Utah’s Mighty Five, Part 2: Bryce Canyon National Park

If you missed the intro to this blog series, be sure to check it out here!

Day 4

We arrived to Bryce Canyon in the early afternoon. Research made it clear that one of the best ways to experience the park in a short amount of time is to drive along Highway 63, also known as the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive. As such, we hopped onto the drive right away and beelined it to the drive’s furthest overlook, Rainbow Point. At just over 9000 foot elevation, this overlook is roughly 18 miles from the park entrance and allows for expansive, spectacular views of the canyon.

From there, we hit up almost every overlook along the drive, slowly making our way back towards the entrance. Since Bryce Canyon is the only park in the National Park Service that is home to the Utah Prairie Dog, we became mildly obsessed with the idea of spotting one during our visit. These adorable critters are endangered, yet protected by the park as they are extremely important to the canyon’s ecosystem. As the likelihood of spotting one at Ponderosa Point is said to be the highest, stopping there was a must. While we weren’t lucky enough to lay eyes on one of the park’s 200 Utah Prairie Dogs, we made it a point to donate to the park’s protection efforts. #prairiedawgsforever

Another must-see along the drive is one of the park’s most famous arches, Natural Bridge. Although Bryce Canyon is largely known for its hoodoo rock formations, Natural Bridge is a majestic arch worth seeing. While we’re on the subject of hoodoos, let’s talk about what the heck they are. According to Nat Geo, they are freestanding spires of rock that are created by weathering and erosion in desert climates. This process takes place over thousands of years, in which “water from streams, runoff, and intense thunderstorms wear down the rock,” and “wind is the fine sculptor that does a lot of the smoothing and finishing.”

Last, but certainly not least, my favorite overlook of all was Sunset Point. We made it here about an hour and a half before sunset, which provided us with just enough time to hike the 1.3-mile Navajo Loop Trail. This trailhead is accessible from Sunset Point. I must say: while viewing the hoodoos from above was awe-inspiring, there was nothing like viewing them from below. This short, but sweet hike provided up-close-and-personal views of some of the park’s most well-known structures, including Wall Street, Thor’s Hammer, Silent City, and Two Bridges. Standing amongst these massive, extraordinary structures allowed for an entirely new level of appreciation for them.

Although the Navajo Loop Trail can be connected with the Queen’s Garden Trail for a longer hike, we were pressed for time as we wanted to catch sunset from none other than Sunset Point. Words can’t describe the way that I felt as I watched the sun set over the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater. The coloring of the hoodoos became significantly more vivid against a muted, pastel sky, and it was incredibly beautiful. As this was an unbelievable ending to our day in Bryce Canyon, I can’t recommend it enough.

While we did not set enough time aside to hike the Fairyland Loop Trail, I’ve heard that it’s another excellent way to experience Bryce Canyon. Please note that it is 8 miles in duration and is said to take 4-5 hours to complete. If you’ve hiked this trail before, I’d love to hear about your experience!

Anyway, we ended our day by eating a quick dinner and settling into our new digs. The “town” outside of Bryce Canyon has very limited food options, so be prepared to eat some mediocre grub. We ultimately decided to eat at Bryce Canyon Pines, and since it’s tough to mess up a turkey club, I was a happy camper. For lodging, on the other hand, we stayed in a cozy cabin at Bryce Canyon Villas, about 20 minutes outside of the park.

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…Next stop, Capitol Reef National Park!

Utah’s Mighty Five, Part 1: Zion National Park


If you missed the intro to this blog series, be sure to check it out here!

Day 2

Smell ya later, Vegas! We woke up bright and early to hit the road and get our journey started. However, that wasn’t without some pitstops along the way. First, we hit up a nearby Walmart to stock up on goods for the week. This included, among other things, a cooler, ice, beer, snacks, and our lifeline for the week − PB and J. Second, we hit up In-N-Out Burger because, let’s be real…it wouldn’t be a West Coast road trip without some animal style goodness.

