Best of Hiking, Ambling, and Driving in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona


Grand Canyon South Rim Trail—C.Helbig

I was thrilled to be back in one of my all time favourite regions for incredible landscapes. Our two week circuit in southern Utah and northern Arizona included a national park trio I will never tire of visiting: Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. Thanks to fellow blogger Meghan Another Walk in the Parkwe also discovered off-the-beaten-path gems in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, and overlooked beauties in Dixie National Forest. This post highlights the best of our hikes, ambles, and drives through the amazing scenery of the US Southwest. I forced myself to select one photo for each place—an image that reflects its essence (that was tough). In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing more detailed posts, with lots of photos.

South Coyote Buttes: Vermilion Cliffs National Monument


Split colour rock at South Coyote Buttes—C.Helbig

Tucked away in a remote part of northern Arizona, South Coyote Buttes is a bugger to get to and requires a permit, but it’s so worth the effort. There’s no actual hiking trail, just a vast playground of nature’s forces gone wild. The colourful, striated sandstone and outrageous formations are like nothing I’ve seen before. For geological wow factor and lovely solitude, add South Coyote Buttes to your list. Check out my dedicated post on South Coyote Buttes for more photos and details about permits and logistics.

White Pocket: Vermilion Cliffs National Monument


Fantasy landscape at White Pocket—C.Helbig

White Pocket is a short, but very difficult drive (deep sand) from South Coyote Buttes. This spot does not require a permit. It is equally impressive, though surprisingly different from South Coyote Buttes. White Pocket looks and feels otherworldly with its massive tracts of gnarled white and reddish sandstone, and reflective “pockets” of water. Like South Coyote Buttes, there’s no official hiking trail, just unlimited free-flow exploration. I’ve got lots of White Pocket photos to share.

Fairyland Loop: Bryce Canyon National Park


Pondering the “Sinking Ship” on the Fairyland Loop—C.Helbig

If I lived near Bryce Canyon, I’d walk or run the Fairyland Loop every week—it’s that beautiful. It sounds hokey, but walking the 8.3 mile (13.4 km) loop, with its whimsical hoodoos, golden walls, and towering rock castle feels like you’re in a fairy tale world. Lots more to come on this and other great hikes in Bryce Canyon.

Observation Point Hike: Zion National Park


A break on the switchbacks of Observation Point Trail—C.Helbig

Mike’s not keen on this photo. He says he looks exhausted. He probably did need a little break, but I really like the photo because it shows the drama of this 8 mile (12.8 km) roundtrip hike. Observation Point is one of those hikes where the journey up and down is just as good as the stupendous view at the top. It’s a classic Zion hike that gets less traffic than neighbouring Angel’s Landing hike, which scores higher on scary thrills. Observation Point was more than thrilling enough for us.

Pa’rus Trail: Zion National Park


Late afternoon on Pa’rus Trail—C.Helbig

Sometimes I overlook “easy” trails, opting instead for more of a workout. The Pa’rus trail is as easy as they come—wide, flat, and paved for 1.7 miles (2.7 km)—but the scenery is every bit as stunning as what you see on the more difficult trails. We stumbled upon it after our Observation Point hike, preferring a serene walk rather than a crowded shuttle bus drive back to the Zion Visitor Center. It’s a great sunset walk and we were so impressed we walked it again the next morning.

Kolob Terrace Road: Zion National Park


Awesome roadside scenery, Kolob Terrace Road—C.Helbig

It doesn’t take much to escape the bulk of visitors at Zion National Park. Kolob Terrace Road is just a short drive from the main visitor center but is a much less travelled section of Zion. We were amazed at the roadside scenery. Mike was pulling to the shoulder every couple of minutes so I could take photos. There are some epic hikes that have trailheads along this road, but we only had time to sample a few short ones that I’ll describe in a future post.

Yant Flat: Dixie National Forest


Mike on the “elephant skin” Navajo Sandstone—C.Helbig

I’m so grateful to Meghan for recommending one of her local favourites. Yant Flat is a gorgeous area of incredible Navajo sandstone formations with endless opportunity for exploration. It shares some similarities with South Coyote Buttes and White Pocket and is definitely easier to get to (though our Dodge Dart rental wasn’t ideal). While I’m organizing my photos, take a look at Meghan’s Yant Flat posts (she has several).

Red Canyon: Dixie National Forest


Soothing colour palette at Red Canyon—C.Helbig

Red Canyon is a place we probably would have driven by had we not taken Meghan’s advice (again). It is on route to Bryce Canyon, only about 14 miles (22.5 km) away, so it’s not surprising that most visitors zip by, anxious to get to the star attraction. But Red Canyon is definitely worth a stop and it doesn’t take much effort (heck, even the road and visitor center parking lot are gorgeous). We did a beautiful short loop that included Pink Ledges, Hoodoo, Birdseye, and Photo trails.

