3 Days in Zion National Park

This has been my FAVORITE National Park so far. There is a lot to see and a lot to do. Here are our suggestions for an amazing 3 days in Zion NP.

FYI Utah Drinking and Eating Fact: In order to drink alcohol at a restaurant, you’ll need to order food. It’s a real law. You’re unfortunately not able to walk into a place and buy a beer or order a glass of wine without ordering some form of food.

Lodging

We stayed in Zion NP at the Watchman Campground. It’s right next to the Visitor Center and is electric hookups for RVs. It was the perfect location for us and our R-Pod 180 HRE named Bandit. Others option include the South Campground which has no hookups but great location near the Virgin River. There is also the town of Springdale right outside the gates where several RV parks and hotels have lodging. There is a Springdale shuttle that goes from various stops in town to Zion NP.

Day 1

Stop at Zion NP Visitor Center and get your naps, advice on trails, shuttle schedules, and hop on the shuttle for a nice ride to get an overview of the park. The Zion Canyon shuttle will take you from the Visitor Center 6.6 miles down Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to the Temple of Sinawava stop and back in about 1.5 hours. On the way you’ll also see the major geographic formations along the Canyon walls: Court of the Patriarchs, the Watchman, Angel’s Landing, and the Great White Throne.

View from the canyon floor

Be sure to stop at the Human History Museum and watch the park orientation video. It’s only 22 minutes and gives you basic information on the park’s natural and human history. While you’re out, get off the shuttle at stop 5 to make reservations for your day 3 trailride on horseback and day 3 dinner at the Zion Lodge.

At the end of your first day you can take a drive down the Zion-Mt Carmel Hwy (Hwy 9) through the tunnel and to the park’s eastern boundary. On this route you can see the Checkerboard Mesa and Canyon Overlook.

A short drive up from Canyon Junction (Shuttle Stop 2) lies Zion Mount Carmel Highway. Proceed up the highway East along the winding roads. Eventually, you’ll hit your first tunnel carved directly through the sandstone. Drivers are required to turn their headlights on as there is no lighting inside the tunnel. It takes about 2 minutes to go through. When you come out, you’ll soon go through one last dark, but much shorter tunnel. At the end you’ll pass a ranger post that doesn’t require a stop.

Now, get ready to experience a true feeling of freedom. This is one of the most scenic drives you’ll ever take. The roads will continue to wind in switchback style through the pink canyons and rock structures. There are plenty of small alcoves where you can park your car on the side of the road to get out and explore by foot (highly recommended!). One highlight includes Checkboard Mesa near the park exit. You’ll understand the name once you see it.

Day 2

Zion Canyon is starting point for Zion’s most popular hikes, including the easy Riverside Walk and Weeping Rock trails, and the more demanding Watchman, Angel’s Landing, and The Narrows Trail. The box below gives a few tips on the Angel’s Landing hike.

Angel’s Landing is rated one of the 10 most dangerous hikes in the world. That’s because after a strenuous 2 mile uphill climb (though mostly paved), you now have less than a half a mile to the “summit”. It’s not until this point that the hike begins to get difficult. If you made it this far, you’re sitting on a sandy plateau catching your breath and drinking some water.

But you’re not done. Now, you get to traverse sandstone rock structures that will make your hair stand on end. And they should. For the next half mile, your conditioning, foot placement and hand placement may determine whether or not your survive the next hour of your life. You’re going to have to leave behind the well manicured, paved trail and trade it for sheer cliff.

Luckily, much of the remaining trail now has well-positioned chains that allow for an easier climb through the difficult and dangerous junctures. A signifiant number of people were dying on a yearly basis until these were put in place. Now that the chains are there, it’s been over 5 years since there’s been a death. Note, however, that you are NOT tethered, so your safety really relies on how much you “grab, grab, grab.” Try not to look down, and take it one step at a time.

After conquering Angel’s Landing (the peak in the background)

I would suggest alternating a strenuous or moderate hike in the morning (6-8am) with a few easy hikes after lunch. You can ride your bike to the trailhead at at daybreak and be done before the heat of the day sets in. There is a quick grill and a sit-down restaurant that are both open for lunch at the Zion Lodge which is shuttle stop 5. On especially hot days be sure to include a hike that takes you along the Virgin River for a quick dip. It’s recommended that in the semi-arid climate you drink a gallon of water daily.

