Six National Parks in Two Weeks: A Road Trip from Ohio to the West
This past May, my boyfriend and I embarked on a two-week road trip from the lovely state of Ohio to visit six national parks in Utah and Arizona – Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We threw in a few extra places as well – Vail, Dead Horse State Park, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon and Santa Fe. It was a whirlwind of a trip, but very doable in a short amount of time. We ran into some very unexpected weather for the end of May – low 50’s and upper 60’s temperatures in Moab, snow in Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon (and freezing temperatures) and almost every single day we had rain.
Moab - Arches and Canyonlands
We based ourselves in Moab for 4 days, opting to find a camping spot along the Colorado River instead of reserving a spot in either National Park or in the town of Moab. To get here, you turn onto SR191 where there are 6-7 BLM (Bureau of Land Management) campgrounds. We lucked out on finding a spot at the last possible locations (and we arrived around 11 am on a Monday!) right along the river at the Big Bend Campground.
While in Moab we explored Arches National Park one day, leaving early in the morning to hike to Delicate Arch, trying to hike the Devil’s Garden loop, but finding no parking and instead hiking to Double Arch and . Plan to give yourself at least one day in the park, two if you have time.
Suggested Hikes: Delicate Arch, Devil’s Garden Loop and Double Arch
The next day involved a trip to Canyonlands National Park Island in the Sky district and Dead Horse State Park. We had the strangest weather this day – it was sunny, then it rained, then it HAILED, then it started SNOWING! And then it was sunny again….Utah, make up your mind! 😊 We visited all of the overlooks, as well as hiked the Dome trail and Mesa Arch. Be prepared for a lot of people in your Mesa Arch photo! Afterwards, we swung into Dead Horse State park, fully prepared to do some hiking. Again, the weather decided that was not going to be the case; as we were taking photos of the overlook, a huge storm started rolling in. We took some photos and hightailed it into town!
Suggested Hikes: Mesa Arch, White Rim Overlook, Upheaval Dome
If you are camping on BLM land, likely there is no shower. One of the best deals we found in the town of Moab was the shower at the Rec Center. It is $5 for a shower (as long as you like), but note that the hot water doesn’t stay hot for very long!
For some food options, we really enjoyed Arches Thai. It gets crowded, so get there early if you can! We also had some food at Moab Garage Co, which is more of a coffee shop and the back area turns into a bar after 5. Since you are in Utah, they have some strange rules with alcohol, so keep this in mind while visiting. All their draft beer is 4% and can only be served in an establishment that also serves food. If you want higher alcohol content beer, liquor or wine, you have to get that in a liquor store.
Capitol Reef National Park
Although we just drove through Capitol Reef on our way to two nights in Bryce Canyon, I really enjoyed this smaller park! One of the highlights was stopping for a 2 -mile hike to the Hickman Bridge and having some delish strawberry rhubarb pie at the Gifford Homestead. They also have legendary cinnamon rolls, but you have to get there early – the lady mentioned they normally sell out by 10 am! This park was also awesome because we got to drive down the Grand Wash Road along the scenic drive. Don’t enter if there is a possibility of a flash-flood though! We only had time for one hike here, but there are a bunch of choose from.
Suggested Hikes: Hickman Bridge, Fying Pan, Cohab Canyon Trail
Bryce Canyon National Park
After leaving Capitol Reef, we worked our way to Bryce Canyon and the higher elevation – so high that it was snowing when we got there! We ended up finding a spot in the North Campground when we arrived around 3. By the same time the next day, every single spot was taken, despite the cold! While in Bryce Canyon we did the Queens Garden Trail to the Peekaboo Loop and took the Rim Trail back to Sunset Point. This hike was around 7 miles and took about 4 hours, so a perfect day hike!
If you are camping here, they have a great campstore, along with showers and laundry facilities. Bryce was one of my favorite stops, even though it was so cold we had to sleep in the car both nights!
Suggested Hikes: Queens Garden Trail, Rim Trail and Navajo Loop (this was closed)
Zion National Park
After leaving the tranquility of Bryce Canyon on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I don’t think I was ready for what Zion had in store for us. It was loud, crowded and busy. This was my least favorite park on this trip and it might be because we went on Memorial Day weekend, but I also think it’s getting overcrowded due to its massive popularity and how close it is to Las Vegas. We kind of felt like we were at an amusement park the entire time – and not in a good way. We had a campsite at Watchman Campground (be sure to book exactly 6 months out) and ended up only having one neighbor because the other neighbor next arrived.
Because of how busy it was, it was difficult to find a peaceful hike. We ended up doing a large day hike on the West Rim Trail, which is also how you start the hike to Angel’s Landing. When we got there around 9 am, the wait to start the hike up to Angel’s Landing was 2.5 hours long.
The town of Springdale was fun – just hop on the town shuttle and get off wherever you see fit. We had one of the best meals of the entire trip at Bit and Spur. We also hung out at the Zion Brewery and ended up getting a hotel one night because the rain just wouldn’t stop!
Suggested Hikes: West Rim Trail, Observation Point (this was closed), Watchman Trail
Grand Canyon – North Rim
I might be a bit of a snob, but I much prefer the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the insanity that is the South Rim. It’s harder to get to, so only 10% of the visitors stay here. It had snowed 5” the day before our arrival, so it was still pretty chilly when we arrived. Combine that with the fact that there was a major water outage, it was the textbook example of roughing it! We ended up sleeping in our Subaru that night because the temperatures were going to be below freezing and my sleeping bag is pretty much only good for summer camps! We had a great time for the one night we were here – we ended up walking part of the way into the Grand Canyon (to the Supai Tunnel and back, which was a total of 4 miles) and running into a group of ultra runners who were running from the South Rim to the North Rim back to the South Rim in the same day. If you walk into the Canyon, please do not go super far down – it’s a beast to walk back up!
Afterwards we hung out at the lodge. If you want dinner there, you have to book it when you book your room. We opted to grab a beer from the Teddy Roosevelt Saloon and order a pizza from the canteen and hang outside to take in the views of the Grand Canyon!
Suggest Hikes: North Kaibab Trail (to the Supai Tunnel and back)
After we left the Grand Canyon, we continued our trip to Page, Monument Valley and Santa Fe! Be on the lookout for a trip report in the coming weeks!
Have you ever done an epic road trip? Let us know in the comments below!