After our last night in Flagstaff, AZ, we headed north. As mentioned, we stopped for lunch and sightseeing in Sedona. Our last stop in AZ before UT was at a hugely popular photo spot known as Horseshoe Bend. It has become a tourist attraction complete with $10 paid entry, concession stand, and a nicely maintained concrete walkway to the cliffs overlooking the bend. Due to Covid the site was nearly empty and the ticket booth was closed – but the parking lot gate was open! Perfect.
Our plans for Utah were dramatically altered by national park closings. We had at least 6 of them on our original itinerary (list here) and hoped that our extended stay in AZ would allow enough time for them to reopen. As it turned out, several did open just a week after we passed through!
Fortunately we’ve already been to Bryce, Zion, and Arches, so those were not critical stops. We still enjoyed Utah’s unique and amazing landscape of mountains, canyons, and striking rock formations.
Here’s a video with highlights of the landscape from the RV windows:
20 years ago, we drove into Monument Valley National Park with the kids, where the most iconic views can be found – the ones you’ve probably seen in classic westerns. This time the entrance was closed, so we had to make due with somewhat more distant views of the same rock formations from our campground. The campground was essentially a dirt parking lot with utility hookups, but the views were great.
Here’s a summary video of Utah
Individual Parks in Utah
Green River State Park
Green River campground was a bit of a shock. After months of desert, suddenly our campsite was surrounded by lush, green, grass. The campground is actually surrounded by a golf course, and apparently they just included the state park campground in the landscaping and irrigation plan.
In order to keep the grass so nice however, they had to run the sprinklers regularly. On entry, we got a notice/warning that they’d be going off the next morning, and that the campsites get pretty wet. No worries! We opted to stay put since Wandah needed a bath anyway. :) We simply moved our folding chairs across the road and watched the show.
Green River is also a nice little town, with gorgeous mountain views bordering it on two sides. We enjoyed a long bike ride to town and around the quiet local streets.
Our previous Utah trip had also included Arches National Park and a stay in a Moab hotel that the kids loved for its pool with a big corkscrew slide. That hotel is still there, but it seems Moab has been “discovered” since our last visit 20 years ago. It has grown dramatically. Moab is surrounded by beautiful cliffs, has Arches nearby, a great bike path, tons of nice restaurants, shopping, parks and much more. We can see why it has become so popular.
Utah Lake State Park
Utah Lake is south of Salt Lake City near Provo. The lake is surrounded by scenic mountain views. For us, the best feature by far is the 6 mile long tree-lined bike trail along the Jordan river into town, almost to the beautiful BYU campus. We rode the path every day we were there, but just once all the way to BYU. That day, we spent hours leisurely cruising the campus paths and sidewalks, taking in the surrounding mountain views and beautiful buildings and landscaping, including many colorful flower beds.
Utah Lake itself, while striking to look at from a distance, seemed to have rather unappealing water when seen close up. Although fishing was hugely popular there, we both agreed that we would not want to eat anything that came out of that water!
One other downside there was the mosquitoes. They were really out of control. In the evening they seemed to cover Wandah to the extent that we struggled to enter or exit without being invaded.
Salt Lake City
We visited Bev and Chuck, Mark’s Aunt and Uncle, who have lived in Salt Lake City for decades. They treated us to a home cooked meal, got us caught up on family news, and gave us some ideas and advice for seeing Utah (as they have been frequent campers and adventurers throughout the state for as long as they’ve lived there).
Lori had not seen “Gilgal” (which Tyler, Luke and I discovered on our last time passing through SLC) so we also stopped there on the way out of town.
East Canyon State Park
Our trip to East Canyon started with an unwanted adventure. As we got closer to our destination, the blacktop ended and became a gravel road. Then a dirt road marked “unmaintained”. Then increasingly windy and narrow. Multiple signs warning “private property” etc. made it seem like something was really wrong. But Google maps showed it as the only road to the campground! Yikes! What to do? Turn back or push on despite the warning signs?
We decided to push on, and it was 10 miles of rough and sometimes white-knuckle driving in our big lumbering ox of a vehicle. Finally we made it. Whew! We found out later that Google Maps had mis-routed us, wrongly showing the actual route as still “closed for winter”. Argh! Damn you, Google maps!
