This was a 5 day trip into southern Utah hitting up some old favorites and some new spots. Along with southern Colorado, southern Utah boasts an indefinite amount of forest service roads, national parks and state parks.
- Night One: Drive to Goosenecks State Park from Phoenix
- Day One: Canyonlands Needles District and Island in the Sky District. Camp near Canyonlands
- Day 2: Goblin Valley State Park, Capitol Reef Temple of the Sun and Moon Camp on BLM road near Capitol Reef
- Day 3: Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef main entrance. Camp near Escalante
- Day 4: Cosmic Ashtray. Camp near Bryce
- Day 5: Home
Night One: Camping at the Goosenecks
The common theme remains the same here, I really like to get on the road and out of town ASAP as that leaves more time for adventuring the next day.
The Goosenecks State Park has been on my radar for a bit. I have driven by it 100 times without ever taking the time to stop. It is only about 5.5 hours from Phoenix and since we got on the road much later than anticipated that was camp spot for the night. Thankfully, I did get off of work late because not driving as far meant we stopped at this awesome spot.
We also had the amazing luck of driving through monument valley during a full moon. It was truly incredible. With no one around and tons of moonlight we were able to literally sit in the middle of the road and mess around with the night settings on the go pro and iphones.
The Goosenecks is not to be missed. Think horseshoe bend but with way less people and a great place to camp.
There is a fee to get into the state park. Then you can simply just camp along the road.
Big views. Quiet Campground. Perfection.
Day 1: Canyonlands Needles and Island in the Sky Districts
We woke up at sunrise and walked around. The pictures truly do not do this place justice
After soaking up the views it was time to start our day. The plan for day 1 was Canyonlands.
We started first within the Needles District. I have another blog post about Needles District which you can see here.
Canyonlands is broken up into four districts. Island in the Sky, Needles and The Maze are all drivable. The 4th District is the Rivers District. The Green River and Colorado River converge within the park. The Maze is extremely remote and not visited easily.
The Needles district is harder to get to and has less “instagram worthy” spots. However, in my opinion, and as I have said in other blog posts, it is absolutely worth seeing. There are many back country hikes here that I have yet to do but are certainly on my list. The needles get their name from the “needle shaped” rock formations which are way more impressive than they appear in the pictures. The drive into the park is also incredible and there are ample places to boondock just outside of the park entrance.
We did a short 4 mile hike and then headed up to Island in the sky. While it looks close on a map, Island in the Sky is a 2 hour drive from the Needles District so plan accordingly.
Island in the Sky has a certain wow factor. There are not as many hikes and a lot more people in this area of the park. However, it is a National Park for a reason. The views from this part of the park are truly breathtaking. We planned it so that we could have a happy hour and watch sunset with the great views. A little tip: the parks die down a few hours before sunset.
Mesa Arch is probably one of the more famous and photographed areas of the park. It is definitely worth seeing but don’t expect to be alone. Make sure to take in the views around this area aside from the arch. It is beautiful.
After Mesa Arch we drove to the grand view point. There were literally two other cars in the parking lot. We picked a spot cracked a beer and soaked up the incredible views and solitude this area provides.
I have no affiliation with this app but I have to say that iOverlander is my favorite when it comes to finding boondocking spots. We were able to snag a spot just 10 min from the visitor center outside of the park. While it was not the most picturesque, it was still lovely and served as a quiet camp spot for the evening.
Day 2: Goblin Valley State Park and Capitol Reef Temple of the Sun and Moon
We had a spectacular sunrise to greet us on our way out from our campsite. Our agenda, per usual, was pretty packed. First on the list was meet Mickey at Goblin Valley. It was a little over 2 hours to Goblin Valley State Park. This place is really cool especially if you have kiddos with you. It is basically a free for all along park. Take the trail to the Goblin’s Lair. It is definitely worth seeing.
After Goblin Valley we were back on the road heading to our final destination for the day, Capitol Reef National Park.
Capitol Reef National Park is the overlooked of the big 5 in Utah. Since it is often overlooked it is less crowded. This park is HUGE but most of it goes unseen by the typical tourist. There are many roads like Cathedral Valley that take you on an amazing journey through the park and BLM land.
The drive to Temple of the Sun Was about an hour off of the main road. The road does not require 4×4 to the point of the Temple of the Sun but it does require high clearance. We got to our destination about 40 minutes before sunset. While it is technically in the National Park, there is BLM land about a mile down the road. We hopped back into BLM land to camp for the night.
