We are less than 2 weeks away from leaving Utah, but we wanted to fit in a few final hikes before we leave. We chose the Grotto Trail in Payson, which is only 0.3 miles long and only gains around 200 ft in elevation. My sister and her family joined us for this short little hike up Payson Canyon.
You can get to these falls any time of year. In the winter you will see a giant icicle down the falls. The photo above is from the spring, so the waterfall is pretty full, and the water was really cold!
Getting To The Grotto Trail in Payson
The map below shows you where the Grotto Trail in Payson Canyon starts.
Utah has dirt bike riding trails of all different types, rocky, woody, slickrock and more. If you are looking for a fun combination of sand and slickrock, the San Rafael Swell ATV trails might just be for you.
One of our favorite places within the San Rafael Swell ATV trails system is the Salt Wash area. We camp just off the I-70 exit for Moore, exit 116. On a side note, I-70 is one of my favorite highways in Utah. All the views of the swell and red rock are just gorgeous. Ok, back to the San Rafael Swell ATV trails. From exit 116 on I-70 you can ride to the Copper Globe Mine, or head through Eagle’s Canyon to Swasye’s Cabin and Dutchmen’s Arch. You can even ride Devil’s Racetrack Loop.
This particular trip we took a few newbie dirt bike riders, so we didn’t go on Devil’s Racetrack, but we did visit all the other sites mentioned. The trail system down in this area is huge, with so much to see. I am only touching on some of the staples. There are also lots of trails that lead past petroglyphs and pictographs, as well as some ruins.
Most the dirt bike and ATV riding in this area is fairly newbie-friendly. You’ll have the occasional steep slickrock to climb, or a sandy wash that you’ll need to power through. All in all it is fun for the whole group.
The Copper Globe Mine was new for me this trip. The ride was fairly short (just over 5 miles out and back), but was SO smooth and enjoyable. It was fun to head out there and see how the old miners setup camp. There are some old food and cleaning supply bottles and cans. There was a tiny little rain gutter over the door roof, and flattened tin cans creating a skirt around the hut to prevent water from coming in.
San Rafael Swell ATV Trails
Here are some resources to help you plan your trip to the San Rafael Swell ATV Trails.
I absolutely love Zion’s Birch Hollow hike. I’ve hiked Birch Hollow probably 6 times; each time just as good as the last. This hike has long rappels and is nearly all shaded. It is fun to bring new friends on this hike because they are always impressed. This hike easily becomes their newest favorite hike.
If you are planning on hiking Zion’s Birch Hollow hike, you’ll need to make a few preparations ahead of time such as setup a drop off and pick up vehicle, as well as get a rope long enough to handle the awesome rappels. Also, make sure you are comfortable rappelling long rappels. Most the rappel approaches are pretty easy, but the two longest rappel anchors are at your foot level. So the first step over the crest of the rock can be a bit tricky if you are uncomfortable.
The hike takes around 3-5 hours to rappel down the canyons and hike through the slot. Plan for 1-2 hours to hike out of the canyon to get to your pick up vehicle. The last time I hiked Zion’s Birch Hollow I had 4 people with 2 60m ropes and it took us 4 hours and 15 minutes total.
Zion’s Birch Hollow canyon has 12 rappels. The longest rappel is right around 90 ft. with 2 other rappels right around 80 ft.
Getting to Zion’s Birch Hollow Hike
Go to the Zion Ponderosa Ranch near the East Entrance of Zion. Continue past Zion Ponderosa Ranch approximately 3.5 miles on the dirt road. You’ll see a sign for the Birch Hollow hike. Before parking your car here, make sure you park a car or dirt bike at the pick up point… the Orderville trailhead.
Here’s a map of where Zion’s Birch Hollow Trailhead is.
Group Gear: 100m rope, 2 cars, and rope protection for sharp edges.
Personal Gear: harness, locking carabiner, descender (figure 8, ATC, etc), shoes that grip, helmet, gloves and water.
Easter weekend each year is Jeep Week in Moab UT. Easter time provides great weather and a perfect excuse to pull your dirt bikes, jeeps, 4-wheelers, and other motorized toys out of storage and get some fresh dirt on them. And what better dirt than the red dirt of southern Utah? We joined in this year by pulling our dirt bikes out of the shed and heading towards central Utah to go dirt bike riding near Moab.
