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National Parks in the Western US

If you have been following our travels, you know that we love to travel internationally, with our recent trips in Morocco and Spain, or Costa Rica. However, this summer we stayed "close" and went to visit the wonderful National Parks in the West of the United States.

It was a pretty good adventure as we rented a Sprinter to visit the parks, which allowed us to move quickly between parks and enjoy some active outdoor time throughout. It was busy but we loved it. Note that many of the National Park campgrounds book out early, especially for key summer dates, so it's important to plan early.

Our itinerary was as follows:
Day 1: Fly into Las Vegas; get a hold of the Sprinter and drive toward Zion. We stayed at a cute campground called Zion River Resort.

Day 2: We had an amazing day of visiting Zion, which included several hikes throughout the park. The highlight was hiking/swimming! through the Narrows, a canyon that is overflown by water when it gets too narrow. We finished the day at thee Watchman campground inside the park.

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park

Day 3: We left Zion for a scenic drive toward Bryce Canyon. We had planned to be at Bryce Canyon early to get spots at the campground, which is a first-come, first-serve basis. (we had also made a back up reservation at a campground nearby, but we were lucky to get one of the last few spots at the campground inside the park). After setting up, we then proceeded to drive around the beautiful park, to see the various sights along the way. Our on-foot visit of the most famous part of Bryce Canyon would be for the following morning, when we were all refreshed and the weather was cool. That said, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset at the top of Sunset Point.

Scenic view of Bryce Canyon

Day 4: And we did as expected, hiking the main loop of Bryce Canyon, which is absolutely beautiful! We were sad to leave Bryce Canyon, but excited to continue visiting the beautiful area of Utah. 

Hiking Bryce Canyon

Our next stop was by Escalante Petrified Forest. We stayed by the State Park campground, which offered a nice little reservoir and the opportunity to enjoy water sports like kayaking and hiking up the hill nearby.

Kayaking fun

Day 5: We had a wonderful hike at Escalante National Park, going to visit Calf Creek Falls. The destination was a good reward, where we could all enjoy the water and the kids could slide into the pond form the sleep slides of the cliffs surrounding the waterfall. It was fun! After driving through Capitol Reef National Park (a little disappointing in our mind, after all these other places), we spent the night at Thousand Lakes RV Park, which was a nice set-up with nice view of cliffs and "wildlife" (aka bunnies that kids loved).

Calf Creek Falls

Day 6: After a quick recovery from our previous hike, we embarked on our hardest hike on the trip: A 6-mile slot canyon hike at Grand Staircase Escalante. The hike is beautiful, but it's an adventure. You have to climb on the canyon walls from time to time, to avoid the water (which was often waist-deep for our 3-year old). There were a couple of tricky parts where we had to climb down cliffs and manage the rocks and water conditions. But everyone was so excited about the adventure, and they will be able to remember it for ever!

Climbing up and down the canyon

More climbing down

Walls left and right... and water in the middle

In the afternoon, we drove further East toward our furthest destination, Arches National Park. It was a long drive and we arrived by sunset, and a little exhausted from the recent hiking.

Day 7: On the next day, we took it pretty easy and visited Arches National Park, slowly but surely. It was beautiful, but by then we had had our fair share of cliffs and rocks and we were getting ready for the 2nd part of our trip, which would be a little more varied.

As it turns out, we were supposed to overnight by Monument Valley as we slowly made our way back West toward Lake Powell. However, we decided that Monument Valley was not worth spending more than a few minutes to take photos, and the RV park we had picked for the night didn't look very exciting. After taking the mandatory Monument Valley photos, we ended up driving all the way to Page by Lake Powell, where we "splurge" on a motel for a night. Ah, the comfort of a real bed and a warm shower!

Monument Valley

For the remaining 3 days of our trip, we had planned to settle ourselves by Lake Powell (the Wahweap Campground) and doing day tours from there. We loved this area and enjoyed the various activities we could access, after being focused on hiking and national parks. Highlights included:
* Renting a boat on Lake Powell for a day
* Horseback riding in the nearby hills by Big Water
* Visiting the impressive dam at Lake Powell
* Swimming in the Lake right by our campground
* Enjoying the views at Horseshoe Bend
* Last but not least, visiting Antelope Canyon with its beautiful light (it's recommended to reserve in advance)

Boating at Lake Powell

Antelope Canyon

On our final day, we made our way back to Las Vegas, where we took our flight home. We were sad that this portion of the trip was over so soon as we felt that there was still a lot we could have explored. But we hope we will come back again.

At the end, we had a great time discovering this section of the Western United States and we enjoyed the flexibility of having a Sprinter to allow for a daily change of scenery. Below is the tally of the driving.
Las Vegas - Zion River Resort (Virgin): 150 Miles
Zion River Resort - Bryce Canyon: 100 Miles
Bryce Canyon - Escalante Petrified Forest: 50 Miles
Escalante Petrified Forest - Thousand Lakes RV Park (Torrey): 70 Miles
Torrey - Arches National Park: 220 Miles
Arches National Park - Page: 280 Miles
Page - Las Vegas: 280 Miles
Total: 1,150 Miles

In hindsight, the extra driving to visit Arches National Park might not have been worth it. It was a lot of extra time spent in the car, and after the exciting adventures of the prior days, Arches National Park was a little underwhelming. But we are still glad we did it. I hope this can give you some ideas if you ever want to go visit the beautiful National Parks in Utah.


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