Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada


The Short Version

  • Two hour drive from Calgary to Banff National Park
  • Dinner and hand-crafted cocktails at Nourish Bistro (vegetarian)
  • Camping at Johnston Canyon Campground
  • Bourgeau Lake hike to Harvey’ Pass to Mt. Bourgeau Summit
  • Bow Falls
  • Park Distillery and Resturaunt
  • Icefield Parkway drive to Peyto Lake access trail
  • Lake Louis, Lake Agnes, Big Beehive
  • Lake Moraine
  • Johnston Canyon Falls hike to Ink Pots
  • Silverton Falls
  • Grizzly Paw Brewery

The Long Version

I tried to add filters to my photos. I tried to enhance the colors. I maxed out the color saturation but the picture did not change. The vibrant blues stayed vibrant, the lush greens stayed lush. The grays didn’t get grayer and the whites didn’t get whiter. Before visiting for myself every time whenever I would see an iconic photos of a lake (you know, the one of the someone in a canoe surrounded by water starring into a massive mountain) in Banff I didn’t believe the beauty captured by the photo would be fully replicated by the real thing. The water cannot really be that color blue right? wrong

Friday, May 25th: The reason I decided to live in Calgary for a month was based primary on the fact that I wanted to explore Banff National Park. I wanted multiple weekend in the backwoods of  Banff but various travel timings would allow me only one totally free weekend. Fortunately, it was labor day weekend so I would get four full days to spend. So after checking out from work early and grabbing a quick workout, I started driving west with my camping gear and Red Bull. Banff National Park is a straight shot 80 miles east of Calgary. Quickly into the drive the skyscrapers turn into the Canadian Rockies. I was greeted by a line of cars at the entrance to the national park. Being a long weekend I was not surprised a lot of people wanted to spend it the same way I did. After a short wait and $40 Canadian dollars later I had my permit and was in the park.

I had a camp site reserved in Johnson creek canyon campsite, but before heading there I stopped in the town of Banff located a short drive down the road from the park entrance. It is a touristy little town that caters to parks visitors with a array of hiking gear stores, hotels, restaurants and souvenirs shops. It is really clean and manicured town, but that was not surprising since you have to literally pay (park fee) in order to have access to the city. Parking is free but driving slowly is impartive because pedestrians are walking everywhere and they have the right of way throughout the city and no fear of exerising that right.


The reason I stopped in the town was because as per usual I didn’t really know what I was doing and wanted to ask a visitor or information center for advice. Coming into this adventure I had to keep reminding my self that I was not going to be able to do everything in just four days. If you google best hikes in Banff you will get a different set of opinions from every website. There is a vast mixture of touristy walks, backwoods hikes and multi-day treks. To compound the decisions there are actually four parks in this area: Banff, Yoho, Kootenay and Jasper (and some others). Whenever I asked people in Calgary or friends they would list off an array of hikes, most of which were not even in Banff and they would always be sure to add “oh make sure to go to Jasper, its better than Banff and less touristy.” This is when I would repeat to myself I cannot see everything in four days. My rough plan was to do a summit hike followed by some touristy hikes followed by some flat hike followed by some short roadside hikes. I had narrowed down the summit hike to three options: Mt Temple (highest point in Alberta), Mt Massive or Mt Rundle (in order of difficulty). However, still being early in the summer season (May) I didn’t know if any of these hikes were even accessible. I barely have camping equipment so I definitely do not have gear for trekking through snow or rescue beacons for avalanches. Not to mention I do not even possess a map of the park (I downloaded the a google maps map, but its not the best for finding trail heads). Again, as per usual I got to the town later than expected, 8pm, so all the information centers were closed. I ended up walking into a Patagonia to ask to the woman at the cash register for advice.

“Mt. Temple still snow covered and one part is a little narrow (when without snow) where most people rope in.” Maybe not the best idea to do that one…

“Mt Massive might be ok, I don’t actually know, took me ten hours to hike it last time I went. Be sure to go with someone that knows the shortcuts.” Well, I don’t know anyone and that would kill one whole day…

“Mt Rundle is pretty clear, people are doing it now, I have never actually done it so I don’t know if it is worth it or not.” Well darn…

“but Mt Boureau and Mt Mac are cool, don’t know if they are accessible this early though.” Great start…

When in doubt I always feel the best thing to do is grab food and something to drink. So I went to a place called Native Tongue which serves a totally vegetarian menu and is known for fantastic cocktails and they did not disappoint. From here I admitted planning/information defeat and headed 10 miles down the road to check into my campsite. There is basically one very nicely paved and painted road that spans hundreds of miles through Banff and Jasper. Johnston Canyon Creek Campsite is located a couple miles off this main road. There are five-ish campgrounds in Banff with 30-100 campsites at each one. The previous night I couldn’t discern any really difference between the campgrounds so I just reversed a spot basically at random for $25 a night (can reserve through the Canada parks website). The campsites were not as full as I expected so I didn’t have to reserve a spot before hand but for once I actually did). It was a typical campsite with a picnic table and a small fire pit with other campsites in every direction and trees scattered throughout. Clean restrooms a stones throw away. Pitched my tent, unrolled the sleeping bag and set my alarm for 6 am.

Saturday, May 26th: Of course I didn’t wake up at 6 am. It amazing how hard it can be to go to sleep when sleeping on the ground but how hard it is to wake up after waking up every couple of hours throughout the night. My next investment will be in a sleeping bag mat because i keep suffering from cold butt syndrome.