The Virgin River

At the end of this day I suggest you take a trip into Springdale for dinner at one of their several restaurant choices. My favorites are Switchback Grill and the Thai Palace.

Day 3

For this final day I would fill in with the hikes you didn’t accomplish on day 2. Plan any strenuous ones for the early morning. Stop with a packed lunch along the Virgin River in a shady spot. Finish out your day getting the last photos of the amazing scenery and take a trail ride on horseback from the Zion Lodge (shuttle stop 5). Reserve a dinner table at the Zion Lodge and watch the sunset as you enjoy the views of ancient cottonwood trees and striated Canyon walls.

View from Zion Lodge’s restuarant

What To Pack For Hiking

Spring:

  • Insulated, light jacket or fleece for the mornings and evenings
  • Gloves
  • Warm hat
  • T shirts
  • • Pair of shorts
  • • Pairs of pants
  • • Long sleeve shirts (to layer if needed)
  • • Bathing suit
  • • Hiking Boots
  • • Sneakers
  • •Water shoes / sandals
  • • Neoprene socks
  • • Dry pants
  • • Walking stick
  • • Dry bag
  • •Camelbak or Water Bottle

Summer:

  • Windbreaker
  • T shirts
  • Shorts
  • Bathing suit
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hiking sandals
  • Pair of light pants
  • Walking stick
  • Dry bag
  • Camelbak or Water Bottle

Fall:

  • Fleece or insulated wind breaker
  • T shirts
  • Shorts
  • Bathing suit
  • Hiking shoes
  • Hiking sandals
  • Pairs of pants
  • Walking stick
  • Dry bag
  • Camelbak or Water Bottle

I’ll definitely be back to Zion NP soon!

SOURCES

Zion National Park Brochures and website

WineTraveler Blog at https://www.winetraveler.com/travel-resources/4-day-zion-national-park-itinerary-utah/

Navajo National Monument

After driving through Four Corners we headed for the Navajo National Monument. We had heard there were free campgrounds there so that was our initial reason for stopping. It was the halfway point between Pagosa Springs, CO and Zion National Park. I’m so glad we stopped there because it was such a great experience that we would have missed.

The free campgrounds are Canyon View Campground and Sunset View Campground. There are no RV hookups at these sites. Sunset View has spaces for small RVs, but no RVs longer than 28′ are allowed because there is limited turnaround space. Our truck and r-pod fit in the pull through space perfectly.

Road view of our campsite

The views at this campground are lovely. The campground also has flush toilets, a potable water station, and picnic tables/grills at each campsite. It was well maintained and very clean. It was also super peaceful and serenely quiet.

Canyon side view of our campsite, with wild Chianti growing out of the rocks

We walked to the visitor center to view the videos on the Anasazi and Dineh (Navajo) people. There are 3 videos that cycle through and take about 45 minutes. We did a little shopping, too, picking up a hat with 50 SPF shade for hiking and a few medicinal balms.

The medicinal balms are made by Navajo healers and contain natural botanical ingredients from the flora of the area to treat things like insect bites, sore muscles, sunburn, eczema, dry lips, and dry skin. I bought several and can’t wait to try them all. They are the “Medicine of the People” brand.

On the way to Aspen Trail

Next we walked the trails. There are three short trails that originate at the visitor center and take you to different views of the canyon and of the 13th-century Betatakin alcove dwellings of the Anasazi. There are two longer hikes that are lead by a ranger. The first is a 5-mile hike to the Betatakin dwellings that takes 3-4 hours. The second is a 17-mile hike to the Keet Seel archaeological site that can be an overnight trek.

Perhaps in the future when I’m in better shape I can take the longer hikes. We definitely plan to return to the Navajo National Monument when RVing through this area.

Taos New Mexico

So, let me begin by saying we arrived in Taos, NM on May 3rd and the overnight low was 31 degrees. Come mentally prepared for this. We were not, as we left New Orleans with balmy 89 degree days.