Surprisingly, this year we woke up to snow one day. Yikes! But it melted by midday which turned out to be a huge help in keeping dust down and providing more enjoyable traction on some of the notoriously sandy trails.
If you are ever in the Southeast area of Utah, check out the Anasazi Indian ruins near Bluff. The Indian ruins can be accessed on Butler Wash, which parallels highway 191 between Blanding and Bluff.
Utah is littered with Indian ruins and Indian relics, you just need to know where to look. My husband and I love to ride motorcycles in the San Rafael Swell and we pass by many Indian drawings, but they are spread out many miles and are only little half walls or partials. As we travel further South the Indian ruins become more frequent. One of the more congested areas that is both easily accessed and interesting to the average person or kid are the Indian ruins near Bluff UT.
Getting To The Indian Ruins Near Bluff
If you are coming from Blanding and heading South, you’ll drive about 12 miles South on highway 191, then take the exit for highway 95. Soon you will see a well marked turn off for Butler Wash on your left.
If you are coming from Bluff, follow the 191 Southwest out of town. You’ll go a few miles then go over a cattle guard. Immediately on your right will be a fenced dirt road with the Butler Wash Rd, 262 sign, on your right.
Butler Wash Road
Butler Wash Road, from highway 95 down to highway 191 is just over 20 miles. You will definitely want a 4-wheel drive vehicle as this road is full of ups, downs, and some deep ruts. You can turn down any of the side dirt roads on the West side of the road, towards Comb Ridge, and you will be led to ruins. Some of the most popular turns to the most popular Indian ruins near Bluff are Fishmouth Cave, Monarch Cave and Procession Panel.
Fishmouth Cave – 8.8 miles heading South. OR 12.7 miles heading North.
Split Level Ruin – 11.9 miles heading South. OR 9.6 miles heading North.
Cold Spring – 14.4 miles heading South. OR 7.1 miles heading North.
Monarch Cave – 14.6 miles heading South. OR 6.9 miles heading North.
Procession Panel 15.4 miles heading South. OR 6.1 miles heading North.
Double Stack Ruin – 17.7 miles heading South. OR 3.8 miles heading North.
As we drove North towards Salt Lake we stopped in at Newspaper Rock, just outside Canyonlands. You can see the corner of Newspaper rock behind my clearly-excited 7-week-old, Seth. If you want to spend more time exploring the Comb Ridge area, you can check out AmericanSouthwest.net
Hole in the Rock Road is a hidden Utah treasure that I love sharing with friends and family interested in seeing more of what Utah has to offer. Along this long dirt road are multiple slot canyons such as Zebra, Tunnel, Peek-a-Boo and Spooky, as well as multiple arches and hoodoos such as the 94 foot Broken Bow Arch and a city of hoodoos at Devils Garden.
Getting To Hole In The Rock Road
Head towards Escalante, UT. Getting to Escalante when coming from Northern Utah is really pretty, especially when you get to the ‘fin’ part of the freeway where you have to slow down to 20 miles per hour. Enjoy the view at that point. Make sure you travel in this area with a little bit of day light either going to, or coming from Escalante. It’s about 5-6 hours from Salt Lake City. Hole in the Rock road is 5 miles East of Escalante, UT on UT-12 (it’s hard to miss since there really aren’t any other roads).
Points Of Interest
Hole-in-the-Rock Road is a long, long dirt road. The road goes for around 60 miles. Most people only go on the first 15 miles, so those miles of dirt road are well maintained (especially if you go early in the season, spring-ish, when the road is freshly graded). I would suggest that you go 26.5 miles in so that you can hit up Peek-A-Book and Spooky canyons. Before I get ahead of myself, here are my suggested stops.
mile 0.0 – Reset Odometer – you want to make sure you reset your odometer since most side roads aren’t labeled.
