If you’re given the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world, how would you choose your destination? I found the initial proposition slightly overwhelming, but had one substantial factor that reduced the radius of my potential travel destination: a baby girl, who arrived in mid-April. Knowing that Maeve would be joining me on the trip, I decided this was a great opportunity to explore my own backyard. We packed up the car (with far more gear than I ever thought possible) and headed south to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.
I live in Utah, where nearly two-thirds of the state is (currently) public land. We are lucky to have five national parks, seven national monuments/sites, six national forests and 44 state parks. As an outdoor enthusiast and someone who cares deeply about the environment, public land is an issue close to my heart. Thus, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to seek out some of these beautiful landscapes and introduce my five-week-old daughter to our country’s national parks.
After a five hour drive into the desert, I unpacked our bags in Springdale on the edge of Zion National Park. The park consists primarily of a canyon valley, which was carved out by the Virgin River. It’s towering red walls – which average 2,000 feet deep – are a wonderful juxtaposition to the green oasis along the valley floor and river banks.
The majority of the hikes and classic Zion viewpoints are found in this canyon, which is accessed by a very user-friendly shuttle service during the peak months of March through November. The shuttle was established in 2000 and transported an estimated 6.3 million visitors in 2017 alone – think about the amount of traffic and pollution these shuttles eliminate each year! Traveling with an infant, I was especially grateful for the shuttles as it eliminated the need for a car seat and multiple transfers between car seat and carrier.
For the next day and a half, Maeve and I hopped from trail to trail with the help of the shuttle. While I was disappointed I couldn’t go on the infamous Angel’s Landing or The Narrows hikes (both trails with high consequence terrain) with Maeve, we got to experience the full length and beauty of the canyon. Whenever it started to heat up too much, we’d head for the river, finding cooler temperatures and shade among the cottonwood trees and brisk water (a rarity if you’re familiar with the other Utah national parks like Arches and Canyonlands). With its shuttle, shade, mix of easy/moderate trails available and amenities available in Springdale, I would highly recommend Zion National Park for anyone traveling with kiddos!
The drive from Zion to Bryce was stunning and crossed a variety of landscapes – we went from rock formations that were reminiscent of Mars, to wide open ranchlands and ultimately ended up in a high alpine desert. Expecting more hot desert landscapes, I was surprised to enter the park at an elevation around 7,600 feet, surrounded by pine trees. Also, surprising was how abruptly the forest dropped into an expansive basin covered with thousands of hoodoos. Take a quick three-minute walk in the forest outside the lodge, and suddenly the ground disappears beneath you. Hoodoos, which are skinny spires of rock created by “frost wedging,” create a maze before you. Nowhere else in the world has as many hoodoos as Bryce National Park – it’s quite the sight!
There is a perimeter trail that follows the edge of the basin and provides awe-inspiring views from the top, which is where Maeve and I spent the majority of our time. Since this trail was easy to access from the parking lot and lodge, there was a steady stream of visitors from tour buses. While the crowds can be overwhelming and oftentimes frustrating, I kept reminding myself that everyone was there to appreciate these public lands. By experiencing and learning about these delicate landscapes, my hope is that more people will become passionate about protecting them.
It was a challenge to travel with a brand new baby, but doing it on my own felt empowering. I know Maeve won’t remember this trip, but it still felt so special to share these beautiful and protected lands with her – just the two of us. My husband and I are determined to bring her up with an appreciation for the environment and wild spaces. Might as well start them young!