Activities around the Utah National Parks

Activities with Kids in and around the Utah National Parks

We started our Utah Parks loop with Canyonlands driving up from the south from Durango, Colorado.

On the way to or from the Canyonlands Needles entry is the Wilson Arch – Our kids really enjoyed this easy stop along the highway 191. You do not have to enter any park or pay an admission fee and if you are driving from the south, this will be one of the first arches you see and be able to hike to. Our kids liked the openness of Wilson Arch. They were able to run to it and climb up to and around it. After driving, it was great to get some energy out. They enjoyed this arch more than some of the more dramatic ones we saw later at Arches because it was more accessible. It is right on the side of the road. It does get hot and sunny here in the afternoon.

Newspaper Rock – Just before the entry to Needles, you first come to Newspaper Rock. We were a bit surprised at how exposed the petroglyphs are. It seems as if they should be more protected so that the carvings do not wear away and so that people do not try to carve more into the rock. That said, you can easily drive up to the parking lot near it. Once parked, there is a short path to walk to the rock. The rock is fenced off and you can walk around it to see very well marked Petroglyphs spanning 2000 years. It was one of our boys’ favorite things to see in our two week trip.

Canyonlands Visitor Center – We stopped and picked up the Junior Ranger magazine for the kids so that they could do the puzzles and answer the questions as we hiked. We did this for each of the National Parks. It involves the kids in what is unique about each park and they get their Junior Ranger badge after they complete the necessary exercises for their age level. We also have National Park passports, so we got our stamps and stickers at the Visitor Centers for each park. The boys like to track their progress.

Needles Entrance – Once in Needles, Canyonlands was the least populated park we visited in our two weeks. The Colorado and Green rivers meet in the park. We went to the end of the road and hiked Slip Rock Trail and Pothole Trail. We passed the Shoe rock to get to these and the hikes were short, easy and scenic. It was hot and sunny, but we were the only humans around on the roads and hiking trails. We had this part of the park to ourselves — a real treat in a National Park. Canyonlands is the largest and the least visited of the Utah Parks.

After visiting Needles, we drove north to the La Sal mountains and headed east about 20 miles to our cabin outside of Moab. It was more quiet than being in Moab and we had beautiful views.

In the morning, we drove into Moab for breakfast and then to explore the northern end of Canyonlands National Park.

Dead Horse State Park – Before entering Canyonlands Islands of the Sky do not miss a quick stop at Dead Horse State Park which is along the Islands entry road. It is another separate admission, but I am sure the State Park can use the extra $20 per car to take care of the land and it is worthwhile. This is one of your only opportunities to see the actual rivers at the base of the canyons. It sounds crazy, but there are very few places in Canyonlands were you can glimpse the Green or the Colorado Rivers. At this State Park, you can see both. At the end of the road, there is a great set of shade structures from which you can look out to many directions to see the rivers and how they have cut the canyons. There are a number of plaques explaining the layers of rocks and when they are from.  You can see many land forms up close as well as many things in the distance. It is worthwhile although it can get very hot. Do take your hat and water.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky – We did a number of shorter, easier hikes which were still wonderful and gave us a good sense for the park. We saw and hiked around Mesa Arch. We drove to the end of the road and hiked to Grand Point Overlook. You can walk from the parking area just to the lookout or down the stairs. From the stairs, there is a beautiful, flat rock walk with views of the canyon. The views here reach all the way down to the Needles Area of the park. These hikes are easy and worthwhile.

From Canyonlands, we went to Arches National Park. We stopped first at the Arches Visitor Center at the entrance to the park. – The Park movie was helpful to understand how arches form.

