WOW! What a wonderful vacation in Utah! Words can't describe the stunning beauty of the parks and areas around them. I will just repeat: WOW! :)
We are a couple in our middle (& beyond) 50s with primary interests in east to moderate hikes & scenic drives. We flew in & out of Salt Lake City on a 12 day vacation that went from Arches/Moab to Capitol Reef/Torrey to Escalante to Bryce Canyon to Zion/Springdale & back to Salt Lake City.
Much gratitude goes out to the experts and non-experts who contribute to this forum & give great ideas, advice & consistently answer so many questions. TA's forums & reviews are such a valuable resource. Here's our trip:
Day 1: Smooth flights & arrive in SLC around 1:30 PM. Efficient & pleasant Enterprise car rental experience (even had a laugh to see other tourists taking pictures of each other at car rental counter. Really??). We rented a Toyota Camry & it served us well - including 3-4 times on (dry) dirt roads. Pleasant drive to Moab and we checked in to the Inca Inn around 6:30 PM. Two thumbs up for the Inca Inn where we stayed 3 nights (old-school motel, clean room, comfy bed, pleasant staff & GREAT value!). Drove into Arches just as far as Balanced Rock with a stop at Park Avenue then returned to Moab for dinner at the Moab Brewery. Picked up groceries at City Market for breakfasts in room & lunches in parks. In bed by 10 PM (midnight our East Coast time).
Day 2: Up very early (did I mention East Coast time?) but this served us well as we were in Windows section of Arches to catch sunrise (thanks for the tip, OhioHick!) & only a handful of other people were around. GORGEOUS! Next stop was Devil's Garden where we hiked to 4, or so, arches & were often the only folks on the trail... nice trail/hike. Windy & 77 by 10 AM. Stops at other viewpoints & left the park around 11 AM & there were 2 lines, 15 cars deep each, to enter the park. Get out in the parks early... that advice is worth taking! (this was a Sunday). Afternoon spent in Dead Horse Point State Park & Canyonlands N. P. Walked out to many viewpoints, Mesa Arch & the 2 mile round trip Grand View Point trail which was wonderful. (forgive my repetitive descriptive words... I did say words can't describe the beauty here.) I was not happy to see some parents take their 9-10 month old up on Mesa Arch... not parent-of-the-year material, in my opinion.
VERY good dinners at Pasta Jay's in downtown Moab - ate outside. Hubby took dip in the pool. Drove down Potash Road (128 much more scenic) & never did find Indian markings on cliff walls.
Day 3: Up early again and spent morning hiking to Delicate Arch. Debated doing this at sunset for the light on the rocks / arch but weather predicted was iffy so we went in early AM. The upside was that there were only 6-8 other people out at the arch the entire time we were there. This 3 mile round trip hike is worth the steady uphill climb to get there & the hike itself was fun - and the ledge at the end was fine (i had worried)... plenty wide enough. I can see why this hike is so popular - the end point of delicate Arch is something you can gaze at for some time. Stopped at the Wolfe cabin & Ute Indian rock art on our return. Hiked around Double Arch & another stop at Balanced Rock & Park Ave. (Hello, bus tours!). Back to Moab for showers, late lunch at Sweet Cravings Bakery - yummy. Drove out Rte. 128 with stops at Red Cliffs Lodge movie museum (free) and Castle Creek Winery. You can enjoy 3 free samples but, sadly, cannot enjoy a glass of wine on their deck overlooking the Colorado River & red cliffs (Utah liquor laws!). Purchased a bbottle of Cab Sav. for later. Drove beyond Fisher Towers & then drove up toward the Towers on dirt road. Beautiful fields of purple wildflowers/weeds around the area.
Day 4: Finally enjoyed the Inca Inn's free continental breakfast on our 3rd morning in Moab before we packed up & left - headed for Torrey. There are some desolate stretches on 70 beyond Green River & on Rte 24... a whole lot of nothing. I worry about those free range cattle - do they really get enough to eat?? We stopped at Goblin Valley State Park & talked to employee there about conditions at Little Wild Horse Canyon & then drove another 5 miles to hike there. Road is paved to trail head & there are restrooms there. We got arrived before 10 AM & just a handful of other cars there. There is a significant 'scramble' over rocky ledge/bank to enter canyon but once you get over it, the hike is easy & level. Walked it slowly enjoying the unique aspects of the narrow 'slot' areas, appearance of the rock walls... turned around at end & returned just in time to meet large group of college kids coming up trail (from WVU - an hour from where we live in PA!). This hike, along with Delicate Arch hike, was one of the highlights of our trip. We made a short stop at Goblin Valley S.P. - walked a little among the 'goblins' - very cool & we might have stayed longer but the wind was blowing sand into our eyes & mouths. We ate lunch in the car overlooking Goblin Valley.
Arrived mid-afternoon in Capitol Reef N.P., checked out some Indian art, the old school house, and took the 10 mile scenic drive. At its end point, we continued on twisty, narrow dirt road to do the Capitol Gorge hike (if you do this hike, the 'Pioneer Register' is up WAY higher on cliff wall than you might think). Upon our return to the Fruita area of the park, we checked out the orchards, iconic barn & Gifford House (bakery). Bought a little cherry pie that may easily have been the best cherry pie I ever had. A bakery in a gorgeous national park - does it get any better that this??! Checked into Best Western on outskirts of park & had dinner across the road at the Rim Rock Restaurant - good meals. (liked my big pour of wine for $5.50!).
Best Western (2 nights): huge room with balcony overlooking red cliffs.
Will continue trip report later in another post - I am being way too wordy....