We stayed for just one night before heading to boondock in Pagosa Springs, Colorado so we wanted hookups to dump and add a little fresh water.

We found Taos Valley RV Park to be clean, comfortable, easy to find, and a great location with lovely views. I highly recommend it for short or long stays in Taos. Just down the block from the RV Park on the main highway there is a restaurant called Guadalajara Grill with yummy tacos. My husband was tickled that he got to eat “Tacos in Taos”.

We hooked up and then took an Uber into the downtown area for dinner at the famous Taos Inn. They have a great bar, a fabulous restaurant, and live music most nights in the lobby. We had the Cowboy Buddha margarita and it was well made with no shortcuts on the ingredients or the tequila.

We slept well as the RV Park was quiet and woke up the next morning to head to Pagosa Springs. We planned four morning stops: Carson National Forest headquarters for a map, Albertsons on the main highway for Starbucks coffee, a boutique called Substance of Taos to sample their Vapour organic beauty products, and the historic Taos Pueblos.

We nixed the Pueblo because it was 40 degrees and we didn’t want to be outside. Our southern skin wasn’t acclimated enough to the cold yet.

We got maps for the trails because next time we come this way we will boondock in Carson NF.

Coffee in hand we found Substance and waited for them to open as 10am. It was SO worth the wait. Monica was very knowledgeable about Vapour organic cosmetics and they had a great sample display so I could test out the colors and shades. I’ve been interested in this cosmetic company because they are organic, mineral based with not a lot of water in the products so bacteria doesn’t grow as fast. They have natural-looking buildable multi-use pigmented products that I think would be great for a travel beauty routine. I was not wrong! Monica walked me though their primers, their “multi-use stick” colors, their foundations (which I ended up buying even though I usually don’t wear makeup), and their lip glosses.

img_2299

I bought a multi-use stick in the color called “Lure”, a velvet lip gloss, and a soft-focus foundation. Monica threw in a few freebie samples for me to try on our trip.

The boutique was amazing in other ways, too. They sold other bath soak salts, soaps, lotions, jewelry, clothing, and hair salon services. If you visit Taos do stop in. You won’t regret it. It’s on the corner of La Placita and Rancheritos.

Leaving Taos and heading north on US 64 you cross the Rio Grande River Gorge and Rest Area. Make plans to stop.

 

 

The gorge views are SPECTACULAR.

 

After the rest area there is the world headquarters of Earthship Biotecture and you can tour their off-grid sustainable homes.

New Orleans to Washington State 2018

Our 2018 TransAmerican road trip in our R-pod 180 HRE will take us from New Orleans to the Pacific Northwest (PNW) again. We loved it up there last year and have decided to become reverse snowbirds this year from May to October 🙂

On the way to the PNW we will stop along this route:

  • Dallas
  • Albuquerque
  • Zion National Park
  • Salt Lake City
  • Yakima
  • Olympia
  • Anacortes (San Juan Islands)

Follow us @countryboy_citygirl on Instagram for photos of our travels and tips on free camping spots.

Avenue of the Saints

Avenue of the Saints is a highway system that goes from Saint Paul, Minnesota to Saint Louis, Missouri.
Avenue of the Saints logo.svg
When we left the Chippewa National Forest from Walker, Minnesota we headed towards Waterloo, Iowa. We didn’t know if we would make it in one day of driving but in our haste to get back home to Louisiana so our dog could get treated for the ACL tear he suffered while in Sleeping Buffalo, Montana we had to try.
Heading to Waterloo our trip meter read 7289 miles (on 7/21/17). So 7,000 miles in less than 3 months for the #transamericanroadtrip !!
Image result for illinois great river road national route
The Mississippi “Great River Road National Route” is what we drove for a bit of the way after Saint Louis. The “Great River Road” is a well-marked series of different roads and highways that roughly follow the winding course of the Mississippi River. All along the Great River Road, travelers will find white signs displaying the green pilot’s wheel logo. The familiar pilot’s wheel symbol denotes which roads are part of the designated route. The route has been selected for its natural, cultural, historical, recreational and scenic properties.
Illinois River Road was marked from about from Quincy, Illinois to Hannibal, MO. We could see corn and bean crops everywhere along the routes in Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois. On July 22 we hit 7550 miles!
From Hannibal, MO to St. Louis, MO on Hwy 61 there is a Mark Twain Cave and Campground. We will likely visit there next time we drive that route.
We stopped at Cozy C Campground in Bowling Green MO. It was good for overnight. Clean restrooms/ showers, plus ice cream in the office.
We had to make a pit stop in Ste Genevieve, MO to visit The Cave Winery and it was worth it. They have seating for 100 down below the main buidling in a cool cave.
Image result for cave winery ste genevieve

Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs in Montana

2 Perfect Days in Sleeping Buffalo, MT

The Sleeping Buffalo Hot Springs has humble origins. A wildcat oil rigger testing for oil in the 1920s struck hot water at 3,100 feet, according to a 1962 Phillips County history.

“During these years when bathtubs were not as plentiful as now, cowboys in the vicinity made use of the hot water for a ‘Saturday night bath.'”

Then Saco rancher Elbert Davison, whose son had polio, had the idea of building a pool for his son to soak in, which proved popular for others, too.

SB 4

The American Legion posts in Saco, Malta, and Hinsdale worked together to capture the natural gas in the water without shutting down the water. No longer would the water ignite at the “burning well.” The resort aspect began as a New Deal, Depression-era project, launching the Legion Health Resort.

While we were there, a vanful of Saskatchewan Hutterites arrived and I got to talk with one of them. Very interesting to meet them and hear about their religion. The handful of other visitors who came were either from Canada or from nearby in Montana. We basically had the whole area to ourselves for most of our visit. I took advantage of swimming/wading while the pool filled up on the first day we were there.

IMG_2841

In recent years the old site, a very run down and stinky place, closed. The reviews we saw on the web were pretty bad so I almost didn’t go. BUT, I found a couple of articles about a Bozeman couple who bought the place and renovated it. I’m so glad we stopped!

The Sleeping Buffalo has three pools, a large one at a comfortable swimming temperature, a smaller hot pool and a cold plunge pool next to the sauna. The pools drain nightly, which prevents staining. In the hot tub, water flushes through every 20 minutes, and in the big pool it’s every three hours. The mineral-rich water flows from the well at 108 degrees and 750 gallons a minute.

Image result for sleeping buffalo hot springs

Just a warning that the hot tub is super hot, but relaxing. There is also a sauna.

sleeping buffalo sauna.png

Ten motel rooms are under construction, and the Sleeping Buffalo will have a KOA campground with 20 cabins and 75 camping spots. Very soon, Simpson will start work on outside pools. Right now there are three cabins and at least 35 RV spots with hook ups.

The resort isn’t planning a restaurant right now but does offer snack food, pizza and hot dogs. There is also a bar next door.

Be sure to stop at the sacred Sleeping Buffalo rock that marks the turn to the resort off US Highway 2 and know that fishing is available at the nearby Nelson Reservoir.

Image result for sleeping buffalo hot springs

The Sleeping Buffalo is between Malta and Saco, Montana at 669 Buffalo Trail. Winter hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday. An adult swim is $8.50. Snacks and towel, etc., rentals are available.

We stayed for three days and had a great time!

 

Next up: East on Hwy 2

 

Glacier National Park: Three Perfect Days

From Tacoma, WA we took I-90 through Coeur d’Alene, ID to St Regis where we transitioned onto a northbound route to Hot Springs, MT. From there we went directly to Glacier National Park. 

Watermarked9(2017-08-13-1725)

Coeur d’Alene RV Resort in Post Falls, ID was a great stopping point. Level pads, wifi, and a pool.

Image result for Coeur d'Alene RV Resort

In Hot Springs, MT do not stay at Symes Hot Springs! We stayed there and it’s not worth putting yourself through. It’s old, not well kept, dusty, and creepy. The germophobe in me cried all night. The blankets were dirty, the pillows inside the cases had nasty stains on them, the carpet hadn’t been cleaned in years. For the same money stay around the corner at Alameda Hot Springs Resort and if you must visit Symes do so on a day pass. If you stop in during the summer at Symes say hi to Mabel the Great and try to imagine Symes as it was in its heyday and not in its current state.

