I wanted to do some traveling around Utah and the Southwest for a while, and what better time than the holiday break! I did this trip with my best pal and video partner, Dan. My favorite people are those that I can create with and we always have a lot of fun together. I came up with the whole itinerary: 2 weeks and 1,700 miles! This is something we’ve never done before. Some of my favorite photos are when I passed the camera to Dan and had him take a picture of me. When I’m behind the camera the whole time, I’m usually never the one in the photos, so it was nice to have him there to capture some memories for me.
Normally, the photos I see of the Southwest are all during the summer, so I was excited to do this trip in the winter to experience a different type of scenery. It wasn’t as snowy in some spots as I was expecting, but still made for beautiful vistas. None of these photos are heavily photoshopped. I’ve never been a fan of over-doing the colors to the point of over glorifying a place. What you see is what you get if you go to these same places! For this post, I wrote a lot of my little tips incase anyone reading this wants to do a similar trip in the winter. Whenever I go anywhere, I do a bunch of research on the places so I can be as prepared as possible. I read yelp reviews, other travel blogs, anything I can that seems honest and helpful. So I hope some of this is useful!
Tips before we start:
- If you plan on going to more than three national parks in the span of one year, purchase the national park pass for $80.
- If you are going to do this hike in the winter ice, you need to wear crampons
- I recommend snow boots as opposed to just regular hiking shoes. I opted to wear Sorels because I can’t stand my feet being cold.
- Temperatures were between 25 and 45 degrees, so dress appropriately.
- Avoid wearing jeans or any cotton clothing.
- Some of the places and hotels we stayed at did not have hair dryers, so bring one of those.
1. We started out in Los Angeles and drove through Vegas. Our first stop was Zion National Park. We did Angels Landing right off the bat. This is a really popular hike and will take at least three to four hours round trip. Since we took photos and videos along the way, it was an all day hike for us. I counted around 21 switchbacks on the back side that were pretty slippery. I saw younger guys wearing Pumas while trying to hike the switchbacks. They slipped all over the place and had to crawl in some spots. Don’t be like that. Wear proper foot gear, and you will be so much for comfortable.
2. Our next day, we hiked The Narrows. Hands down, this was one of the coolest things that I’ve ever done. Zion apparently turns into Disneyland in the summer, but in the winter, the crowds really taper off. We had the entire narrows to ourselves! We did not see one person hiking during our whole trip! We hiked all the way to the Wall Street area and then turned around. This was an all day hike for us because we took our time with photos, etc. Hiking through a river in a gorge during the winter gave me an adrenaline rush that I’ve never had before! The beauty of all the snow and ice is something I could only experience during winter, and we were completely remote. The hike itself was pretty easy, the water level never got past my upper thighs, but it was definitely a work out since we started off going up stream while constantly concentrating on our balance. There were plenty of rocky sand bars to rest.
Hiking the narrows in the winter means wearing a dry suit because the water is so cold. I was really cautious about risks of hypothermia being hours away from help, so it was important to do this right. We rented everything from Zion Adventure Company. This place was great because they set us up with a package of everything we needed to stay warm and dry in case we fell in. It was money well spent. While we came back from the end of our hike, we saw these two people trying to hike the narrows in a garbage bag. The Narrows was not a potato sack race. I could list a million things wrong with this decision, not to mention it was getting really dark. Don’t be like that.
3. Our next stop was Bryce Canyon. Unlike the cute hip town of Springdale, the options were much less around Bryce. We only had the option of staying at the Best Western and eating at the one restaurant in the whole town. The food was pretty bland and terrible, but it was our only option. I still recommend checking out Bryce. The rock formations were like nothing else I have seen. They are called “hoodos” and the hike around the park took a day. There are some switchbacks in the beginning and end that I recommend using crampons for. Again, I saw an older guy wearing nice dress shoes with a baby on his shoulders trying to do this hike. He slipped all over the place and it gave me anxiety just watching him. Don’t be like that.
4. We headed north to Mystic Hot Springs. I wanted to find a place that was in between Bryce and Moab, and this seemed like the perfect spot. I found this place on Airbnb. They had 6 working tubs and two bigger soaking pools that got pretty hot. Dan took some fun little shots of me while I explored all of the tubs! I’m a huge sucker for hot springs, but will not jump in anything. I asked how often the tubs were cleaned and how regularly the water was tested. This place was quirky and and such a great escape from the norm. The first night we stayed in the “my cabin.” This had a cute little pot belly stove that reminded me of my Dad’s old potbelly stove. This kept the entire cabin pretty warm throughout the night. The second night, we stayed in the old vintage bus. This wasn’t as warm, but with the space heater, it was comfortable. I’ve never stayed in an old bus before, so that was exciting!
