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Friday, October 30, 2015

A Guide To Utah's Mighty Five

As you probably (already) know, the first thing I did when I moved to Utah was to create a Bucket List.  To me, Utah was such foreign, unknown territory.  I had never heard much about the state besides Park City and Sister Wives (Love the city, hate the show).  Once I started googling, I was amazed at all of the beauty in this state.  

At the top of my bucket list, was the Mighty Five.  No, this isn't some kind of nuance American eating challenge at a diner.  Instead, it is a trip to all five of Utah's National Park.  Yes, there are five in this state.  And they are all gorgeous, different from the next, and worth visiting.

Some people aim to see all five in one week-long trip. ( put together an awesome itinerary for visiting the 5 parks over seven days…with a few extras like Monument Valley and Natural Bridges thrown in there too). You can find that here.  And the best way to do see these 5 National Parks in one epic road trip?  It is absolutely without a doubt in an RV or some type of camper van. You can check out RV Rentals in Utah available through Outdoorsy and pick from an awesome selection of RVs.  It's like Airbnb for campers and it is going to change the way people play outside.  

If you call Utah home, you may have the luxury of seeing these parks over a longer period of time.  Being a temporary resident, this is how I chose to conquer the Mighty Five.  This way, you get to spread your trip out a big and really "get to know" each park and the awesome areas in between them.  I liked this strategy because it allowed me to see each park in what I thought was their “best” season.  Arches and Canyonlands are perfect in the late fall, early spring, or even in the winter as the temperature are cool and there are much fewer crowds.  But Bryce is a bad choice in the winter because of its high elevation and snow locked roads.  Oh and Capitol Reef?  It never gets as crowded as the others! 

Overall, spring and fall are the best times to visit the parks, with summer being the worst in my opinion due to the heat, kids out of school, and the large crowds.  Either way, you do it, in one quick shot or over time, a trip to Utah's Mighty Five should be on everyone’s bucket list.  I highly recommend getting your America the Beautiful season pass where $80 lets you into all National Parks and Monuments for free (some parks are as high as $25 per vehicle).  Let’s get to know each park a little better.

Home to the famous Delicate Arch, fashioned on many Utah license plates and iconic posters featuring the west. We loved the varied landscape and the thousands of arches around the park. Over 2,000 natural stone arches can be found in this park and home to the famous Delicate Arch.  Be warned- this is a popular and very crowded park.  But like any National Park, you can find the trails where the mobs are not! 

Make sure to:  See Delicate Arch
Easy Day Hikes: Double Arch, Broken Arch, Park Avenue and Landscape Arch also 5 Family Friendly Hikes.
Something Different:  Ranger led fiery furnace hike
Avoid the crowds:  Visit early or late in the date. Avoid free days and weekends. 

Read my posts all about Arches: Arches Part I and Arches Part II

Entrance to Arches NP
Rock Formations at Arches 
Delicate Arch in the distance
Various Arches throughout the park 

Canyonlands was a gigantic park in the same area as Arches. Canyonlands has two different sections that are quite far apart, the Needles and Island in the Sky. We went to the popular Island in the Sky section and absolutely loved the amazing geography here in the park. We drooled and dreamed about coming back to bike the famous White Rim Trail. If you plan to visit the Needles section you will need a few days as these two sections are very far apart.

Make sure to:  See Mesa Arch (sunrise is best!).  Also, take a peek at the White Rim Trail.  If you have time, stop next-door at Dead Horse Point State Park
Easy Day Hikes: Mesa Arch, White Rim, Overlook, Grand View Point, Murphy Point, Upheaval Dome, Whale Rock, Aztec Butte, Syncline Loop
Avoid the crowds:  Visit early or late in the date. Avoid free days and weekends. 

Read more about my trip to Canyonlands:  Canyonlands Part I and Canyonlands Part II

Entrance to Canyonlands
Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands NP
Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands NP
Mesa Arch - perfect for sunrise!