Anyway, I decided to start the day with a hike rated online as ‘difficult’. Bourgeau Lake to Harvey pass is a 12 mile out-n-back hike to a glacier lake and a Rockies outlook point between two mountains (Harveys pass). The trail head is right off the main road but I still managed to pass it even though a it has a obvious sign (dont follow google maps). The extra 5 miles of driving would have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for the scenery to keep me entertained. There is a small parking lot t the trail head that only had one other vehicle which I was happy about. However, this feeling of meditative solitude to come  turned into a bit of nervousness as I was greeted by a large, heavy metal gate with various warnings notifying hikers that they are entering the backwoods Banff. The gate slammed shut behind me and proceeded up the trail.

The weather was perfect being in the high 70s. I was worried about it being cold but it almost hot. There was not a cloud in the sky but the trees provide a good amount of cover from the sun so I was very comfortable. One mile in I  came to the first small snow crossing. As previously mentioned I was not prepared for snow hiking but it only stretched for 20 yards and was very compacted snow. Looking up the snow field that extended up and down the mountain I could see small waterfalls cascading down. There were a few more similar crossings over the next couple of miles that were no problem. At this point I was feeling that this hike would go as expected in that I would be done in under four hours off to my next hike. The real ‘fun’ began when I reached the first water crossing. Ice melt had created a pretty swift stream that rushed past the trail. This is where I caught up with another hiker walking away from the water back towards me.dsc_0254

“Is it cold?” I inquired sarcastically.

“Ah I didnt cross, I chickened out, I’ve been up there 50 times before and don’t feel like getting wet today.”

Fair enough. I preferred not to walk through the freezing water but there really was not any other choice. Off came the socks and into the water went my tennis shoes. The current was strong but not deep (ankles) so nothing too miserable. Once on the other side I saw the hiker that had ‘chickened out’ following me across the stream. I guess he changed his mind which was fine by me because it gave me some company and a guide. From here the ground became more and more covered with snow as we continued to climb in elevation (started the hike at 4,500ft and the lake is at 6,500ish ft). My guide that had done this hike multiple times was surprised by the amount of snow that was still on the ground. After a mile the trail opened up into a marsh and disappeared completely under the snow. At this point we could see where the lake was suppose to be in the distance because it is located at the base of bourgeau mountain which is obvious to spot. The best way to get there was not as obvious.

“I thought there use to be a boardwalk leading up to the lake, but maybe I’m thinking of another hike.”

At this point there was no avoiding walking through theDSC_E0278 snow and water as we followed the stream towards where the lake is suppose to be. We tried to tread lightly but every five steps one of us would sink thigh deep into the snow. We zigzagged trying to find the best route. Eventually, we ended up going different ways and meeting back once we eventually made it to the lake. I would say both of us took the wrong way. We hopped up on a large boulder beside the lake and gazed upon the prize. The lake was basically a
sheet of ice as it was still 90% frozen. Not what I was anticipating but beautiful none the less. The ice was cracked and jagged with some free floated pieces covering a layers of dark blue water leading into the depths of the lake. It made me want to swim out under the ice the see world below (obviously I did not). The lake was surrounded by Mt. Bourgeau and another mountain, both covered with sheets of snow, making a great backdrop to the ice encrusted lake. Part one of the hike was complete (5ish miles).DSC_0280

This is was the end of my guides hikes. Before he headed back down he pointed up on the side of the mountain a mile away to a section of scree between the two mountains and said that was a piece of the trail to Harvey’s Pass. All that stood between me and that one piece was a mile of trees, snow and a hundred or so feet of vertical elevation. I wearing an old pair of running shoes with no socks and a thin pair of rolled up cargo pants. Needless to say my toes were freezing, but after sunbathing on the boulder for twenty minutes watching a chipmunk run around my pack (containing food) I decided to give it a go. If it was unpassable I would just turn around. I started trudging through the woods in the direction of the trail, which was quickly lost in the screen of tree. I would basically scamper from ‘dry patch’ to ‘dry patch’ until I made it to the edge of the trees and to the base of the mountain. Every five steps resulted in me stepping throug the snow into the cold swamp of snowmelt underneath. Up the mountain side were what seemed to be footprints through the snow. I followed the footsteps up a short distance until I came to a snowless section where the prints dissapeared.dsc_0281 From here I traversed along the side of the mountain towards where the path was suppose to be. At one point I thought I was following someone’s path, but I am pretty sure it was just where a shelf of snow fell down the mountian. Hoping that it would not fall again I continued around a boulder until I came again to someone’s footprints. If I didnt find those footprints I most likely would have turned around. The prints told me two things: 1) Someone else has done this already and 2) Since there was one set going out and not a set coming back maybe there was someone else out still hiking that I would run into. In hindsight number two was not the most intellgient conclusion to come to but I was hopeful. Through the white sheets of snow I continued with every five steps collapsing me knee deep into the snow. After an hour of this process I made it to, and past, the peice of trail that gave me hope when I started. Over another short ridge I was greeted by Lake Harvey and two guys hiking towards me. They rejuvenated my spirits by informing that the rest of the way to the pass safe and that, though they didnt, I could continue all the way to the summit of Bourgeau. Also, informed that I did follow thier footsteps up there and it was technically the wrong way but their path would lead the rest of the way and the correct way back down. Despite the facts that they were wearing dry boots with appropriate hiking attire (and bear spray and emergency signal beacons) and that next stretch would be the longest stretch of unintrupted snow to this point and that this would mean I was definately alone out here…I decided that I had made it too far to turn around. On I went one step at a time through the snow path. The next section would be the most miserable (so far). At points I would fall both feet into the snow waist deep. For the first time in my life I realized that getting stuck in snow was a real thing that happens in the real world. DSC_0296Fortunately, earlier I had picked up a walking stick which I used to helped pry me out of some snowy situations. Up one last curtain of snow I had made it to the awe-inspriring presapis of the hike that laid out the uninterupted rockies before me. I dont actually know where Harvey’s pass tehnically was, but this had to be basically it. Behind me was the crystal like Lake Harvey sitting inside of the porcelain white bowl of the mountain with only one crack running through it being the my path. In front of me was a jagged horizon of peaks. Part two of the hike was complete (6.5 miles in).