South Rim Trail: Grand Canyon National Park


View to Ooh-Aah Point on South Kaibab Trail—C.Helbig

I had a brief moment of feeling sorry for myself when we had to cancel our plans for an overnight hike to the canyon floor. Mike was struggling with a terrible cold and he could barely breath, let alone hike 10 miles (16 km) down and back up again. Plan B was a couple of mellow days exploring the 13 mile (21 km) Rim Trail with generous use of the shuttle bus, and a short jaunt down the South Kaibab Trail (nearly killed him). It’s amazing what you see and learn when you slow things down. We were both very impressed with the extraordinary viewpoints and interpretive displays. And, we have a good excuse to return.

In case your wondering about our route, I’ve plotted it on the map below. Bear with me, I’m still figuring out how to customize google maps. Our trip started and ended in Las Vegas, a relatively inexpensive hub for us Canadians to fly to.

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22 thoughts on “Best of Hiking, Ambling, and Driving in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona

  1. Loved the photos. Zion National Park is on my list!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love southern Utah! My husband and I went on a two week camping trip after our graduation to Bryce, Zion, Canyonlands, Buckskin Gulch, and Arches. We spent a week just at Zion and it was awesome! We hiked practically everything we could get to. The views never got old!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree completely. There is a lifetime worth of exploring in that area and I’m sure I’d never tire of it. We only scratched the surface of Zion and would love to go back and do more hikes. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comments.


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  4. Wow! Awesome photos. Looks like you guys had a blast. And some excellent desert weather 🙂 I’d really like to hike Observation Point next time we are in Zion. We did Angel’s Landing and that was a conga line..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Ashley. Observation Point was great and not crowded. I would have liked to have done Angels Landing but Mike would not have enjoyed it with his fear of heights. It was fun looking down at it from Observation Point…that confirmed we had made the right decision.


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  6. Ahhh! Beautiful photos! And thank you for the links! I’m eager to read your future blog posts on the trip! How did you get to South Coyote Buttes and White Pocket?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ya, I keep on thinking about all that beauty in your part of the world. I just finished writing a post about South Coyote Buttes. Haha…turns out these places aren’t easy to get to. We were hooked by all the beautiful images and decided to hire a guiding service. It was expensive, but absolutely no regrets. It was such an amazing day. If you hadn’t mentioned The Wave to me, we never would’ve visited this gem. THANK YOU!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I haven’t actually been to the area where you were so I’m eager to see your photos and hear about your experience. We had been planning on going out to White Pocket but our 4×4 died and we no longer have a 4wd vehicle so we haven’t been. :/ I’m SO happy you got to see such beautiful places though; your trip summary post is epic.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This sounds like an amazing trip. Every place looks gorgeous, and like somewhere we would like to hike. Your photographs are beautiful, especially the sunset one and White Pocket. I’m looking forward to your future posts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m sure you guys would love it. There’s all kinds of hiking/walking from very mellow to challenging. November was great for nice weather and fewer people. I could definitely hang out in Utah for a few months or more.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a fantastic trip this must be, so beautiful and the photography is amazing it looks like a National Geographic article. Very impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow. Stunning – never heard of Zion Park.The shot of Mike catching his breath is stunning for the contrast in the two land forms. Louise

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Louise. Zion National Park is amazing and has something for everyone—very accessible and over the top gorgeous even just driving through, and some world-class hiking. You are right about the contrast in that photo. The lighting was both beautiful and tricky this late in the year. For every decent photo I have a hundred duds. cheers!


  10. Your Yant Flat photo has me itching to visit. So happy to have read your post as I’m planning a return trip to UT and AZ this summer. Adding this beauty to the itinerary for sure. Observation Point Hike (Zion) looks amazing, too… considering backpacking the West Rim Trail but was wondering if you had any advice or suggestions as to how the trails might compare. Your gorgeous photos have me counting down the days till summer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lucky you. It’s such a great part of the world. An upcoming post on Yant Flat will give you more info but feel free to contact me when planning. I have only read about the West Rim and it sounds really great. I think it would be a very different experience from Observation Point, which is an up and down with a killer view, versus a long scenic hike through beautifully changing scenery. Maybe you have time for both. Observation Point only takes about 5 hours. I’ll be doing a post on it as well. Have you done The Narrows hike? Mike wasn’t keen on wading through cold water in November. It looks like so much fun with stunning scenery, but also busy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks so much, Caroline! Great insight, and I think you’re right–we just may have enough time to swing both hikes. Looking forward to reading your upcoming posts on these areas. Definitely agree with your Narrows recommendation…we hiked 7 miles and loved it, though I can certainly understand not wanting to wade through the river in November temps. I bet the cooler temps made for fantastic hiking, though! Thank you again; I so appreciate your insight and help.


  11. So many great photos! I like you use a person for a sense of scale. That area is pretty stunning. Have you been over to Capital Reef Natl Park? I liked that one due to the lack of crowds.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Jeff. I’m feeling good getting a compliment from you about my photos. I learned about sense of scale in a recent beginners photo course…yippee, it paid off! I haven’t been to Capital Reef NP but would love to. Grand Staircase Escalante is another one on the list. November was a good time to go. The crowds had thinned somewhat, particularly in Bryce.


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