TRAVEL: Road Trip through Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, + Idaho / by Kelly Golia

 

As kids, my sisters and I grew up hearing the most wonderful stories about the cross-country road trip my parents took on their honeymoon in the '80s. Every few years, we'd pile onto their bed and watch slideshows projected on the bedroom wall of the photos they took as they adventured through the country in the back of my dad's old work van. It wasn't the most extravagant honeymoon, but it was oh-so-them in every way. My mom always spoke of the awe she felt upon seeing the Badlands in South Dakota, and my dad always swore that Utah was by far the most beautiful state in all of the U.S.

IMG_0164.jpg

Taking the same trip was something my sisters and I always dreamed about, but unfortunately never got around to as kids or teens. When my mom passed away in 2014, my dad shared a new dream of taking all of us on an adventure where we could create new memories. After tossing around a few ideas (Europe? An all-inclusive beach vacation?) we realized that a trip out west was the perfect way for us to bond and honor mom's memory while getting to discover some of those incredible sites and experiences that my parents had on their honeymoon.

What started as a plan to visit Utah quickly grew into a wishlist of sites we each wanted to visit and experiences we all wanted to share. It can be hard to coordinate a family vacation now that we're all older! But before long, we had booked an RV (we booked through Road Bear RV in Las Vegas - they were great!) and started charting our trip.

We flew into Las Vegas from Boston, spent a night on the strip, started our first morning with a brunch buffet at the Paris Casino (yum!), and we were off on our way. We picked up our RV  (a childhood dream come true!) and headed straight for Utah. 

Our first destination was Zion National Park which couldn't have been more beautiful. We camped out at Zion River Resort and started the next day with a drive through the stunning National Park. We stopped on the side of the road a couple of times to take in the views, and even went for a short hike through some of the natural pathways. I still can't get over how gorgeous the red rock was in person!

We had intended to stay awhile and hike some more, but ended up driving a bit too far and found ourselves in a tunnel leading out of the park. We decided to just go with it and vowed to try and come back before the end of our trip! One tip I have if you plan to rent an RV is to do some research ahead of time to make sure it's allowed on certain paths/roads. Dirt roads are almost always a no-go (mostly for your own sanity, and for the sake of the RV dishes - RIP glasses!) and it can be really tricky to find a place to turn around.

A quick stop for lunch at Thunderbird Restaurant and to peruse through the gift shop, and then we were back on the road to Bryce Canyon.

I didn't think it was possible, but I found Bryce to be even more beautiful than Zion. The views, the colors, the landscapes, and the wildlife were all jaw-droppingly stunning and I could have stopped and stared for hours. We drove up to the top of the road at Bryce and went for a short hike. There are a few different trails to choose from, but all are amazing. 

Our RV park for the night had the friendliest folks and the most beautiful sunset. Not to mention these gorgeous flowers as far as the eye could see. I can't get over all of the colors!

A man we had met in Bryce recommended that we take Route 12 through Escalante on our way towards Arches National Park. The route wasn't the quickest by any means, but the views around every corner made up for it. If you're headed that way, I highly recommend taking Route 12! I truly didn't know how anywhere we went would top Zion or Bryce, but I was pleasantly surprised the entire way. We stayed overnight at Shooting Star RV Park in Escalante after stopping for the most delicious pizza in town (and I think the only pizza in town?) at Escalante Outfitters. That night we had the most magnificent view of the stars, and again, I could have stared forever.

Per a recommendation, we had planned to hike Spooky Gulch and Peek-A-Boo Gulch in Grand Staircase-Escalante, but about 10 minute into the dirt road drive it took to get there, we realized the RV couldn't handle it. By car, it's about a 30 minute drive off the paved road, and seems totally worth it!

The next day had us back on the road, and we stopped at a pull-off where there were some other cars, and were pleasantly surprised to find one of the most beautiful hiking trails I've ever seen. It was the perfect spot for some of us to stretch our legs, read a book, or take a nap in the sun while my sister Julia and I went exploring. We kicked off our shoes, crossed a small stream, and took a sandy path flanked on both sides by red rock cliffs. The smell of sage was overwhelmingly lovely and we had so much fun exploring the natural rock formations. I don't know that I've ever been somewhere so magical. We continued on through Capitol Reef National Park, and I probably sound like a broken record but the views were to die for. There's no other way to put it!

We spent the night in Green River, Utah which boasted the most quintessential western-town main street, and the best neon signs of the trip.

Right around this part of the trip is when we realized we were going slower than we had planned (we just couldn't keep ourselves from stopping to take in the views!) and we reached Colorado. We hugged the western border of Colorado by Utah, and went north to Dinosaur National Park. If you know me, you know I have a not-so-secret love of dinos, so I was especially excited. Unfortunately, after a long day of driving we got there just as they were closing and weren't able to see the fossil exhibits. BUT we were still able to get a peek of the petroglyphs which left me in complete awe. It's so hard to believe that these cave paintings are still visible, and it was so fun to think of the stories and history the artists wanted to convey as they painted. If you ever find yourself in the area, I highly recommend camping at their campground overnight. We didn't because we still had a lot of ground to cover, but signs there boasted of incredible starry sky views since they have the least light pollution in the US. I'm already planning a trip back to check it out!

Our travels continued on into Wyoming, where we stopped for breakfast in Jackson Hole and explored the shops. Dad's classic "Indiana Bob" hat that he'd had for 20+ years blew off while taking in the views at Bryce which was so sad, so my sisters and I all pitched in and got him an early Father's Day present at the local hat shop. We spent a little too much time at a sweet little shop called Roam, and bought some fudge at the local candy shop before continuing on our way.

We traded in the earthy reds and sage greens of Utah for the icy cool blues of Wyoming as we approached the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park.

Between the colorful hot springs, the anticipation of seeing Old Faithful, encountering wild bison, and taking in the fresh air and unbelievable sights, we could have stayed in Yellowstone forever. We hiked, explored, and soaked it all in, and were even able to snag a last minute camping spot to stay overnight. I definitely recommend planning to stay at least a couple full days in Yellowstone if you visit. There's so much to see and do!

Our drive out of Yellowstone took us through a little corner of Montana where we stretched our legs and explored the Main Street of West Yellowstone, MT. Of course, there was ice cream involved.

As our trip came closer to the end, we took in the views through Idaho, ranging from forest to mountains to open field, and during a quick stop to eat dinner on one of our last nights, Dad called us out of the RV. We all gathered around to see the smallest little turtle who had somehow made its way up a pretty steep hill from the river below. If you know my family or knew my mom, you likely know that turtles were "her thing", so it was the most perfect feeling to know she was there with us. She really would have loved this trip!

After a short stop in Salt Lake City, we finished up our trip back in Southern Utah with a final stop in Zion so that Julia and Sarah could hike the Angel's Landing trail (a bucket list item for sure!). After spending almost 10 days in an RV, we were ready to be back in the comforts (and let's be honest, the privacy) of home, but I'll always remember these beautiful places and incredible sights. How lucky are we to live in a country with so much beauty?! I can't wait to go back!