mile 8 –Zebra & Tunnel Slots – Go 8 miles until just after a cattle guard. The trailhead is on the south side of the road. If you hit Halfway Hollow, you’ve gone about a 1/4 a mile too far. The hike out to Zebra and Tunnel slot canyons 2.5 miles out, then 2.5 miles straight back. Zebra slot itself is really short but SO picturesque! There is almost always some water to wade through, but you can just go out and back, so wade as far as you’d like. In the spring these two canyons may be too full of water to enjoy, but if you go in the fall have your cameras ready. Tunnel Canyon is about 1/4-1/2 a mile in a sandy wash away from Zebra. Here are the details you might want to print out, or at least look at the map since it gives you a much better sense of the route you will be taking. The trail is very exposed so sunscreen up and bring plenty of water and snacks. http://www.roadtripryan.com/go/t/utah/escalante/zebratunnel#overview
mile 12.0 Devils Garden – this is a picnic-style spot with rock formations to play on, as well as picnic tables, and the turn off is labeled so it is easy to find. It can get pretty windy here, but this is a great stop if you have kids. No hiking needed, just walk around through this giant rock garden.
mile 15-20 ish – this is where the dirt road starts getting less ‘nice’. Most cars are still fine up until this point.
mile 26.5 Peek-A-Boo & Spooky – These are the best slot canyons for families with young kids. They have enough technical aspects that they are fun, but they are short enough that they don’t tire kids out. I last hiked these canyons as a loop with my 2 year old niece who loved them. Three things to be aware of… first, the road after turning off the main Hole in the Rock Road and heading towards these slots is extremely bad. You ought to have a four-wheel drive vehicle and be comfortable in a really slant-y car in order to drive this. Second, in the spring and summer I’ve never seen any snakes in or near these slot canyons, but in the fall there are plenty of rattle snakes so be on the look out. Third, the loop for Peek-A-Boo and Spooky is best if taken by starting at Peek-A-Boo even though the entrance to Pee-A-Boo looks daunting. You may have to just lift your kids up the first part. You will recognize the start of Peek-A-Boo by the ‘steps’ carved out in the rock for your feet and hands to scramble up. Here are the hiking details for Peek-A-Boo and Spooky. Again, these are two of my favorite canyons and are great for families, as long as you don’t mind the long dirt road to get here. http://www.roadtripryan.com/go/t/utah/escalante/peekaboospookbrimeston#overview
Oh, one other thing to note, about halfway through Spooky you will come to, what seems like, a dead-end of rocks. Those rocks have been there a long time (at least a decade because they’ve been there every time I’ve gone). Just go to the left. You will duck under/through the tiny gap (my pot-bellied dad fit through so it isn’t TOO bad) in the rocks, and you will be in a mini rock cave. Once in the cave you will be helping each other get down a 5-6 foot slanted rock, then you are back to smooth sailing. Kids think this part if fun, adults often think they won’t fit, but there is much more room than you think, and the ‘drop’ is much shorter than it looks. Don’t try to go up and over, stay low and go through the ‘cave’.
Also at mile 26.5 is Brimstone Canyon. You will only want to do this if you are an experienced canyoneer-er, and don’t mind freezing and being in a very tight slot.
After you hike Peek-A-Boo and Spooky, you can start heading back towards Escalante, and return down those 26.5 miles of dirt road.
If you haven’t had enough hiking and want some more, I would definitely recommend doing Lower Calf Creek Falls which is just on the South side of Escalante, UT. This hike is decently long, but is often shaded (especially if you go in the second half of the day), and is largely flat. Bring bug spray to the falls. The hike should be fine, but certain times of year there are bugs galore at the base of the falls. The coolest thing about the falls, other than the large height of the drop, is the color of the lichen behind the falls. It creates this almost rainbow effect.
Camping on Hole in the Rock Road
Just as a time reference. This spring when I did this route with my husband, sister-in-law, brother-in-law and niece, we drove to Escalante at night, went about 8.3 miles up the dirt road to a road a little past the Zebra parking area, and camped. The next morning, we did Zebra (not Tunnel since Zebra had a lot of water, and Tunnel always has more water than Zebra), Devils Garden, Peek-A-Boo and Spooky all in 1 day. We did take our time at each stop, allowing even the little 2 year old to hike at her own pace a lot of the way. We finished Spooky as the sun was getting ready to set (this was spring, Feb, so the days were shorter). You can camp on Hole in the Rock road, just a few miles beyond Peek-A-Boo & Spooky. You’ll want to save Lower Calf Creek for the day before or day after Hole-in-the-Rock road, since you likely won’t have time for both. If you have older kids with you or you want to make a long weekend out of the road and have a good four-wheel-drive vehicle, you can continue up the road to a bunch arch hikes. We ended up going up to Broken Bow arch, which is around 36 miles on Hole-in-the-Rock road. Here is a map of the road, so you can see that there are lots of arches the further you get, but the road and hiking gets much more difficult.