This trip happened to fall on my birthday. My friends made it oh so very special and decorated the van while I was riding in the jeep with Mickey. Seriously how amazing was it to not only get to spend the day seeing beautiful places with people I love, but also get a decorated van, birthday cake and party hats to wear out in the middle of the desert?! Shout out to Jes for making the coolest and most delicious cake and for packing that stuff inconspicuously!
Day 3: Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef and Camping in Escalante
We left the van at the campsite and packed into Mickey’s jeep. Today we would do a portion of the Cathedral Valley Loop which is a 60 mile road that takes you deep into Capitol Reef National Park. While we did not do the entire loop we did get to see the highlights.
It is imperative that you have a high clearance vehicle and 4×4 for this road.
This drive is truly awe inspiring. We saw no one at the cathedral valley overlook and about 2 cars in the 4 hours we were on the road.
The pictures truly do not do this place justice and maybe that is for the best because it sure does keep the traffic do
We packed up the rest of camp and headed on the long drive back to the main road. State route 24. This road will take you directly into Capitol Reef National Park Visitors Center. We did a quick drive through the park but as we were running short on daylight and still had quite a bit of driving ahead of us we did not spend much time there. To be honest, after our spectacular morning in Cathedral Valley this area of the park felt super crowded and just did not have the same wow factor. However, it is stunning and TOTALLY worth checking out.
Word to the wise, everyone raves about the pies that are served at the Gifford House. We did not make it in time to try one, definitely get there before 3 pm if you want to get a slice. We took the Scenic Road from the Visitor Center. It is a 7.9 mild road that eventually turns into dirt and dead ends at a trailhead.
After Capitol Reef we got back on the road and headed along the Utah 12 Scenic Byway. This. Drive. Is. Beautiful. You will drive up into the Aspens of Boulder Mountain and then back down to the high deserts of Escalante. If you have time stop at the Kiva Coffee Shop. I have mentioned it in previous blogs but it is so cute and the views alone are worth the stop.
This road also takes you to some familiar territory if you have been reading any of the other posts including upper and lower calf creek falls, hole in the rock road and eventually the town of Escalante. To check out our trip to Escalante click here.
Our goal was to get as close as possible to our hike the next day, Cosmic Ashtray.
We camped along Spencer Flat Road. It was fairly busy but there are ample boondocking sites.
That evening we were front and center for a beautiful moonrise and luckily we were able to capture it on the go pro!
Day 4: Cosmic Ashtray to Bryce
Another beautiful sunrise to start another busy day. Today we were doing a hike that has been on my bucket list for a while. Cosmic Ashtray. It is deep within Grand Staircase Escalante off of Spencer Flat Road. The road starts off fairly busy but dies down the further you go. The road did not require 4×4 but did require high clearance. As with any of the roads in this area it is imperative that you do not enter after a significant rain. The road becomes impassible. Also, of note, there are areas of super deep sand that can be misleading.
The hike is tough but not because of elevation. It is basically traversing sandstone without an actual trail and few and far carins in between. I highly recommend having an app with the trail downloaded as well as a watch or garmin that you can use to breadcrumb if you get off trail. The hike is about 8 miles total.
The Ashtray is a geologic anomaly. No one can explain how it formed. The pictures truly do not do this place justice. It is MASSIVE. It is INCREDIBLE. It is totally worth seeing.
After the hike we drove into Escalante to grab some food and figure out where to camp for the evening, ioverlander for the win again. Escalante is a cute little town. We stopped at Escalante Outfitters. Great spot with an outfitting store attached.
We headed towards Bryce and found a spot right off the main road. Last night of camping in the van. Sad.
Day 5: Quick Bryce Tour and Home
There will be another post ,eventually, about Bryce and Zion so stay tuned.
Bryce is an amazing place to hike but it is also great because a lot of the views can be seen with a short walk from the parking lot.
We made it home in about 7 hours. Exhausted and happy. Great trip.
If I were to do it over again I would have maybe planned out some of the camping and hikes in advance. One issue we ran into time and time again on this trip was a lack of cell service. While this is welcomed most of the time, it does make it difficult to find last minute camping spots. When you do have service take advantage.
On the other side it was wonderful to unplug.
Southern Utah is a vast desolate area. There are often stretches of road with no cell service, no towns and no gas for hours on end. While this is incredible from my perspective, it is also important to be prepared. Fill up with gas whenever there is an opportunity. Make sure you have appropriate tools for a vehicle issue. We carry a portable tire inflator, jumper cables and a garmin inreach for emergencies. I take this thing everywhere. Check them out here.
Also when traversing these back dirt roads it is not a bad idea to bring extra gas and recovery boards.