6 min read

Family Road Trip 2021

Family Road Trip 2021

I had to be in Las Vegas for work for a few weeks. Since I was planning to drive anyways, we decided to make a road trip out of it and visit several National Parks along the way and finishing the trip off with a couple of nights in Vegas.

Day 1: Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Ouray, CO

The first day of our trip started with a hefty drive from Denver to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This was a pretty hefty drive for remaining in the state of Colorado. We were not helped by construction on the desired route, which we planned to avoid but added probably 45 minutes to the drive (would have been many additional hours if we had gone through the construction). The boys did amazing in the car and after a quick stop in Grand Junction, we were off the Interstate for a few days.

Once we arrived at the park, we just did two short hikes and bummed around the visitor center for a while. The first hike was the Devil's Lookout while the second was the quintessential Painted Wall View.  Both were really short and could barely be considered hikes, but they both gave us a chance to get out of the car and stretch our legs a bit. The view at the Painted Wall was as spectacular as expected being the tallest cliff in all of Colorado.

After visiting the park, we made the short drive (comparatively) to our camping spot outside Ouray before unhooking the trailer and heading into town for dinner. In town, the kids spent a fair amount of time at the fish pond near the hot springs where an extremely nice gentleman gave them food to feed the fish with. We also spent some time at the local playground before treating ourselves to a rooftop dinner at the Ouray Brewery in full view of a waterfall off the cliffs above town. After that, it was back to the campsite to fall asleep next to the roaring Dexter Creek.

Day 2: Moab and Canyonlands NP

On day 2, we packed up camp and headed out to Telluride for breakfast. Wifey needed to confirm whether the streets were paved with gold or not. After a tasty meal at The Butcher and The Baker, we were off to Moab! While close on the map, the winding roads from Telluride to Moab made for a full morning drive. Our first stop was to drop off the trailer at our campsite in the Behind the Rocks off-road and have snacks before cruising through town to Canyonlands NP.

Canyonlands is huge and there was no way we would have enough time to see all of the park. After stopping at the Visitor Center for my requisite sticker and patch, we decided that we would do two major things in the park: the Grand View Overlook hike (2 miles RT) and the Shafer Trail through Potash back to the Moab. I really wanted to see Potash due to the linked YouTube video I had recently watched.

It's a lot further down than it looks...

What we found out (but really already knew) on this day was that Wifey is very afraid of heights and sheer drops. The Grand View hike is mostly along the edge of 2 huge canyons (who would have thunk it) and she was extremely nervous about anyone getting within 50ft of the edge. All said, though, it was a great hike, and considering the heat, maybe one of the most difficult hikes the kids have completed (though in the coming days, they probably top this).

This is already about 2/3 down from the canyon top, with the rest of the road ahead

After the hike, we tackled Shafer Trail, a 4x4 road back to Moab. Although most of the trail is pretty tame, the initial several thousand-foot drop into the canyon was a bit more than Wifey was ready to handle and it was a dicey (and emotional) trip down. After that though, it was a beautiful (and bumpy) ride back to town where we stopped for pizza before heady back to our campsite. It was already late, so we got ready for bed and hopped right into the tent.

It was HOT!

Day 3: Arches NP

We had originally planned to do Arches on this day following by drive-throughs of Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon but a late morning start, lines at Arches, lunch challenge, and the time vacuum that are kids, we simply didn't have time for all that. So we opted to just focus on Arches and then make our way towards Zion NP for day 4.

The beginning of the late start

Once we were packed up and ready to go, we headed into Arches. The park was as busy as we expected which meant no parking at the areas we had planned to visit. So, Wifey found a "great for kids" spot at Sand Dune Arch and that turned out to be absolutely true. On my previous trip to Arches, I had not stopped here, so it was a welcome new find. The arc is cool, as they all are, but the real treat was the acre-sized shaded sandbox that accompanies the arch. The kids played (and threw, and rolled) in the sand for over an hour before we finally convinced them it was time to get back in the car. Lots of other families around and opportunities for climbing and exploring made this the perfect stop.

So...Much...SAND! - Everywhere

After that, it was time for the long haul across the rest of Utah to our campsite near Zion. By the time we stopped for gas and breaks and got dinner, it was already late. It was clear we had made the right decision to skip the other parks. The place we had chosen to camp though was obviously popular as I snagged one of the last areas that were available. Luckily it was only about 5 minutes away from where we ate dinner so I was able to go set up the tent while we waited for a table.

Campsite behind the little guy down the road

Day 4: Zion --> Vegas

We woke early on this day to beat the traffic into Zion. We were entering from the east and going through the tunnel, which was quite an exciting drive considering the tunnel has no lights! We did indeed beat the traffic but did not beat the parking lot crowd and could not find a parking spot for the trailer (turns out we just missed the sign and probably could have gotten a spot). So we had to continue into Springdale to park, where I was rewarded with a parking ticket.

That was not going to ruin our day; neither was the unexpected requirement for masks on the tram (they were left in the car). 2 or 3 hours after we had planned to be hiking, we were finally off the tram at The Narrows. We had planned to do the 2.2 mile Riverside Walk which is all paved just to see the river and then head back. But once we got to the end, where The Narrows starts, the kids wanted to get in the water. The Narrow is a "hike" through and in the river.  We hiked another half mile upriver with the kids and they did amazingly. We probably hiked a total of 3 miles (a third of that in water) making this the new longest and most difficult hike the kids have tackled to date. It was a perfect day.

After completing the hike, it was back to the car for the drive to Vegas, showers, and pools for the remainder of the trip.

Upon checking in, we also had our first lost tooth event...in the lobby!  Luckily we found the tooth. What was crazy was that apparently the tooth fairy sources her materials locally and the little guy got casino chips under his pillow.

This was an amazing trip to take the family on and we got to mix camping, hiking, and the luxuries of the Vegas strip all into one trip. I hope we get to have many more adventures like this!