Looking up at Mt. Bourgeau from the Lake Bourgeau it looked impossible to reach the summit safely because appears to be completely covered with snow along the entire ridge. To my suprised the hikers were right inthat that back side of mountain was clear of snow. Though the elevation climb was duanting at this point I was excited to not be walking through snow. I had made it this far, I might as well see climb to the top. The next mile of hiking was scrambling up 2000 feet of rock scree past one false summit and one short snow crossing to the peak of Mt Bourgeau. No special signs waiting to congratulate me at the top, Just some a small weather station and cairn. That did not matter to me at that point, all that mattered was the stunning view and the summit pb&j I packed that I was finally allowed to eat. Part three of the hike was over (8 miles in).DSC_0309

Getting back down the mountain was pretty straightforward, but I wouldn’t say it was IMG_4397any easier. I was dreading the toe freezing journey back across the snow and it did not disappoint. On the downhill sections I tried to slide down on my backside. This worked with limited success. Majority of the ‘sliding’ was me scooting my butt across the snow until gravity took hold. One part I gained enough speed that I become slighty anxious because the slide ended in lake Harvey, fortunately the snow was powdery enough that I could shove my leg into the snow as an emergency brake. I followed the path of the hikers I met back to outskirt of the thick of tree that surrounded lake Bourgeau.

DSC_0279This next section was very frustrating because I was mentally exhausted and just tired of not being able to feel my feet. I had slid down to a location other than the way I come in so I didn’t exactly know how far I had to go in order to get back to Lake Bourgeau. After yelling many F bombs I made it back to the frozen beauty of Lake Bourgeau. From here every mile for the next five mile became increasingly easier. Finally, with just under three miles to go my feet were able enough and the terrain was safe enough for me to finish the hike by running. The intially planned 11 mile hike that I estimated to take 3-4 hours was finished 8 hours and 16 miles later.

I was not in any mood to do another hike at this point so I headed back into the town of Banff to see Bow falls that is located right behind the town. Tourists can drive right up the falls which was fine by me. The waterfall is not tall but is still impressiveness because of the force and volume of the water cascading down. I topped my first full day in the park by a Gin flight night cap Park Distillery and Restaurant in downtown Banff.


Sunday, May 27th:  Peyto Lake is a popular picture spot on the Northern end of Banff. Most pictures of this lake features a person standing on a perch overlooking the petite blue lake which rests in front of the Canandain rockies backdrop while they contemplate the meaning of life. This (and other touristy easy to get to spots) seemed like a smart alternative since Saturday consisted of ill advised hiking alone in the Banff backwoods. dsc_0365Peyto lake is 40ish miles North of Johnonston Canyon via the Icefields Parkway (the main road going through Banff). The Icefield Parkway connects Banff to Jasper National Park with 150 miles of unimaginable scenery and is often tauted as the most scenic drive in Canada. I was not sure exactly where this ‘popular’ picture spot was and it didnt exactly jump out at me (looking back im pretty sure I should have headed to ‘Bow Summit’). I pulled into a unmarked, small and empty lot on the left side of the road hoping to see a sign. There was no sign but there was a small path leading into the trees in the direction of the lake. Diving into the path the smell of pine and spruce tree immedialty surrounded. I followed the trail for about a mile as it winded through the lush and moss covered trees, past patches of snows and over gentle creeks until the curtains of trees opened up to a gem laying in front of me. I was not on a perch overlooking the lake but rather at the edge of it. Crystal clear water turned different shades of blue as it recended further away from the shore. It felt as though I had the entire lake to myself. I was bewitched with peace and solitude while I sat next to the tranquil waters of Peyto Lake.


Eventhough Peyto lake is popular, Lake Louis might be the most photographed lake in Canada if not the world. Looking at pictures one would think it is a beautiful secluded lake tucked beside the rockies. However, something that It was not until a couple of weeks prior did i realize there is a massive resort right on the lake and multiple parking for miles around to host the thousands or tourists that visit weekly. I started to think I had made the wrong decision when I had to wait in traffic and then drive around to find an open parking spot, but since I already there might as well check it out. Short walk from the parking lot (at least the one I parked in) put me right between the massive (and expensive) hotel and the edge of the lake. I’m not going to lie it is a beautiful scene looking out over the lake as long as you do not turn around. As much as I am complaining about the monitization of nature, I did go to the hotel’s cafe and enjoyed a cup of coffee while sitting on their terrace.

From the base of the lake there are a variety of hikes available depending on how much walking/hiking is desired. One of the iconic hikes is the two mile up-hill trek to Lake Agnes and the small tea house next to it. Yes, you can reward yourself with a cup of tea once at the lake. How do they get the supplies up there? No idea, but doubt it is by helicopter. The hike was crowded but still a nice speed walk on the well maintained path. Lake Agnes is smaller version of Lake Louis in every aspect except that the water is distinctly greener than the surprisingly blue water of Louise. This probably has something to do with the glacier runoff differences between the two and there was definitely a sign explaining it somewhere but missed it.DSC_E0383

The Tea house doesnt actually open until June, so I didnt get to enjoy a meditative cup of Oolong tea, but there happened to be a couple of park rangers selling giant gooey chocolate blobs. I inquired about the Big Beehive (Little Beehive was open as an alternative) hike which connects to the Lake Agnes trail and leads to a lookout point. The ranger pointed hundreds of feet to a buldge in the mountain side and said “that is it up there, but the trail is completely snow covered. It is on a avalanche ally over there and you would have to slog through waist deep snow. I wouldn’t advise you doing it in running shoes” as she eyed my feet. Challenge accepted.

