I spent a week traveling and exploring Southern Utah and I have to say, it is absolutely breath taking! Prior to the trip I did some research (duh), and with the help of a few friends who spent the week in Utah prior to my arrival, I created a fun, simple, and flexible itinerary. Keep in mind this is just a guide filled with ideas and some tips & tricks. I 100% recommend making your trip your own!
First things first, I recommend going in the “off season.” National parks tend to be much less crowded and the weather was quite enjoyable with temperatures in the 40’s-50s during the day — perfect for hiking! Although there are many small local airports, we chose to fly into Las Vegas and rent a car since it was only a two hour drive to our Airbnb. We found this affordable and spacious Airbnb in Hurricane, UT to rent for the week. It could sleep up to 4 people, had a massive bathroom, and also included a small kitchen, washer, and drier. You could also fly into Salt Lake City, if you’re planning on exploring more than just Southern Utah, but keep in mind it’s a 4 hour drive to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.
Our first full day in Utah was pretty laid back since Zack ran an half-marathon in the morning. Later in the day we went to Zion and hiked the Canyon Overlook Trail which is a short 20-30 minute hike with amazing views. It was definitely our shortest hike of the trip but also one of the busiest since it is relatively easy and family friendly. Park rangers recommended this hike if you aren’t brave enough for the famous (and more dangerous) Angels Landing but want an awesome view of the park. Following the hike we went to Jack’s Sports Grill in Springdale, just outside of the park, for a late lunch. This restaurant was pretty average in my opinion, but had a variety of menu options including sandwiches, burgers, salads, wings, beer, and margaritas.
The following day we planned on hiking The Narrows, which I highly recommend doing no matter the time of year. This hike is definitely more difficult since the whole hike is in water and takes almost all day. We woke up early and headed to Zion Outfitters, which is located just outside of the Zion park entrance, to rent our waders. During the warmer months people hike the narrows in their own clothes and don’t always rent waders, however I highly recommend it since the water is ice cold year round and you don’t want to get your only pair of hiking boots soaking wet! It cost us $47 each to rent the waders and we were allowed to use them all day, they just had to be returned by 6 pm.
Prior to hiking the narrows we also had to reserve a shuttle pass (which was free aside from the $1 online service fee) since shuttles are only open to the public after 1 pm on weekends. I’m not 100% sure if this was because it was off season or if this is a normal occurrence. Definitely do some research before hand just in case! The shuttles were non-negotiable since the northern portion of the park is not open to private vehicles and it was an 8 mile walk to the trail head. Plus, the narrows are an all day hike, so even getting started at 12pm is considered a late start. Once we had all our gear on we caught the shuttle who took us all the way to stop #9, The Temple of Sinawava. Since there were so many stop closures, the shuttle ride only took us about 30 minutes. From there, there was a 1 mile paved hike to the start of the narrows.
We got a later start since we didn’t know about the shuttle pass (which took us a while to get since service was spotty) so we only spent 3-4 hours in the narrows. There are a few different ways to hike the narrows, but we simply hiked up until we got tired and hungry, and then hiked back the same way we came. Hiking up and against the current definitely took way longer than coming back. By the time we got back to the shuttle stop, around 4:15, there was already a decently long line forming. The last shuttle runs at 5:45, however since we had rental gear it had been recommended that we catch the 5pm shuttle at the latest if we wanted to be on time.
After returning our waders, we ate some sandwiches and snacks that we had packed and then grabbed some souvenirs from one of the local shops located next to Zion Outfitters. From there we grabbed our bags and decided to hike Watchman’s Trail which is right by the park entrance and considered a moderate difficulty hike. We took a break at the top the watch the sunset then hiked down the same way we came. Altogether it took us under 2 hours, even with a few breaks along the way. For dinner we stopped at The Spotted Dog Cafe for dinner. This place was a little pricier but the food and dessert was amazing! I had the red trout and Zack had braised lamb shank, both of which I highly recommend.