Arches – We spent one full day at Arches and felt that we had seen and gotten a good feel for the park. There are supposedly 1,600 to 2,000 stone arches, which is the highest concentration of arches in the US in the park, but only a few of these are visible from the drive or hikes. The park has an 18 mile scenic drive around it to see the arches and from which a number of short, easy hikes are available.  We hiked around Balanced Rock. We went to the Windows and hiked up to the North Window with a large group of very disrespectful foreign tourists. I love the fact that people from other countries want to visit our National Parks, but when people blatantly ignore the signs which say “delicate eco-system” and “please stay on the path” by walking straight off the path in large groups to take photos; it makes me very upset. I wish the large tour bus companies bringing them into the parks would talk more clearly (in their native tongue) to them about this. That aside, we had a great view of Turret Arch and walked to South Window. The crowd thins out there. If you then hike back from behind South Window, you will be alone. This gives you wonderful views, but make sure you do it with a buddy, water and a hat. The trail takes you back to the lower parking area and near the entrance to Double Arch. Double Arch was crowded and never empty of people. We drove to and loved the longer hike to Landscape Arch. It was my favorite arch in the park. It sits alone in a more natural setting. There is also a look-out to Delicate Arch, so if you do not want to do the long and strenuous hike to Delicate Arch (which is recommended only in the cool morning time and not with children under 10 to 12), you can see it at a distance at a look-out point. The Fiery Furnace is also a famous hike in the park, but requires an advanced reservation. It is supposed to be hot and strenuous, so we chose not to do it with our kids. Compared to the other National Parks in Utah, Arches was my least favorite. It is the most crowded and the arches are mostly just sitting out by themselves. It is small and doable in a day unless you want to do the longer hikes.

Adrift Adventures (in downtown Moab) for River Rafting – One of our afternoons while at Arches National Park, we booked an afternoon with lunch river rafting trip with Adrift to see the Colorado River. This is a mild, all ages trip, compared to other rafting trips we have taken. On the plus side, this is a well-organized group. We met at the Adrift headquarters in town in Moab. They gave us plenty of time to get organized. Here are my recommendations on what to wear and what to bring. Wear technical clothing which is light and dries easily. If you sunburn easily, wear longer sleeves. Bring sun cream in a zip-lock bag. Bring a hat with a string to secure it under your chin. Baseball caps and unsecured hats will blow off. Two people lost their hats in the river on our cruise. If you want to bring your camera, put it in a zip-lock bag and request a wet bag at the headquarters; when on the boat, you can put it in one of the white buckets on the boat. Wear water shoes or closed toe sandals. You will get wet. There is no shade on the trip. Your arms and tops of legs will get a lot of sun on a sunny day. From the headquarters, they pack everyone into one or two school buses and you drive down a very scenic road about 20 minutes to the launch site where other boat companies are taking off also. The river and locations are busy. The float is very safe and it is a great journey for kids and people at all skill levels. The lunch is well organized. They serve sandwiches of all types, chips, salads, cookies and fruit. On the less plus side, this was a mild trip. We only went over five or six rapid locations and they were not that exciting. If you are looking for more white water, this may not be the group or level for you. The rapids were level 1 and 2. On previous trips in CA and OR, we often got off the boat and were able to swim alongside. Floating on a river has been a past joy with our kids. On this trip, it was discouraged. I got the sense our guide was not comfortable with it. We got out once and he asked us to get in very quickly. We had requested a kayak and so my husband and boys were able to kayak alongside the larger boat for most of the float. That was a fun extra option. I would recommend this group for a first time river rafting experience, larger groups, a mix of skill levels and for younger kids.

From Arches National Park, we drove west to Captial Reef National Park.

Capital Reef National Park – Capital Reef was one of my favorite Utah National Parks. It is large, has an incredible history and it is not heavily visited. The Rangers we met were friendly and very informative. Since there were not many people there, they spent a lot of time with us. It is north between Arches and Bryce. The Native Indians of that region, the Fremont Indians were along the river and in the gorge from about the year 500 until 1700. For the last two hundred years, white settlers joined them and grew fruit there. So, there is a mix of orchard and indian carvings to see. The park gives out fruit to guests (apricots in season) before hikes because the history of park was as an orchard. We really enjoyed our visit to the Homestead house and the barn is a nice stop. They sell pie. My favorite drive and hike was the Capital Gorge, which was the original road into the area. Amazing panoramic views of the gorge are available right off the road from Goosenecks and Sunset Point.

Petroglyphs Trail – These Petroglyph Trails were less impressive than we thought they would be. The most impressive fact about them is their age. From 500 – 1700 is remarkable. But, the etchings themselves and how hard they are to see at the distance they are make them difficult to make out and really connect with. You walk along two boardwalks. On the walk on the right hand side, you have to keep your eye out to spy the very faint carvings. Most people on the boardwalk walked right past the faint animal etchings in the stone. On the left hand side, there are a set of people carved and then many animals stretching to the left of the rock face.