 The next park was the most popular here in Utah, Zion National Park.  Read- the most popular, with the most visitors, read the most crowded.  But crowds or not, Zion is so many sorts of beautiful. Between the Virgin River that flows through the park, to the famous hikes like Angels Landing, The Narrows, and the Subway, Zion is on the top of many travelers lists.  This is one of those parks that you have to watch the weather for, as Flash Flooding in certain areas of the park can be very dangerous.  Hikes like The Narrows require a lot of planning for the right gear, and hikes like The Subway will require a permit.  Definitely make sure you camp in the park and the stargazing is some of the best I have ever seen. Don't forget to check out the Kolob Canyons, another section of Zion, if you want to beat the crowds. *Note* There is a mandatory shuttle in the busy season taking you to all the viewpoint and trailheads due to the high number of visitors in the park.  Personal vehicles are only allowed in the park after November 27th. 

Make sure to:  See the entrance to the Narrows, hike Angels Landing even if you don't hike the section of the chains hike the first 2/3 of it to see the amazing view down the canyon, and enjoy the views from Observation Point. 
Easy Day Hikes: Hidden Canyon, Angels Landing (to quitters corner if you are like me). Observation Point, and The Narrows via Riverside Walk (paved trail!) and Emerald Pools
Avoid the crowds:  Visit early or late in the date. Avoid free days and weekends. Visit the northwest section or better yet, visit in the winter! March was perfection. Hike at night under the starry night. Head to Kolob Canyons, another section of Zion.

Read more about my trip to Zion:  Zion Riverside Walk  Zion Emerald Pools   Zion Angels Landing and more Zion Information 

Entrance to Zion NP
Riverside Walk - Virgin River to the Entrance to the Narrows
Riverside Walk - Virgin River to the Entrance to the Narrows
The amazing views from the trail to Angels Landing

The last two stops of the Mighty Five were sort of like Arches and Canyonlands.  Bryce and Capitol Reef were located about 2 hours apart in Southern Utah, separated by the famous Highway 12.  I HIGHLY suggest putting these two parks together in your visit and driving the famous and beautiful Highway 12 between them.  Make sure you stop in beautiful Escalante to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls and explore this amazing part of the state. 

Capitol Reef is one of the least visited, and least known National Parks.  It may also be one of the most underrated.  And it is also the cheapest and so different from the other parks.  Instead of wall to wall red rock, Capitol Reef offers green luscious grass along the Fremont River, with several orchards that are open to the public for picking (I picked apples while visiting this park and bought some local homemade goods at a festival during fall... in a NP!) Capitol Reef is a great spot for solitude and sunshine in grassy fields.  There is a lot of history in the petroglyphs and you can read all about the ancient people who once called this area home. 

Make sure to:  See the petroglyphs, pick whatever is in season at the orchards, take in the views at the Capitol Gorge, and read all about the Fremont Culture that lived in this area. 
Easy Day Hikes: Fremont River Trail (the only dog-friendly trail!), Sulphur Creek, Frying Pan Trail, Golden Throne and Cassidy Arch.
Avoid the crowds:  This park never sees the large crowds like the others!  If you really want it to yourself, go in the offseason or hike during the week.  

Read more about my trip to Capitol Reef National Park 

Entrance to Capitol Reef 
Insite CRNP 

Orchard in contrast with the red rock of Capitol Reef
Petroglyphs in the park

 Bryce was my favorite, I have to say.  From the moment I walked into this National Park, I was in awe of the beautiful hoodoos and gorgeous geography of this park.  Like pick-your-jaw-off-the-ground and holy beautiful, this place is so unique!  Those hoodoos (pinnacle like rock structures) you see down below? You can actually hike among them. 

The 14-mile scenic drive did not disappoint, and the 3-mile hike among the hoodoos was an amazing experience. This park is at a much higher elevation than the other four, so it does get much colder.  Dress accordingly and if you get to see the hoodoos dusted in snow it is an extra treat. *Note* Bryce also has a shuttle system in the busy season, however, it is not mandatory.  If you can opt for the shuttle to avoid parking chaos at trailheads and keep down on the number of vehicles driving through the park.  

