Utah has been on our bucket list for some time now. Honestly, I’m surprised we didn’t knock it out while we were kidless. It wasn’t until we celebrated Sean’s 30th birthday in the Oregon/Washington area and on a whim decided to drive back to Texas where we had to drive through Utah, right next to the Arches and we knew, a trip to Utah was next. Because we decided to drive back from Oregon instead of fly, we had a $385 credit. That helped us out considering our daughter turned two in April and officially “needed” a seat of her own on the airplane. Tickets from San Antonio to Salt Lake City and Las Vegas to San Antonio ended up being an extra $170 on top of our credit. Felt like that wasn’t too bad for the three of us. Then came the ‘how the hell are we gonna not be those parents who have a screaming, defiant toddler on a plane.’ I don’t know why this was a cloud in my mind for so long. Laney is honestly the most chill easy kid, but homegirl has an opinion and is very headstrong when she wants what she wants. I was worried she’d be over sitting in a plane for that long or having to wear a mask, etc. I follow @busytoddler on Instagram and she had fun toys and a highlight for traveling. Basically, the moral was “When it comes to airports/airplanes with children… the goal is just to survive.” Told my husband this and he was on board. This doesn’t mean I didn’t take crazy precautions.. oh no. I went borderline psycho on Amazon… I saw this super cool toddler luggage when I was breastfeeding eons ago and IG read my mind with traveling made by JetKids. Basically, the kid got to ride their luggage with storage, and it had a few other bells and whistles. I wanted it, but couldn’t justify spending $200. This had me do some research for this trip though. I wanted something similar and found something amazing!!! It was a loud yellow dump truck that she could ride, pull with a rope (or we could pull her with the rope) or it had the lever that made it like a normal suitcase. It was $85 and is called PUQU Monster Dump Truck. ALL the flight attendants commented on it saying they loved her truck, then realized it was a suitcase and their mind was blown. This only had toys… like brand new toys. I brought play doh, coloring books, puffy sticker activity books, airplane books, airplane coloring books, water coloring mess free books, magna doodle, wikki sticks, and leftover gifts we hid from her bday. I had travelers comment on the set up. One kid was enviously looking and the mom goes “sorry baby, they must travel a lot”… which we do.. but this was a first with a two year old. SHE DID AMAZING. The kid woke up at 4 am and had like a 2 hour flight to Denver, an hour layover and an hour flight and was a champ through it all. She also sadly/weirdly loved wearing her mask…I guess because her day care teachers are always wearing them, and we had them, but I am so THANKFUL Southwest wasn’t anal about her needing it on, she basically wore it walking in and for random 2 minute stretches when she wanted it.
So we landed in Utah at 10:35 AM. We had ZERO idea on how Laney was going to be. That was 11:35 at home. I had us picking up the rental at 11:30- which was perfect with the crazy lines. I didn’t know if she was going to pass out on the plane, if she was going to want to run around at a park or a Walmart for groceries. The only thing I had planned at this point was our hotel for the night in Price, Utah which is about 2 hours from SLC and 2 hours from Moab. Things were booking up quickly and we didn’t want to pay insane Moab prices, so opted for Price, Utah which was a good quality hotel for like $180. I kid you not, we made it out of the garage, set GPS to a Walmart in Salt Lake City about 10 minutes away from the airport…. Laney passed out. So we rolled on to Price. She slept for an hour and a half which was perfect for us. We ran to Walmart for a foam cooler and enough snacks and food for lunches. Now off to check in to the hotel.. which Looking for hotels when you have a kid is so different than without kids. You have different priorities. Personally, one line in the sand Sean and I both have is sleep sharing with our kid. She goes to bed fairly early, and we like to hang out with each other while she’s asleep. This hotel was a suite that had an offset area with a pullout couch. We grabbed dinner at some “brewery” nearby then went back to the hotel to swim in their indoor pool, before bathing and letting Laney wind down. She passed out at 8pm and Sean and I were able to hang out and enjoy a few drinks and nonsense TV. Laney woke up at 1 and 3 and 4. Not normal, but vacation. I went into her bed at 3 and she passed back out. At 4 she never could go back to bed so at 5:00ish I pawned her off to our bed so I could take a pre workout and hit the gym by 5:30. I come back at 6:30, we’re out the door at 7 for the Arches.