Once we got to Zion, we more or less hit the ground running. We parked at the visitor center and hopped onto the shuttle to hike Angel’s Landing. To access the trailhead, you’ll want to stop at The Grotto. If you’re unfamiliar with Angel’s Landing, it is a strenuous, five-mile hike that I totally underestimated. Prior to our trip, several people that I’d talked to mentioned how terrifying it is, but I simply didn’t buy it. Well, coming from a gal who has gone both bungee jumping and skydiving, it is indeed terrifying. Humor me and check out some YouTube footage real quick!

Anyway, I regretfully did not make it to the top. Major props to Miller for being the only one from our crew that did and for making the trek solo! Let’s be clear: my goal is not to deter anyone from doing this hike, as the majority of it is steep, yet doable and completely gorgeous. However, once you get to a certain point, the trails more or less disappear. Instead, you essentially scale the mountain and at many points have to hold on to a chain affixed to said mountain to help you pull yourself up. My advice? Do the hike and see for yourself. If you’re into it, keep on trucking. If you’re not, hang back and take in the views. Of course, the views are not as awe-inspiring as those seen from Angel’s Landing, but they’re beautiful nonetheless and make for a rewarding hike regardless.

After our hike, we headed into Springdale, the town just outside of Zion, for some grub. The town is super cute! Thankfully, on our first night there, we discovered an eatery called Cafe Soleil. They specialize in healthy, yet delicious food and provide fast, friendly service. We loved it so much that we ended up eating three meals there. After dinner, we settled into our glamping site at Under Canvas Zion. We were blown away by just about everything that it had to offer. The location had just opened only three weeks prior to our arrival, so it was pristine! Both the staff and the accommodations were top-notch.

Day 3

The night prior, we decided that we were going to wake up early enough to catch the sunrise. We simply unzipped our tent and took in the breathtaking views. Between the stunning desert landscape and coyotes howling in the background, it was surreal. Afterward, we headed back to our home away from home, Cafe Soleil, for breakfast.

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Being that our plan for the day was to hike The Narrows, we then hit up Zion Adventure Company to rent some gear. I can’t recommend gear rental enough as I can’t imagine having done this hike without it! For just $23, they provide you with neoprene socks, canyoneering shoes, and a walking stick. To get to the trailhead, we hopped onto the shuttle and stopped at Temple of Sinawava.

The Narrows is an incredibly unique and iconic hike that I’m so grateful to have experienced. Sometimes, the hike is not advised due to flash flood warnings, but we were fortunate enough to have the perfect conditions. If you’re unfamiliar with The Narrows, it is a slot canyon hike, and the trail is the Virgin River. There are generally two ways to hike it: top down or bottom up. As bottom up is less time-consuming and recommended for beginners, that’s the route that we took. Further, the length of the hike varies as you can choose to turn around wherever you please. Prior to our hike, we agreed that we wanted to hike to a landmark called Wall Street, making for a six-mile hike roundtrip. Most of the time, we were ankles-deep in water; however, there were rare moments in which we were waist-deep. The views were absolutely amazing and I will be the first to admit that no photo can do them justice!

After our hike, we returned our gear and stopped for dinner at…you guessed it…Cafe Soleil. We then headed back to our glamping site. When we got back, we poured some wine into solo cups, sat around a blazing fire, enjoyed some s’mores and took in the incredible night sky. The Milky Way was in plain sight, and we were able to spot one constellation after the next. It was truly magical!

Day 4

We woke up to yet another sunrise and headed to Under Canvas’s onsite restaurant, Embers, for breakfast. Next, we packed up and briefly headed back into town. I’m fortunate enough to have friends that were willing to appease my desire to stop at one of the many crystal shops that Springdale has to offer. If you’re into crystals in any way, shape, or form (even for decor!), I definitely recommend checking one out. I was able to grab a beauty of a crystal for myself and pick up some souvenirs as well!

…Next stop, Bryce Canyon National Park!