Make sure to:  The 3-mile hike among the hoodoos was my favorite part of the park.  Also, make sure you walk between Sunset and Sunrise point for amazing views (the one dog-friendly trail!).  
Easy Day Hikes: Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail, Peek-a-boo loop trail, sunset to sunrise point. and the rim trail. 
Avoid the crowds:  Visit early or late in the date. Avoid free days and weekends. Visit the northwest section or better yet, visit in the winter but beware, there will be snow! 

Read more about my trip to Bryce:  Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail and Bryce Canyon National Park 

Entrance to Bryce

Walk between sunrise and sunset point
I lived in a beautiful doubts about that.  And rereading and editing this post 2,200 miles away now that I live back east makes me so homesick of Utah.  Parts of me ache to be back in the desert, exploring these National Parks where adventure always awaits.  The Mighty Five is a must for any Utah Resident, or for any traveler with a little bit of time. Checking this off my bucket list (and so many other National Parks) has been such a great experience. Utah... you never cease to blow my mind with your beautiful scenery.  

A few extras by these National Parks
Dead Horse Point State Park by Canyonlands starts to look like sections of the Grand Canyon. It is a state park so dogs are allowed and the price is much cheaper than the National Parks. Driving the famous and beautiful Highway 12 between them.  Make sure you stop in beautiful Escalante to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls and explore this amazing part of the state.  Explore the rest of Moab (the town which houses Arches and Canyonlands- there is so much to hike bike and do in this town- outside of the national parks, Moab is very dog-friendly).  

Need to see more of Utah?  Check out my Utah Travel Guide Page and see all of the sites mentioned today on my interactive map 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Hike to Mount Nebo (Middle Peak)

Some people sleep in on their Sundays.  

Maybe lounging around in bed until you decide to wake up and cook up some breakfast.  Or maybe sleeping in late enough to catch the tail end of a boozey brunch.  If you are one of those people, I kind of envy you.  I am not calling you out, I just wish I was able to do that a little more often.  However, I lack the necessary skill called "Relaxation".  So when the Outdoor Meetup Group plans an early Sunday morning hike to climb the highest peak in the Wasatch, you sign right up.  Even after last weeks long Sunday hike, and even after the days before mountain biking, horseback riding, and house warming party adventures.  Even when you know you have tickets to a 8pm concert on a Sunday night. 

Oh, and when I say early on a Sunday morning, I mean 5:45 am alarm kind of early.  We were planning on meeting at 8am at the trailhead and I was picking up Amanda down in Pleasant Grove along the way.   I did this hike with about 6-8 friends from a meetup group, a few of our dogs, and had an absolute blast attempting to summit Nebo with a group of  awesome Nebo "first timers". 

Trailhead:  6:15 am on a Sunday morning we hit the road.  It was about 1:45 from downtown Salt Lake City to the trailhead.  Just under 2 hours one way to get to Mona Pole Road off of the Nebo Loop Road for this hike.  Maybe the farthest "local" hike yet but I promise it is worth the drive. 

 Take the Payson Exit (250 off I-15 S) and follow the signs for Nebo Loop Road.  Look for the Monument Trailhead parking area to the right off the Nebo Loop Road about 25 miles from the exit.  It will take you a lot longer than you think once you hit the Nebo Loop Road.  If you are impatient and anxious like me, you will start to convince yourself you passed the trailhead and yell at your phone when a lack of cell reception does not help you.

 Start looking for the trailhead after you pass the elevation sign marking that you are at 9,345'.  If you haven't hit 9,345', you aren't there yet.  Yes, you start the hike that high and it really takes that long into Nebo Loop Road. Shortly after passing that marker, you will see a large paved parking lot called Monument Trailhead with a bathroom.  You can start the hike here, but there is a closer option.  Drive down to the closer trailhead which is down Mona Pole Road.  At the same turn as the Monument Trailhead parking lot, you will see the dirt road Mona Pole Road.  Follow this dirt road a short ways to a large dirt parking lot where you will see the sign pictured below "Mona Pole Road" and the trailhead. 