Then the disappointment comes. We roll up to the arches at 8:45 just to see a bunch of cars turning around and leaving and a big sign that says “Park Full, Come Back 3-5 hours” …….. Sean and I both look at each other like “this is really how we’re starting our trip?” So as we make the turn around and pass up the Arches entrance like everyone else, we start wondering what our game plan is. There were a couple cool trails and lookout areas that Sean said we could stop at, but I knew we had to see some Arches.. Thank God he had to pee so badly that it had me googling alternate entrances into the park. I found one that was near the Klondike Bluffs. If you put Klondike Bluffs in from the Arches, it says it’s like 20 minutes away, but I found a website that had exact coordinates to a spot to take you to the Tower Arch in Arches National Park and when we put that in, it was 45 minutes away. Sean was slightly bummed at the extra time, and the rowdy rough gravel road didn’t help, but everything was wiped away when we crossed the “Arches National Park” sign with zero cars, no line, no workers, nothing. We start to hike to the Tower Arch. Laney LOVED it. There was a cool area called the Marching Men worth seeing. We never made it to the arch itself because it was getting close to lunch time, and we decided to turn around and make lunch… hiking with a toddler…
Now we had a toddler with a happy, full belly, but we were still bummed we’ve yet to see an Arch up close. Leaving the Tower Arch entry we had a left to leave or a right to head towards where the main entrance was forever away. We chose right. Led us straight to the main Scenic Drive Route. We got to see all the arches we wanted to. At this point, Laney was trooping it out. She was having the time of her life, but yet our parent clocks were telling us she had to be thrown in the car for our next town soon so she could crash. We never got to go on top of an arch or see some of the more famous ones that required a longer hike, but we got to see plenty near us and watch our daughter accumulate mounds of sand in her shoes and enjoy the outdoors.
So again, when researching Utah parks, hotels near the actual national parks are insanely expensive. We opted to stay in Richfield, UT. This was about 2 and a half hours away from arches and surprisingly, Laney slept for almost 2 hours of our drive. We made it into Richfield, checked into the hotel and went to go find dinner. We initially went to a bar/restaurant where I felt in Texas, kids would’ve totally been allowed (at least in our small town), but we walked in and were immediately met with a smug “no kids allowed in the bar!” so we gestured towards to whole seating area and they still said that was bar territory… so now we’re loading a hungry toddler back up and opted for the restaurant Frontier Village, with great reviews across from our hotel. There’s a wait out the door. The hostess is basically the bus boy. It took about 30-45 minutes until we were seated, but Laney handled it like a champ and they served beer so what the hell right? The food was decent for being as hungry as we were and wanting something other than your like Subway or Mainstream fast food joints. Being as late as it was, we let Laney take a bath and put her to bed around 8. Laney had a better night this night, and Sean was in her bed by like 3. I smartened up and left the room at 4:20 to workout. The hotel dude was so friendly and let me take up some breakfast at 5:30 that wasn’t supposed to be ready until 6. We ended up getting on the road at 6:15 for the 1 hr 45 min commute to Bryce. We got to Ruby Inn at 8:00 which is when their shuttles started. After Arches, we didn’t want to risk getting into the park on our own. There were shuttles that ran from Ruby Inn to a ton of tourist spots in the park. Buses ran about every 15 minutes, so you got to enjoy your view, come back to the shuttle wait not but 2-3 minutes, and a bus was there.
What you need to know about Bryce National Park. At least in our mind, every shuttle stop looked somewhat similar to this. The park was empty at 8 am. Meaning we could’ve taken our own car that way we didn’t have to lug Laney’s backpack around at every small stop and only bring it on the long hikes. It also meant we didn’t have to wear a mask because the shuttles required one. Laney also got super weird at sometimes. For a kid that is obsessed with busses after the Wheels on the Bus song, there’d be times where she’d literally lose her shit and not want to go on the bus at all. Luckily, Bryce Canyon is like all connected so we just walk to the next point instead of the bus… again, another reason we wished we would’ve just had our car.
