Itinerary: Six Days in Southern Utah

I’m spending some time this weekend sorting through photos from our trip to southern Utah and I can’t wait to share them! This trip is something my husband especially has been looking forward to for awhile. It came from one of those conversations where we ask each other, “If you could go anywhere in ‘X Country,’ where would you go?” This spring we’d earmarked a week for a U.S. trip, and we both agreed it was time to tackle southern Utah.

Utah Road TripGoing in, neither of us knew exactly what to expect, but I have to tell you, this trip has made its way into my top three for scenic beauty. Per usual, we packed a TON into just six days, but we never felt rushed – which makes it a very successful road trip in my book. Read below for a detailed itinerary of six days in southern Utah:

Day 1: Las Vegas, St. George
We flew in and out of Vegas, because it was the least expensive flight from our home airport. We’d both been to Vegas before, so we opted not to spend the night. Instead, we spent about five hours walking the strip, having lunch (at Flour & Barley, highly recommended for wood-fired pizza and an extensive beer menu), touring the National Atomic Testing Museum, and drinking beer flights at CraftHaus Brewery. From there, we drove two hours to St. George, Utah, where we spent our first night.

Day 2: Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah

Zion National Park Observation Point

Observation Point in Zion National Park

We woke up at sunrise, packed our backpacks, and jumped in the car headed for our first national park of the trip. When we arrived in Springdale (about an hour from St. George) we grabbed a quick but hearty breakfast and made our way into the park. Quick tip – the national parks in Southern Utah, like many, require a day fee per vehicle of $25-$30. If you plan to see several, buy the America the Beautiful Inter-Agency pass. It’s $80 and worth it if you’re seeing at least three parks on your trip (or within one year, which is how long the pass is valid).

 

 

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The Virgin River along Pa’rus Trail in Zion National Park

By 9 am, we were on the trail to Observation Point. This 8-mile steep out and back trail is labeled as strenuous, but the view at the top is so, so worth it. After a late lunch at Zion Brewing Company and some souvenir shopping, we went back out for a 3-mile out and back hike on the Pa’rus Trail. This easy trail is flat and follows the Virgin River as it winds through the park. It was the perfect way to end the day in Zion.

 

Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park, Page

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Red Canyon near Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce is about an hour and 45 minutes from Springdale/Zion, so we got an early start on our drive. On the recommendation of our beertender at CraftHause in Las Vegas, we stopped first at Red Canyon, just 10 minutes outside of the national park, where we were able to get up-close and personal with the hoodoos this area is known for.

 

 

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Views of Bryce Canyon National Park’s famous hoodoos from the East Rim Trail

From there we made our way into the park and directly to Bryce Point, arguably the best overlook in the area. From there, we jumped onto the East Rim Trail, which winds around the edge of the canyon. In roughly two miles we’d made our way to Inspiration Point, and then on to the famous Sunset Point. A quick shuttle ride back to our car at Bryce Point, and we were back on the road. Our hotel for the night was in Page, Arizona, where we’d spend the following day.

 

Day 4: Horseshoe Bend, Lower Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, Monument Valley
Horseshoe Bend Page ArizonaPage, AZ is a small town built in the middle of some absolutely amazing scenery. When we woke up, just after sunrise, we went immediately to Horseshoe Bend. We just missed the crowds who’d arrived to watch the sunrise, and had the view mostly to ourselves for the next hour.

Lower Antelope Canyon Page ArizonaNext up, we toured Lower Antelope Canyon. This was SO COOL, and 100% worth the price of admission.

Lake Powell Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Page ArizonaLunch at Big John’s Texas BBQ was the food highlight of our trip, and fueled us up before we drove through Lake Powell/Glen Canyon Recreation Area (also a fee area, but covered by my America the Beautiful pass!). The views here honestly looked fake, as if it was a painting we were looking at. The photos just don’t do it justice.

Monument ValleyAnother two-hour drive led us to Monument Valley. Our first stop was mile marker 13, where Forrest Gump just stopped running. From there we took in the views, pitched our tent at the campsite, and waited on the sunset.

Day 5: Moab, Canyonlands, Colorado River
Canyonlands National Park Moab UtahWe’d intended to hike the Arches on day five, but Mother Nature wasn’t having any of it. After a three-hour drive from Monument Valley to a rainy Moab, we decided to grab lunch and drive through the Canyonlands. The clouds (and SNOW!) at the top prevented us from getting the full effect, but as we made our way back down the mountain we were able to see some pretty spectacular views.