Fruita and the Gifford Homestead – In the middle of the Capital Reef Park is the Gifford Homestead with a rich history of what it was like to live and work as farmers in the gorge area and raise most of one’s own food. The family traded with the Indians and grew all their own fruits and vegetables. The kids there went to a one room school house which is also in the park. They were there into the 1960’s. They are one of the last Mormon families living and growing fruit alongside the Indian groups who lived along the river valley there, which started hundreds of years before. It is nice for kids to see that and try to understand what it was like for early settler families to live in that valley. We liked visiting the farmhouse and lovely barn with its pies and gifts to purchase.  There is parking alongside the farmhouse.

Nature Preserve – The ranger at this location was super friendly. Our boys brought their Junior Ranger books and were able to ask questions and learn much more about the park, what it was like for settlers and adventurers in the park, and to complete the Junior Ranger program.

Capital Gorge Road – This Scenic Drive was amazing. I was so glad that they let us drive it and see the gorge. Driving the original Capital Gorge Road was one of my favorite places in all seven National parks we visited in two weeks. It was very out of the ordinary (There are a number of YouTube videos of the drive). You drive on a rutted dirt road and so the driving is not quick, but you can see the gorge of narrow rocks up close. This was the original road in and out of the park area in the early 1900’s. At the end of the road is the Gorge Trail. You can park, (go to the bathroom) and just look into the gorge further or hike further into the narrow gorge with more time.

We hiked Gooseneck look out – The trail was very hard to follow to the metal, protective look out so many people just walked to the edge, which was a bit dangerous. From the parking, there is a fenced in, safer look out to the left of the parking area. The view down either side of the canyon and down the river is very dramatic. I preferred seeing it with the railing and protection for the kids.

Sunset Point Hike – At the end of our day at Capital Reef Park, we drove to the parking for Gooseneck and Sunset and hiked to each. Luckily, we left Sunset for last. We were the only people on the trail and we spent lots of time on it and at the point. It was a fun hike and very beautiful. It was one of my kids’ favorite hikes and places on our whole two weeks trip. The hike starts uphill, like many of the rocky park hikes. Then, you come to a flat, wide path that runs along the rim of on overlook. The rim path takes you to a point with large rocks laying in almost a shelter pattern. The view is of parts of the canyons and at sunset the colors are great. My kids pretended that the point was their new home and called out certain rooms in the rocks as their own. They had a great time climbing around and finding best views. It was a great hike and a beautiful spot. Capital Reef Park was beautiful and rugged with few people. Two thumbs up, especially in the late afternoon or close to sunset.

Route 12 Boulder to Escalante – Route 12 is an “US Scenic Byway” and is worth the drive. It is particularly beautiful between Boulder and Escalante, Utah. The road narrows to cliffs and has dramatic views on either side. It is particularly lovely at sunset with all of the red rock and deeply carved river canyons. It is breath-taking and highly recommended. If passengers are scared of heights, you can stop the car at pull-outs and see the views. They are less terrifying if you are not driving past them with very little clearance on either side of the car.

While in Escalante, we visited some of the sites associated with the Grand Staircase, which are the rock formations which are part of what forms the Grand Canyon.

Escalante Visitors Center – We stopped at the huge “interagency” Visitor Center for the Grand Staircase area in Escalante. It covers three parks: Glen Canyon, Grand Staircase and Dixie State Park. They also gave us information about the Petrified Forest. It was large, well-managed and informative.

Petrified Forest State Park – We stopped for a few hours at this State Forest. There is an entry fee per car, but it was worthwhile. There is a swimming lake right next to the check-in cabin, which we did not try. Off to the right, you can park and there is a nice hilly trail up and looping around which takes about an hour. You can get a great view of the area and see a number of beautiful petrified logs. You have to watch out for them because they are just lying next to the path. It’s easy to walk by them. You can spy them from all the colors shining from them. There was less petrified wood than we were expecting. I was expecting large groups of trees and this path contains a few sets of broken logs to see. The main groups of them are at the end of the loop trail. There is also a large log to see next to the parking lot. Our kids liked the hike and seeing the petrified wood stones because they have not seen much of it before. It was a good stop on our way to Bryce.

