If someone were to ask you what your favorite state is, what would you say? I surprise most people when I say Utah is my favorite. Back in 2005, my dad planned a summer vacation to Utah. My mom, sister and I were less than thrilled with the idea. What could possibly be in Utah? Once we made it there, we immediately fell in love with this beautiful state. I have been back several times since 2005, with my latest trip being in Feb. 2022. I extended a work conference in Vegas to include a long weekend in my favorite state.
It was a quick trip, but we did a lot while we were there. Before we get started I want to point out a couple things that may not work for everyone. The first is that our trip included a fair amount of driving. It’s about a three hour drive from Las Vegas to Southern Utah and then we drove between an hour and an hour and a half each day to reach our destinations. We also choose to have our home base be in Kanab, Utah, but you could save some drive time if you chose to stay in a different hotel each night that is closer to the parks/hikes you want to do. We didn’t mind the driving because the scenery is so stunning, but I could see how that wouldn’t work for everyone. If you’re planning to visit multiple national parks it might also make sense to invest in an annual national parks pass for $80, as it cost $35 per day for each entrance fee. I would recommend flying in and out of Las Vegas, as that is the closest airport to southern Utah.
Day 1 | Travel Day
For us, the first day was rather uneventful. I had my work conference until 3 p.m., so we couldn’t leave Las Vegas until later in the day. If you don’t have that obstacle, you’ll have a lot more time on day one for exploring. For us, we only had a couple hours until sunset (it set at 5:20 p.m. during February) so we drove about an hour to the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. We hiked a quick 1.5 miles back to the Fire Wave before sunset and then had to leave the park. I’ve heard that people compare the Fire Wave compare the rock formations and colors to the Wave in Paria Canyon Vermillion Cliffs, but it’s not quite the same. It’s still beautiful, but very little actually compares to the beauty of the Wave. More about that later. It was still well worth the stop and would highly recommend staying for longer if you can. We then finished our day with the drive to Kanab, Utah, which would serve as our home for the next three nights.
Day 2 | Paria Canyon Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area
The entire Paria Canyon Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area borders Utah and Arizona, but you can access several areas within an hour drive of Kanab. My first recommendation would be to try and a permit to the Wave (Coyote Buttes North). Up to 64 people per day are granted a permit (48 selected ahead of time with an online lottery and 16 the day prior). There are whole blog posts devoted to how to obtain a permit and you can find detailed information on the Bureau of Land Management site. If you’re fortunate enough to win a permit, make this hike a priority. I went in 2012 and it’s a very special place. If not, you have other options. There is also a lottery for Coyote Buttes South or you can take a backroad adventure to White Pocket. We lost both the in-person Wave and Coyote Buttes South lotteries, so we opted for White Pocket since it does not require a permit and has similar geographical features to the Wave.
We started our day hiking Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch. You actually start the hike from the same parking lot as the Wave trailhead and can hike as few as 1.5 miles until you reach the amazing slot canyons or go up to 11 miles for the entire hike. We did about 4.5 each way and it was stunning. The benefit of hiking further into the slot canyon is that you can leave behind the crowds of people, and unfortunately there were a lot of people early on in this hike with children and dogs.
After Wire Pass/Buckskin Gulch we drove another hour or so (~27 miles) on dirt and then sand roads to reach White Pocket. You absolutely need 4-wheel drive and a high clearance vehicle to ensure you’ll make it to your destination. The sand is up to two feet deep in some places and you do not want to get stuck driving the wrong vehicle on that “road”. I would also give yourself plenty of time to explore the area. There aren’t any trails, but you can wander all over the unique rock formations for hours. It looks like you landed on another planet and it’s easy to avoid other people because the area is so large. Overall between Wire Pass/Buckskin Gulch and White Pocket, we hiked about 10 miles on day two.
Day 3 | Bryce Canyon National Park
On our second full day in Utah, we were treated with a bit of a surprise in Kanab. We were unaware when we booked the trip that a hot air balloon festival would be going on during our stay. So, we were lucky that we were able to witness about 40 hot air balloons ascending in front of the mountains this morning. It was really cool and an added bonus for our trip.
There are a lot of options for exploring and hiking around Kanab, but we made a last minute decision to go to Bryce Canyon National Park our second full day because it was only an hour and a half drive and happens to be one of my favorite national parks in the country. Plus, my friends had never visited. Due to it being President’s Day weekend there were more people than usual at this time of year, so we opted for the Fairylands Loop eight mile hike. It’s a tough hike with several sections that have significant elevation gains, but it was great because there were minimal people on the trail, even with us getting a late start. Other popular hikes are shorter (Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden Trail) and well worth a stop if you have the time. If you don’t want to do the hikes, the scenic drive through the park gives you beautiful views of the canyon no matter where you stop.
Day 4 | Zion National Park and Travel Day
Our final day in Utah we woke up at 5:00 a.m. so that we could leave by 6:00 a.m. to get to Zion National Park. We had one goal – hike Angel’s Landing. For those of you who don’t know, Angel’s Landing will require a permit starting Apr. 2022. Since we were already in Utah we thought this would be the perfect time to check this hike off our bucket list. We had read that the parking lot fills up by 7:30 a.m. so we wanted to make sure we had a spot. It’s important to note that you usually have to take a shuttle through Zion, but in the winter months you can drive into the park. Always check the park’s website for the most up to date requirements before visiting. When we arrived to the Grotto parking lot for Angel’s Landing we got the last spot, although we noticed people who got there after us just made their own until there was no space left.
The entire first half of Angel’s Landing is up. And the second half of the hike is all down. It’s only about five miles total, but you’ll feel it. The first part of the hike is paved, although I can’t imagine that helps very much when there is ice on the trail. The last half mile or so requires you to scramble a bit and hold onto chains to help ensure you don’t go over the side of a cliff. If you’re scared of heights, I’d recommend you skip this part. It was tough, but honestly not as bad as I was expecting. Luckily most of the ice had melted on the trail, so it wasn’t as slippery as it normally is. You would definitely would need microblades if it were icy. I’m not even sure I’d attempt it with them given how steep it is. All the way up this last section provides absolutely stunning 360 views of Zion. Aside from losing my GoPro off the side of the cliff once I reached the top of the hike, I’d highly recommend making this hike a priority. It was busy with people, but apparently nowhere near as bad as it can be. Not sure how much better it will be with the lottery system, but hopefully that will make the hike a more pleasant one.
Once you’re done exploring Zion, you can head back to Las Vegas. It’s about 2 hours and 45 minutes from Zion and that is where we were taking a red-eye flight back home. It was a VERY long day, but it helped us sleep on the flight home.
Other Hike Considerations
In preparation for this trip, I did some additional research of hikes near Kanab. While I can’t personally attest to how good they are, I read that the following are worth a stop:
- The Great Chamber at Cutler Point (less than a mile)
- Toadstool Hoodoos (1.8 miles)
- Peak-a-boo Slot Canyon ( .7 miles)
From past trips to Utah, I would also recommend stopping at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary if you have time. It’s located in Kanab and you have to schedule a tour, but it is one of the coolest animal rescue organizations in the country.