My first trip out of the midwest since March, our trip to Utah was an incredible one. This state is so underrated – offering so much to see and do, especially for lovers of outdoor activities.
Getting There: Flight & Rental Car
The closest major airport to the National Parks and major attractions of Southern Utah is actually Las Vegas – which is awesome because typically you can always find great deals on flights to Vegas. That would be my recommendation to anyone flying in for a trip to explore Zion National Park or for a short trip around Southern Utah. Salt Lake City is over a 4-hour drive, while Vegas was about 2.5.
After arriving in Vegas, I followed the signs to go and pick up the rental car at Nu Car Rental.
This was probably the biggest “mistake” I made in booking this trip. When you use a booking site to find car rentals, they’ll always show a plethora of super cheap options that end up being a huge pain relative to the bigger, more reputable companies. If I would’ve been more careful, I’m sure I would have noticed that Hertz or Enterprise wasn’t much more expensive, and it would’ve been way less of a hassle and a much better experience. In the end, it wasn’t terrible, but we had a long wait time, less-than-stellar customer service, and the rental agency wasn’t actually in the airport – you had to take a separate shuttle and it was just a lot of extra steps and hassle.
Accommodation: Tiny House Cabin at Coral Pink Ranch
I would go back to this part of Utah just to stay in this ADORABLE cabin! We found it on Airbnb and seriously, I cannot recommend staying here enough! The owners were so nice – they had firewood to purchase on site, made coffee for all the guests in the morning, were super responsive on the app and had thought of all the little touches to make it a wonderful experience.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes
The first stop on our adventure before checking into our Airbnb was the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. It’s a state park and is a great quick visit while romping around Southern Utah. The entry fee is $7 and you can walk around these awesome sand dunes as much as you like – but you’ll quickly discover it’s a hard workout just to walk up the hill!
I’d say plan to spend no more than 1-2 hours here, it’s definitely worth seeing and it won’t take up much of your time in the itinerary! It was a perfect thing to do the same day we arrived before heading in for the night to rest for our big Zion day. Also – be super careful if you pull over on the roads around here – I got the rental car stuck in the sand when trying to turn around.
Thankfully, two burly, middle-aged men showed up literally within moments and pushed the car out of the sand! Crisis averted.
Zion National Park
This hike is a MUST-DO if you ever go to Zion. Rent the special hiking boots and walking stick for sure – you’ll want to right equipment to maintain your balance as you trek through the river. We rented the day-of our visit from a private company, Zion Adventures, right in the main entrance area of the park. You can book your shuttle with them or with the park beforehand, we did everything same-day but it’s probably better to plan ahead if you’re visiting during the busy season.
You will get wet on this hike – the depth depends on the time of year, but at the deepest point we were in about waist high. It was such a cool experience, just make sure all your electronics and valuables are either very water protected or are able to get submerged without being ruined.
This is the most “famous” (or infamous) hike in Zion National Park, and it’s definitely worth doing – but you may or may not want to do the entire hike depending on circumstances. The majority of the upward climb is on a safe, wide path, but the final bit requires some crazy rock climbing with only a chain to cling onto. This last bit was closed due to COVID when we visited, but in all honesty I don’t think I would have completed it anyway. People have died while hiking Angel’s Landing, and while I’m sure the view from the final part is incredible, the views we enjoyed on the way up were stunning without being risky.
Restaurants & Bars around Zion National Park
The Hive Food Truck
This stop was a gem in a real desert AND a restaurant desert.
While figuring out where to eat before turning in for the night at our adorable tiny cabin, we quickly realized there were very few restaurants operating and open near us. We stopped into a small local grocery store, and in the parking lot was this truck, “The Hive.” It had burritos, tacos, salads, some Tex-Mex options, and it was open! The food was delicious and it was our saving grace before the “hangry” panic set in.
Zion Brew Pub & Restaurant
After two major hikes, lots of walking, and being out in the sun all day – a beer was MUCH NEEDED and thankfully we didn’t have to go far. I had fish tacos and a beer, both were delicious and much-needed after all the hiking. It’s so convenient, right in Springdale, basically in the park, and even with COVID restrictions our wait time was not too long. It’s a large restaurant with plenty of spacing between tables.
Ho-made pies? Say no more! This restaurant, while giving off a “Perkins-meets-the-Southwest” vibe, had great breakfast that was filling and cheap – essential for starting our day of hiking around Zion. Stop at Thunderbird to enjoy a staple in this area of Utah – this restaurant has been operating in Mount Carmel, Utah, since the 1930s and offers a retro diner feel. I wouldn’t say it was the best food we ate on our trip, but it was a good, solid breakfast with super friendly service.
These were the highlights from the first two full days of our vacation in Utah! Check out my post on the second half – Bryce Canyon National Park and other adventures around Utah.