up a bit. The Narrows is another iconic hike within Zion National Park. It’s a 16 mile long out and back trail at the bottom of the canyon, through the Virgin River. You walk in the river on large river stones, so it’s a slow and steady kind of hike.
Of course, we had no intentions of going 16 miles, but the cool thing about the trail is you simply go as far as you’d like, then turn around. The water temperature was just slightly above 60 degrees. We talked to a lot of people and rangers that gave us tips as to where the deep part was, how fast the current was going, and ensured us that despite the sign saying danger, there was no chance of flash floods that day.
We parked in town because park parking was full and took the town’s shuttle right to the entrance of Zion, then the Zion shuttle all the way to the last stop. We, and a a bunch of other adventurers, got off here to make the 1 mile trek to the start of the trail. Many people opt to rent boots and neoprene socks and hiking sticks in town, but he had been assured that hiking in our keens would be just fine. And it was!
I was concerned how long we’d last when the kids stepped in the river and immediately began complaining about how cold it was, but we stuck it out and within 10 minutes, they were giggling and explaining how it didn’t even feel cold at all anymore.
The Narrows was busy, but the crowds didn’t deter from the fun. There was a comradery of people sharing what they believed to be the best paths through the river and encouragement. It was such a neat hike and the further you went, the more the crowds thinned out. About a mile in, Kaitlyn started getting cold, so we turned to head back even though the river was beckoning David and me to see what was just around the riverbend. I’d love to go back with just David and hike further, but the 4 mile total hike was a good fit for our family!
It was late afternoon by the time we finished The Narrows. We had stopped by the visitor center to complete the junior ranger books and let the girls earn their badges. We also had all worked up an appetite so we took the shuttles back to town and on a recommendation headed to Oscar’s, a casual Mexican spot in town. My goodness, the portions were HUGE but the flavors were popping and we all dug in hungrily, not leaving until we were bursting at the seams. It was the perfect dinner for our hungry crew before heading back to camp for the evening.
Tuesday morning we woke up early, grabbed coffee and tea, then headed out before the sun came up to make the 2 hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. It was so neat because you actually drive through Zion to get there and the morning views were incredible.
Somewhere along the way I got misinformation that there was a cute, bustling town outside of Bryce, so we planned to get breakfast there. However, as we got closer I realized there wasn’t actually much of anything. I ended up finding a little spot in a neighboring town that served breakfast, so we stopped there. The temperatures were refreshingly cold and the breakfast ended up being one of the best from the whole trip! David’s steak wasn’t much to look at but was one of the best seasoned and cooked steaks we’ve ever had. What a gem it turned out to be!
With full bellies, we headed into the park. I had been told that if you only have one day that you can see most of what Bryce has to offer by doing the Navajo to Peek-a-boo loop, so that was our plan. It was a 5 mile loop, which sounded like the right distance for us, and we were ready to stretch our legs once we arrived.
The sunset point scenery upon first approach is absolutely breathtaking! It looks otherworldly. We filled our waters, checked our snack supply, and started off down the steep switchbacks to the trail.
I believe it’s listed as moderate, but we found it to be a challenging hike with constant elevation ups and downs. It was beautiful and we enjoyed it, but we were all out of water and ready for a refresh by the time we completed it. We felt accomplished, but also found it a little funny that it felt like the most challenging hike between Angel’s Landing, The Narrows, and Peek-a-Boo loop.
After our hike we refilled waters and completed junior rangers requirements at the visitors center before making the drive back to camp. When we got close, David took us on a little unmarked adventure a gentleman at Under Canvas had told him about- a 10 minute ride on a dirt road followed by a 10 minute walk through a dried up creek bed led us to the treasure- DINOSAUR prints, preserved right there in the middle of nowhere. He told us it was a therapod, so in my mind it was definitely t-rex tracks. So cool!
Back at camp we showered off and enjoyed a long and relaxed evening at Under Canvas. We ordered a bottle of wine, listened to live music, played tetherball, ate dinner, the kids did a dried floral arrangement activity, and we chatted as the sun went down on my last day of being 39 years old.
Wednesday was my birthday and what an awesome way to welcome a new decade! David and I watched the sunrise with coffee and tea and once the kids woke up and joined us we ordered breakfast. Mid-morning we headed into town to rent e-bikes. Cars aren’t allowed in Zion, but e-bikes are, so we had it in our heads to explore the park on them for the day.
Hailey was thrilled because now at age 12 she could get her own. Kaitlyn was thrilled to ride “motorcycle style” on back of David’s. I was thrilled not to have anyone on mine after our motorbike incident in Anegada in the spring. We rented from Zion Guru on a recommendation from my friend, Ashley, which was a quick and easy process. Then we wheeled them across the street into an empty parking lot to practice. It took a few minutes to get the hang of the pedal-assist, but once we did, we were all hooked. Into the park we went!
I did my best to capture the experience, but pictures can’t really do it justice. It was one of our FAVORITE days. The weather was perfect, the freedom to scoot around the park was exhilarating, and the views were out of this world.
The first half of the day we just biked up and down the main drag, then we stopped for lunch in the dining room of Zion Lodge. We scored a patio table with the most magnificent view of my favorite oversized tree and a steep canyon wall. With shade and a breeze, the setting served as a idyllic refuel lunch spot.
After lunch we wanted to squeeze in one more hike, to see the emerald pools. The only catch was that the main bridge to the trail was under construction, so we had to take an alternative route. We thought it would be a mile or two, but once we got going we realized it was going to be closer to 4+. I’m not sure what kind of birthday magic ensued, but everyone hiked it like a champ!
We got the treat of seeing a wild tarantula on the trail (which was exhilarating and totally creepy), the emerald pools, and amazing views of the canyon as we headed back to our e-bikes for the final ride back into town.
Again, back at camp we washed up and enjoyed watching the mountains begin to glow red with sunset around us as we ate dinner, roasted smores, and soaked up our last night under the bright stars in Utah. The kids asked the live guitar player to sing me happy birthday and he let them join him; it was so cute. I opened cards and watched the fire dance until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.
I truly couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate the turning of a page. It motivates me to want to stay healthy and active to enjoy more adventures with the people I love for years to come. I feel so fortunate and have so much to be grateful for. Here’s to embracing each birthday and celebrating it well, as the blessing that it is.