Within in minutes of walking I was met with a layer of snow. Fortunately, at that time a couple walked past me.

“You guys going up to big beehive?”

“Gonna try” and off the three of us went. At least this time I was not doing it alone. We made it around the lake to the base of the vertical portion of the hike. Deju vu set in because we had no idea where the trail was but we did see a snow path leading directly up the side of the Beehive. Digging our toes into the snow step by step we forced up the 500 foot avalanche ally thinking it was the trail. We realized near the top that the actual trail is a long series of switchbacks weaving up the side the beehive and not a direct ascent. Whoops, well this way more adventurous and the worse that could happen is that we slide hundreds of feet into the frozen lake below. dsc_e0395

The view from the top was mesmerizing. Lake Agnes and Lake Louise are visible from the edge of the beehive and really shows the distinct contrast in the two pools. A carpet of tree pave the landscape leading into the rockies on the horizon. Step behind the Gazebo for the best view angles.
From the top we could either go back the precarious way we came or head down the other side. The other side would lead into the 6 glaciers hike which is a long in and out hike into the valley behind lake lousie (and actully to another tea house somewhere back there). I wanted to do this hike but it to was reportedly snow covered. I had already made my way through two ill advised snow treks so I was not keen testing a third, but the deciding factor was that the two hikin companions were interested in heading back so I followed suite. The hike back to Lake lious was a couple miles longer than the way up consisting of long switchbacks down the beehive. It was a longer route but much less snow covered making it pretty easy. At a couple of points in the trail there were pathways of trees that were snapped in half and foliage debree makig it seems like tornado swept through. It actually the result of avalanches and seeing this really puts into perspective the destructive power that falling snow can have. The trail eventually joins the edge of lake Louis and follows the a paved bank back to the hotel. This section is also a popular spot for rock climbing as we saw 4-5 different sets of climbers scaling thier way up the side of the beehive (or whatever moutain that tynically is).

Moraine Lake it also a very popular spot for iconic photos that is just a 15 minute drive down the road from Louis (even though google maps said it would take 58 minutes to get there it was actually about 11 minutes). The drive to the lake was a winding paved road that decended into the forest and mountains. This short drive was for some reason really spiritual. I am not sure if it was the soothing Leon Bridges playing or just the forest flowing around me as I let the gravity take the car down the road, but whatever it was put me in a tranquil state of mind.
This lake is also on the touristy side as there is large parking lot at the lake with some cabins and a cafe. At the lake there is a short trail that goes for about a mile up a rock pile giving great views of the lake. Though there is a trail going up the rock pile most people (me included) just scramble up the rock pile to the top, then scrample down to the base of the lake for water level photos. This lake is not as large as lake but might be more striking in its bueaty as it is surrounded by 8 peaks that peirce the sky. Moraine was an even different shade of blue than Louis or Agnes, a darker blue. At that time it was in a state of transition from being forzen to liquid so there were streaked of ice set uniformly aross giving the lake a really complex texture. I got lost dazing at the scene.DSC_E0408
There are many hikes that start at Lake Moraine ranging from easy walks to multi hour hikes such as _______.
Most of the interesting hikes seemed to be still snow covered from my research and the sun was setting so I decided to call it day and headed back to the campsite.

Monday, May 28th: This was my last day to spend in the park and I had been putting off one hike in particular because it was so close to where I was camping. Johnston CanyonDSC_E0438 Falls hike pops up on many lists of must do hike and was suggested by multiple people as a must do. After I woke up and packed up my campsite I drove the .8 miles down the road to the trail head. I knew it was a popular hike but amount of people on the trail was surprising. The trail is very well maintained and even has railings. This makes it a good hike for travelers looking for something easy. The hike goes for less than a mile with some slight elevation until reaching the first waterfall where you can walk through a little tunnel to get closer to the falls. The trail then leads further up the canyon to the upper falls and this is where the hordes of people that started the hike really thinned out. I guess majority of people only make it to the lower falls. At the upper falls is an overlook that looks down at the waterfall but right before the switchback to the overlook is a ‘trail’ (looks more like a illegal climb down) that leads down to the base of the bottom part of the falls which is where the best photos are taken. This is not really trail and can be easily overlooked, but we were able to find a path the to scramble because we knew it was possible and that seemed like the only feasible place to do so.DSC_E0450 After the upper falls the trail extends another 3 km up through the forest until reaching the ink pots. The ink pots are interesting, but I am still on the fence as to whether the extra hike was worth it though it was nice to sit by the river and enjoy to the open scenery. The ink pots is where a lot of hikers start longer multi-day backwoods hikes..

Less than a mile down the road from the Johnston Canyon trail is the start of the Rockbound lake trail. The hike to Rockbound Lake is about 10 miles, which was about 9 miles more than I was up for at this particular moment. However, this is also the start of a .7 mile hike to Silverton Falls.DSC_E0490 For some reason the 150 foot tall Silverton Falls is a much less popular falls than those in Johnston canyon even though it seemed to me to be more spectacular (but maybe that was because of the tranquility created by the absence of other hikers). There were only two other cars in the small parking lot compared to the hundreds in the parking lot down the road. The hike starts on the same trail as the Rockbound Lake Trail, but splits off to the right a couple hundred meters in. There are smaller ‘trails’ before the Silverton Trail split that lead to confusing alternative routes which I accidentally embarked on. This extra hiking is easily avoided by not splitting-right until reaching a fork in the trail with a sign that clearly states the direction of Silverton Falls.
The trail turns into short but steep switchbacks about half a mile after turning until ending at the middle of the waterfall. Some scrambling leads to a up close view of the waterfall. If lucky the tree that had fallen over to span the waterfall canyon will still be present to make for a comfortable front row seat to the beauty that is Silverton Falls.

