One of my favorite hikes turned out to be a total mistake! While we camped near Bryce Canyon, we took a day to venture over to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. A few people suggested a hike to Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Gulch Slot canyons. We really didn’t know what to expect other than it was far from civilization and we could expect no crowds. If you know me – if there is a mention of ‘no crowds’ I am all in, I really don’t care what it is. No crowds. Open spaces. I’m already having a good day before I get there.

Our internet was pretty spotty and we didn’t get good information on the canyons or details of what to expect, so we went in a little blindly. I’m including lots of pictures in this post in case someone else journeys out there. We drove into the town of Escalante (super cute) and stopped at a gas station to ask a few details. All we really got was head down Hole-in-the-Rock Road and turn off on Dry Fork Road. With pretty much only that we headed south….down Hole-in-the-Rock road.

4.16Escalante-01Nothing but bike trails and a dirt road. I was getting giddy at the sight of nothingness in regards to modern civilization. It is about 26 miles to the Dry Fork Turnoff. I would recommend watching your mileage when you begin down the road. We didn’t and started to get worried we missed the turn-off.

4.16Escalante-03There is a parking area shortly after the turn-off. The sign stating that high clearance vehicles can keep going down the dirt path was knocked down. So, we walked 1.7 miles just to get to the trailhead. If you have a high clearance vehicle and the road is dry, I would keep driving it will save you a long walk!4.16Escalante-02Eventually we made it to the trailhead and the second parking area.4.16Escalante-04Overlooking where we were about to hike to…there are 3 slot canyons down there. It is really hard to see them if you don’t know what you are looking for.4.16Escalante-05The trail is marked by cairns. There are no signs telling you which way to go. My kids loved trying to be the first to spot the next cairn.4.16Escalante-06There is a bit of a hike down to the slot canyons. It was not difficult for us, but if you aren’t a fan of climbing down and back up, it could be a bit much.4.16Escalante-074.16Escalante-08Before we reached the canyons, we came upon the canyon log. The kids had fun leaving their names and messages documenting their adventure.4.16Escalante-09This is the entrance to the Dry Fork Narrows. We thought we were entering Peek-a-Boo canyon, but didn’t learn we were in the wrong canyon until later in the day! I’m glad we didn’t know because it turned out to be the perfect hike for our crew.4.16Escalante-11Climbing, jumping, exploring, being on an adventure is encouraged and we took that to heart.4.16Escalante-134.16Escalante-154.16Escalante-16There was some rain the day before, so the canyon had a few shallow pools of water. My favorite part of the hike was listening to the kids squeal and laugh as they went through the cold water. I used my mad wall scaling skills to avoid getting wet.4.16Escalante-184.16Escalante-20The Dry Fork Narrows is the longest of the canyons. Once we came out of the canyon we took some shade shelter (following foot trails) for a snack and to take in the beauty of our surroundings. It was spectacular! Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Gulch can be hiked in a loop. Since we thought we had just come out of Peek-A-Boo canyon, we began our hike looking for the entrance to Spooky Gulch.4.16Escalante-21On the trail headed back towards the trailhead we met up with two fellow hikers. They had a MAP! We then learned we had been hiking in the ‘wrong’ canyon. Chris snapped a photo of their map. It isn’t the best quality, but I am including it here for those of you that venture to the canyons.

DryForkTrailheadMapYou can see in the image below the Dry Fork trail is much longer than the other two. It was so perfect for us though. The kids could climb and our youngest ones could easily keep up too. We’d like to try the other two someday.DryForkTrailheadMap2The photo on the right is the entrance to Peek-A-Boo canyon. We walked over and climbed up the 12 foot entrance. We thought we would go ahead and do this hike too, but once we got inside the canyon was pretty full of water. The boys would have enjoyed it, but the water was too cold for the girls..and me!4.16Escalante-22Back at the trailhead. Chris made the 1.7 mile journey back to get the car we the rest of us waited…a little beat, but pretty grateful for an amazing day.4.16Escalante-24If you plan on heading out there, it took us a several hours. I’d plan a full day, so you can take your time and really enjoy it all. We went back to Escalante and ate at Nemos Drive-Thru (great peanut butter shake!). The burgers and fries were very welcomed by my hungry crew of hikers. If I had to choose between Antelope Canyon and these canyons, I would choose these…but I like more strenuous hikes and less people. If you are looking for an easier way to experience a picturesque canyon without strenuous hiking, I would recommend Antelope canyon.