Utah’s Mighty Five: The Intro

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Hot air balloon ride over Moab, Utah

Let me start off by saying that this trip is one of my favorites to date! Being that I have a national park bucket list, and being that Utah has five national parks, exploring all five parks in one epic trip had been a dream of mine for several years. As the title of this blog series indicates, Utah’s five national parks − Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches − are often referred to as “The Mighty Five.” While some parks come more highly recommended than others, we agreed as a group that we wanted to experience all five because…go big or go home.

Speaking of the group, I absolutely loved the crew that I traveled with. There were three Laurens (myself, Miller, and Verost) and one Colleen, so for the sake of keeping things simple, I will refer to the Laurens by their last names. To be completely honest, it remains a mystery as to exactly how this trip came into fruition. However, I’d bet that it all began when we were shooting the shit one day, became stoked about the idea of a Mighty Five trip, and magically made it happen. Those trips always end up being my favorite. Because of this goofy, hilarious, go-with-the-flow crew, I really and truly feel like I laughed for a week straight and had the adventure of a lifetime while doing so. #prairiedawgsforever

While we initially planned on camping our way through Utah, we ultimately decided that by the time we invested in proper gear, lugged it across the country, and built-up/broke-down camp nearly every day, it just wasn’t worth it. In that moment, we joked that we should look for a glamping (read: glamorous camping) option instead. Well, after a quick Google search we realized that glamping was very much within the realm of possibility. We ended up booking with Under Canvas, which has glamping locations in both Zion and Moab. Of note, Moab is generally where people stay while visiting both Canyonlands and Arches, as both parks are both very accessible from this location.

In a nutshell, we flew into Vegas, rented an SUV to drive through Southern Utah (shoutout to the Linc), and flew out of Salt Lake City. Here’s a brief synopsis of what we did in between:

PHL to LAS
(Day 1)
Duration: 1 night
Shelter: hotel

2.5 hour drive

Zion National Park
(Days 2 & 3)
Duration: 2 days, 2 nights
Shelter: glamping

1.5 hour drive

Bryce Canyon National Park
(Day 4)
Duration: 1 day, 1 night
Shelter: cabin

2 hour drive

Capitol Reef National Park
(Day 5)
Duration: 1 day, 1 night
Shelter: hotel

2 hour drive

Moab, Utah
Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park
(Days 6 & 7)
Duration: 2 days, 2 nights
Shelter: glamping

4 hour drive

SLC to PHL
(Day 8)

….First stop, Zion National Park!

Ireland, Part 3: Belfast, Northern Ireland

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If you missed the intro to this blog series, be sure to check it out here!

Please excuse the hiatus between Part 2 and Part 3 of this blog series. Life has been busy in the best way possible! I got to stand by my best friend’s side as she married the man of her dreams and headed to Utah to explore its national parks immediately after. Although I had the time of my life at the wedding and in Utah, I was left with very little time to write this post. Anyway, I digress.

At last, the third and final leg of our Ireland trip went a little something like this…

Day 6

We started our day by catching a train from Galway to Belfast. As there isn’t a direct train to and from these locations, we had to stop in Dublin in between. We ended up arriving to Belfast mid-afternoon. This allowed us just enough time to settle into our Airbnb before we headed to the city center for a private tour.

We took the Belfastology Walking Tour with Marti. Although he is a self-admitted quirky guide, his pride for his home city is evident. He is extremely knowledgeable about its history, and he took the time to show us nearly every attraction that the city center has to offer. He did an excellent job of illustrating how the city has progressed from its troubled past − aptly coined “The Troubles” − to a modernized, bustling city. I particularly loved witnessing how the city is slowly but surely covering up its controversial political murals with commissioned street art. After our tour, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed back to our Airbnb to rest up for the following day as we knew it would be a long one.

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Day 7

This day is easily one of my favorite parts of our trip. We woke up bright and early for a…wait for it…GAME OF THRONES TOUR! Prior to planning this trip, I had no idea that 80 percent of Game of Thrones episodes are filmed in Northern Ireland. Once my family and I learned this fun fact, going on this tour was a no brainer since we are all huge fans of the show. While there are several tours of this variety, I highly recommend booking with McComb’s Coach Travel. This company transports extras to and from filming locations, so they are extremely familiar with points of interest.

