We’re among strange times right now. One might argue the strangest times we’ve seen. At least during my lifetime. We’re challenged to stay home and maintain our sanity, all the while trying to stay positive and maintain some semblance of the adventurous lives that we’ve (I’ve) grown accustomed to.
There are mixed feelings in the world about wearing masks, what being “safe” looks like, how much the government can (or cannot) tell us to do. I’m not going to get into any of that because, quite frankly, I don’t care to. That said, I do believe that there’s a way for us to safely continue experiencing some of the adventures in our local communities. Starting (for me) with a 4 day road trip across Southern Utah.
Southern Utah Road Trip Day 1: SLC > Meadow Hot Springs > Cedar Breaks National Monument
The first day brings us from Salt Lake City, UT down to Meadow Hot Springs. We then continue to Cedar Breaks National Monument.
Meadow Hot Springs
Meadow Hot Springs has been on my list for a while, but I never actually pulled the trigger on going since it’s located about 2 hours, 15 minutes away from Salt Lake City. I won’t say that waiting was a mistake, necessarily. But I will say that my first action on arrival was to text my boyfriend that we need to come back and camp next to the hot springs in the very near future.
The Meadow Hot Springs are made up of 3 separate hot spring pools spread across a field that’s essentially in the middle of nowhere. Having read that it’s located on someone’s property, I was pleasantly surprised to find that property is highly remote. The pools are crystal clear, not too hot, and not overly populated (though we were there in the middle of the day on a Sunday, so could potentially have missed the weekend crowd).
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Next up on the road trip across Southern Utah is Cedar Breaks National Monument. I heard of Cedar Breaks a couple of days before embarking on the road trip. A friend mentioned that this is a great alternate to Bryce Canyon. Given our reluctance to travel to the uber popular national parks, it sounded like a win. Good news: it was. This place is a gem.
If you’re looking for the Bryce Canyon experience without the masses of people, you should consider checking out Cedar Breaks. You will need to pay for car access, and dogs are not allowed on trails (pretty typical for national parks), but the opportunity to experience such incredible sites without the sheer masses makes it more than worthwhile.
There are a number of trails to explore. We chose Spectra Point to Ramparts Overlook, and were most definitely not disappointed.
Souther Utah Road Trip Day 2: Grand Staircase Escalante
First: Grand Staircase Escalante is huge. Gigantic. If you’re going to go and you want to see any meaningful portion of the park, plan for a couple of days. That said, we didn’t really know what we were getting into, so we planned one really stellar hike. Through the desert. In the middle of summer… I lived in Arizona for 9 years. I know better.
Some words of advice? Visit Grand Staircase Escalante in the fall, winter or spring. Hike the Dry Fork Narrows, Spooky and Peek-a-boo Canyon trail (be aware that there are some extremely narrow points in the canyon.) Bring a camera and plan to spend plenty of time taking photos. You will not be disappointed. That, I can assure you.
Southern Utah Road Trip Day 3: Capitol Reef > Goblin Valley
Capitol Reef National Park
I know, I know. I mentioned we were trying to avoid going to national parks. But we heard that Capitol Reef is lesser traveled, so we took a risk. The risk paid off. This is one of the most beautiful places we visited over the course of the trip. We saw maybe 20 people in total across 2 different, very popular trails.
This hike is so cool. So cool. It starts out at the same point at the Grand Wash trail and splits to the left about a quarter of a mile in. The trail meanders along the mountainside for a while until you get to a smooth rock portion (reminiscent of Mars) that will lead you to the arch. Note that this section is not well marked. Follow the cairns.
The best piece of advice I can give is that, although you can see the arch from a distance, you need to keep going until you reach the end. The view from the top of the arch is so much more impressive. It really gives you an appreciation for how massive it is – and how small we truly are.
Also, fun fact: Cassidy Arch is named after Butch Cassidy. Yep, the American bank robber and criminal outlaw.
Hickman Bridge Trail
Natural bridges are pretty cool in and of themselves, but next time, I will hike to the Hickman Bridge before hiking to Cassidy Arch. The Hickman Bridge is quite expansive and very impressive, but it wanes in comparison. The fact that it was 102 degrees, fully exposed, and attempted immediately after we just hiked about 4 miles probably doesn’t help.
Goblin Valley State Park
First: if you’re going to visit Goblin Valley State Park, come prepared. Bring food, snacks, anything you might need. The park is in the middle of nowhere, so if the visitor center is closed (it was), you’re sort of screwed. Need to pick something up? Your nearest options will be Hanksville or Green River.
That said, Goblin Valley at large is pretty rad. From the mushroom-like rock formations scattered across the desert floor, to the massive hoodoos that loom above on the route to Goblin’s Lair, you may not believe your eyes. This is such a unique place. I’ve never seen anywhere like it.
If (when) you make your way to Goblin Valley State Park, I highly recommend you plan time to venture to Goblin’s Lair. It’s a pretty flat, easy trail to the rock slide. Once there, you should definitely make the scramble up to see inside the Goblin’s lair. It looks sketchier than it is. And the view inside is pretty impressive. Now if only there were a real life goblin inside.
Valley of the Goblins
Having already completed miles worth of hikes right before reaching Valley of the Goblins, we weren’t super motivated to meander for long. I can tell you, though, that what we saw is pretty cool. The “goblins” often look more like mushrooms sprouting up from the floor, though if you use your imagination, you can definitely see the goblin faces as well.
Southern Utah Road Trip Day 4: Arches National Park
Day 4 of the road trip across southern Utah brings us to Arches National Park. Again, national parks weren’t extremely high on our list during Covid times, but we had to stop to hike the Delicate Arch trail.
First: our instinct to avoid the national parks was correct. There were so many people practicing so little distance.
Second: the hike. to Delicate Arch is pretty cool. It’s challenging enough that you break a sweat, but not so challenging that you have to be an expert. The view is incredible. And I can see the reason why it’s featured on the Utah license plate.
Kudos, Utah, for providing such an excellent outdoor space in which we can maintain our sanity during this wildly bizarre time.