I wanted to keep hiking for the hours if not days but reality was calling so I cut the cord and headed to back Calgary. For one last taste of the Rockies I stopped at Grizzly Paw Brewery in the town of Canmore just outside of the Park. I sat on the patio enjoying a of pint of Beaver-tail Raspberry Ale while soaking in the last views of the towering Rockies on the horizon.

(if you made it to Canmore and decided that you need to scratch that last itch one more time check out heading to the top of Mount Lady McDonald ‘Lady Mac’. A local at the brewery mentioned it and it upon investigation it looks to be a pretty adrenaline pumping hike that features a narrow and dangerous ridge traverse to the summit. It’ll be first on my list when I return.)

Zion National Park, Utah

The Short Version

  • 4 hour Drive from Flagstaff to Zion
  • Cookies at Jacob’s Lake Inn Halfway to Zion
  • Slept on public camp land on Sheep Bridge Road
  • Angels’ Landing Hike in Zion National Park (5 Miles)
  • Lunch at MeMe’s Cafe
  • Bouldering in Moe’s Valley
  • Slept in Zion visitor center parking lot
  • The Narrows (21 miles)
  • Slept at Watchman campsite in Zion
  • Breakfast to go from Oscar’s Cafe

The Long Version

Much like Moab I considered heading to St. George/Springdale area because the South West corridor of Utah has some must do hiking in the U.S. However, much like Moab, the IMG_2004living arrangements didn’t work out leaving this to be another weekend excursion. The Zion area is a four to five hour drive North West from flagstaff. There are actually two ways to get there. the direct route is North past Page and up into Utah then across. The second route is 20 minutes longer but is in my opinion the better option because you can stop at Jacob’s Lake Inn/Lodge in Jacob’s Lake. Park, walk in, go to the bakery counter to the left and ask for one of every cookie (about 14 kinds). Why? Because they are crazy good. I ate about half of them and gave the other half to people I met to make instant friends.IMG_2011

A couple hours past Jacob’s Lake is the outskirts of St. George and a right turn to the town of Springdale which harbors the main entrance to Zion. I got to the Hurrican area (30 mins East of St. George) at around 9:30pm on a Friday with the expectation of eating dinner but found that all places in this area (and Springdale) basically close at 9 except for one Mexican food place (more options if willing to drive to St. George). Keep that in mind if you drive there late and forego eating dinner in anticipation of eating a late dinner. Also, the supermarkets close at 11ish (and earlier in Springdale) so stop early to stock up on next day snacks.

Instead of driving to the rest of the way to Zion I pulled off onto Sheep Bridge Road which is a fairly well maintained dirt road that leads to open camping areas. It was hard to tell where exactly to turn off (and where my Elantra cold turn off at) but after a couple miles I bit the bullet and turned off and fortunately had enough clearance to make it into one of the small clearings beside the road that was occupied by a few campers. From previous trips I am aware that my car is not comfortable to sleep in, however, that night I made an interesting discovery. Before leaving flagstaff I borrowed a medium sized crash pad from a friend (for bouldering) which I threw in my back seat. It just so happens that with the other junk (clothes and what not) that occupied underneath the crashpad it was propped up to thw height of my backseat windows. I had also recently learned that my city-dweller-look-I-camp-walmart-sleeping-bag (rated to 50 F) was not really protective against the elements. In lue of this information I bought an actual sleeping bag (rated to 15 F). Backseat+Crashpad+sleeping bag + Pillow +roll down one window and stick my feet out equates to a pretty comfortable sleeping arrangement.


Saturday: From the random sleeping spot I was at it is a 30-minute drive to the South entrance of Zion (which is the main entrance). The main road goes through the small city of Springdale which harbors the entrance to Zion. Springdale is basically a single road city lined with places to eat, small shops, hotels and adventure companies for a couple of miles. The city lives off tourists passing through on the way to Zion so the city it is well maintained and lined with large trees that recedes into the canyon walls and river. Past Springdale the main road leads to the entrance to the park. A pass to the park costs $30IMG_2016 (for cars) and grants entry for a week. Just past the entrance on the right is the visitor center and shuttle buses. From the map (that they give after purchasing a pass) I could easily tell where I wanted to go (Angel’s Landing Trailhead), but I soon found out that you cannot drive up to the trail head, that privilege is reserved for the shuttle busses. So, I turned around and went back to the visitor, parked, hopped on the shuttle and was at the Angels Landing Trailhead 25 minutes later.