5. After being at the hot springs for two days, we headed to Moab to trek around Arches National Park. I was really surprised at how lively the town of Moab was! Usually towns that are under 10K in population are pretty creepy in my opinion, but because there was so much tourism, even in the winter, Moab turned out to be a pleasant surprise. There were lots of hotels and decent restaurants. Our first attempt at going to Arches wasn’t so smooth. In the excitement of being at arches, Dan didn’t quite put the car into “park.” We watched the vehicle slowly move backwards into the ditch...We happened to get this all on the GoPro, so I think this will make for some funny video footage when we edit that together.
Anyway, Arches was fascinating. These rock formations were way bigger in real life than the pictures can portray. There are so many arches within a few miles radius. All of this happened because of water and erosion over thousands of years. These hikes were pretty easy, but I still recommend crampons in the icey parts. We saw almost all of the arches that the park has to offer! The one thing I think I missed out on was doing some nighttime timelapses at Delicate Arch. It was just too cold and we were not prepared to be there for several hours during the night. During our hike at Delicate Arch, I spotted a fundamentalist mormon family. It was quite the treat. There were 17 of them and they all passed us one by one while sprinting to the top. The girls all had the traditional homemade looking dresses and 18th century hair braids, while the guys had blue jeans, plain sweatshirts and bluetooths.
6. After spending a couple days in Moab, we headed south to Monument Valley. This is on the Navajo Reservations, so the national park pass won’t work for this. There’s a community of people that live around this area, so we made acquaintances with some locals to take us to Tear Drop arch on the reservation. We were really lucky to have them help us because normally this is a guided tour only in the summer. We went off-roading a little bit to get to this place, and it was worth it. Not many people have the opportunity to capture this view and have the place all to themselves! It’s just a reminder that it never hurts to ask locals to help you out to find hidden gems.
We stayed at the hotel this is inside the park, and I highly recommend this hotel! It’s called “The View.” It had the best breakfast for the price, and the view while we ate was picture perfect. The hotel was built near the most iconic parts of the park. We opted out of the 17 mile loop around the park because we had to get on with our trip, but this was something I would like to do in the future.
7. We drove down to Paige, AZ to Antelope Canyon. This was one of the most mysterious and beautiful things I have ever seen in my life. I didn’t even know this existed while growing up. Apparently not many American’s go there as the tour guides said mostly Asians and Europeans do the tours. We could only do Antelope Canyon through a tour. We did both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon since we had time, however, if you only have time for only one, do Lower Antelope. It’s cheaper and the colors are more vivid. Both tours are about the same in length. The soil was very clay like, and this canyon was formed by an earthquake, thus forming the really narrow and tall walkways. Over thousands of years of water and erosion, the smooth, wavy walls were sculpted. The colors were created by the bright Arizona sun reflecting off the rocks. The colors in my photos were actually what you will see when you do these tours, and you cannot take a bad photo of this place. I highly recommend Antelope canyon. It was natural beauty that I will never forget!
8. Since we were in the town of Page, Arizona, we went to nearby Horseshoe Bend. This place is super touristy just like Antelope Canyon, so be prepared for the hoards of people! There was enough room for everyone to get their pictures, but we had to share this with a billion other people!
9. For our Grand Canyon activity, we did the South Kaibab Trail. We went all the way to Skeleton Point and then headed back. Out of all hikes I have done, nothing quite compares to the vastness and undeniable beauty of the Grand Canyon. I had a few more things planned for us at the Grand Canyon, but I opted out of them. I will make plans to do the other activities during the spring/summer months.
10. On our way back, we took the old Route 66 starting in Siegelman. For anyone that wants to do this route, just know that all the fun kitschy stuff is in Siegelman. Had I known this, I would have spent more time there. The most interesting thing about Route 66 were these crazy mannequins. There were a ton of them in the town of Siegelman.
11. Our last stop was Joshua Tree. We drove around a big chunk of the park, hung out for a little while, took some pictures and then headed back to LA. I look forward to go back to Joshua Tree in the spring to camp!