Like many, we have really tried do to make the most out of this strange time we hope to never repeat. The silver lining to distance learning is ipads work everywhere so why not hit the road?! We have always been pretty good at road tripping Back-and-forth to Arizona but Zion has been on my list for a while. As a birthday present my husband planned a last-minute adventure giving me one day to prep. Below is a recap of what we ended up doing, tips and suggestions for anyone who might be thinking about embarking on a whirlwind five days of fun!
Normally there are not many things I would wake up at 4 AM for, but I was actually quite excited to hit the road early. After a few early morning arguments with my husband, a giant cup of coffee and transporting zombie like children into the car we were on the road by 5am. The key to successful road trips according to my husband is as few stops as possible. That said we loaded up breakfast burritos, sandwiches, snacks and our trusty old pee pee cup (I’m serious, my daughter has the bladder of a hummingbird so instead of pulling over every 30 minutes we make her pee in a solo cup and dump it as we go- she’s a pro).
On our way out I made some calls about activities after getting some great tips from a friend who had recently been to Zion. During these phone calls I learned that my friend was much more organized than I as you have to book some things in advance. Hiking the Narrows is a must when you are in Zion. It is also a must to schedule the shuttle ride up to the top of the park where the Narrows hikes begin a few weeks in advance if you want to get up there early. The good news is that there is a shuttle that runs for free on a first come first serve basis starting at 3 PM. We moseyed into line around 245 and we were probably the 200 person in said line. I will say though the line moves very quickly and it was actually pretty easy to get to the top of the Park.
The Narrows is a hike that can take you into to waist deep water in some spots so you definitely want to call some of the local adventure stores and rent water proof hiking boots and walking sticks. If you don’t want to venture all the way into the Narrows there are some beautiful hiking spots everywhere you look!
We headed back to the shuttles around 6 PM which is about the time all the wild deers come down from the mountains and hang out on the big grassy lawn in front of Zion lodge and will come so close to people you can literally feed them from your hands. After my initial freak out about my kids getting ticks and rabies as they fed them all my nicely cut organic veggies and fruit, I actually thought it was a pretty amazing experience!
We worked up quite an appetite exploring, so on another tip from my friend we checked out Bit & Spur Salon for dinner. They had a great Southwest fusion menu. Despite being out of some of their most popular dishes due to a rush from tourists like ourselves, I had a great mushroom polenta dish and jalapeño margarita that was delicious. There were some good kid friendly options as well like tacos and oddly enough a really good pizza.
We stayed at the Springhill Marriott which was a beautiful hotel with complementary breakfast so you can get moving early in the morning. After fueling up and taking 50 breakfasts sandwiches, yogurts and mini cereal boxes (if you know my husband, then you know) for the road, we headed to Zion Lodge for a trail ride.
We booked this through Canyon Rides on the advice of the hotel as the other horse riding option, Jacobs Ranch, does not take you up through the park at all and focuses more on riding techniques- however if you want to talk to a real cowboy with zero sense of political correctness it’s worth a call;)
The hotel Concierge also gave us the tip that once you book your ride through Canyon Rides they give you a code to use to get your own personal car up into the park without having to pay the daily entrance fee.
The folks who run Canyon Rides could not have been nicer and were especially good with kids. I watched the joy on my family’s faces as they each mounted their beautiful thoroughbreds, just as my sweet old mule with terrible flatulence name Mandy was brought up for me; we bonded instantly. We opted for the one hour trail ride which kicks off with a cool river crossing before heading into some beautiful trails. We saw deer families, tarantulas (my son’s favorite), owls and the most incredible mountain faces I’ve ever seen.
Next, after eating more yogurt and granola and breakfast sandwiches that were now taking over our car (did I mention my pet name for my husband is Larry David?), we headed to the East side of the park and drove through the Mt Carmel Tunnel. I had zero expectations of driving through a tunnel but it was a pretty fascinating mile long tunnel that takes you through the mountain with a few strategic look out points that are truly breathtaking. If we could spend another day, and our kids were a little older, I would definitely look into renting electric bikes and riding through the park that way.
Our next Destination was Park City so we hopped in the car for a short 5 hour ride up north. We broke up this leg of the journey by stopping in Beaver at The Creamery. The billboards looked too cute to pass up. Their ice cream was to die for however I am sad to report their house made cheese was not too great. In all fairness we did not try their cheese curds for which they are famous just bought a few wheels which were so-so.
Loaded down with obscene amounts of lactose, we hopped back into the car and arrived in Park City around 8 PM. We spent our first night with some friends who like many Californians decided to get out and explore other parts of the country and rented a house in Park City for the month. One thing I learned about Park City is that this time of year is called the shoulder season. Meaning it is basically on the shoulders of the amazing seasons before and after this time. All of the mountain resorts and their offerings are closed so not many “pay for play” options as my husband likes to call it (or activities outside the house that cost a small fee but keep you from murdering your children as I like to call it) are available. You can still rent bikes, hike and fish however!
My husband ditched us go trout fishing so after distance learning, the kids and I went on a hike then headed to Main Street for mama to do a little shopping! My kids are obsessed with fossils and gemstones so I popped into a store to bribe them which turned out to have my new favorite hat! I am a huge fan of hats not only because they just add instant coolness to every outfit but they also cover Covid roots, oil and grays! I opted for a good ol’ Stetson hat and added a fun feather.
We then checked into a condo in Deer Valley which would be home base for the next 48 hours. Travel tip-when staying at that high an elevation, I always bring a ton of Aquaphor to slather on myself and shove up my kids nostrils and cover their lips.
The next day after more distance learning, we headed down to Heber City to raft down the Provo River. This was no River Wild excursion, but instead a beautiful float (with the occasional family meltdown over who was messing up our perfectly synchronized paddling) through a canyon with the most insanely colored Fall leaf covered trees. On account of us catching the shoulder season, the rates were crazy low and it cost about $100 for us to spend two hours rafting. We celebrated surviving our brave float by carb loading on Crumbl cookies (check them out now, don’t wait) then headed back up for one last Park City dinner at The Blind Dog.
Now a straight shot from Park City back to San Diego is about 11 hours so we decided to break it up with a stay in Vegas. I had my reservations but have to say the Bellagio did a pretty decent job at COVID proofing. Granted if we weren’t all ready to kill each other I probably would have skipped this part of the trip, but Larry David managed to upgrade us to a fountain view room and my kids thought they were living the dream so we persevered. While my family was mystified by the fountain show and Padres game, I snuck out to the spa for a massage. I gotta say COVD massages are weird but better than nothing. We then ventured all the way down to the lobby to eat at Lago (not great) then zipped right back up to pass out and hit the road again in the morning.
It was a crazy, fast paced five days. We laughed, cried, argued and made memories-all in all, the perfect family road trip!