34 Candles, 5 National Parks, 26.4 Miles
34 Candles, 5 National Parks, 26.4 Miles

34 Candles, 5 National Parks, 26.4 Miles

For my 34th birthday, I knocked the Mighty Five off my bucket list!

Five amazing days of hiking in Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands National Parks. 9 hikes. 26.4 miles. 108,812 steps. Immeasurably beautiful views. Here's a day-by-day breakdown of my trip:

Day 1: Zion National Park

We started with Zion because that was going to be the hardest hike of the trip: Angels Landing. It was a 6-mile hike with an elevation of 5,790 feet. I really, really didn’t think I was going to make it past the 1.3-mile mark. I sat down in a shady spot with a cool breeze that I found, ate my sandwich, drank water and talked to myself about whether or not I could make it. I felt faint and didn’t see any way to finish. I decided I would make it far enough to catch up to my friend, Jonathan Blair, so I could tell him I was done and then descend.

When I found him, he was mentally where I had been about 30 minutes earlier when I was giving up. I have a thing inside of me that makes me get into helper mode, so I forgot all about how crappy I felt, channeling my energy into trying to get him to keep going. In the end, we made it. I struggled so hard on the switchback part of the trail (which was like two miles of it), but had a blast doing all the scrambling up with the help of chains along the last half mile.

"This trip was so amazing and mind-blowing and breathtaking and therapeutic that I wish we were doing a better job making it seem like this sort of adventure is accessible to all."

What she wore: KEEN Voyageur hiking boots, which are ventilated for warm-weather hikes.

 

We ended up summiting Angels Landing. One of the first things I did when we got up there is I sat down and made sure I got a picture of my KEENs with the view at Angels Landing. I was so thankful for those boots and my body for getting me through the hike! The stretch back down proved challenging as well, but I was just glad that we made it to the top. We had almost let Googling information about the trail talk us out of even trying it! Of the nine hikes that we did, Angels Landing was definitely my favorite one because of the valleys of emotions I was experiencing throughout it and the immense pride I had in myself when I finished it.

IF YOU GO:
Get there early! Not only was it hot, but this is a heavily trafficked park!


Day 2: Bryce Canyon National Park

On Day 2 at Bryce Canyon, we hiked down and around the amphitheater. For me, as a Floridian, any kind of incline on a hike takes me out, so while the amphitheater trail wasn’t anywhere near as crazy as Angels Landing, it was still difficult, but it was so cool and so fun. After doing that trail, we did one of the rim trails, hiking from Bryce Point to Inspiration Point, and got to see a a different perspective of all the formations we had been walking inside of and among.

IF YOU GO:
Check out the pizza joint near the Lodge! It’s a perfect end cap to a beautiful day of hiking.


Day 3: Capitol Reef National Park

We spent Day 3 at Capitol Reef National Park. This was definitely my favorite park because it was smaller than the others, and there weren’t as many people there, so we weren’t ever having to wait in line to do anything. I also appreciated the petroglyphs that were highlighted here. The first trail that we hiked was the Grand Wash Trail which was walking down what used to be a river bed. This 5 mile trail was absolutely breathtaking and really reminded us of just how small humans are compared to nature’s beauty. Then we did the Hickman Bridge Trail and marveled underneath this giant natural bridge. We got a little turned around in trying to get back because this trail wasn’t marked quite as neatly when you got closer to the bridge up top, but we made it!

IF YOU GO:
Go to it!!! It doesn’t seem to get as much love as the rest, but our two hikes there were awesome!


Day 4: Arches National Park

On day four, we were at Arches National Park. The first trail we did was to Delicate Arch. What’s funny about all those pictures that you see people taking at Delicate Arch is behind them is a long line of people waiting to do the same! When you look at the picture below, you see me and my friend Jonathan in front of the arch, and it seems like a vast, human-less scene behind us. But the person taking the picture is someone who’s in line to take the same picture next!

The second hike that we did actually ended up being pretty remote. The first part, we hiked to Sandstone Arch then Broken Arch, and there were a lot of people on those parts of the trail. The short hike to Sandstone Arch reminded me of some of the hiking in Florida that’s through sand. But once you passed broken arch, they were no people but us. We made our way to Tapestry Arch with some scrambling and some sand-hiking. Despite the heat and the difficulty, it was worth it to see this hidden arch! One thing I can say about all of the hikes that we did, is that every one of these trail signs had underestimated the distance of the hikes, including this one by a lot!

IF YOU GO:
Don’t believe the sign mileage, and always pack your water. LOL


Day 5: Canyonlands National Park

Our last day of hiking was at Canyonlands. Our first hike was to Aztec Butte. To get to the very, very top of this hike, there was some scrambling that was quite awesome but challenging. If you haven’t noticed, I’m a fan of the half hike/half climb feeling. This is probably the second best view from a trail —next to Angels Landing at Zion, of course. We ended things on a rim trail that was definitely the easiest trail done by a lot. However despite the ease of the trail, the views into the canyons were insane.

IF YOU GO:
This park is gigantor, and rivers split into three sections. You will likely only be able to explore one section.

"I do wish I had seen more folks who look me out there."

In the end, Utah owes me nothing. Every time we got to a new park, we were blown away by how different the landscape was from the park before. If you haven’t done Utah yet, I highly recommend it. It does require a lot of driving, but it’s very easy to do in five days.

I do wish I had seen more folks who look me out there. Over the five days, I saw about nine black people, and at Capitol Reef, I was literally the only one. This trip was so amazing and mind-blowing and breathtaking and therapeutic that I wish we were doing a better job making it seem like this sort of adventure is accessible to all.

So put on your KEENs, and get to Utah!


Hillary Van Dyke is a leader with Outdoor Afro, a KEEN partner since 2012. With nearly 80 leaders in 30 states from around the country, this national nonprofit organization works to connect thousands of people to outdoor experiences and is helping lead the way for inclusion in outdoor recreation, nature, and conservation for all.

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