For starters, our guide, Derek, was phenomenal! He was witty, approachable, and incredibly knowledgeable about both the show and the region. I must say, you do not need to be a GOT fan to appreciate this tour. The route traveled − the Causeway Coastal Route along the Antrim Coast − is notorious for being one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world. As such, anyone who appreciates natural beauty will love this tour!

Highlights of the tour include the following:

  • Cushendun Cave: the cave in which Melisandre gave birth to the shadow assassin
  • Carnlough aka Braavosi Canal: where Arya falls into the water during combat
  • Giant’s Causeway: not a GOT filming location; however, worth checking out en route as it is a stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge: again, not a GOT filming location, but worth checking out as it is en route and a much-visted destination by tourists
  • Larrybane: where Renly swears to Lady Stark that he will avenge Ned’s death, but where he ultimately meets his death at the hands of the shadow assassin
  • The Dark Hedges: where Arya makes her escape down The King’s Road

After our tour, we returned to Belfast. On our way back to our Airbnb, we stopped at a nearby bottle shop. My mom and I selected a variety of local cider, and Chris stocked up on local whiskey for both the remainder of the trip and home. Then, we hit up a grocery store to buy ingredients to make a massive salad at our Airbnb. The greens were much needed!

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Day 8

This point in our trip is when the wedding festivities began! To kick off the wedding festivities, my mom and I − along with several other female relatives − attended Siobhan’s hen outing. This is the equivalent of a bachelorette party in the states. The day started with brunch at Bert’s Jazz Bar in the exquisite Merchant Hotel. This was easily one of my favorite meals of the trip. It was here that a learned that there is a huge gin culture in Ireland. Many establishments offer a selection of Irish gin that can be paired with a variety of enhancers and garnishes. Peep the awesome menu here.

After brunch, we did something “naughty,” in the words of one of Siobhan’s adorable bridesmaids. So, we’ll go with the following motto: what happens at the hen outing stays at the hen outing. We ultimately met up with our male family members and pub hopped throughout the city center. As we let the bridesmaids take the lead on this one, I regretfully forget the names of the numerous pubs that we visited.

Later in the evening, we took a taxi to our Airbnb in Crawfordsburn. As Crawfordsburn is a mere 20 to 30 minute drive outside of Belfast, I will include our stay in Crawfordsburn in this post. Further, while I typically don’t feel compelled to share the details of Airbnb rentals, I have to take a second to rave about the charming place that we stayed at in Crawfordsburn. Between our gracious host, the custom furnishings, and the local art, I was smitten. Best of all, it was located on Main Street, only a few doors down from the wedding venue. Feel free to check it out here. When we arrived, I took a hot bath and sipped on some hot tea. It was quite lovely after a fun, but long day!

Day 9

Alas, the day of Jason and Siobhan’s wedding! It was an all-day extravaganza, beginning at noon and ending around midnight. It was held at The Old Inn, built in 1614 and therefore the oldest operating inn in Northern Ireland. It was beautiful, to say the least. Both Jason and Siobhan looked stunning! It was an absolute blast celebrating their love. I’m so thrilled to have been there.

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Day 10

The last day of our trip started with a family brunch at the inn. It was great to catch up with family even further. Taking advantage of Crawfordburn’s coastal location, we took a walk through Crawfordsburn Country Park, which ultimately lead us to the nearby beach. It was there that we enjoyed some peace and quiet before we headed back to Belfast for the night.

Our last night in Belfast was spent moseying around the city center. We were lucky enough to stumble upon Co Couture, a boutique chocolate shop that produces some of the best small-batch, gourmet chocolate that I’ve ever had. A stop here is a must if you’re in Belfast! Afterward, we ate dinner at The Northern Whig. It is an upscale pub with an wonderful atmosphere. As this establishment has an incredible Irish gin menu, I was sure to enjoy a couple of beverages for our last hurrah. We then headed to bed relatively early as we had a flight to catch the following morning.

Thanks for the craic, Ireland! :)

…Next stop, home sweet home!

