The only way to visit Zion National Park is through scoring a shuttle seat. I was told tickets are released at 9 am for the following day and sold out in 10 minutes. Zion has become the new Coachella. I didn't want to go (ever) because I heard it's the busiest park and I definitely didn't want to sit in a shuttle with other people. For me, crowds and lines ruin the National Park experience. The alternative Zion National Park experience is Kolob Canyons. I spoke to locals who would much rather visit Kolob Canyons over the main park. It's less crowded and there are beautiful hiking trails and scenic views in this area as well.
I originally planned this trip last year for my birthday. It didn't work out because I have family who like to join me on my road trips. I ended up focusing my big birthday last year on Northern California which I don't regret. I loved everything about Northern California -- the redwoods, the coast, and the hikes through the redwoods and Lassen Volcanic National Park.
I've long held the tradition of leaving town for my birthday or not working on my birthday. With an expiring national park pass in hand, I decided to head to Utah for my birthday. It was going to be a solo trip where I have come to really appreciate, but my mom and stepdad have had Covid cabin fever so they asked if they can come along for the ride.
We ended up renting this SUV because my mom's car broke down in Brian Head due to an oil leak despite them reassuring me that their older car was in good condition to take mountain driving. They insisted on taking their older car instead of my car or their newer car. I learned that making sure your car is checked by a reliable mechanic before traveling is essential or renting a newer car for this trip. You might face the stress of calling 15 rental companies just to find a rental. I finally found 1 car in the entire 60 mile radius that was available. It killed an entire afternoon of our trip trying to find a solution to a broke down vehicle. Potentially breaking down in an area without cell service or possibly not finding a rental car can ruin your entire vacation.
I've learned over the years that it's quite challenging traveling with other people. Things don't go as planned or things that you maybe could have done solo doesn't work out because other people you're traveling with don't want to do what you want to do. Especially with Covid, when you have two other people to care for, it's very stressful. I was constantly telling my mom and stepdad to be safe throughout our journey.
There's the mask issue that seems to have become a political statement. From my experience, Republicans don't like to wear masks -- of course, probably not everyone, but the ones I've spoken to and rolls their eyes at the mention of a Dr. Fauci. For whatever reason, they don't feel the need to protect themselves or others or maybe the government doesn't have the right to mandate wearing a mask and impinging on their freedom. Maybe it's more of machismo for other and a sign of weakness. For whatever reason it is, it worries me to be around maskless people these days.
My stepdad is a staunch Republican and I had to constantly remind him to wear the mask, santize his hands, wear gloves when pumping gas, and to keep his distance from people. In Southern Utah, there are plenty of locals who don't wear masks. You'll find restaurants packed with people indoors and outdoors, and some servers not wearing masks. You might feel locals stare at you inside gas stations for wearing a mask.
I learned that traveling to this area, it would be better to stay in one motel room to use as your home base to explore. It's too tiring to constant pack, unpack, and disinfect each motel room surface... and set up your beddings (I brought my own towel, pillow, sheet and blanket). We moved around 4 times during our visit because I wanted to stay in different areas for one reason or another. I find that staying in motels were better where I could park our car in front of the motel room instead of traveling long hallways in a hotel exposing ourselves to other people.
The best viewpoint is "Sunrise Point" in Bryce Canyon. We visited at dusk and left the park soon after. Unfortunately, we could not find "Sunrise Point" again when we returned on a weekday to experience the park less crowded. We only found the "Sunset Point" viewpoint. You probably can skip the other viewpoints and spend more time (maybe 2 to 3 hours) at "Sunrise Point" hiking. My favorites were Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, and Natural Bridge viewpoints. The most popular trail is the Navajo Loop to the Queen's Garden trail. The least crowded easy trail according to the park ranger is the Bristlecone Loop trail at the end of the scenic drive. You'll have to drive all the way and stop at the viewpoints on the way down.
I usually don't do berry pies, but this was satisfying. It wasn't as sweet as the Bryce Canyon Pines, but tasted freshly made with the crust being still crisp. There's a grocery store in Kanab called Glazier's Market that sells an awesome unsweetened whole apple pie. It reminded me about the unsweetened apple pie in Julian.
Panguitch Lake was recommended for fall foliage peeping by someone staying at our motel. It was towards the end of their peak, but still impressive. The Cedar City visitor center can point you to the active fall foliage areas. As well as must stop places to visit and eat. I am sad because we didn't get to try the highly recommended cinnamon rolls at Parowan Cafe in Parowan and to see the fall foliage around Yankee Meadow Reservoir because our car broke down.
A must see is Coral Pink Sand Dunes in Kanab. If you're up for it, you can go sledding or sandboarding down the hill for $25. I couldn't justify the cost if I was not spending the whole day sandboarding and didn't want to make my mom wait around for me while I sandboard. It was too hot that day that I would probably last 2 climbs up the sandy hill. People also bring their ATVs to the park.
Grand Canyon North Rim originally was not part of our agenda but my mom and stepdad wanted to go. When seeking advice from the BLM visitor center, they told me it was worth checking out. At this time during the year, it's usually snowing. It was worth the drive to see a different perspective. There are other viewpoints you can enjoy, but it was getting late and the road I heard was twisty and curvy. My mom didn't want to go. There's a water shortage so expect to go in a port-o-potty which my mom hated. There's a gas station on the way back out of the park that has a cleaner port-o-potty.
The Grand Canyon ended up being a nice surprise. I spotted a bison on the side of the road and this time of the year is beautiful with plenty of fall foliage along the road to gawk over. I definitely recommend visiting this quieter side of the Grand Canyon for a different experience.
One visitor I spoke to at our motel in Kanab said she got teary eyed watching the sunset over the Grand Canyon in Cape Royal. She also told me that winning the lottery for "the Wave" is tough online and even showing up in the morning at the Kanab visitor center hoping to score a spot. I also heard from her that you would be hiking on sand. If you want to try to score a spot for "the Wave" you hopefully are in good shape.
The road trip to Utah was fun and enjoyable despite the car breaking down and Covid. The people of Utah are different from LA and unusally nice. They are the type of people that go out of their way to help. The kind of people you would want to be your friend. When we broke down on the road, there were several people, maybe 3 cars, that stopped to ask if they can help us. I'm not sure how many people would do that in LA. That is something I was remember about Utah and its locals.
We spent about 5 days in Utah, but there's still so much more to expereince and maybe one day I will return to experience. Utah will always hold a special place in my heart and I can't wait to return again one day. The thought of moving to Utah did cross my mind. Perhaps, I'll return again for that cinnamon roll, a longer hike, or sandboarding on my way up to Yellowstone one day.
I love exploring Los Angeles like a tourist. I have as much fun in my hometown as I do traveling to another country. I hope my adventures inspire you to eat well and travel often.