Now I just need to get back…and camp out in a tent in Grand-Staircase Escalante and hike Peek-A-Boo!

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  • Megan - I am so enjoying seeing all of these neat places through your photos! I have always wanted to travel to UT. Thank you for sharing. May I ask what lens you are using for these?

  • Annette - If you like middle of nowhere and no crowds, then you definitely need to come back and check out Great Basin National Park, too. :)

  • Joan j - I love following along with you as you explore these amazing places! My husband and I went to many of these places 12 years ago when I was pregnant with our firstborn. Now, our family has grown to six and we dream of going back there to camp and hike. Would you mind sharing camping meal ideas and tips? We usually camp local/semi local but have never attempted anything more than a week. Any tips would be greatly appreciated! Enjoy the rest of your vacation with your family!

  • Abbi Hearne - I AM SO GLAD I FOUND YOU!! I love following blogs, and I love going on adventures (Utah is our favorite!) but I’ve never found someone with a blog style that I like that goes on adventures like this! And you bring kids! And a dog! I swear you are my blog soul-mate. My husband and I don’t have kids yet, but we are professional photographers and we spend a huge percentage of our year traveling around the western US with our dog Charlie, taking photos, hiking, climbing, and making friends. It’s a wonderful life and I often dream of how we’ll continue to adventure when we do have kids. Your blog is totally changing my perception of that! Taking them on strenuous hikes in random public lands…this is my dream!! Thank you for sharing everything in such a great detail. I feel like I am learning SO much from you!

    Also, this hike looks amazing! We’re going to have to add this to our list!

  • AshleyAnn - Megan – I used my 28mm, 50mm and 85mm. I hike with a little camera backpack, so I can change out lenses. I am going to write a post later this week with a few more details on that :)

  • AshleyAnn - Joan – I am going to do a road trip post later this week with answers to questions as on Instagram (like what do we do for meals!).

  • courtney - i’m LOVING following your trip!! making notes for a trip we’ll hopefully take one day with our 6 kids…

    I came here to comment and ask about how you carry your camera with you, etc…but see that it’s been asked and you plan on blogging about it :-) awesome! can’t wait to see and hear more! keep having FUN!

  • Natasha - I think your kids would enjoy Geocaching. Electronic treasure hunting with a gps ((with maps) to places you didn’t know you want to go to.

  • Carrie - Ashley, thank you again for sharing your adventures with your readers. :) It’s such a gift to your family that you take these trips and that everyone can join in together in the hiking, rock climbing, water dipping. You are making memories. Such a blessing!!

  • Kelly J. R. - Also in the same area (as you head south out of Escalante and into Grand-Staircase) are 2 other slots I would recommend where we were the only ones there:

    Willis Creek – A non-technical slot with no climbing required. You also don’t need to get your feet wet but there is a shallow creek running through the whole canyon. You can easily jump over it. There’s a nice narrows in this canyon that you can get to with very little effort. A good hike for kids. You don’t need 4-wheel drive to get to the trailhead. A bit farther down the road is Bull Valley Gorge slot canyon. This one seemed really cool but we were there as daylight was fading and got turned around by some deep pools. The trailhead is at the top of a very deep and narrow section of the canyon. It’s crazy to look down into the dark abyss. You have to hike up-canyon along the rim to get to a point where the crack starts and you can drop in.

    Round Valley Draw (a bit more technical) – Oh my gosh, this slot is AMAZING! We had to park our car about 1.5 miles from the slot because of a deep, dry creek bed that we didn’t have enough clearance to get across. So worth the extra hike! You hike down a dry wash and come to an incredible crack in the earth that you have to chimney down about 10′. This canyon is nice to go into with another person so you can assist each other on the obstacles. Once you get into the crack you are immediately in a very narrow section and it stays that way for quite a long time before opening up.

  • Friday Favorites | Cupcakes and Commentary - […] Wonderful hikes and sites at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. […]

  • Laura Kyle - Last spring we did EXACTLY the same adventure!! The 26 mile road was very bumpy with washboard and we were able to drive all the way into the trail head with our high clearance vehicle, but it was exciting!!! We made the same mistake, exploring Dry Fork instead of Peekaboo, but were thankful we did! I felt like saying #ditto quite a few times while reading this post!! LOVED it there, favorite adventure of all time.

From Zion National Park, we headed to Bryce Canyon National Park. I really had no idea what to expect. We added it to the list because it was on our way to Canyonlands and Arches. We arrived on a cloudy, cold evening and went straight to Sunrise Point.