Utah is one of the lucky states that has more than 1 National Park; in fact, there are 5 National Parks in Utah!
The 5 National Parks in Utah are:
Arches Arches National Park deserves a 1-2 day trip, allowing time to hike to Delicate Arch and Landscape Arch. Many other arches can be seen from your car or with a short hike.
One of the smallest National Parks, Bryce can be seen almost entirely in a single day. This enjoyable scenic drive also comes with at least one hike around Navajo Loop, through Wall Street.
Canyonlands National Park is a fun mix of multiple parks with buttes, fins, arches and rivers.
Capitol Reef National Park appeals to both easy-going sightseers as well as adventurous canyoneerers. Popular hikes like Cassidy Arch can be explored multiple ways.
Zion National Park takes a few days to get a good feel for the park. Some of the most popular hikes in this park include Angel’s Landing, Subway (permit required) and the Narrows.
These National Parks in Utah sprinkle the bottom half of the state and can be experienced by making a big up-turned arc shaped road trip.
I am a Utah native, blessed to live in a state with 5 National Parks. I visit Zion and Arches on a regular basis, but seldom do I plan a trip to any of the other 3. I aim to rectify that this year. Bade, Seth and I started this year by going to Bryce Canyon National Park. From my research and our trip in February, here is some information on what to do in Bryce Canyon National Park.
1 Day in Bryce
What to do in Bryce Canyon if you only have one day? Bryce Canyon is one of the smallest National Parks covering less than 60 square miles. The park’s long and narrow shape makes this the perfect park a simple scenic drive with a short hike or two.
Start your day in Bryce by exploring the visitor center to get some maps and brochures of the park. Your drive will be even more enjoyable with information about the area and formations you’ll be driving past. So load up on water, information, and a lunch for the day, and begin your day by driving 18 miles South, all the way to the end of the park. The Southern end of the park is just above 9100ft, the highest point in the park. The viewpoints here, Rainbow & Yovimpa, are some of my favorite because they allow you to see all the way up the park and into the Bryce Amphitheater.
Next you’ll spend the next 10 miles or so driving North, stopping at any or all the view points you see fit. Some viewpoints will look the same, but there are a few that stand out from the others such as Natural Bridge, Swamp Canyon and Paria View.
Bryce Point is my other favorite view point in this National Park, and is where many of the iconic Bryce Canyon photos are taken. After Inspiration Point, park at Sunset Point, have lunch, refill your water and get ready to hike.
Begin your 2.9 mile hike by walking along the rim of the canyon from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point. From there you will descend into the Bryce Amphitheater towards Queens Garden. Follow the signs towards Sunset Point, and you’ll connect with the Navajo Loop. There will be two ways you can go on the Navajo Loop, the Two Bridges way or via Wall Street. If Wall Street isn’t closed (it is closed half the year), then definitely take that trail, which will go through a towering slot canyon.
You should be nearing the end of your day by this point, but if you have time, you should head up to the North end of the park to Mossy Cave, just off hwy 12. Mossy Cave is a short 0.4 mile hike to an impressive cave. In the summer there’s lots of spring run off and winter bears massive ice creations.
3 Days in Bryce
What to do in Bryce Canyon if you have multiple days in the park? Hike.
The main scenic drive through Bryce parallels the canyon. If you have multiple days in Bryce Canyon, instead of just driving along side the hoodoos (which I suggest you do on one of your days), you can hike 23 miles right in the thick of the hoodoos. This option is better in the summer, and requires a back country camping permit from the visitor center.
Snowshoeing is a great winter activity both for relaxing and working out.
On sunny winter days I am drawn to the idea of getting outside and enjoying the nice weather. Yet, when I actually go outside my house, the streets are brown and salty…not exactly the warm sunny winter day I had in imagined. This is where snowshoeing comes in. I can drive just a few minutes outside the city to reach crisper air and untouched powder. Strapping snowshoes to my feet allows me to saunter up familiar trails without sinking or struggling, and see them with a whole new perspective. Another big advantage with snowshoeing is that you can get a good, low-impact workout without getting too hot or sweaty.
