Sight-seeing, road-tripping and picture-taking were the main ideas behind last
week’s vacation, but I did get a few hikes in. Until this summer, foot, knee
and back troubles had kept Melissa, my wife, off the trails, but she was determined
to dip a toe in the dirt on this trip. Fortunately, we chose some of the most
stunning locales anywhere on the planet, so there was plenty to see on trails
that were a breeze by my standards. A quick look at the trails we trod:

Zion Canyon

The hard trails get you up high on the canyon walls, which is all well and
good from an elevating-your-heart rate standpoint, but the easy trails offer
access to some of the amazing water features of the canyon — and I’m not talking
about the Virgin River, which carved much of the canyon. The porous sandstone
near the canyon allows water to seep deep into the rock, where it escapes via
small cracks in the canyon walls. These create tiny streamlets, waterfalls and
reflecting pools, along with impressive tiger-striping of the canyon walls.
We saw these in abundance on the Riverside Trail, a mostly flat (and
paved) two-mile loop, and the Lower Emerald Pools Trail, a 1.2-mile loop.
And don’t miss the steep quarter-mile walk to Weeping Rock. All this can be seen up-close rather than with a pair of binoculars. More on
Zion trails here.

Bryce Canyon

If you have just one day in Southern Utah, Bryce is the place to go. The hoodoos
are so out-there strange and wonderful that the must be seen up close to be
believed. Save all the other sights for a later trip; they’ll still be there.
The great thing about Bryce is that it’s reasonably easy to take in the whole
canyon’s amazing grandeur and see the rock formations up close. The Rim
provides an excellent, mostly flat overview of the canyon (Bryce Point
is an excellent place to check it out); you can just hike as far as you want
and turn back. Melissa made up her mind that she could handle the Queen’s
Garden Trail
, which goes down among the hoodoos for little over a mile,
then turns back for a 320-foot climb. Beginners will endure some major huffing
and puffing on the way back (the trail’s at about 9,000 feet) but anyone with
a reasonably active lifestyle should be fit enough to handle it. More on Bryce
trails here.

Grand Canyon North Rim

I know, it’s in Arizona, but it’s closer by road to Bryce and Zion than the
South Rim, so it’s really a Southern Utah (plus about 60 miles) destination.
If you’re traveling with a rookie hiker, the North Rim is a good place to first
to get used to the idea of standing next to a thousand-foot drop-off. Melissa
has serious fear-of-heights issues that induced a few white-knuckle moments
at the North Rim, but she gutted them out and was able to handle Bryce and Zion
much more easily. The first place to go at the North Rim is Bright Angel
It’s just a quarter mile from the Lodge, all paved, but it is rather
steep and imposing to first-timers. There are no handrails along the way, though
there are rocks to lean against for support. Another place to see is Cape
, the only point on the North Rim where the Colorado River is visible.
The trails at Cape Royal are easy, flat and not very long, and the overlooks
are stunning, perhaps better than the view from Bright Angel. You have to drive
down more than 20 miles of twisty mountain roads to reach the point, but it’s
well worth the effort. More on North Rim hikes here.