Capitol Reef National Park

The first stop on our National Park road trip from SLC back to home in AZ was Capitol Reef.  We knew this was one of the smaller of Utah’s Mighty 5 but we were excited to cross another park off the list.  Although we are normally camping people, we knew it wasn’t going to be feasible since this was at the end of a month long vacation.  Packing our camping gear in addition to our regular vacation clothes and gear was just too much.  So we found Capitol Reef Resort, which has been recently renovated.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because the reviews were mixed but it was so worth it!!  We had a room in the back with red rock views.  The view was incredible.  There was a cow pasture right outside our room too and of course, the girls loved that!!  Dad and I were enthralled with the view while the girls could have watched the cows for hours.

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During our day at Capitol Reef, we:

*hiked the Fremont River Trail.  The trail started out kind of slow.  We could hear the river but not see it and the trail took us right through a campground.  I was not impressed and wondering who picked this hike (because surely if it was me, dad wasn’t going to let me live it down!).  But then it opened up. And boy did it!  There was a good bit of an incline, great sweeping views.  It ended being about 1.5 miles roundtrip and the 4.5 year old managed it like a champ….just a bit of stumbling on the way down due to loose rocks and tired legs but she made it in one piece!

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*ate ice cream and pie at the Gifford House. Ice Cream was the treat after completing our hike and we tried all 3 flavors.  Strawberry was the best!  If you want to try the pie, buy it early!  We were there first thing in the morning and the cases were full of cinnamon rolls and all flavors of pies!  We only grabbed coffee during that visit.  We went back in the early evening to grab pie before going to the hotel.  There was still pie left but at that point, you get what you get and you don’t complain.  There were maybe 5 pies total, we got an apple.  We actually ended up eating the pie for breakfast the next morning…in the truck, on the way to our next stop.  Pie isn’t very good car food.  But the pie itself was delicious!  Great flaky crust, sweet apple filling, and crumbles on top.  But we recommend eating it while stationary.

*went to a Jr Ranger program at the Nature Center. As a requirement for getting her Jr. Ranger badge, A has to go to one ranger led program.  We were luckily enough to have a kids program that fit perfectly into our schedule.  We went to one about the Capitol Reef Ecosystem, held by Cinamin at the Ripple Creek Nature Center.  The program was interactive and informative, A really got into it and afterwards, kept referencing back to things she learned there.  The Nature Center itself was really fun too and had a ton of hands on stuff for the kids to do.

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*drove the scenic drive.  This was our naptime activity.  While the girls napped, mom and dad ooh’ed and aah’ed over the scenery.  It was truly spectacular.  I am in constant awe of the world around us.  We recommend (if you have a high clearance, 4 wheel drive) taking any and all off-roads that you come across.  We were there after some big storms so there were a few of the dirt roads that were still closed but we went down most and found some awesome spots.

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We had a great visit at Capitol Reef and if you are ever in the area, DO NOT PASS it up!!  The only thing I was looking forward to but unable to do was picking fruit in the orchards.  Unfortunately, we happened to be there on an off day when there was no ripe fruit to be picked.  I guess that just means we’ll have to make another trip 🙂

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Extended Vacay

I’m about to embark on a month long vacation with the two girls. We are headed to visit my family in Illinois for two weeks. Then we go straight to Salt Lake City to visit dad’s family for a week (and dad will meet us there). The last week of our vacation will be a road trip back home to Arizona. We’re hitting 3 of the Mighty 5 UT National Parks…more on that later!

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I am super excited about our vacation and hopefully the most stressful part (packing and prepping to be gone a month!) is already over!

Grand Canyon

Last spring, we crossed the Grand Canyon National Park off of our bucket list.  We went in mid May.  The daytime weather was perfect for hiking but it got pretty cold at night.  We tent camp and weren’t using air mattresses so we were freezing at night!  Our last morning, we woke to SNOW! In ARIZONA!  We knew in theory that it snowed in AZ but since we’re in southern part of that state, we don’t see it.  It was fun for the girls but a pain trying to get everything packed up.