The basic gear for snowshoeing beginners includes snowshoes, waterproof or water-resistant boots and pants, and warm clothing. There are two main types of snowshoes for beginners, flat terrain snow shoes and rolling terrain snow shoes.
Flat Terrain Snowshoes Flat terrain shoes are best for snowshoeing beginners, and most entry-level snowshoes are flat terrain. These offer basic traction systems (a few spikes just below the toe area) and a wide base for ‘floating’ on top of the snow. The bindings on flat terrain snowshoes are often simpler and easier to get on and off. Trekker entry-level flat terrain snowshoe – amazon link Tubbs flat terrain snowshoe (pictured below on the far right) – amazon link
Rolling Terrain Snowshoes Rolling terrain snowshoes are best for avid hikers and backpackers. These snowshoes have more advanced traction systems that make it easier to climb hills or go over icy surfaces. There are typically multiple spikes below the boot area, and the entire edge area of the snowshoe may have a rim for traction. Rolling terrain snowshoes also often have beefier bindings so that your foot doesn’t slip out. MSR rolling terrain composite snowshoe (similar to middle set in picture below) – amazon link MSR rolling terrain aluminum showshoe (pictured below on the far left) – amazon link
Snowshoe Materials You will also notice in my photo that some snowshoes are aluminum based snowshoes and some are composite snowshoes. Aluminum snowshoes may come in wider varieties (better for heavier snowshoers and taller men), whereas composite snowshoes often only come in 1 size, but have an option to add on an extender tail (amazon link) on the back for heavier snowshoers or more powdery conditions. My husband loves the flat terrain composite snowshoes because he loves to run/ski down hills at the end of our snowshoeing hike. I like the rolling terrain aluminum snowshoes for the traction they provide.
Poles Many snowshoers will also hike with hiking poles or ski poles. If you are backpacking, going in harder terrain, or just like to have poles when you hike, snowshoeing with ski poles or hiking poles is a great option. I personally don’t use poles, but most of the people I snowshoe with use poles regularly. Make sure you have snow baskets at the bottom of the poles so your poles don’t go too deep in the snow.
Where To Snowshoe
Now that you have the gear, you’ll need to decide where you want to go snowshoeing. You can snowshoe on most regular hiking trails. If you are a beginner snowshoer, you will likely want to choose a hiking trail that is relatively flat and short. A good distance to start out on is around 2 miles with only a slight elevation change.
Snowshoeing For Beginners: Techniques
It will definitely take some adjusting if you have never worn snowshoes before. You’ll notice you have to take longer, wider strides. You’ll also quickly find out how difficult it is to take a step backward in snowshoes. After a few minutes of walking, you should get the hang of the basic step. So the main difficulties you will encounter as a beginner snowshoer are going uphills and going down hills.
When going uphill you should dig your toes in since the traction spikes are largely just under your toes. It’s ok if the back of your snowshoe is not even touching the snow as you climb up a hill.
When going downhill you should lean back so that if you fall or slide, you will land on your butt and stop.
When you are getting tired take up the rear of your group. Yes, it is fun to be at the front of the group, creating fresh tracks in the untouched powder, but it is also significantly more work to blaze the trail. If you are getting too tired to trail blaze, move to the back of the group and use others’ tracks.
Discovering the world’s longest slot canyon, complete with breath-taking views around every corner.
When I was asked if I would be interested in backpacking through the longest slot canyon in the world, my first thought was “Of course I would be interested!”, immediately followed by “just how long are we talking?”. For anyone like me, who likes the idea of backpacking but has no real world experience backpacking other than simply wearing a day pack while hiking, backpacking through a slot canyon seemed a little daunting.
Buckskin Gulch is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the Southwest US, and may be the longest in the world (add that to your brag list). Some backpackers who want a few-day trek will hike down Buckskin Gulch then continue through Paria Canyon all the way to Lee’s Ferry at Lake Powell. I just wanted a taste of backpacking, and the bragging rights of doing one of the longest slots in the world, so I hiked down the 13+ miles of Buckskin Gulch, then hiked up the Paria River (7 miles) to my exit vehicle.