So we went from Inspiration Point to Sunset Point. Laney wanted nothing to do with the bus at this point, and honestly was pretty needy with wanting us to hold her. I was somewhat grateful for this because there is literally no railing between the trail and the edge and she could’ve easily run off or wanted to see the edge like crazy. Instead she was all about us. There were a few times she let us put her down to catch some gem photos…. Bryce to Meet You!
Once we got to Sunset, there was the Navajo trail to see Thor’s Hammer, Twin Bridges, Wall Street and all that glory. Laney loved this entire hike. It was basically 0.6 miles down to a shaded area where you could decide to go to Queen’s Garden trail which was an additional almost 2 mile hike, or back up to Wall Street (the area where we started) for a 0.7 mile hike. We took a snack break on a bench where a chipmunk caught her attention for about 20 minutes or so. The hike back up wall street was much steeper than the Navajo/Thor’s Hammer side. Laney loved every minute of being in the canyon with rocks and such. When it came to the steep climb, she basically latched on to her parents which sucked for us as it was directly in the sun. We were constantly seeing what item we could strip off and power through to the top. I can’t sugar coat this. It was HOT. We were struggling. If we would’ve known, we would’ve gone down the wall street side and up the Thor’s Hammer side. But, we luckily were able to strip down to shirtless for Sean and undershirt with hair up for me and we made it work. We found the next bus, headed back to the Inn, made sandwiches and cooled off.
We made it back to Ruby’s Inn where we made sandwich lunches before heading off to Zion area. Again, hotels are stupid expensive in Springdale. Like I’m talking anywhere from $300-$900 PER NIGHT, at least when we were looking which was on a Memorial Day Monday night. We opted to stay in St. George which was about 45 minutes away and $155. It was a 2 hour drive from Bryce to St. George. We stretched it out for Laney’s sake, but it took minutes before she passed out and she stayed asleep for 2 whole hours. We settled into the hotel before trying to figure out what to eat for dinner. We ended up opting for Casa Tequilana…. Note to self: Never trust Mexican food from northern states. We should’ve known better. It was pretty bad. They didn’t even serve beer to help with the food. This hotel had a MASSIVE bathtub. It was the Holiday Inn Express in St. George- North Zion and it basically had a Jacuzzi for a bathtub. Laney was down at a fairly normal time and Sean and I were able to enjoy the “hot tub” while she was sleeping. I woke up at 4 AM to be in the gym at 4:30. Annoyingly enough, the TV in the gym wasn’t working and I wasted 10 minutes attempting to get it to work. At 5:25 Sean sent me a text saying she was still sleeping so that was a good sign. 5:30, I got the text that she was up. This hotel had free breakfast starting at 6, but they had some of the items (not hot stuff) out at 5:30, so I brought up bananas, yogurt and muffins. Zion was 45 minutes away and we got there right at 7AM. There was an option to park in Springdale and take the shuttle, but we opted to go straight to the visitor’s center. There was parking and already a line for the shuttle to the actual park. Of course I couldn’t find my mask and they didn’t have any until 8AM when the store opened, so I was forced to rock my 2 year old’s dinosaur tiny mask. We waited in line for 50 minutes and stopped right at Temple of Sinawava which is basically The Narrows
I was surprised Laney did as well as she did in the 50 minute line. She basically found a few big boulders that she would climb. The mile walk to the narrows was a blast for her. She was constantly finding areas to explore. We literally did zero research when it came to what we would need for this hike. We didn’t know the narrows meant basically wading through water. We did not have the shoes to do this. A bit disappointing, but also a reminder that we were hiking with a toddler. The last thing we wanted to do was push her another 30-60 minutes in the narrows and her unable to make the trek back happily. We did have a moment where she wanted to play in the water, with her shoes and socks and basically had a meltdown when we tried to move her or take her shoes off. Luckily, we were saved by Cheese Its.
