Bryce Canyon: Navajo/Queens Garden Loop

Known colloquially as the most beautiful 3-mile hike in the world, the Navajo/Queens Garden Loop is the go-to hike for people who are only passing through Bryce for the day as part of a longer road trip through the American southwest. Ideally, you’ll have set aside enough time to do all the amazing hiking available in this stretch of south central Utah.

We learned that timing matters. There’s a slight difference here between “summer” and off-season months. This last time we visited was in October, the beginning of the off-season. Thus, we were allowed to hike this loop counter-clockwise and by starting the descent down the steep, if breath-taking, set of switchbacks known as “Wall Street.” We greatly preferred this way, which is not an option in the summer during which the trail is shared with horses and mules. The backside of this loop was still steep but not nearly as bad.

 

With a short half-mile connection between Sunrise and Sunset Point, you’ll also have two different fairly large parking lots to aim for as landing spots. Try one. If you can’t find a spot there, head over to the other point.

 

Bryce Canyon: Fairyland Loop Trail

This is our favorite hike in Bryce. Aside from Tower Bridge, it doesn’t have the same famous postcard spots, but it’s also 8.5 miles of quintessential Bryce Canyon. The parking lot is modestly sized, but a lot of people are only there for the scenic viewpoint. We were able to wait on a parking spot to open up after only a few minutes. Good thing, too. We were told after the fact that the shuttle wasn’t running to this trailhead.

This is another hike in which we recommend going counter-clockwise. There is a huge steep stretch a few miles long right in the middle of this trail. By going counter-clockwise, you can go uphill for half the distance at both the beginning and end of the trail, rather than enduring it all at once in the middle of the day.

 

The Fairyland Loop can be something of a money hack for those traveling on a shoestring budget. While the trail itself is inside the National Park, the turnoff for the trailhead is outside the Visitor Center and ranger station where they collect vehicle fees. The assumption is that, if you came to Bryce to hike Fairyland Loop Trail, you probably want to see the rest of the canyon as well. And they’re right. Pay the entrance fee and see the park in its entirety.

Bryce Canyon: Peek a Boo Loop

This 5.5 mile loop is the second most popular hike in the park. It’s not for non-stop views around every corner as you play “peek a boo” with many of Bryce’s finest specimen of hoodoos. If you’re looking for the perfect combination of hoodoos and rock tunnel paths, this is a can’t-miss hiking destination.

We did this loop counter-clockwise and didn’t regret it. The loop is only part of the trail; it’s more of a lasso. And the steepest part of the trail feels like the initial out-and-back before getting to the loop. As with all the loop hikes in Bryce, if you get tired, take the opportunity to look around. The same geological feature can look quite different from either side.

This trailhead is, arguably, the most troublesome for finding parking. It’s a single, moderately sized parking lot. And while it’s nowhere near the full 16-mile drive out to Riggs Point, it’s some distance into the park. The good news is that the shuttle does reliably run to Peek a Boo Loop trailhead. If you’re going into the park on multiple days, a reasonable plan would be to drive into the park one day and use the shuttle on another day to access Peek a Boo Loop.

Northern Utah Hiking

From Ogden and the Weber County area to Logan and the Cache Valley County, these areas get our votes for the most underrated or “hidden gems” of Utah hiking. Mount Ogden (via Snowbasin Gondola), Malans Peak (via Taylor Canyon), and Waterfall Canyon are the highlights for manageable day hikes around Ogden.

Further north, some of the best hiking opportunities can be found in and around Bear Lake Valley including Limber Pine Trail, Sink Hollow, and Laketown Canyon Trail. Hike Steam Mill Hollow in Logan Canyon is a great choice for those people looking for a more demanding hiking experience.

 

Moab and SE Utah

Moab—and Arches and Canyonlands especially—is nothing short of an international destination for nature-seeking tourism. Reliably, you can hear a handful of different accents from around the world on the tours that run throughout the year. The key is to avoid the extreme heat of the mid-summer, or at least know what you’re getting yourself into. Further to the south, Mexican Hat is also just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Monuments Valley and tribal lands of northern Arizona.

Altogether, this stretch of land in Utah is well-known visually—at least subliminally—to most of the country and the world as the background and filming locations for many of the most famous movies ever made. Moab is also home to the locally famous microbrew of the same name.

Lake Powell

To many who love primitive and pristine nature, Lake Powell is both a can’t-miss destination and something of a disappointment. It pretty much entirely surrounds the controversial issue of the Glen Canyon Dam. As a river guide once told us, “the best canyon in the world doesn’t make for a crappy lake.” More to the point, along with natural bridge, hole in the rock, and the surrounding area, this is a place you need to visit. The more daring among us will also find spots to cliff jump, but be careful. With varying water levels and shifting rocks, the area under the cliff needs to be thoroughly searched and all precautions should be taken.

 

Bear Lake

With rare exceptions involving heavy, sediment-carrying rains, you won’t be disappointed by this lake’s nickname. The “Caribbean of the Rockies,” Bear Lake boasts a vibrant turquoise hue most of the time. This is one of Utah’s premier recreational lakes with plenty of opportunities for jet skiing, boating, fishing, swimming, and beaches. Skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing are popular wintertime substitutes. Apart from the lake itself, one of the best parts about this spot is its proximity to beautiful mountain and canyon views. Your family can enjoy the traditional lake experience they’ve come to expect, while adding in legitimate mountains and for a fraction of the cost of the more well-known spots in central and southern Utah.

The Grand Staircase and SW Utah

As defined by falling to the west of Lake Powell, southwest Utah is largely known for the Grand Staircase—the other half in terms of the most iconic natural scenery and breathtaking backdrops on the planet. Simply put, the Staircase starts in Escalante, then it drops down to Bryce Canyon, and then to Zion National Park. Distinctive in their own right, the bottom layer of rock formation for Escalante is the top layer for Bryce Canyon, which itself ends at the top of Zion. It’s literally three different mini-worlds that are each worth a visit. And when you’re ready to leave our fair state of Utah, you can cap off your journey at the bottom step of the Grand Staircase—also known as the Grand Canyon.

Uinta Mountain Lakes

With more than 1,000 natural lakes and with more than 500 of them supporting game fish populations, plus more than 400 miles of rivers and streams, this is a haven for multiple types of fishing during the summer and fall, as well as ice fishing in the winter. Find even more information from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. You can also plan your hiking adventure around certain key lakes. Mirror Lake is one of the picturesque and has basic camping and RV facilities. The hike up to Lofty Lake will give you views and reasonably easy access to the highest lake in the Uintas.

 

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention that at the mouth of the Uinta Mountains, there are a series of reservoirs, Rockport, Jordanelle, and Deer Creek. These reservoirs serve as a major water and irrigation resource, in addition to more fishing and boating opportunities. During the summer, you can go from I-80 West through Kamas and take the highway all the way up to Evanston, Wyoming. Closer to home, you can do the I-80 (through Park City) to I-189 to Heber City down to Provo and back up to Salt Lake City on I-15.

Utah Lake

Utah Lake provides all the traditional trappings of lake recreation. Fishing, boating, camping, as well as hiking and mountain biking in the surrounding areas are a treasure enjoyed by the Utah Valley. The key to being a good neighbor when using this lake? Mind your boat cleaning and decontamination certification. Invasive mussels, the STD of the Sea, are a real problem.