4.16ZBryce-01

Unbelievable. Hoodoos. Thousands of hoodoos. Though hoodoos (rock pillars formed from erosion) are found all over the world, the largest collection stands in Bryce Canyon. I had never seen anything like it.4.16ZBryce-02We didn’t have a lot of time to explore in the area, so we only chose one trail hike. The rangers (and everyone else) recommended the Queen’s Garden trail. It is about 3 miles round trip, so not too bad. Seeing the Amphitheater from above is totally different than walking among the hoodoos. It felt like some kind of strange movie set.4.16ZBryce-034.16ZBryce-044.16ZBryce-09This will be their album cover…4.16ZBryce-074.16ZBryce-064.16ZBryce-054.16ZBryce-114.16ZBryce-08There are countless other trails in and around the canyon. We took the rim trail for a little bit, but not all the way. If you are in the area, it is worth your stop. I’d recommend making time for the Queen’s Garden trail. There are also several ranger-led astronomy tours, but we were unable to make one of those. The backcountry hiking in the park looks incredible too…so many things to do at all of these parks!

Our visit was relatively brief, anyone else have any tips for Bryce Canyon National Park?

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  • Ujjaini - This is my best canyon so far. The astronomy trail is magnificent. I hope myself to be back there sometime. The old myth says, the coyotes come out at nights and the rangers tell you stories when you stop. Its fantastic!

    http://www.myhappynook.com

  • Mary - You are on my dream road trip! I have driven briefly through some of this with my best friend but I have dreamed of coming back and exploring more, with more time and with my family. I would love to know where you stayed along the way.

  • Diana - I LOVE all your travel posts! I’ve added many places to my “I want to go there” Pinterest board because of your posts. And they remind me of family camping trips we took when I was growing up.

After a short few days in Arizona, we headed north to Utah. We began our Utah journeys in Zion National Park. Did you know that the National Park Service currently offers a 4th grade pass (A Kid In Every Park)? Right now it is good until August 2016. I am not sure if will be continued for the 2106-2017 school year. The pass allows for a 4th grader and their family (or a certain number of people with them) into most national parks for free. We have been using it at every stop and telling our 4th grader he is the most valuable family member on this road trip.

4.16Zion-014.16Zion-034.16Zion-04Zion has a rugged gorgeousness about it. There were so many different hike options, but we kept ours pretty short. With our kids we can usually do one long hike (4+ miles) or several short ones in a day. We opted for several in the 1-2 mile range at Zion.4.16Zion-06My goofball kids. They decided to do lunges going up one trail. They asked me to take a picture and send it to their Crossfit Kids coach.4.16Zion-07Despite it being cold for our standards, two of my guys could not pass up the opportunity to stick their head in dripping water.4.16Zion-084.16Zion-094.16Zion-10She has been adamant about carrying a backpack. With all the water and snacks we pack, I am pretty sure the pack weighs about as much as she does. She carries it for a bit until one of us can convince her to let us have a turn.4.16Zion-12Somewhere in the distance there are 3 boys and their dad climbing rocks. The girls opted for a snack break.4.16Zion-136 of the Campbells…4.16Zion-144.16Zion-15The boys are on a rock in the distance…it is a little hard to find them!4.16Zion-16At the top of Canyon Overlook trail. It was one of our favorite trails. The hiking isn’t limited to a flat trail…lots to climb on and around and it was just over a mile.4.16Zion-174.16Zion-184.16Zion-194.16Zion-20Like every other park we have visited, we now have a list of all the things we want to go back and try. The top of our list for Zion is to do the Angel’s Landing hike and the Narrows. The Narrows was closed due to rain (it would have been too hard with our girls anyway). Chris and I talked about taking turns to doing Angel’s Landing, but ultimately decided we will just have to come back when the girls are a bit older and we can all do it (or at least those of us that want to).

Our family is at a odd age with hikes. The boys could go on much longer, more strenuous hikes, but the girls aren’t quite ready. We are getting to do so much more than any years before, but our appetites are also wet for more intense hiking. I do know it felt like yesterday that Chris and I each had a baby strapped to us while hiking and here we are now doing things that seemed so impossible not that long ago. Our long hiking days will come. And it will feel like yesterday we were hoping for them.

Anyone else have any tips, thoughts or experiences at Zion? Please share!