I don’t know how long Laney would’ve lasted had we had the proper shoes for all of us, but we still got to see a good amount of Zion. On the way back, we saw a small buck eating. Laney was all about it. She was also all about climbing anything she could. We stretched our hike as long as we could with a toddler and then hopped back on the shuttle and saw Angel’s Landing. At least that’s what the shuttle told us we were at. I think there was a hike involved that we missed, but we did hike from “Angel’s Landing” to another shuttle spot before hopping on and getting in the car.
When we made it back to the car, we knew we had to drive out through Mt. Carmel Highway Scenic Drive. This would be totally out of the way for Vegas, but was SOOOO worth it. We talked to the Park Ranger and he told us that there’s a parking lot with an overlook immediately after the tunnel. Note we are driving this at like 11AM…. the highway has a decent amount of cars on it. Every, turn was more beautiful than the one before. It was a gorgeous drive. We got to the mile long tunnel which was super cool, but unfortunately the super small parking lot immediately after was PACKED. We got a bunch of videos and photos of the unreal drive, but with it being as late as it was, hot as it was, and having a toddler who probably needed to nap, we opted to pull off on a shoulder to make lunch and drive on.
When we finally got service to see how long it was going to take to get to Las Vegas, we realized it was going to be roughly a 3.5 hour drive and we were passing through St. George. Basically, by taking Mt. Carmel Highway, we added an hour detour, but it was totally worth it. Laney also slept another 2 hours so it worked out perfectly. My jaw was to the floor when I was looking up hotel rates for Vegas. Granted it was a Tuesday, but you could stay at the Luxor for $23, or Excalibur and New York New York for $44. I was shocked. Our goal was always to find hotels less than $200. Memorial Day Weekend made this hard to do. Vegas was a game changer. I decided to try and find a hotel with a separate bedroom so we could put Laney down and still enjoy each other’s company without having to hang out in a bathroom hot tub or be glued to our phones because we can’t talk to each other with a kid 4 feet away. I found a StayBridge that was $161 for a room with a bedroom. We stopped at a gas station across from the hotel and made the mistake of taking Laney out of the carseat. She lost her SHIIIIITT when we had to put her back. I kid you not, the drive was probably 3 minutes, and she was so done, that Sean needed a minute once we got to the hotel. I took her inside, went to check in and after feeling Sean’s mood, decided to pay the extra $5 for the deluxe suite which was an actual bedroom and full size kitchen/dining instead of a partitioned wall bedroom. Totally worth it. We used Grubhub for dinner which was a story in itself as we got the wrong food delivered and they had to come again. I worked out again at this hotel even though there wasn’t a gym, Laney woke up at 5:45 and free breakfast was at 6:30. We made it to the airport at 7:30 and our flight was at 9:15. The hardest part about this flight was there was a layover in Dallas, but we had to stay on the plane. That means staying on the plane for an hour with a toddler after she already was doing so good for 3. Then once we took off we had another hour. Laney did super good for what we were asking.
We’ve never been the couple to use a kid as an excuse to stop traveling. We love to travel and this trip just proved that even with a wild, stubborn toddler, they will do better than you expect when it comes to traveling as long as you’re prepared and have your expectations in check. Traveling pre-kids was fun, but traveling with your own kid and realizing you’re making irreplaceable memories and getting to see the world through their eyes is the best feeling ever. We are IHG members and earned points with each hotel we stayed at. We also spent the $80 on the annual national park pass which had we would’ve paid out of pocket for the three parks we went to, we would’ve spent $100. Having ample amount of toys, waters and quitting while ahead made this trip one of the bests. I also am obsessed with the fact that Laney now points and yells “ROCCCCKK” every time she sees a big rock as she saw a ton in Utah and she yells “PLAAAANNNEEE” when she hears a plane. If you’re ever questioning traveling with a toddler, take the plunge and do it.