The following day we woke up somewhat early and made the 2 hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. The weather near Bryce is definitely cooler since there was much more snow (and ice!) on the ground. The park itself was also a lot less busy in comparison to Zion, and there was a lot less to-do in the surrounding areas. In short, it’s really in the middle of nowhere. We parked at Sunrise Point and then took Queen’s Garden Trail into the canyon. We stopped about midway at a bench shaded by an overhanging boulder and had lunch. I highly recommend bringing your own food since again, Bryce is located in the middle of nowhere, and nothing in the surrounding area was open since it was off season.
After finishing lunch we continued our hike on Queen’s Garden Trail until it met up with Navajo Loop Trail (which is not an actual loop in the off season). This portion of our hike was definitely much more icy and required snow chains/spikes on our hiking boots. The gift shop at the entrance of the park sells these (for a reasonable price — woohoo!) incase you forgot yours at home. We finished our hike at Sunset Point and then hiked along the paved Rim Trail back to our car at Sunrise Point. It was still relatively early when we got back to our car, so we decided to check out Fairyland Loop, which is also accessible from Sunrise Point. This hike was completely covered in snow and much less popular than our first hike. In total I believe the hike is 8 miles long, however we only hiked in a mile or two before turning around and returning to our car to make the trip home. We decided to cook dinner at home this night instead of going out.
We spent our next two days skiing. To be honest there aren’t many ski resorts in Southern Utah, but we didn’t really want to drive 4 hours to Salt Lake City. One of the ER docs I work with in San Antonio had recommended Brian Head Ski Resort. I checked it out online and it was definitely the best option and exactly what we were looking for. It was also only 1 hour away from where we were staying. We selected our dates and rented our equipment online (super easy, highly recommend doing this) ahead of time to make things easy. Both days we had lunch on the mountain at one of the resort’s cafes.
By the second day of skiing (and after multiple hikes in the days prior) our legs were tired and sore, so we wrapped up returned our gear around 3 pm. We then drove home, showered, did laundry, and tried to decide where we wanted to have dinner (which is much more limited than you’d think). We’d driven by a place called Stage Coach Grille multiple times and decided it would be the perfect place to eat on our last night. Let me just say this place was poppin’. All of the locals seemed to be here and the service and atmosphere was awesome! I wound up having their daily special, beef stroganoff, while Zack chose to have a chicken fried steak. They had an array of drink options (which was definitely rare in Utah) and I wound up getting a margarita (it was no Texas marg but it’ll do) and Zack had a local beer. We passed on dessert but they had plenty of tasty items to choose from.
Our flights the next morning were at 11 am, so we packed our bags that night and got on the road early the following morning since we had a 2 hour drive back to Las Vegas. We also wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to return our rental car, check our bags, and get something to eat!
Overall I loved the flow and flexibility of the trip. The only thing I would do differently is ski for one day, rather than two. I also would’ve made a day trip to the Grand Canyon, specifically Horseshoe Bend, since it was only a two hour drive from Hurricane. I guess I’ll just have to make another trip in the future!
In short heres our itinerary:
Day 1: Fly into Las Vegas and drive to Hurricane, UT
Day 2: Half marathon, hike Canyon Overlook trail, late lunch at Jacks Bar & Grill
Day 3: Hike the Narrows, get souvenirs, hike Watchman’s Trail, dinner at Spotted Dog Cafe
Day 4: Drive to Bryce Canyon National park, park at Sunrise point then take the Queens Garden Trail to Najavo Loop and finish at Sunset point, hike the paved Rim Trail from Sunset point back to Sunrise point. Hike 2 miles of Fairyland Loop, return to car and drive back to Hurricane
Day 5: Skiing at Brian Head Ski Resort, dinner at Airbnb
Day 6: Skiing at Brian Head Ski Resort, dinner at Stage Coach Grille
Day 7: Drive back to Las Vegas, fly home
I may not be the best writer in the world, but I have some crazy and breathtaking stories to share. Here’s a few of my favorite stories I have had the privilege of photographing.