Ireland, Part 2: Galway, Republic of Ireland

If you missed the intro to this blog series, be sure to check it out here!

Galway, Galway, Galway…where do I start? One thing’s for certain: I left a piece of my heart in this little city. From the moment we hopped off of our train from Dublin to Galway, I knew it was something special. The sun was beaming and the streets were lively. Further, the raw talent of its street performers blew me away. Percussive dancing is a thing in Ireland, and it’s freaking awesome. I particularly loved Bianco Sporco and regret not supporting them by purchasing some of their music. Anyway, let’s dive into the nitty gritty, shall we?

Day 4

We kicked off our stay in Galway by roaming its charming, cobblestone streets. After that, a quick bite to eat and a nap were in order. We stayed at a boutique hotel called the Residence Hotel, situated on Quay Street in the heart of Galway. It was modern and amazingly located, allowing us to walk everywhere.

After refreshing ourselves, we met Brian, our guide from Galway City Walking Tours, at the Spanish Arch. He’s a local whose pride for his city is undeniable. He filled us in on Galway’s interesting history as we walked from one site to the next. We ultimately ended our tour at O’Connell’s, a fantastic pub and beer garden on Eyre Square.

Then, per the recommendation of Brian, we headed to Martine’s for dinner. This was hands down one of my favorite meals in Ireland. As Galway is a coastal city, fresh fish is the name of the game. If you’re an oyster lover such as myself, go here! They were divine. Because we couldn’t get enough of the live entertainment that Galway had to offer, we headed to Tig Coili, also recommended by Brian. It’s known for its traditional music, so we enjoyed a night cap while we listened to the sweet sounds of local musicians.

Day 5

The following morning, we hopped onto a bus for a day trip to the Aran Islands and Cliffs of Moher. We booked our tour with Galway Tour Company. Quite simply, I can’t recommend this tour enough! While its winding roads and rough ferry rides are not for the faint of heart (er – stomach?), those unpleasantries are completely worth it…promise!

In order to get to our final destinations, we drove along the infamous Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland’s exquisite Burren region. Our first stop was in the quaint fishing village of Doolin. It was there that we took a ferry to Inisheer, the smallest of the three Aran Islands. When we first arrived to the island, we beelined it to Aran Café as it was quite cool and rainy at the time. We filled our bellies with delicious garden-to-table food and warmed up with some hot tea.

Before we knew it, the sun was out and we took the opportunity to explore. Between ancient churches and castles, lighthouses, beautiful beaches, and shipwrecks, this tiny island (population: 249) has so much to offer. As we only experienced a fraction of its offerings in the short two hours that we were there, we agreed that, in retrospect, we would have loved to stay there for a night. If you visit Inisheer and are lucky enough to have sunny weather from start to finish, be sure to rent a bike as you will experience so much more that way.

After our short stop on Inisheer, we took the ferry back to Doolin. Instead of staying inside the ferry like we did on the way to the island, we opted to sit outside and it was a complete game changer! The sea-sickness that we experienced on the way to the island became virtually nonexistent by simply taking in the fresh air and admiring the vast waves of the Atlantic. The icing on the cake? Our route back to Doolin allowed for incredible views of the Cliffs of Moher from the sea.

Next, we got back onto the bus and headed to the top of the Cliffs. While photos of them are absolutely stunning, no photo that I’ve seen to this day do these beauties justice. They are truly majestic. After taking them in from various vantage points, we headed back to Galway. On the way back, we made a pit stop at the “Baby Cliffs” in Ballyreen, and I jumped on the opportunity (literally) to frolic atop the Burren.

When we returned to Galway, I took a solo walk along Galway Bay, also known as “The Long Walk.” Between countless swans, fishing boats, and colorful rowhomes, it couldn’t be more picturesque. After the introvert in me got the alone time that she needed, I met back up with the fam for dinner. We decided to eat Indian at Kumar’s Taste of Asia. Never did I ever think that I would eat Indian food in Ireland, but let me tell ya: it was some of the best Indian food that I’ve ever had. Soon after, we dozed off in anticipation of an early train ride the next morning.

…Next stop, Belfast!