In June of 2021 we loaded up my truck and drove off to Utah for some adventure in the parks and on the water. A heat wave across much of the west at the time meant we would be experiencing 110+ F degree days in many areas. Still we had a great time and never let it slow us down. We visited Moab, Canyonlands, Dead Horse Point, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, and Durango, CO.
Highlights: Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Parks, Lake Powell, Highway 12, Bryce Canyon Mule Rides, Mahogany Inn Restaurant in Durango
LowLights: Antelope Point Marina
- Days 1-2: Moab, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef
- Day 3: Bryce Canyon
- Day 4: Zion
- Day 5: Zion & Page, AZ
- Day 6: Lake Powell and Durango, CO
Days 1-2: Moab, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef
We were operating on a relatively fast schedule in order to fit everything in in 6 days. We had visited Arches in Aug 2020 so this year w were hitting the other 4 national parks and a few state parks as well. Before we would stop in Moab for dinner we would head up to Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands.
Attraction: Dead Horse Point State Park: 4 Stars
Dead Horse Point State Park provides some incredible canyon views. We first stopped at a pullout which was not protected by any fences and I was unable to relax in paranoid fear that one of my family members would fall off the cliff. It is a drop of at least 1000 feet from the various viewpoints. We were also struck by just how hot it was. The temps were 110 F and stayed that way later in Canyonlands.
Attraction: Canyonlands National Park: 4.5 Stars
We decided to visit Dead Horse State Park before entering Canyonlands and in retrospect I would have chosen to go into Canyonlands first and save DHSP for either the next morning or another trip. Canyonlands is huge and there are dozens of viewpoints and trails to cover. Since we only had time for the Island in the Sky area were pretty much knew we were relegated to a couple viewpoints and a short trail.
After hitting the Green River Overlook we went toward Whale Rock. The heat was really beginning to wear our youngest son, Evan, out so only my teenage son, Daniel, and I took the short trail to the top of Whale Rock.
Having finished our hike the family was ready to rest after the long drive and enjoy some cold drinks and air conditioning.
Restaurant: Moab Brewery: 3 Stars
We had actually gone to Moab Brewery a few years before in the low season of November when the temperatures outside were below freezing. Unfortunately this visit wasn’t as good. Make no mistake the restaurant was pretty crowded but we were patient. Overall though the service was still unnecessarily slow and the food just didn’t quite make up for the relatively good beer (lower alcohol percentage in Utah of course).
Lodging: Aarchway Inn: 3.5 Stars
The summer of 2021 happened to be at a time when domestic travel was at an all-time high and the parks of Utah were particularly busy. Therefore lodging prices were double and triple what they might have been in other years. The Aarchway Inn is certainly a nice standard hotel with comfortable rooms and a nice pool, but it was close to $250 for one night. It was one of the better options, however and prices at other places were much higher.
Attraction: Dinosaur Footprints and Anasazi Petroglyphs: 4 Stars
I’m always the first one up in my family and since the others were tired from the night before I decided to take a quick drive out to Corona Arch. Only problem was I took the wrong turn and ended up at the “Poison Spider Trail”. It’s ok though, it turned out to be really cool.
I got there just as a group were being led by a guide to both dinosaur footprints and Anasavi petroglyphs up a steep trail. They let me joi the group and it helped to have them point out the locations for me (I wouldn’t have found them otherwise).
After traversing the trails a bit I decided I better get back to the rest of the family before they became concerned or annoyed or both by my prolonged morning absence. We needed to eat breakfast and get ready to tube on the Colorado River.
Attraction: Colorado River Tubing: 4 Stars
We had actually done this the year before and so enjoyed it as a great way to relax and cool off in the scorching heat that we decided to do it again this year. Canyonlands By Night and Day rents tubes and will drive you up to a spot upriver to allow you to slowly, gently float your way back to their riverside dock. We rented an extra tube to hold a cooler of drinks and snack for the journey. We highly recommend bringing umbrellas for shade along the way.
Restaurant: The Spoke on Center: 3 Stars
After our float we were ready for lunch before driving onward to our next destinations. The Spoke had long lines the night before and good reviews so we decided to give it a shot since it wasn’t crowded at night. Sometimes restaurants can’t help the people that patronize them and honestly the people that were in line both ahead of us and behind us to get seated were some really stuck up, childish people. They were clearly people that were in Moab not because they enjoy the outdoors but they didn’t know where else to spend their money. Once we were seated and eating things were better but this is one place where the crowd alone was a turnoff.