Distance and Elevation:  I clocked this hike at about 9 miles round trip with elevation gain of 3,153' from the trailhead at Mona Pole Road to the peak of Middle Peak of Nebo.  We were unable to make it to the true (highest) peak South Nebo due to the snow and ice on the peak.  Add on another mile or so if you are making it all the way to the true Mount Nebo Peak.  We ended at the Middle Peak right before South Nebo.  
Either way, you start in the 9,000's and end in the 11,000's.
Its a workout. 

Dogs and Kids:  Yes to the dogs, no to the kids.  This trail climbs a lot of elevation, with some very steep sections and varied terrain.  Dogs are allowed on the trail but make sure to bring them water as you will not find any water along the way.  I also recommend putting an orange vest on your dog (especially this time of year) as we passed a lot of deer, turkey, and hunters on the drive and on the trail.  

Now lets talk about this trail.  

Wait, lets back it up one step further and talk about this area.  The Nebo Loop Road was absolutely stunning.  The drive to the trailhead was long (and slow, on this windy curving road full of critters), but was so beautiful.  A last bit of fall clung on to the trees, and we constantly had to stop and let the deer and turkeys cross the road.  

When you finally reach the trailhead, the dirt parking lot off Mona Pole Road, you are greeted with snowy peaks.  And the best part?  These are false peaks, Nebo is still behind that peak.  (Que the sighs, and wonder as why you decided to wake up this early and climb a peak that is so high you cant see it behind this other super tall peak).

We packed our hiking bags, bundled up (yes, it was in the 30's with some serious wind at the summit) and headed up the trail.  On this note:  Thatcher tried to blame me for not telling him to wear shorts.  (I really assumed this was a given and was too busy getting ready for this hike to try to dress him too).  

I had to remind him he was a 31 year old grown man.  He also knew we were hiking early, and to the highest peak in the Wasatch.  This is a lesson I have learned after many trips to the chilly Uintas.  Despite whatever temperature it is in the city, it is going to be much colder in the mountains.  Especially at 11,000'.  Especially in the end of October.  Especially at 8am.  Sorry Thatch.  I did remind him of the soccer socks in the car and I think he may have finally learned his lesson. 

I really loved catching one last glimpse of fall colors.  The yellows of the aspens were holding on a little longer to fall.  Thank you Utah.  The yellow aspens set against all of the mountains, valleys and peaks made for some beautiful pictures. Swoon swoon swoon.  

After reading reviews and talking to friends, I rented a pair of hiking poles for this hike.  The hiking poles were especially useful in the steep uphill and downhill on the trail.  The hiking poles were also really helpful when trudging through the snow and muddy areas.  If only I remembered my micro spikes.....

At this point in the trial, we really started to climb fast, and were met with the snow.  Of course, I forgot my micro spikes but thankfully didnt seem to have a problem through the snow on this part of the trail.  I also hike with my spikey solomans which really help give me grip on the trails.  

The views along this hike were breathtaking from the start to the end.  From the drive up the road all the way to the peak.  This is the kind of trail where you enjoy the beauty from the start to the finish.  It is not just a destination hike. The scenery keeps changing from snowy peaks to farmland below.  Until finally you start to see the peaks. 

We made our way along the ridge, with intentions of making it to that farthest peak, Mt Nebo.  Nebo is the tallest peak in the wasatch range with its 11,928′ summit.  Mount Timpanogos , my favorite Utah Hike is the second tallest peak in the Wasatch at 11,752 ft.  Timp is also a much longer hike at 15 miles round trip.  While Timp is still my favorite, Nebo was a close second.  

This picture kind of shows you some of the steep climbs we had to face to make it to Middle Nebo.  Olive is making her way up the trail with her pack, trying to sniff out any deer in the area.  We stopped for a quick picture before making the ascent up to this false peak.  Nebo is hiding behind it! 