 

Flathead Lake is gorgeous. We will stay there next time we go through.

Watermarked17(2017-08-13-1728)

Kalispell has all the things: Cabelas, Popeyes, Krispy Kreme, Target, Costco, and Starbucks (but no mugs).

Sundance RV, right outside West Glacier,  is where we stayed for one night for hook ups so we could prepare to dry camp in Glacier.

Glacier NP has so much to offer. I promise you if you go you will want to return. The Going to the sun road over Logan Pass is a MUST DRIVE (or ride).

Watermarked14(2017-08-13-1727)

 

Look into Road Scholar Tours if you want the Cadillac version of touring this park. If you are doing it yourself, visit the NPS webpage on guided tours in case you want to learn from an expert while in the park. That site has the best boat, bus, hike, raft, and horseback tours available.

Watermarked5(2017-08-13-1724)

West Glacier Restaurant was decent, better than the food in the Park. Plus they serve elk.

Jammer Tour or Going to the Sun Road Shuttle? The jammer red bus tour is a bit pricey but you get to stop at each site along the way and take photos and hear about what you’re seeing. If you do that your first day you can make note of the trails and scenic views you want to go back and see on the shuttle.

Watermarked7(2017-08-13-1724)

Apgar Campground was where we camped in Glacier. It was quiet and walking distance to Lake McDonald, Apgar Village, and the Visitor’s Center.

Watermarked15(2017-08-13-1727)

Make sure you use the bear lockers if you are tent camping!

Watermarked10(2017-08-13-1725)

Avalanche Lake trail is a nice, moderate trail that I would recommend. It is connected to Trail of the Cedars, which is also nice and wheelchair friendly.

Watermarked13(2017-08-13-1727).jpg

Lake McDonald is gorgeous and you have to go swimming or kayaing in it.

Watermarked11(2017-08-13-1726)

Up the road is McDonald Creek, which has a nice, accessible waterfall (near Johns lake trail bridge).

Watermarked4(2017-08-13-1723)

Bowman Lake is a drive short, very secluded, and breathtaking.

Stop at Home Ranch Bottom on the way to or from Bowman Lake for limoncello, Apple wine, huckleberry wine, and taco Tuesday. I hope these two are there and you get the full “cowboy who makes limoncello” speech.

Watermarked18(2017-08-13-1728)

For more information on things to see and do in Glacier National Park, see these articles:

A Whole Day in Glacier for a Sightseer

“If you have one day to take in the highlights of Glacier National Park, drive Going-to-the-Sun Road (GTSR) in its entirety. GTSR is a 50-mile long, two-way road that cuts through the center of the park between the West Entrance and the St. Mary Entrance. Your journey can begin at either location. To return, either retrace your path back over GTSR, or take U.S. Hwy 2 along the south border of the park to create a loop. Along U.S. Hwy 2, you will find scenic views, some restaurants and lodging.” (click link for full article)

Take a Half-Day Hike in Glacier

“Glacier boasts 734 miles of trail. It is safe to say there is something for every ability level. Day hikes abound in every section of the park, from a short lakeside stroll to a hike up a mountain. Bring plenty of food and water on your hike, wear sturdy footwear, and remember the weather can change at any time. Be prepared with both rain gear and sunscreen. Below are some popular trails for a half-day (3-5 hour) excursion. These hikes may take longer depending on your hiking speed and ability. Mileages listed are ONE-WAY.” (click link for full article)

 

Tacoma Dome & Ranier National Park

We visited Tacoma to attend the Don’t Give Up regional convention at the Tacoma Dome.

 

The Tacoma Dome was the perfect location for the convention and we found an RV campground nearby. I will say that those walkways on the upper tier to connect the seats with the corridor… are SCARY.

Sapporo Sushi in Fife had great food. Plus they have little boxes lining the cashier area where you can store your own personal chopsticks. I love that idea.