Angels Landing might be the most famous hike in Zion, therefore, I considered it a must do. Most descriptions I found online and the information provided by the park stress that this is a very strenuous and dangerous hike. The hike (roundtrip) is only a little over 4 miles but has hundreds of feet of ascent so I give it the benefit of the doubt and planned for it to take around 3-4 hours. The hike starts on a dirt road that follows the river for a couple hundred yards until turning into a steep paved trail that switches back and forth up the Canyon wall. The first set of switch backs ascents a couple hundred feet then turns into a straight path that follow a dried creek bed. This time of year the creek bed was lined with delicate trees full of vibrant red, yellow and pinks colors. The explosion of colors was an unexpected treat to say the least. IMG_2018After another hundred yards the path turns into a steeper set of switchbacks for another couple hundred of feet. At the top of this it will feel like the hike is almost over because the its less than mile to the end. However, the rest of the is slow going because the trail is steep, narrow and can get congested. The remainder of the hike is a guided by a metal chain that winds up the canyon. Some parts get very narrow with thousand foot drops off either side and some parts consist of easy rock scrambling. After a mile of up, curves and climbs I finally arrived at the peak of Angels Landing. An astounding lookout to the vast glory of Zion Canyon. The peak is actually not at the top of the Canyon, but this makes the scene more mesmerizing because I was still engulfed in the canyon while gazing at the green and brown valley that lead into the vanishing horizon. There were 20+ people also Angles Landing, but even though it is a small space it wasn’t very hard to get an unobscured viewpoint and picture. The trip back down is the same as the way up which would be simple if it wasn’t for the people coming up the trail. After waiting in lines, I started to make unadvised shortcuts to jump ahead of people. Then once at the switchback I actually found it easier (funner (not a word I know)) to run the rest of the way because of the steepness. Despite its popularity, the hike was still exciting and I definitely still consider it a must do. If you are debating doing it because of the steepness and narrowness of trail I would say go for it. I saw all types of people and I met people that claimed the be deathly afraid of heights that made it to the top. Yes some parts are narrow and yes its thousands of feet on either side, but grab the chain, take a deep breadth, look up and put one foot in front (directly in front) of the other and you’ll be at the top in no time (besides it is the way down that you should be scared of because you will staring all the way down the whole time). Only 7 people have died on the trail…IMG_2043

Angel’s Landing took me less than 2 hours so I had an unexpected abundance of time. I drive back to Springdale and ate a delicious lunch at a road side creperie café. I could have done another hike, but I wanted to check out the Bouldering scene in the area. A park guide told me that Moe’s Valley was the local hotspot for boulder. Moe’s Valley is NorthWest of St. George so it was about an hour drive to get to the first place where I got lost. There is not a paved road to actual bouldering area, rather a single dirt road that leads to more dirt road. I took my low clearance, two wheel drive a hundred yards on the dirt road until I got to a parking looking area at a split in the road. One road went steep right up a hill and the other road went slightly less steep left up a hill. I didn’t think I could make it up either way so I parked and grabbed by gear (crashpad, shoes, chalk and a red bull) to start walking. Fortuanly (or I thought), an older gentleman in a doombuggy drive driving by for some off road fun. I flagged him down and asked where the climbing area is. He directed me over the hill to the right…so I went right…up the hill…there wasIMG_2060 nothing at the top of the hill to the right…thanks sir. I followed the ridge to the left with all my junk until I got to another parking lot and another split in the road. I chose poorly again. After two miles of walking up and down the valley (which I guess was Moe’s) I finally found boulders slapped with white chalk (actually not that hard to find if you know where to look). By this time the sun was starting to set so I climbed by myself for less than an hour. There are a wide variety of routes and problems, but I stuck to a couple of routes to fail at. Except for a couple of people on motorcycles I didn’t see any other until I was about to leave. The sun past the horizon before three people walked past me from further up in the Valley…turns out there is better bouldering further up the Valley.

After the trek back to my car I drove into downtown St, George for dinner (kind of hard to find downtown St. George on the map). I went to local restaurant that was popular and had a decent dinner at their bar (too long of a wait for a table). During small talk with the couple next to me I learned about the interesting alcohol laws in Utah (and this is the only reason I am still talking about dinner in St. George). Visitors to Utah be aware that restaurants cannot sell a alcoholic drink by itself, one must order food as well (so there is no getting a drink at the bar while I wait for my table). Beers on tap can only have a max of 3% alcohol, really strict on drinking and driving (like one drink max) and a bunch of other rules on when and where alcohol can be sold (just look them up). Utah, great for sober adventures. Equipped with this information I carefully drove back to the Zion visitor center (being two beers in, more than normal because my college football lost). I scouted Zion’s visitor center parking lot earlier and it seemed suitable for car camping so I parked near the back of the lot and set up my backseat bed for the night.

Sunday: I woke up at 7am the next morning to catch the first shuttle to my next hike, the Narrows. I thought I was waking up at 6am because I set my alarm for 7am then put it on airplane mode thinking it wouldn’t observe daylight savings (by the way this was daylight saving eve), but its smarter than I thought. I woke up at 7 and it was 7 and the first shuttle was at 7 so I didn’t make that one (they run every 20 minutes so not that big of a deal). I got on the shuttle shortly after 7 and rode it through Zion to the last stop, the Narrows. The Narrows is another very well-known hike and again I think it is a must do for Zion. What makes this hike different is that it completely in water. You basically follow the river that flows through Zion Canyon as it twists and turn through wide and small alleys of the Canyons. There are two options for this hike, the top down and the bottom up. The top down is a one-way hike that starts higher up in the Canyons and ends where I started. It is a two day hike where hikers camp at campsites in the Canyon. This route takes some pre-planning for reservations and permits but I wish I had done the pre-planned once I finished my hike, the Bottom-up hike. This hike is basically an out and back where people can hike upriver as far as the Top-Down campsite (although most people turn around well before this). I usually do not do any prep for these popular hikes but being November the water temperatures were in the 40s and I am a pansy when it comes to being cold. So the previous day I went to Zion Adventure Company and rented their Narrows hiking kit (water hiking boots, neoprene socks, dry pants and a walking stick) for $40.