As for me, I love my Soloman trail running shoes (they are extra grippy for slippery trails).  They are also really sturdy and I love love love hiking in these shoes.  For my bad, I bring my Osprey Mira on the longer trips.  It comes with a bladder, several great pockets, and even has a built in rain cover for the bag.  Best part? Made and designed to fit a womans body :) Find it here or at the end of the post. 

The dogs had such a blast on this trail.  Rupert and Jax were amazing trail dogs and had a blast wrestling on even the highest of peaks.  Olive spent the majority of the time one her leash as she was acting quite psychotic with all the deer in the area.  I decided I rather be safe than sorry.  A coon hound mix lost in the woods 2 hours away with no cell reception would make for a pretty miserable Sunday.  On or off leash, Olive has a blast hiking and playing with the other dogs. 

On long hikes, I am always thankful for Olives awesome Ruffwear Pack.  Ruffwear is an amazing brand and I buy their leashes, collars and harnesses.  If you want a reliable pack for your dog, you can find it here or at the bottom of the post.

Alas, we had made it to Middle Nebo. All that was left was to follow that insanely thin snowy icey  ridge line with steep pitches off each side where you plummet to your death.  We had lunch here to gain some energy and reflect on if we should make the final ascent to the true summit.  

As you can see by tiny pink Mya in this picture, it is a steep climb on a thin ridge with snow and ice.  Unfortunately I forgot my spikes so I was already feeling quite uncomfortable about making this ascent in the snow.  While deciding at the middle peak, I talked to fellow hikers in our group about a decision to climb or stay.  We were about 50/50, especially those of us without spikes.  The deal breaker for me was when one of the hikers in our group decided he was putting safety first as he had lost two friends on a different hiking trail with this sort of steep and unsteady terrain.

The second deal breaker was from a guy I met here at Middle Nebo while deciding.  He arrived shortly after our group and had decided not to ascend with the snow and ice.  He had hiked Nebo before, and was on a mission to "bag" all the peaks above 11,000' in Utah.  To date, he had climbed 27 of the I think he mentioned 31 peaks over 11,000' in Utah.  If he isnt going..... Hell I am not going.

And the third deal breaker was from a group of elite trail runners  (who had run the entire way to Middle Nebo?!) and who started for the summit and soon turned back due to the conditions.  Three strikes and I am out.  I decided safety first was going to be my motto today.  And Middle Nebo (adjacent to Mount Nebo) was just as beautiful, had insanely gorgeous views, and still towered at 11,450'.  

I am a true true believer in the fact that you have to respect these mountains.  Respect their beauty, and their ability to turn any hike into a really bad day.  Respect that I am already at 11,450; and I am happy healthy and so lucky to hike a mountain like this.  Hiking to that summit was just a matter of pride, and I don't need bragging rights.  Making the smart safe decision is something I will brag about. 

A couple of our members tried to make the ascent and turned back as well, while one group member Chris made the ascent to the top. Looking back I am glad in my decision to not summit.  Definitely a hike to come back and do in the summer, when snow and ice doesn't turn a challenging peak into a dangerous one. 

After snapping our shots on the Middle Nebo Peak, we turned around for the long journey home.  What makes this hike unique, is that it really isn't a straight up  to the peak and straight down to the car kind of hike.  There are "rolling hills" along the whole way.  What this means, is that you will get some good uphill work even on your way back.  Which I have to say is almost a welcomed relief from all that  slipper downhill. 

Hiking to Middle Nebo was a gorgeous hike.  It has absolutely made its way into my top 5 Utah list.  It pushed me to overcome some fears of heights, while clambering up to some of the peaks.  It also gave me a chance to make new friends, and chat with some great people along the way.  We talked about rescue dogs, and life back East (yep, one hiker was from Avon, Connecticut and another from Rhode Island).  I also caught up with my hiking buddy Amanda who hiked Red Pine Lake with me and several dog hikes.  Hiking with great company and insanely cute dogs really makes the experience that much better.  

Most importantly, I learned an important lesson in making safe and smart decisions.  And remembering to always respect each mountain I climb.  Nebo, you were beautiful and I will be back to make it all the way to the top! 

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