Image result for sapporo sushi in fife wa

But… PhoEver is my new favorite pho place… because their name is everything right now.

Watermarked24(2017-08-12-1247)

Korum Ford fixed our Ford Expedition when it got stuck in 4-wheel drive. Thank goodness we were camped less than 2 miles to the dealership.

Ranier National Park. There are no words.

Watermarked6(2017-08-12-1240)

 

To get the whole flavor of Mount Rainier is about in just one day, you will probably want to do the normal route and head into the park through the Longmire Entrance in late summer. You get old-growth forests, subalpine meadows blooming with flowers, and a look at the rocky scree underneath the Emmons and Winthrop glaciers. Our top four stops along that route were:

  • Whittaker Bunkhouse
  • Sunrise Visitor Center
  • Trail of the Patriarchs
  • Emmons Vista (better than Sunrise!)

 

A shrimp boil was held in our honor… well, they would’ve had it anyway but let’s just pretend.

 

The “Don’t Give Up” regional convention program was encouraging and uplifting. What really made it perfect was actually knowing the friends there. When you travel among our brotherhood you always find loving ones who are hospitable, but there’s something nice about seeing a familiar face in a crowd. All the ones from the hall in Anacortes gave us hugs and made us feel at home at their convention and we love them for that.

 

 

Anacortes, Washington & San Juan Islands

My BFF since first grade now lives in Anacortes, WA. I miss her terribly and hope one day she gets sick of the PNW and moves back to south Louisiana. Well, at least I thought that before I got to know where she lives now. She has invited us to visit several times but we hadn’t made the trip.

Watermarked2(2017-08-12-1058)

 

So, after a year or two of invites we have finally made the trip and boy should I have gone sooner! First off, it’s GORGEOUS there.

Watermarked5(2017-08-12-1059)

 

 

 

We stayed in the uplands and had Norweigan Fjord Horses for neighbors. I found the whole town (of just 16,000 people) to be cute, quaint, and full of little gems that I found during my stay. Compass Wines become my new favorite wine shop as the owner loves Lambrusco… and I love anyone who also loves my favorite wine.

 

I even got to try Ferry Witnessing for the first time. The Friday Harbor Ferry has pretty views, including some of Mount Baker.

 

 

Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink… but the mountains that pop up out of the water and make up these islands offer much to do in the way of hiking and biking so we took advantage of that while there. Use the Washington Trails Association website to find trails near you (wta.org)

Watermarked18(2017-08-12-1104)

Cap Sante Park is just up from the town marina and has lovely views.

Watermarked9(2017-08-12-1101)

Sharpe Park has several trail loops to take you to an amazing view of the San Juan Islands. I will caution you to choose wisely as some of the trails are steep.

Watermarked10(2017-08-12-1101)

Deception Pass State Park is breathtaking. We will be sure to camp there on our next trip.

Watermarked31(2017-08-12-1108)

Mount Erie is part of Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL) and offers several great trails with outstanding views.

 

Mount Erie ACFL (from wta.org)

 

Fragrance Lake Trail was a bear! It’s so steep, so skip the Fragrance Lake Trailhead and go the easy route from a trailhead on Cleator Road or one on Fragrance Lake Road that is a mile from the lake… use the WTA website for directions and reviews. The lake is worth the hike either way, though 🙂

 

Lady of the Sea statue is a must see. It’s a quick drive to the marina for this one.

Image result for lady of the sea statue

Rooftop dining at the Majestic Inn & Spa.

Watermarked33(2017-08-12-1109)

We visited the mainland towns of Mukilteo, Bow, and Edison (make sure to get coffee at Tweet’s in Edison!).

 

Titan had a good time, too.

Watermarked11(2017-08-12-1101)

We took the Port Townsend ferry to Port Angeles and drove over to the Olympic National Park visitor center. There is nothing about the Olympic Peninsula that I don’t like 🙂

 

This picture sums up Anacortes. It’s a shabby chic, rustic place just bursting with evergreens and wildflowers in July. I will definitely be back.

Watermarked13(2017-08-12-1102)