IMG_2068I actually started the hike two other people that I met on the shuttle. The three of us stepped into the water and braced ourselves for the cold water to fill our socks. After the initial chill, we started the journey upstream. The hike is gorgeous. The river twists and turns through the red-brown sandstone walls that tower thousands of feet. The water alternated between a gentle flow and a powerful rush as we trudged through. Wide straightaways would morph into 20ft wide alleyways. I hiked with the two companions for a couple miles as a pace slower than I desired so I jumped at the opportunity when another solo hiker went flying by. Its was awkward ditching my new hiking companions but I’m sure they understood…(it was more awkward when we crossed paths later in the hike, ‘Oh hey, ya I don’t know what happened I turned a corner and you guys were gone when I looked back’). A couple miles into the hike there is a slot canyon that splits off to the right. This route goes for a couple miles over a few small waterfalls. We hiked until we reached a 6-foot waterfall that we were not able to climb over. We could have made itIMG_2098 over with some more effort but we also knew this was technically the park mandated turn around point (back country permit required for hiking further). We scrambled back up the main canyon for miles until reached the campsites. It was a lot of fun scrambling over rocks and trying to find the routes that save us from having to go for a swim (the deepest we had to walk through was about waist high). If our rental equipment didn’t have to be turned in by 6 pm we would have kept going up the Canyon, but we decided to head back. I usually find the backs of the out and backs are boring as I retrace my steps but this felt like a completely new hike. It was around 4pm when we got back to the start which was now crowded with people staring down the Narrows. In total the hike was 21 miles over a 7-hour period.IMG_2138

After returning the hiking equipment I decided to stay one extra night before returning home because my hiking companion and I were lucky enough to get a camping spot in Zion ($20 per night). Pro tip: there are a couple of camp areas in Zion. One is first come first serve that usually fills up before 10 am. The second campsite is by reservation that fill up months in advance. However, people cancel regularly so you can usually get one of these cancelled slots like we did. A night of relaxing, drinking and eating (and hot tubing but I’m not giving that secret away) in Zion was the perfect way to cap off this amazing weekend.


Moab, Utah

The Short Version

  • Six hour Drive from Flagstaff to Moab
  • Slept at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park (3 mile round trip hike)
  • Primitive Loop Hike (8 mile) at Devils Garden in Arches National Park
  • Drive to Double Arch,  Balanced Rock, Fiery Furnace Viewpoint, Parade of Elephants
  • Bouldering at Big Bend Bouldering Area
  • Moab Brewery
  • Slept at Mesa Arch Trail-head in Canyonlands National Park
  • Dead Horse Point State Park
  • Peace Tree Cafe for Lunch

The Long Version

Before moving to Flagstaff I tried to move to Moab, Utah. Many people I met in Boulder and Chicago recommended Moab over St. George and even Flagstaff when I posed them with the question of where to go. Boasting a tagline like “With cosmic hiking, biking, climbing, jeeping and whitewater rafting all within a breakfast burrito’s bike ride, Moab is nucleus to various breeds of outdoorists” on the city’s website it seems like a no brainer. Unfortunately, due to my procrastination the living situation didn’t work out so of course the first week after moving to Flagstaff I had to make a weekend trip 6 hours up the road to Moab (with minimal planning).

Friday, October 13th: Moab is located in the canyon country on the eastern side of Utah and is basically desert all the way down to Arizona. This made the drive from Flagstaff pretty straightforward. Not many cars accompanied me on the two lane highway and I had cell service about half of the drive. Starting with a full tank of gas is not necessarily required but not a bad idea for piece of mind as some stretches are pretty desolate. A hundred miles or so of the drive is ‘open range’ which for those ignorant like me mean that livestock can roam freely in these areas, roads included (pro tip, hit a cow or horse in an open range area means you will pay for your car repairs and damages to the cow or horse). About 4 hours into the 6 hour drive (right before getting to Monticello) I pulled onto off onto a random side street and stopped at a dirt road leading into the desert. I channeled by inner Aron Ralston and starting running into the desert for a little exercise. The dirt road quickly turned into a dirt trail (then into a dirt riverbed?). This might sound stupid but it really wasn’t that dramatic (it was only 75 degrees or so, summer might have been a different story). I ran 3 miles into the desert following the base of ridge line taking in the barren scenery then turned around and followed my steps out. I would say there is nothing wrong with anyone looking to get a little run in around this area to do the same. Pull over anywhere and start running, you might find something you’ve never seen before…like this guy…IMG_1667

Moab is a small city surrounded by massive red canyon walls. There is basically one main street lined with restaurants and stores. The food and drink scene is worth checking out if time permits but i’d say that it should be far from the priority when traveling to Moab. Once I reached the city I grabbed an un-noteworthy dinner and headed to the Village Market to stock up on bananas and trail mix.

With only a couple days to spend and a lot of things to see I decided capitalize my time by spending the night in Arches National Park (45 minutes from downtown Moab) so I could immediately start hiking in the morning. If I am going to sleep in the park might as well sleep at the most iconic arch in the park, so that where I headed (time check: 10pm). The park if pretty straighforward, one paved road that cut through the park with a couple of side road leading to other arches landmarks. The park is open 24 hours on Friday and Saturday (closes at 7 on the other days) and apparently is free if you go late enough (not sure after when its free, but i got there after 10pm). Delicate Arch is the most popular arch in the park and was my destination for the night. A 15 minute drive through the park led me to delicate arch trail-head and parking lot. The trail to the arch is about 1.5 miles with slight climbs, pretty easy effort wise, however, with a lone headlamp I learned its not straight forward to navigate at night. A obvious path leads into a somewhat obvious path with leads into an open ascent up some a slick rock formation. This is where I started wondering the first time. I basically kept walking ‘up’ and made sure not walk off a cliff (didn’t know if there were cliffs to walk off or not…). Fortunately, there were multiple pairs of people walking back from the arch (on the real path) so I could act as a fly and meander towards the lights in the horizon. In essence,  for 45 minutes I would walk in a direction until i saw someones flashlight in another direction then I would walk in that new direction until they passed and i would start the process over. The ‘path’ picks back up a couple hundred yards from the Arch (and this was the first time I saw Cairns, wished they showed up earlier…). I was the only person at the arch when I finally reached it (ran into it more like). The arch is on an elevated ridge but I wasn’t sure high elevated. High enough that my flashlight would not reveal the bottom which makes finding a place to sleep more interesting. I found a cubby between a one of the rock faces and a boulder which blocked half of the wind (and it was very windy). This location was not entirely flat and the slick material of my sleeping bag made me question the decision but I jammed myself beside the rock so only my legs would slide. I ‘sleep’ for a couple hours before the sliding woke me up. I relocated to a flat spot between two rock faces where I ‘slept’ for a couple hours before being turned into a Popsicle because it was basically a wind tunnel. Decided sliding is better than hypothermia and went back to my cubby. Dawn finally came after hours of intermittent sleep to revealed the surrounding landscape that had eluded me during the night.

