Our Utah Hiking Trip: Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef

By Alexandra Caspero on May 2, 2023

My husband turned 40 this past spring, so he naturally wanted to celebrate somewhere in nature. We’ve both been eyeing Utah ever since seeing this commercial over a decade ago and knew it would make for the perfect birthday trip.

As with most of our trips, we don’t mind ambitious itineraries. We did Patagonia in 10 days (including flights), both New Zealand islands in 10 days, and several Europe trips with multiple-city tours. That’s not for everyone, but if you are OK with maximizing your time, then this guide is for you.

With two young kids at home, we knew we wouldn’t be able to do all 5 of the Utah parks. Therefore, we narrowed down what parks to see based on location and preference. We flew in and out of Vegas and therefore chose the parks that were proximal to southern Utah along with our musts– Zion and Bryce.

aat capitol reef park

Day 1: Fly Into Vegas and Hike in Capitol Reef

This was a long day, but set the scene perfectly for our trip. We caught an early morning flight into vegas, grabbed a rental car and drove the 5 hours north to Capitol Reef.

We arrived just in time to do a quick 1-mile Hickman Bridge hike, then check into our hotel and soaking in the hot tub. We grabbed some local Mexican food before heading out to hike Sunset Point.

This is an unpopular opinion, but Capitol Reef was our favorite. It could have been the time of year we went, or luck, but we found the weather beautiful and much less crowded than Bryce or Zion. It really felt like you were on your own in the wilderness, and the constant 360-degree vistas were breathtaking.

arches at bryce canyon national park

Day 2: Capitol Reef to Bryce

We got up early for a 3-mile loop to Cassidy Arch. This was probably my favorite hike of the entire trip, especially as we were alone the entire time which just added to the allure of it all. Highly recommend this one– a 5-star hike for a reason.

Next, we hiked the 3-mile Chimney Rock loop before grabbing a quick sandwich for our drive down to Bryce, about 2.5 hours away.

Once we arrived in Bryce, we went straight into the park to hike Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop. This hike was beautiful, and very cool to see all of the druids– however, it was also still winter in Bryce. Neither of us was prepared for the snow and ice, and we quickly realized that if we were going to keep hiking in Bryce, we needed to make sure we had spikes. People were slipping all over the hiking trail, but it was a non-issue with spikes. I’m SO glad we rented these for the days to come.

We finished the day with a sunset overlooking Sunrise Point. Yes, that’s not a typo– it was far less crowded and just as pretty for the sunset at Sunrise Point.

alex caspero at sunset at bryce canyon

Day 3: Bryce to Zion

We got up early again to catch the sunrise over Thor’s Hammer at Sunset Point. Yes, flipped again! It was very cold this morning and I’m glad we stopped by the store the night before to pick up some gloves. I should have been more prepared for the cold weather after our Patagonia adventures, but I guess I’ll learn one day! We then went quickly into town for breakfast and to rent spikes.

We then descended to the Fairyland Loop (8 mile) hike. This is one that we were both really looking forward to, and I have to say– it was a tough hike. The first two miles and the last two miles were through 10-feet of snow. We were constantly falling down in the snow pack and using our poles to try and pull ourselves back up. It was also incredibly windy, which didn’t help with visibility during the snow areas.

I’d like to go back to do this hike again in the summer. We were both so over this hike that I don’t think we spoke a word (besides a few expletives) the last 2-miles heading up the rim trail. We finally got to the lodge, grabbed a quick sandwich and then got into the car to head to Zion.

We had plans to hike the Canyon Overlook Trail in Zion but were both so mentally exhausted from our earlier hike, and it was snowing in Zion. So, we decided to skip that trail and head out for a nice dinner instead.

hiking in bryce canyon

Day 4: Zion

Zion is famous for a reason. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and I’d argue that the hiking and trails were superior to both Grand Canyon and Yosemite (IMO). My husband had set his sights on doing the Narrows hike for the past year and was incredibly disappointed to find out that it was closed due to the high water level.

So, we swapped plans– hiking Angels Landing/Skout Lookout this day and hoping that the water would level off to be able to hike the narrows the following day.

Just like in Bryce, it was another ice hike. Thankfully, we had learned our lesson by this point and rented spikes at a shop earlier that morning. Thank goodness. I honestly don’t think I would have continued to hike the incredibly steep Skout Lookout trail without them. People were sliding down the switchbacks, which looked unsafe, especially for less-experienced hikers.

I didn’t love this one as much as my husband did– he’d say it was his favorite hike of the whole trip. The view from the top was incredible– you really did feel like you were on top of the valley looking down.

Since we weren’t sure if we were going to be able to hike the narrows the following day, we ended up taking the bus to the start of the narrows to walk the quick mile to the entrance along the river. This is a very easy hike and great for those with kids!

We then finished the day with an Emerald Pools hike and off to dinner at Bit and Spur. We loved this restaurant and enjoyed fantastic sweet potato tamales with salsa verde and plenty of chips and queso after our long hiking day.

angels landing zion national park

Day 5: Zion and Vegas

We got up early to hike the Canyon Overlook Trail to watch the sunrise. This was BL’s actual 40th birthday and felt very appropriate to start the morning with a sunrise! We both had on about 6 layers and it was still very cold. After the sunrise, we went back into the town of Springdale for a big breakfast burrito–and coffee!

By some miracle, the Narrows was open this day, even though it had previously been closed for weeks. So we quickly got to an outfitter store to rent the needed equipment– waders, a big stick, and spikes (yes, still very icy — by this point, we should have just bought our own considering how many times we had to rent them!)

I’m glad we did this, although it was a tough one- both physically and mentally. You are essentially wading through water, which because of the snow melt was a cold, quick-moving river. There were times when the water was up to my chest, which felt incredibly claustrophobic to me.

However, the beauty was incredible. I’ve never hiked anything like that, and glad we got to experience the narrows. I do not recommend this hike with kids– we saw a few families, and all of them turned around quickly. You are essentially hiking on slippery rocks that you cannot see, depending on the river’s height.

Our guide said it’s usually best in August when the river is lower. I would love to go back when the water is ankle-deep and be able to explore more. We turned around after Wall Street as you had to swim through the river to keep going.

We finished the day with a drive to Vegas, a much-needed shower, then drinks and dinner!

Read More: 5 Best Hikes in Zion National Park

narrows in zion

Day 6: Flight Home

We caught a 5 AM flight back to St. Louis– and both slept the entire way.

As I mentioned, we knew we only had a short time and wanted to maximize our trip. We tried to hike as many of the top-rated hikes within each park. If you like hiking, and don’t mind long days, I highly recommend this itinerary. It was busy but perfect for what we were looking for!

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Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Plant-Based Chef and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

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