A Few Months Before Backpacking
We started planning our Buckskin backpacking trip at the beginning of the year as one of our New Year’s Ambitions. We applied for a permit a few months before we planned to go because the weekends and best dates fill up, sometimes 6 months earlier. As with all slot canyons, there is a risk of flash flooding, so you will want to plan your trip between April and June, the driest months with the lowest risk and the best temperatures.
Since this canyon doesn’t typically require canyoneering equipment, larger groups are totally acceptable and don’t slow you down. I went with 9 close friends, 3 of them are avid backpackers, and the rest of us just wanted the glory, er… I mean … the experience.
Days Before The Slot
Mountain House Backpack Meal & Mountain Dew for dinner.
A few days before your slot canyon backpacking trip make sure you have the food and equipment that you need. Plan for 2 days of backpacking (3 days for your trip total), one full day to hike Buckskin Gulch, and one half day to hike up the Paria River. For me that meant packing 1 lunch, 1 dinner, 1 breakfast, and a bunch of snacks.
My hardcore-backpacking friends encouraged me to have dehydrated food for as many meals as I could. Dehydrated foods are lighter weight, and when backpacking, every ounce matters. I had a Cup-O-Noodle for lunch, Mountain House for dinner, and oatmeal for breakfast. I received a JetBoil for Christmas a few years ago and I love it both for mini backpacking trips like Buckskin, and for car camping outings when you want a warm meal fast. Meals like Mountain House and Cup-O-Noodle have foil or Styrofoam containers, so you can pour the boiling hot water directly into the package. For oatmeal, you will need to bring a separate bowl to mix the hot water and oatmeal. You can get snack ideas by checking out my favorite hiking snacks. I also did one major splurge on this trip… I hiked in with a can of Throwback Mountain Dew. It’s my favorite guilty pleasure and was such a treat after 14 miles of hiking in a sandy slot.
Gear-wise, I needed way less than I expected. We had checked the weather reports and found out it was going to be a mild evening the night we were staying in the canyon. I had a 30 degree MontBell mummy bag, which I ended up un-zipping slightly. Some in my group slept under the stars, but I was nervous for bugs (there ended up not being any bugs), so I had a tent. I split the weight of the tent between myself and my husband, Bade. We camped just a few hundred yards from the Paria River portion; we were completely sheltered from wind. Make sure you bring hiking basics such as a first aid kit, water filter, rope, and a flashlight.
Our backpacking gear.
Last but not least, you will need 2 poop bags…yeah…gross. When you go to pick up your permit, the ranger will ask if you have 2 per person, and if not, I think they give you some, or they will have you purchase some. Being in a slot canyon, if you need to go number 2, there is no where to bury your business, it will just sit in the canyon, which is why the poop bags are required. However, since this backpacking trip is decently short, you might be able to get away with not using one. Luckily, I didn’t need to carry my business out with me, but many others in my group did :(.
The night before you hike Buckskin, you will want to park one of your cars at White House Trailhead/Campsite. Then your other car will be with you, camping at Wire Pass Trailhead. The Wire Pass Trailhead is also used for the Wave hike. Both trailheads are down dirt roads (they are around 20 miles apart), but the roads aren’t too terrible. We had one SUV, and one little commuter car and both made it just fine.
Hiking In Buckskin Gulch
Now for the fun stuff, actually hiking in Buckskin. My one bit of advice for hiking in Buckskin is keep looking up! The canyon was constantly changing and constantly not changing all at the same time. Every foot of the canyon was gorgeous; I just wanted to take pictures of everything. But at the same time, how many pictures of the same slot canyon can one take? I was so amazed that the 13+ miles of slot really was 13+ miles of slot. It just kept going. These towering canyon walls with their water-carved faces continued for hours.
With many long slot canyons you find yourself getting cold since tall slots don’t allow much sun, but not in Buckskin. This long slot twists and turns, widens and narrows at regular intervals so you are constantly going in and out of sun spots, getting slightly warmer and slightly cooler regularly. I brought a pair of gloves with finger holes so that I could regulate these temperature swings to maintain my comfort while hiking.
I definitely recommend hiking Buckskin Gulch for both novices and experts alike. It is a slot canyon that everyone will enjoy, and I will most assuredly be adding this to my top hikes in Utah.