Delicate Arch

Even though I could have technically fallen off the ridge during the night, gotten lost on the hike and was very cold throughout the night I was never really in any danger. Seeing millions of stars speckled throughout the Milkyway above one of the most famous arches
in the world that I had all to myself was well worth the risks.

Saturday, October 14th: After watching dawn chase the stars away and coat the coat the everything in a reddish-yellow hue I hiked backed to my car and drove to the end of the park which is named Devils Garden (the hike back was much easier during the day). Devil’s Garden has two hiking routes: a short hike that goes to various arch observation points and a longer 7 mile loop that traverses some of the surrounding canyons before meeting back with the shorter trail (the longer trail is called the Primitive Loop, it is called a strenuous Landscape Archhike but is really not bad). Pro-tip if you do the primitive hike, go right when the main trail splits between the the primitive loop and the landscape arch lookout (picture). Most people would say this is dong the loop backwards but doing it this way you get the monotonous desert part of the trail done first and save the scrambling, arches and lookouts for the end.

Apart from the primitive loop hike and delicate arch hike the majority of park’s highlights can be hit via a driving tour. I would recommend seeing double arch (picture), balanced rock, Fiery Furnace Viewpoint, Parade of Elephants and whatever else catches your attention during the drive.IMG_1801

Another un-noteworthy meal in Moab (although the Polygamy Porter from Salt Lake based Wasatch Brewery is pretty good).

This area is home to world class mountain biking, canyoning, trad climbing, jeeping and rafting. If i had more time ( or more so conducted more planning) I would have partaken in some of these activities, but i settled for checking out the bouldering scene. One of the main bouldering areas is the Big Bend Bouldering Area across the street from the Big Bend Campground on River Road. A 15 minute drive from Moab will lead to this boulder field with 50+ problems ranging from V1 to V11 right next to beautiful red rock canyon walls. There were 6 or so people bouldering when I got there and they were more than willing to introduce me to some problems when I revealed I had never been there before (or even bouldered outside). I Had a blast playing on the rocks for hours until it was dark (even though I royally sprained my knee on a awkward heel hook. One pop is bad, so two pops must be worse). After I left people were still bouldering with flashlights and headlamps.

There is one micro brewery in Moab (amply named Moab Brewery) which is where I ended up for dinner.  It seems to be a popular spot and is overly crowded most of the time but is worth checking out (more so for the beer than the food). It is located conveniently next to the grocery store I stocked up on trail mix the previous night so i did the same in preparation of sleeping at a Arch round two.

Apart from Arches National Park there is Canyonlands and Dead Horse national park located near Moab and are in close proximity to each other. There are an extensive amount of hiking routes and points of interest in Canyonlands but one of the more popular spots is Mesa Arch. Since I didn’t have a lot of time for hours of hiking on Sunday I decided to sleep at Mesa Arch then head to Dead Horse in the morning. The drive to the arch trail is simple and the trail itself is less than half a mile but it was close to freezing when I got there. I Decided my 50 degree rated sleeping bag wouldn’t fair as well as it had the previous night and so I stayed cuddle up in my car for the night.

Sunday October 15th: With my sprained knee and the near freeing morning temperature I didn’t get up to see the sunrise over the Arch as intended, but I made the easy half a mile hike shortly thereafter. A red glow was still cast on the arch but it would IMG_1829have been much more owe inspiring if I was there earlier. The arch was not as big as I expected, but it was still magnificent in the sense that in that it was an overlooking window to miles of canyon landscape.

From the Arch I drove 20 minutes to Dead Horse Point State Park (NOT Dead Horse Ranch State Park) which is back towards Moab. The park is open 6am-10pm and costs $15 per vehicle.  I planned to do the 5.2 mile Dead Horse Loop Trail that is a rim trail along the Colorado (an abundance of mountain bike trails that go into and around the Canyon for those looking for mountain biking). However, my sprained knee was not having any of that. Instead I followed the paved road to the end of the park which is where Dead Horse Point Lookout is located. This is not a hike so it is well suited for travelers looking for an easy spectacular view. It is a park and walk over the lookout. There is a short wall at the main lookout area, but one can easily hop over this to sit on the rim of the Canyon. This was most likely best landscape lookout that I encountered during this trip.


Dead Horse was my last planned stop. If I was physically able and time had permitted I would have tagged on some nearby hikes such as Chesler Park Loop Trail (Canyon Lands) or the Fiery Furnace Hike (Arches). I settled for one last meal in Moab  at a place called Peace Tree Cafe, which turned out to be the only noteworthy meal I had in Moab. Their quinoa scramble was delicious. Saved the best for last I suppose.

Moab is fun area and undoubtedly worth a visit. However, I am glad I did not end up living there. From my perspective it is a well suited for weekend trips or longer vacations, but not ideal if you have to work during the daytime when all the exciting outdoor activities occur.