 

Big Bend Campground Colorado River Moab Utah

Big Bend Campground along the Colorado River near Moab, Utah

We spent the rest of the day on touristy things – shopping and beer-ing at Moab Brewing Company. Early in the day, we’d staked out a spot at Big Bend Campground, and headed there before sunset to make a fire and enjoy our last night in Utah.

 

Day 6: Arches National Park, Las Vegas
Arches National Park Moab UtahWe woke up at our campsite along the Colorado River, and the sun was trying to make its way out from the clouds. We decided to head straight over to the Arches, and by the time we arrived, around 8:30 am, we were greeted by blue skies. We made the three-mile out and back trek to Delicate Arch, and it was the perfect way to end our trip.

From Moab, it took us about six and a half hours to drive back into Las Vegas. With a red-eye flight that night, we didn’t have much time to spare. But, we managed to sneak in dinner at a place that just really gets me – Tacos & Beer.

 

I can’t say enough about the scenery, the parks, the people. Southern Utah will go down as one of the best road trips we’ve done, ever. Look for more detailed accounts of some of our hikes and activities in the next couple of weeks! Have you been to Southern Utah? What was your favorite activity? Let me know in the comments.

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4 Easy Ways to Keep the Travel Bug At Bay

I’ve been home for about two weeks since my last trip, a whirlwind tour of the Pacific Northwest. And per usual, the travel bug has come back to bite me already. But let’s be honest – I don’t have the vacation time or the cash handy to drop what I’m doing and hop another plane.

Instead, I’ll be employing these 4 Easy Ways to Keep the Travel Bug at Bay while I save up for my next adventure.

 

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View from Carew Tower in downtown Cincinnati

Be a tourist in your own city. I live just outside a mid-sized Midwest city, but there’s so much to see and do. It may not be NYC or LA, but new restaurants are opening downtown every week, art exhibits, ballets and broadway shows are plentiful, and the outdoor adventure scene isn’t too shabby, either. In my down time from travel, I find that getting out and about in my city is a great way to do a lot of the things I love, like hiking and trying new restaurants and breweries, without forking over the money for a plane ticket or hotel room.

 

 

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Red River Gorge in Daniel Boone National Forest is just a two-hour drive from my city

Plan a day trip. Where can you drive to in under three hours from your hometown? I can get to three other mid-sized cities, a National Forest, and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, to name a few. Sure, it can be a lot of driving in a day. But with the right travel partner(s), it’s the perfect way to get that quick fix you’ve been craving.

 

 

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Looking Glass Rock is in Pisgah National Forest, just one hour outside of Ashville, NC

Find your go-to weekend getaway. Not everyone is into the idea of repeat trips, but for me, after awhile you know what you like and what you don’t like. And if you can find a place you like within a reasonable distance for a weekend getaway, make it yours. I love, love, love Asheville, North Carolina. Not only is it a quirky city with INCREDIBLE beer, but it’s within an hour’s drive to multiple National Forests and Parks. Hello, mountains! I’ve been in the area three times now, and am planning a fourth trip near Thanksgiving this year. Each time I visit, I find something new and incredible, and until that stops, I’ll keep visiting. It’s under five hours’ drive time, and the perfect weekend getaway for me.

 

travel-planning-tipsResearch and plan for your next big trip. What better way to get excited than to research your next big trip? Sure, it might not happen for six months or a year, but you can use that time to discover destinations you never knew existed, add to your itinerary, or brush up on some useful language skills (if you plan to travel internationally). If you’re planning a particularly large trip that’s more than a year out, researching and budgeting can help you stay focused on your travel savings plan, and you’ll have plenty of time to find the best deals on transportation, lodging and attractions. Traveling and experiencing new things is the best – but planning for them is a close second, in my book.

What’s your best tip for keeping the travel bug at bay? Let me know in the comments!

Euro Trip 2016: The good, the bad, the (not-so) ugly

It’s been less than 48 hours since I landed on U.S. soil after a 13-day trip to Europe. My sleep schedule is off by six hours, and my house is kind of a mess… but I’m SO happy. This was an incredible trip, and one I won’t soon forget.

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In 13 days, my husband and I traveled to 16 cities in three countries. We stayed in two hotels, one hostel, and six AirBNB apartments. We traveled by plane, train, and automobile (in a rental car we lovingly named Hans – because he spoke nothing but German no matter how many buttons we pressed!). We hiked, we toured museums, we swam in the Mediterranean, we ate everything from swordfish to rabbit to lamb, and we probably spent 100 Euro on gelato and cappuccinos alone. <– To be fair, we ate A LOT of gelato, and drank multiple cappuccinos per day. It was just too good to not.

