Since I have a "real" job now, most of our traveling is limited to weekend excursions. We had initially planned on heading to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, but since it was President's Day Weekend, I heard the entrance lines were crazy long. Looking at the trusty atlas, we decided on Mojave National Preserve, just another 1hr 45 min farther down I-15.
We arrived at the exit for Mojave about 2am, and spent another hour driving in the dark down Joshua tree lined roads looking for a turnout that wasn't already occupied. While there are designated pay camping spots in the interior of the preserve, there is also roadside camping. As long as the spots are already cleared and have a fire ring, you are welcome to pitch a tent (or sleep in your car like we did). We got lucky with our spot. Once we woke up to the foggy sunrise, we realized we had probably found the most beautiful spot of all.
After a couple breakfast beers and vodka shots (something had to keep us awake after 3 hours of "sleep"), we were off to hike Teutonia Peak. This 4 mile RT takes you through the densest Joshua Tree forest in the world. There was SO much plant life and some awesome rock formations. The fog was so heavy that we couldn't really see anything once we ascended the peak. The best part about this hike was starting it early (like 6:45am) and being the only people out there. We passed by the trailhead a little later in the day and it was packed.
After a stop to the visitor center - which is in an old train station - we decided to head to Kelso Dunes. It was one of three more hikes we wanted to do that day, but two were going to be impossible with Buddy. If you don't take your dog, I would recommend checking out the lava tube hike (it descends down a metal ladder) and the Hole in the Wall Rings Trail which literally involves climbing on metal rings.
The Kelso Dunes trail it 3-4 mile RT give or take, depending on what path you choose. After walking in the sand for what seems like forever, you finally will start to ascend 700 ft. Straight up. In sand. If you go at 1pm like we did, you will be in full sun. 55 degrees felt more like a solid 100, and we both got sunburnt. We did give all our our water to Buddy because I felt bad making a predominantly black dog hike up sand in full sun. There is no established trail once you start up the dunes, just pick what looks most gradual. We spent some time at the top of the tallest dune before venturing on to the smaller dunes. The views from the dunes are incredible.
Tips for visiting the Mojave:
And now for 1 million photos of plants!
We've visited Zion quite a few times since moving to Utah. At about 5 hours from Salt Lake, it is totally doable to get many different views in just one day. 3 easy "hikes", Get behind a waterfall, get views of the canyon floor, and walk next to the Virgin River at the base of the canyon. If you are strapped for time, you can definitely do all three in about 4 hours. As much as I would love to do Angel's Landing, I know that my body was freeze up with panic and anxiety once I reached the narrow area with chains. We opted to hike a few shorter trails instead.
Canyon Overlook Trail- 1 mile roudtrip
We arrived at Zion about 1 pm. That meant we had 5 hours of daylight. We showed our parks pass and immediately headed for the Canyon Overlook Trail. If you are coming in from Springdale, take Mount Carmel Hwy through the tunnel. Once you exit the tunnel, the parking lot is on your right with the trailhead across the street. The first 5 minutes were icy, but after that it was dry, You will pass across a bridge, through a cave opening, and eventually to the slick rock. After climbing up on the rocks, you will be rewarded with view of the canyon. This trail is rated as moderate, but I would definitely say it was more on the easy side. Children should be watched carefully as some of the trail is narrow, slick, and a looooong tumble to the bottom. We spent a total of an hour on this trail and that includes all of the picture taking along the way.
Weeping Rock- .5 mile roundtrip
So this can even be considered a hike, I have seen in on Instagram and Pinterest so many times and couldn't miss it. The "trail" is paved and took us about 5 minutes to walk up. Once you are at the wall, you will take a few steps up and be directly behind the waterfall. It was beautiful, but very crowded since it was so accessible. However, you can't pass up the opportunity to walk behind a waterfall!
Riverside Walk - 2 miles roundtrip
Riverside walk is at the very end of Zion Scenic Drive. This hike takes you right next to the Virgin River. It is paved and wheelchairs and strollers could easy navigate the path. About halfway in, we encountered a "trail closed due to ice" sign. For one of the first times ever, I broke the rules and stepped over the chain. There were some patches of ice, but nothing my Chacos couldn't handle. The end of the trails puts you at the opening of the Narrows, which we are planning on returning to do. There were lots of places along this trail to step off the pavement and scale some boulders to the river. We even saw a ton of deer. I highly recommend this hike if you are not a hiker but want some incredible views.
We were planning on hiking the Emerald Pools but the trail was closed due to rock fall. We instead headed back into Springdale for dinner at the Zion Canyon Brew Pub. Since the weather was nice, we sat on the patio and enjoyed local brews. I had the Passionfruit Sour and a buffalo meatloaf burger. The views with dinner was A+!
What's your favorite trail in Zion? We can't wait to go back soon to hike the Narrows!
Antelope Island is a quick drive from Salt Lake and one of my favorite places to visit anytime of year, Its a serene getaway full of wildlife that will make you feel like you are far removed from the city. For a good time check out the following below! Antelope Island can be enjoyed all year long. We have been in the spring, summer, and winter!.
From Salt Lake take I-15 N (about 25 miles depending on where you start) to exit 332 for Antelope Drive. It takes us around 45 minutes from downtown depending on traffic.
Upon exiting, take a left onto Antelope Drive,
Follow this until you reach the causeway!
Entrance fee: $10/car or you can purchase a State Parks Pass for $75 here
Camping (Ladyfinger): $13/night
I can't attest to the other 3 campgrounds (2 RVs and 1 group) but Ladyfinger (tent only) was perfect! Equipped with a picnic table and tent pad, the sites are private due to the bushes and rocks but have great views of the Great Salt Lake.
Island Buffalo Grill serves up a delicious buffalo burger soft drinks, and other concession type snacks. it is rather expensive, but then again you are in the middle of the Great Salt Lake.
You're almost guaranteed to see buffalo grazing roadside (stay back and drive slow). You may also spot coyote, deer, antelope, jack rabbits, and quail.
There are plenty of non motorized trails that start roadside. Park in the designated pullouts and start down the paths. You might even cross paths with a buffalo herd! I've attached a map of the hiking trails. Frary Peak very popular but a must do!