Attraction: Capitol Reef: 4.5 Stars
After our lunch and a little souvenir shopping it was time to get onward to Capitol Reef. Time was of the essence because I wanted to get a hike in before we continued on from there to Bryce Canyon. Yes. All this in one day.
I admit the drive from Moab to the entrance to Canyonlands left me a bit disappointed. The area is just not very scenic. Along the way you really begin to question whether or not you will be disappointed with the park. But don’t worry, once you enter Capitol Reef National Park it’s a whole different story.
I had decided in advance that the Hickman Bridge trail would be a perfect 1 mile journey for the family. Unfortunately a few things were true. It was still over a 100 F despite a slightly higher elevation and Shelley and 8-year old Evan were now entering the state of being pooped. They both hiked a little way before turning back to the AC in the car.
Fortunately they were willing to let Daniel and I make the hike to the bridge and it was every bit worth it. Capitol Reef may have more variety in the color of it’s rock formations than anywhere I have ever been: yellows, pinks, black, reds.
Attraction: Highway 12: 5 Stars
If you let Google Maps decide how you will drive from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon you’ll probably not end up on what I think is one of the most scenic drives in the country. Highway 12 travels through Escalante-Grand Staircase NM and the views are jaw-dropping. Unfortunately by now we were in a hurry to find dinner (if we could) and the skies were darkening so I have no pictures from the drive. You’ll need to see it for yourself.
Day 3: Bryce Canyon
Lodging: Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn: 3.5 Stars
If you want to stay near the park and can’t stay in the park than you can’t get any closer than Ruby’s Inn which is about 2 miles from the north entrance to Bryce Canyon. Outside of a Ruby’s property there is really nowhere nearby. Ruby’s seems to own every acre of property on the north end of Bryce Canyon. The rooms are pretty basic but clean and you get the breakfast buffet with your stay which is better than the typical free breakfast hotels offer. We paid $360 for 2 nights which wasn’t bad considering it was in 2021 (the year of inflated lodging prices) and it’s right outside of the park.
Attraction: Bryce Canyon: 5 Stars
I woke up early to catch the sunrise over the canyon while the rest of the family got some much needed rest. I went to the aptly named ‘Sunrise’ viewpoint and decided to descend a ways to get a more interesting view than the crowded rim area.
After getting my photographs I returned to have breakfast with the family and then we drove in together to do some hiking and to see more of the canyon before lunch. Temperatures at Bryce were a much more comfortable 80s F which was a bit of a relief. We drove all the way to the southern-most end at Rainbow Point, and then we planned to work our way back after hiking there. Unfortunately we found that much of the trail there was through a recent burn area which was a bit disappointing.
We stopped at the cool natural bridge and proceeded back to Ruby’s for lunch (because there really was no other option). The Bryce Canyon Lodge dining room was closed because of Covid.
Attraction: Canyon Mule Rides: 5 Stars
After lunch we had a scheduled mule ride at the stables inside the park.
The mule ride was two hours long and my kids thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend this for anyone with kids, especially. The ride descends to the bottom of the canyon and the trail guides are pretty funny too. My 8-year-old liked it so much he asked if we could come back for his birthday. Unfortunately his birthday is in the winter when Bryce Canyon is full of snow
Day 4: Zion
Years from now I’m not sure people will remember how insane 2021 was for domestic travel in the US, but nowhere could have exemplified it more than Zion National Park. After we arrived at the eastern entrance to the park and made our way through the tunnels we were met by lines of traffic, parked cars on every stretch of open land on the roadside, and just tons and tons of people making their ways to even the less popular trailheads.
Our original plan was to stop in the park, take the tram into the canyon and hike until sometime in the afternoon. We saw the lines for the tram and knew that it was pretty much hopeless since we only arrived at nearly noon due to traffic (we expected to be there closer to 10 am). Zion was so full of people that it was essentially inaccessible.
We left the park and decided to eat and check into our hotel and figure things out for the following morning.
Lodging: Hampton Inn & Suites, Springdale, UT: 4 Stars
I have a really hard time rating this one based on the price we paid. The hotel has nice rooms, a nice pool, and the staff were very friendly. It’s walking distance to the Zion bus stops and several restaurants. Still, for one night we paid $400. I have never paid that much for one night anywhere. For that price I would expect to be staying in a world-class hotel. Assuming that any other year this hotel is more reasonably priced I’ll consider it a 4-star option.
Restaurant: Bit & Spur Restaurant, Springdale, UT: 4 Stars
We were really having bad luck with our restaurant choices during the trip. Finally we had a good dinner in a cool place. Originally we had reservations for outdoor seating but since it was 110F in Springdale we chose the indoor AC. Good food, good cocktails, good atmosphere.