This experience taught me a lot, and I’ll post about each destination and activity in more detail later. But, I wanted to overview what I loved, what I learned, and what I’d do differently next time.

First, what I loved: EVERYTHING. Okay, it wasn’t 13 days of constant nirvana, but it was pretty close. If I had to pull out my three favorite experiences, it would be these:

The view of Lauterbrunnen from Wengen

The view of Lauterbrunnen from Wengen

  1. Hiking from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen in Switzerland. Holy panoramic views! Lauterbrunnen is in the valley, and it makes you feel immersed in the mountains, surrounded by waterfalls and green pastures. Wengen is near the top of the mountain, and you can look out into the valley for these incredible views. The hike up was, in a word, difficult. It was 90 minutes of winding up, up, up the side of a mountain, after all. But when you arrive and catch this view? Totally worth it. We spent an hour picnicking just off the trail where we could eat baguettes and drink rosé from the bottle while taking it all in.

    Perfect spot for a picnic in Switzerland

    Perfect spot for a picnic in Switzerland

  2. A day at the beach in VilleFranche sur Mer. The water actually is that color, in case you were wondering. This incredible beach (and adorable town) is about a 3-mile walk from Nice’s Vielle Ville, where we stayed. The views along the way were spectacular, the crystal blue waters and pebbled beach the perfect reward for the work to get there. As was common on this trip, we brought along a bottle of rosé to sip on at the beach. Sensing a theme here? The sun was shining, it was a perfect 73 degrees, and it made for an absolutely incredible day.

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    VilleFranche sur Mer in the south of France

  3. One day in Florence, Italy. This was somewhat unexpected, simply because I didn’t do a lot of planning for Florence. I had three things on my list: the Bardini Gardens, the statue of David, and dinner at Osteria del Cinghale Bianco. The gardens were STUNNING. It was so relaxing to walk through rows of flowers and beautifully manicured green spaces. There’s a terrace with a lovely view of the city, too.
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    The Bardini Gardens in Florence, Italy

    After the gardens, we stopped for gelato (again) and walked through town toward Galleria dell’Academia, where David lives. And we ended up right next to the Duomo. Have you ever seen such incredible detail on a building?

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    The Duomo in Florence, Italy

    After we hung out with David for a bit (quick tip: skip the line by reserving your tickets online in advance – it’s way worth it!), we stopped in at Piazza de Michaelangelo for this incredible panoramic view.

    Florence, Italy

    Florence, Italy

    After the best damn glass of prosecco I’ve ever had (we brought home a bottle, it was so good) we had our authentic Italian dinner we’ve been dreaming about for years. And it was the Best. Meal. Ever. Literally, I’ve never had a better meal. Cacio e pepe, wild boar ragu, sliced sirloin, panna cotta with wild berries, and a cappuccino to round things out. Oh, and a half liter of the house red. I left there smiling ear-to-ear.

    First course: Cacio e Pepe and Wild Boar Ragu with the House Red.

    First course: Cacio e Pepe and Wild Boar Ragu with the House Red.

Now, for a few lessons learned.

  1. Driving a rental car in a foreign country, even on the right side of the road, is stressful. Like, seriously stressful. Why are all the parking garages in Europe so small? No wonder the rep at the Sixt counter looked at us so incredulously when we told her “No, thank you,” on the additional damage coverage. And researching the rules of the road was not on my list of tasks to complete before heading across the Atlantic – but it should have been. Ever heard of a rotary? K, now drive around one every 200 meters. And don’t get hit by oncoming traffic, even though they don’t use signals, ever. This wasn’t your average road trip.

    Trying to put on a happy face as it rained for 48 hours straight. Photo taken in Annecy, France.

    Trying to put on a happy face as it rained for 48 hours straight. Photo taken in Annecy, France.