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We camped in Mather Campground inside the park.  It was a great campground!  We were able to get a site near the potty which was important with A.  Really big campsites with picnic table and fire rings.  The best part?  The wildlife came to us!  There were deer and elk literally walking right through our camp.  The girls and I were amazed.  Dad was less than thrilled as he is a hunter and felt they were taunting him!

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The visitor center is huge with an awesome map of the Canyon spanning the wall.  They have short movies to watch and exhibits with various Canyon features.  We started off our hiking by doing the rim trail to Mather Point that is right off the visitor center.  It’s a short walk but gives you a great first look at the Canyon.  Our big hike this trip was The Bright Angel Trail.  We went as far as the 1.5 mile resthouse (3 miles roundtrip, 1120 ft one way elevation change).  Both girls were in backpack carriers.  The way down, you feel great…like you could go the whole way!  Dad wanted to keep going but I put the kibosh on that and after our snack/potty break, suggested we head back up.  Good thing too because you really feel that elevation change on the way back up…our calves were killing us.  But we made it!

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We also did the Desert View scenic drive.  There were a lot of scenic pullouts on this drive, mostly just ‘side of the road stuff’ and not many small trails to take but that’s because the road is literally on the edge of the canyon.  We went to a museum of ruins that is on this drive and it gave a nice break to get out of the car, run around, and of course, see the ruins! The drive ends at the Desert View Watchtower which you can climb for a top view of the canyon  (this is also a visitor center and snack shop now).

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We loved our visit to the Grand Canyon and there are just no words to describe how you feel looking over it for the first time.  It is truly one of the wonders of the world and I am so glad we were able to experience it and show it to our children!

Look for our next National Parks posts in August…we’re visiting 3 Utah parks in July!!

Saguaro National Park

Most people have a life bucket list or a travel bucket list.  While there are plenty of places in the world that we would love to visit, there are so many amazing places right here in the United States!  Our travel bucket list is to visit all of our National Parks.  We started before we had kids and we are continuing with them….they love hiking and camping too!  There are 59 National Parks and so far, we have been to about 10 with 3 more planned this summer.  We are chipping away at that list.

Our most recent trip was in March.  We visited Saguaro National Park near Tucson AZ for my 30th birthday trip.  I consider myself a mountain, forest kind of girl so I was not expecting to love Saguaro as much as I did.  It just proves that there is beauty in everything.

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For this trip, we stayed in the Tucson Mountain District of the park (there are 2 sides to this park, separated by the city of Tucson).  Technically, there is no camping IN the park but we stayed at the Gilbert Ray Campground which is minutes from the park visitor center.  The campsites are a good size but it should be noted that they are surrounded by cacti. Obviously, I should have been expecting that since we were in a CACTUS park but I just didn’t think of it.  We strategically placed our coolers around the edges of our site to keep the kids from accidentally running or falling into a cactus.  Mom was the only one who got stuck this trip.

The Red Hills Visitor Center was a really awesome place to visit.  They have a few museum type attractions, including a mini desert habitat and cactus ‘bones’.  There is also a walking trail around the visitor center that was really great to get the kids used to walking a lot and give them an overview of the different cacti and wildlife.

One of our favorite way to explore the National Parks with kiddos is doing scenic drives with small trails sprinkled throughout.  At Saguaro, we did the West Bajada Loop drive.  We got out and did the Signal Hill Trail to see the petroglyphs and had a picnic in what the girls dubbed “a three little pigs house”.   We did one longer hike that we believe was “Panther Peak Wash” but it wasn’t marked so we aren’t 100% sure (the really huge cacti in the pictures above were on this trail).  This was A’s first long hike by herself (not being carried in a backpack like K) and she did awesome!  We did about 2 miles roundtrip.

Other places we visited this trip and highly recommend were:

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum: They had a great program where the kids get a booklet to collect animal track stamps throughout the museum (it is more like a zoo with live animals) and if they complete it, they get a Nature Tracker Badge at the end.

Trail Dust Town: An old west kind of town. GREAT steakhouse. Gold Panning. A few small rides. Stunt show. It is free to get in and most attractions are free as well.  [Old Tucson is a similar type place that is closer to the Nat’l Park but it is pretty expensive to get in and then all attractions are extra.]

Hiking and camping with kids is definitely different than it was pre-kids but we don’t let it stop us and you shouldn’t either!