Start: San Diego
Stops: Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Monument Valley
Transportation Method: My good ol little Corolla (Her name is El)
Time of Year: September
First Leg: Drive from SD to our stop in Hurricane for the night. Let me tell you the traffic was horrendous! I don’t think we got there until 5am. There were so many accidents. And then all the people who decided to go on the shoulder and merge back in just made it even worse. That was the worse I have ever seen the traffic, construction, multiple accidents. What should have been a 7 hour drive almost doubled! But we got to Hurricane, crashed for an hour, had breakfast and slept a little more til we started our drive to Capitol Reef! I would recommend leaving on Thursdays to avoid the Friday night Labor day traffic!
So after a little rest, we continued our drive onto Capitol reef, another 3.5 hours! It was a very scenic drive and didn’t feel that long (after the crazy drive the night before). Be careful of animals cutting off on the road! We had a little sheep companion intersect us and a truck! Luckily everyone is ok, including the sheep!
We also saw this super cool view on our drive! You can literally see where the storm starts in the sky!
After our nice little drive, we finally got to Capitol Reef! Let me tell you Capitol Reef has to be one of my new favorite parks. It’s still pretty under the radar so it isn’t crazy crowded! But it is just beautiful with lots of great hikes and a really nice scenic loop drive!
***I’ll include a screen shot at the bottom of the post with all the hiking options for the parks we did***
Our first hike was Hickman bridge! It’s a relatively short hike, not too hard with a few slightly steep areas. It’s a pretty hike with a great payoff at the end. Very picturesque bridge! The real exciting part was racing back to our car trying to beat the thunder/rain storm before it really started pouring. We did not succeed. We got drenched when we got within site of the parking lot. But it was actually pretty fun running through the rain!
Once we got back to our car, we dried off and tried to wait out the storm, but it didn’t look like it was going to end so we decided to do the scenic loop drive instead. And lucky for us, it decided to stop pouring right after! We stopped to take some typical middle of the road pictures! (We saw maybe 1 or 2 other cars on the road the entire time we drove around the loop)
Since the rain stopped, we thought we’d try fitting in another hike. We chose the Cassidy Arch trail. The hike can be pretty steep in some parts. We got to the final section with the Arch view relatively fast so we decided to go a little off trail. There were a bunch of totems leading the way to get to the arch itself! Some parts were a little sketchy but it wasn’t a strenuous hike to get to the arch from there. Just a little scrambling and finding your way. But definitely worth it! Especially with the rainbow that came out because of the rain!
***Bring head lamps just in case! We were trying to beat the sunset back and it got dark before we could get down. And since there is no trail once you venture off to go to the actual Arch headlamps are a life saver!***
From there we drove 1.5hrs to Green River and stayed there for the night. Little tip grab something to eat on the way, most things in Green River are closed by 9 or 10pm! So all we really had were some snacks from a mini mart for dinner.
After a much needed night of rest we headed out to Arches, a nice short 45 min drive. We stopped by to see the Double Arches and the Windows (North and South Windows and Turret Arch). This is pretty much a drive and walk up to see the arches on soft gravel. The hardest part here is finding parking because it is heavily trafficked! But a nice view to effort ratio.
Next up we drove to the Delicate Arch trail and hiked on over to one of the most famous Utah landmarks! Looks just like it does on the license plates! But it is a nice moderate hike, with a nice view at the end. Be careful of strong winds here though! I feel like I almost blew away a million times, especially at the top! My hat actually flew off my head multiple times so I had to take it off!
But even with strong winds the sun can be really scorching still so bring some sun block and sun protection. Buffs are my go to for blocking the sun from my neck. Or I also love it as a head band or wrist wrap. It’s especially nice when you soak it in water a little, it really helps cool you down!
On our way to our next stop, we drove through Canyonlands for one last quick stop over for the day! Canyonlands is super close to Arches so I would definitely make time to at least stop here for a little if you can! I wish we could have actually stopped here for an entire day to fully enjoy the park. But we still had time to do one overlook and a mini hike! We also caught it right at sunset so it was even better.
Hikes here are usually an all day thing or extra short thing, so if you have the time I’d really dedicate a whole day to really explore it! Canyonlands also has 3 different sections, it’s huge! We only saw one part (Island in the Sky) so plan accordingly. You have Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze (this one is very remote, best for overnight trips). Each has a different entrance if I remember correctly.
The drive into Canyonlands is probably one of my favorite drive ins to date. It was beautiful I wish I could have stopped for a picture but we were rushing so we could see some things before the sun went down. It is also a bit of a long drive into the park from the main road entrance so don’t forget to take that into account! Our first stop was the Green River Overlook. It’s pretty much a drive up and walk over so easy peasy and GREAT view!
Our next stop was to see the Mesa Arch. It is a really short loop hike, more of a walk really. It is better at sun rise because you get this really nice red light ray on the arch, but it was still beautiful at sunset. If you go at sunrise you will have to go early and beat out a bunch of other people and photographers who camp out to get the perfect spot for that perfect shot! I thought it was still pretty great at sunset.
Onto Moab! Where we stayed and finally got a real dinner! Moab is a super cool little town full of interesting people! I would definitely stay here again, I wish I could have stayed here longer to really get full experience. It’s filled with a mixture of crazy intense hikers, climbers, outdoor enthusiasts, weekend warriors, to just chill tourists. This is probably the largest town/amount of people we saw since our first stop on the trip!
From Moab we drove 2.5 hrs down to Monument Valley! You get that iconic view/picture on the drive in from the road! You get a similar view once inside! You can stop there and just take in the views from the road and/or visitor center or you can opt to do the scenic drive!
If you plan on doing this I really recommend a high clearance vehicle. I had my Corolla which survived and did the job, but there were some really sketchy moments. The drive back up the hill to get out was horrifying. Pretty sure the bottom of my car is scratched up like crazy. We have nicknamed all the buttes we saw Elephant Buttes! Because we just saw elephants in every rock we saw!!
The last stop on our journey before going home was our traditional stop over in Vegas. We went to Umiya (all you can eat sushi) and it really hit the spot. I always stop here now when I’m in Vegas! The menu is super worth it! It includes nigiri, sushi, apps, skewers, desserts, hand rolls and pages of even more! Next day we had our usually Lotus of Siam lunch before leaving. There is usually a long wait here on weekends but luckily we were here on a Tuesday lunch so no wait!
We decided to do one last stop on our way out of Vegas to see one last thing! Seven Magic Mountains. It’s an art installation recently put up in Vegas and it is on your way if you are heading back to SoCal! Super cool stop over and a great way to end our trip! From there it was just a nice traffic less drive back to San Diego! Perks of doing a non weekend drive back!