One final obstacle to reaching the park, was a huge sheep drive. It held up traffic while they crossed the road, but it was very entertaining to watch.
East Canyon was nice, even if there was no cell service. The main thing to do there was to hike the hills surrounding the reservoir. Fortunately, it was a good place for that, with dramatic views of the lake and surrounding hills. We quite enjoyed it.
Willard Bay State Park
Willard Bay is about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City, on a reservoir on the northeast border of Salt Lake. Highlights were lots of birds, and nice beaches. We rode our bikes many miles along the eastern shore of the reservoir.
Like a majority of parks we’ve visited, Willard Bay has a Frisbee golf course. We’ve never seen one used. Why were so many were built? Maybe they were once popular. Or maybe they’re just very cheap to create (just put some up Frisbee golf stations far apart). Or maybe some entrepreneur was really good at selling the concept. Who knows?
On the day after our bike ride, Mark found that the rear tire of his bike had gone flat. Oh no! He found the culprit: a thorn! (see picture). We found a bike shop in Logan, UT, and luckily they had a tube matching our somewhat rare tire size, and it cost just $4.50. The shop owner installed it free! Super nice guy. Mark showed his appreciation with big tip.
After getting the bike fixed, we parked to eat lunch near Utah State University. Wow! What a beautiful campus – with stately buildings around a giant quad, park benches overlooking valley and mountain scenes, botanic trails and gardens. Gorgeous.
Hyrum Lake State Park
Hyrum was very windy at times! Mark had a challenge using the grill during the gale. There are no hiking or biking trails at Hyrum Lake, so we didn’t do much at the park, but we were able to walk from our campsite into the town of Hyrum in under 15 minutes. Our mission was to find a mail box – which we do often for Lori to mail her current batch of cards and letters. We eventually found the mailbox while enjoying our walk around the little town.
Wasatch Mountain State Park
We reversed our northward trek temporarily, to meet up with Lori’s friend Debbie, who used to live in Westford and relocated to Utah several years ago. Wasatch Mountain is about 25 miles southeast of Salt Lake City. Our campsite had great views of mountains, valley, and deer creek reservoir.
Debbie drove to our site to spend the day with us. It was great fun catching up with her, and we all enjoyed a nice hike in the park. Not too strenuous, very scenic with flowers, lush vegetation, stream crossings, and occasional views of the valley and mountains.
At the far point of the hike there is an odd sight: a large field of boulders, described as a “glacial outwash”. It went on for hundreds of yards up the hill. We spent a long while hopping from boulder to boulder and enjoying the excellent views from there. Before leaving, we noticed a little jar (seen below) for visitors to “share your thoughts” – so we did!
The next day, we visited Heber City, which is a cool town near the state park. After getting a takeout pizza for dinner, we walked to the local ice cream shop “Dairy Keen” for a thick chocolate shake.
Bear Lake State Park
Our final stop in Utah was at Bear Lake which straddles the Utah/Idaho line. We extended our stay at Bear Lake because Idaho state parks re-opened on May 31. We were happy to have the extra time at Bear Lake.
The lake has been called “The Caribbean of the Rockies” for it’s striking turquoise-blue color, which is due to an abundance of lime in the water.
Mark celebrated a big birthday while here. To celebrate we went into nearby Garden City for lunch at Zipz (burgers, fries, and a famous raspberry shake) then rode the bike path for many miles south, stopping at a few places to enjoy lake views. The paved bike path is still being built. Looks like it will go most of the way to the park eventually. Nice.
In Garden City there were off-road 4-wheelers everywhere. We assume they must be riding up into the local hills. Clearly a popular activity based on how many we saw in town.
At our campground we had two major attractions. One was simply the sandy lakeshore where we could relax and watch the jumping fish, or take in the amazing sunsets. The other was a Bald Eagle’s Nest! There was a family of 4 in it, and we spent lots of time just checking to see if they were active. We’d occasionally see one fly off or return with food. Quite a sight!
Well, that was Utah. Beautiful state! We’ll be back!