After dinner we did reenter the park when the rest of the crowds were thinning out and managed to walk a short trail near the visitor center. Even with warnings of toxic cyanobacteria in the Virgin River people were still going in the water. I told my 8-year-old it was unsafe and he felt obligated to tell the people he saw in the river the same. They just smiled and nodded.
Day 5: Zion & Page, AZ
We didn’t come all this way to be kept out of Zion by the crowds. Daniel and I woke up at 5 AM to be at the tram early. Shelley and Evan stayed back since we would not be doing the more family-friendly Narrows due to the cyanobacteria but instead Angel’s Landing.
We arrived at the tram parking just before 6PM and already the lot was mostly filled, but at least we could park. The lie for the tram was already huge. We ended up waiting almost 2 hours to just get on the tram before even starting the hike.
We made pretty quick time to Scout’s Rest where the trail becomes a narrow walk and crawl along a precipice to the end of the trail. The chains were 3/4 miles of gridlock and Daniel decided to stay back at Scout’s Rest rather than negotiate the remaining trail without being able to always hold the chain. I made as good of time as I could and had to crawl and shimmy around people to get near the end. I didn’t want to leave my son alone too long so I stopped short of the end.
After returning to the hotel we had a quick lunch and started off toward Page, AZ.
Attraction: Horseshoe Bend:4 Stars
Horseshoe Bend is a scenic bend in the Colorado River just outside of Page, AZ. There is a fee to enter (I believe it was $10) and park and about 3/4 mile hike down to the viewpoint.
Lodging: Country Inn, Page, AZ: 3 Stars
Nice and new as of 2021, it was clean and had an indoor pool but overall was pretty basic. The front desk staff was pretty lacking as far as customer service. I’m not sure I would make this my first choice on a return trip.
Restaurant: State 48 Tavern, Page, AZ: 3 Stars
Since we wanted some cold beers along with our dinner this was our choice. It’s a pretty decent restaurant and bar. Good service overall.
Day 6: Lake Powell and Durango, CO
Attraction: Antelope Point Marina Boat Rentals: 0 Stars
If you don’t believe what I say here go ahead and read the reviews on other sites. My advice: Don’t rent from here but instead choose one of the many other marinas or boat rentals. You’ve been warned. We narrowly averted a total disappointment.
We made the payment and deposit for a half day deck boat rental over a month in advance. $500 for the rental and $500 deposit. We arrived and found a line at the rental office that was simply not moving. At all. People inside were clearly frustrated with the staff but I didn’t know why until finally after an hour I got to the front desk. Even though I had rented a boat they had no boat for me. What?
There was literally one sitting idle right outside. They claimed it was rented by someone else (I doubt it). I was there first, I let them know and my reservation was a month ago. Finally, another member of the staff walked in and said he’d look for another boat. After a half hour one with a torn awning was found and readied for us.
Finally we got in the boat and the guy who was supposed to give us an overview of the boat never showed up. We then asked for help and finally he came over and went over a couple things but left out a bunch of things that we had to specifically ask about like anchoring.
Clearly those running Antelope Point Marina have little interest in taking care of customers. Many of the boats are in disrepair, they don’t take the time to be sure rentals are ready when people arrive, and they barely bother to give a necessary overview of the boat. So rent here at your own risk.
Attraction: Lake Powell: 5 Stars
You might think my review of APM above meant we had a lousy experience at Lake Powell. Well, once out on the water we had a great time even with reduced water levels from years of drought in the western US.
We scouted around for a place to anchor and then Shelley and the kids got to swim in the lake. Unfortunately I cut my leg that morning and didn’t want to expose the wound to lake water so I stayed mostly on land and on the boat. We ate a picnic lunch from the beach before we shoved off the return to the marina.
Restaurant: Mahogany Grill, Durango, CO: 4.5 Stars
It felt good to be back in the higher elevations of CO and out of the 112 F heat of Arizona. We had made reservations for Mahogany Grill a week before since it was Father’s Day and even though we were late they got us in (and after experiencing the customer service of APM earlier that day it felt good to get great customer service at the restaurant). We are fans of historic buildings and the Old West so this place was perfect for a dinner after an eventful day.
Afterward we went to the Diamond Belle Saloon but we were there a bit late on a Sunday so they were starting to close down.
Lodging: Best Western, Durango, CO: 3.5 Stars
There are two Best Westerns in Durango and this one is the one that is outside of town. We’ve stayed here a couple times now and will again. The best part of the stay is the breakfast which is a little better done than the typical continental breakfast.