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  • Maria Grace - 10 years ago when I was 21, I also visited most of these places you are telling about. And now I watch these photos with a special feeling of, “I’ve been there! I’ve been there! I’ve been there!” I like your photos anyway, but in this case because I’ve been to most of these places myself, I can almost… smell and hear them. And whenever I see your blog pop up in my sidebar with a new post, I click eagerly to experience more of your adventures.

    And whenever I see photos of your little one, I think how happy I am that she is with you. What a difference you have made to this little person’s life. I almost tear up with joy when I see photos of her, and I’m not usually a very tearful person.

  • Leigh - What a beautiful place to explore! All of your posts about hiking make me want to try hiking with my kids! What do you bring with you on your hikes? I wouldn’t even know where to start!

  • Jenny @Words On Wendhurst - You are up in our neck of the woods! We are in Denver Colorado. If you come through to Colorado and would like a place to stay, we have a big house, hot showers and lots of little kids to play with. Seriously. We’d love to have you.

  • Karen - How do your kids stay happy/occupied on the long car rides?

  • Kelly J. R. - Zion is my favorite National Park by far and I’ve hiked many of their trails. Angel’s Landing is not for the faint of heart and definitely not for little ones. There are scary 1,000 foot drop offs with only a few feet between you and the cliff edge. The first time I hiked it my legs were shaking so bad and I’m not even afraid of heights! I couldn’t believe the NPS actually encouraged people to hike up there. If you think you might want to do Angel’s Landing but aren’t sure if you can handle the exposure, I would suggest trying Hidden Canyon first. That trail has a few ledges with chain supports that will give you a taste of what Angel’s Landing will be like. OR you could hike the Angel’s Landing trail just up to Scout Lookout. You still get amazing views of Zion Canyon without the exposure/scrambling.

  • LisaAnn - It looks like you may have done the hikes that worked best with my 5. (Emerald Pools, and Weeping Rock, and the river trail.) Besides Zion, if you are spending more time in Southern Utah, I would recommend Bryce Canyon National Park (we did the main trail with our kids and it was longer but definitely worth it. The kids liked the hike because you go down into the canyon and then back up.) Capitol Reef NP is also neat, not as popular so it’s less crowded. The Fruita campground has fruit that you can pick in season which is also fun. If you have the chance though, Arches is a must see. It has a variety of hikes at different ability levels. We went there when I was pregnant with my fifth and our oldest was 9. We did 5 shorter hikes in two das. You do have to bring your own water, and since we were there in July, we packed several frozen gallon size jugs. Also the state park Goblin Valley amazing! There aren’t designated trails really and you can just explore the rock formations and climb on then. Definitely a kid favorite. We went there as an extended family vacation and it still remains the favorite–more liked than the national parks because it was less crowded and more free range.

  • Emily Bartnikowski - Have I told you lately how inspiring I find your blogs? Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Mallory - I think the Every Kid in A Park is supposed to last for the next 12 years! So hopefully you can continue these wonderful adventures for the next few years as the kiddos get older!

  • Sarah May - My husband and I went to Zion, and Bryce, a few weeks ago and are planning to take our boys with us next year. Canyon Overlook was a favorite of mine too. The Kayenta Trail on the way down from the upper emerald pool was another favorite. We didn’t do Angel’s Landing because I’m a chicken but the hike to Scout’s Lookout where Angel’s Landing starts was a great hike and a good waiting point for the courageous hikes who want to keep going. I’ve loved following your trip!

  • Jane - Although we live in Canada, we have visit Zion many, many times and keep going back. We have a relative that lives in Springdale, the small town just outside the park gates. Lucky! We have done a variety of hikes in the park from the ones you did (with my 75 year old dad) to full-on overnight canyoneering adventures. You’re absolutely right, some of the hikes wouldn’t yet be appropriate for your littles, but they’ll get there. My daughter did Angel’s landing with her dad when she was 9 and had no trouble. Yes, the last bit up from Scout’s landing can feel a bit dicey, requires care in your footing, but it’s not too bad. I actually prefer the view from Observation Point, my favourite day hike in the park. It’s a bit further down the canyon, one more shuttle stop, and longer than Angel’s landing with a higher elevation change. But the view from up there is stunning. You see Angel’s Landing ahead (you’re way above it) and see the beautiful canyon ahead. There are no dicey areas of the trail, it’s just longer. Observation Point is definitely worth doing. If you are back and willing to split up, your boys would likely love some of the slot canyons – Key Hole, Pine Creek…there are so many. They require some rapelling and I’d always want to go with a guide for safety. The Narrows is also an amazing experience. You could literally spend months in Zion and have a different adventure every day.