  2. The weather doesn’t care that you planned your entire trip around hiking some of the most beautiful trails in the world. I’m an eternal optimist, so I just assumed that Mother Nature would do me a solid and make it sunny and bright on my hiking days. And my beach days. And my touristy days. Hence, my lack of a plan B when it rained buckets in Chamonix, and Annecy, and Cinque Terre. Here’s where flexibility and positivity comes in handy – because you can either sit and wallow or go find a new adventure. And that’s just what we did.
  3. You don’t have to speak the language fluently – but trying your best goes a long way. I speak zero German, very rough French, and not a bit of Italian. I found that in Switzerland, I could get through most interactions with “guten tag,” “danke” and a smile and a nod, but we didn’t eat out much, and spent nearly all our time in the mountains. In France, avoiding conversation was much harder. I tried my best to order food or make dinner reservations with my rusty language skills, and I found that it did make a big difference in my interactions, and in the service we received.
Pisa, Italy

Pisa, Italy

What would I do differently? Not much. I’d consider doing the whole trip by train, for sure. And I’d probably pack more pants and long-sleeved shirts because it’s chilly at night when you’re on the coast, even in June. But I consider every moment a piece of what made my trip the incredible experience that it was, and honestly, sometimes the best moments are the ones that you don’t plan on at all.

California Dreaming on Pacific Coast Highway

When I was young, my family didn’t go on many vacations. I was introduced to the absolute wonders of traveling by my husband, who insisted that we take an “epic road trip” for our honeymoon. Oh, and it should be done in a convertible, he said.

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For a girl with little to no travel experience other than lazy beach vacations, I was nervous, to say the least. Where should I even begin to plan a trip like we envisioned? How would we get around? Would we be able to eat good, local food, or would we end up in tourist traps?

It was my first try at planning a trip sight-unseen, and I only had a few days of vacation to work with, so we decided to drive the coast of California. My husband and I each picked our “top priority” city – for me it was San Diego, for him it was San Francisco – and we planned the trip between the two cities.

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When planning a trip with limited time, it’s easy to convince yourself you can do 100 things if you simply maximize your time. The problem is, you really can’t – and you shouldn’t try to. If you’re a planner like me, you’ve written down all of the sites you want to see and the restaurants you want to try. But if you plan too much in too tight of a time frame, you lose the option to just enjoy the sites, linger over wine, spend an extra hour walking the beach hand in hand, or take the scenic route home. And by scenic route, I don’t mean jumping on the bus in the wrong direction and losing two hours on your way back to Coronado from La Jolla Cove. Although, that could happen, too.

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Now on to the good stuff – the highlights of our trip. We began in San Diego and spent two nights at a resort on Coronado, which was beautiful. Despite a few detours we did make it to La Jolla cove (pictured above), which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone visiting San Diego. We swam in the 70-degree Pacific Ocean alongside a few other brave swimmers while dozens of seals sunbathed nearby. We roamed the Gaslight district and laid on the beach. We strolled through residential neighborhoods and took a water taxi across the beautiful Coronado Bay. I could have spent another three days exploring the city, but the next leg of the trip was calling.

 

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Central Wine Country in Paso Robles, CA

 

Quick tip: if you’re renting a car one-way it can be much more expensive than dropping off and picking up at the same location. Consider picking up your rental car from the airport lot, and find out if your hotel offers a free shuttle service to the airport – ours did and it saved us a $45 cab fare.

We drove 570 miles in two days, and stopped in several cities. One of my favorite things we did was to stop in Paso Robles to do a few wine tastings. It was 10 am, and the only place we found open at that hour for tastings was a small vineyard called Castoro Wine Cellars. My husband and I sat down at the bar and were greeted by a friendly woman who figured out we had no idea what we were doing within 30 seconds. She laughed along with us as she taught us the ins and outs of tasting wine, offering us food samples that paired well with the wines. It was an incredible experience in a beautiful part of the country, and I would go back in a heartbeat.

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During the drive in Big Sur – the views are INCREDIBLE, in case you haven’t heard – we found a few absolute gems thanks to recommendations from a friend who’d done the trip years earlier. First, we hopped out of the car in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and hiked down for this view.

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Next we pulled into a small roadside restaurant called Nepenthe. Coffee, cheese, fruit, and this gorgeous scene were laid out in front of us as we indulged ourselves for an hour at their outdoor tables.

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When we made it San Francisco, we spent our days walking miles and miles through the city. We did take a trolley tour, which I loved, and spent a morning at Alcatraz. Touristy? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

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At the end of the trip, my husband (a graphic designer by trade) put together a video with the song that had become the anthem of our road trip. We took photos and video on our Canon Rebel T2i and mixed in a few shots from our iPhones. It was an incredible keepsake from our trip, and puts me right back into that California state of mind. You can view it here.

Have you driven the California coast? What were your favorite activities? Let me know in the comments!