Overall Bryce Canyon National Park – We loved our visit to Bryce Canyon National Park. This is probably obvious, but most of the main trails and sites all face and focus on the canyon (Bryce Canyon) which is filled with interesting rock formations called hoodoos. There is no denying that this is a busy National Park. We had recently been to Capital Reef Park and so in comparison, this park seemed crowded. But, when we arrived, we were still able to park in the parking lot at Sunset Trail our first day. Our second day, we parked near the lodge. Once parked, here are my recommendations:

1) Take the shuttle to the spots where you want to hike. The shuttles go in a loop and pick you up within a 10 minute wait (during normal daylight hours) and take you wherever you want to go on the park loop. It is very convenient and parking does fill up. If you ever cannot find parking, there is always parking somewhere around the Bryce Lodge and Cabins.

2) We started with the Sunset to Sunrise hike on the Rim Trail. This is an easy hike and it is paved. This is accessible to anyone and you can see the entire canyon. Anyone of any ability, if you only do one hike or only have one view into the park, this is your hike. It can be only one mile total and can take as long as you would like it to. When you are done, you can go to the lodge for drinks and souvenir shopping. If you would like to do more, there are other great hikes, most of them taking you to other ends of the canyon to look further into it or hike further into it!

3) We really liked Inspiration Point which has three levels of height to its hikes and the Navajo Loop Trail.

4) If you do Navajo Loop, it is best at the start or end of the day because it gets hot and crowded, but it was one of my favorite hikes of our two week trip to seven National Parks. Really worthwhile.

5) We stayed at the Bryce Cabins in the park, which were also a highlight but need to be booked at least six months in advance. It is worthwhile just to be able to walk out of your cabin and be a few feet away from the canyon edge and the Rim Trail.

6) We sat between Sunset and Sunrise on the Rim Trail at sunrise one of our mornings, which is a real treat. Bryce is worth a visit.

Sunset to Sunrise on the Rim Trail – We started at the Sunset to Sunrise hike on the Rim Trail. This is an easy hike and it is paved. This is accessible to anyone and you can see the entire canyon. Anyone of any ability, if you only do one hike or only have one view into the park, this is your hike. It can be only one mile total and can take as long as you would like it to. When you are done, you can go to the lodge for drinks and shopping. If you would like to do more, there are other great hikes, most of them taking you to other ends of the canyon to look into it or further into the canyon. We sat between Sunset and Sunrise on the Rim Trail at sunrise one of our mornings, which is very special.

Inspiration Point – We took the shuttle to Inspiration Point. There are three levels to the look-outs with steps up. At each level there is a viewing area with railings to look out along the Rim Trail and into the Canyon. Each viewing area is quite a bit higher than the previous one and the hike up is steep. All four of us (two adults and two kids) were able to hike and stop at all three to see the view. It was worthwhile to see the canyon from any other view point. There were less people here than on the Rim Trail and at Sunset and Sunrise, which I appreciated. We were able to get better group photographs. We didn’t have to wait long for a shuttle back to the Lodge. Shop at Bryce Lodge was nicer than other Visitor Center shops.

Navajo Loop Trail – I recommend taking Navajo Loop Trail clockwise from Sunset area and seeing Thor’s Hammer first to Twin Bridges (you have to walk back to see them, it is not well marked) and then to the half-way mark.  There is a benchmark at the half-way point and a nice shady area to hang out and have some water. Then the incredible climb up Wall Street. Do both ends of this early in the day. It is beautiful and incredible that they let people do this trail without railings or safety. We are so lucky to have that freedom and beauty available to us. It was one of my favorite hikes of our two week trip to seven National Parks. It is really worthwhile.

From Bryce Canyon National Park, we drove to Zion National Park.

Our first hike in Zion was a short one from the Visitor’s Center to the Nature Center. It was very helpful and great for our kids. Ranger Tom led the children’s programs. Afterwards the kids walked around for photos and answered questions in their junior ranger books. It was an informative center and worth a visit with kids.

We started at the Lodge and hiked to Emerald Pools and up to Grotto Shuttle stop and took the Shuttle back to the Lodge. Our first hike to see something at Zion was to the Emerald Pools. We hiked to the lower pools and back via the trail to the Grotto. Both were beautiful, although the trail back to the Grotto at sunset was more breathtaking. The hike to the pools tends to be crowded, but it is nice to see the pools and it can be nice and cool on a hot day. The rocks around the pools can get slippery so watch any kids and their footing. This first hike was a great way to get to know Zion and it’s a very straight forward hike for young kids or less able hikers. The path is paved and there are railings. You can stop there and head back down. We continued around the pools and took the trail up and above the pools back to the Grotto shuttle bus stop. This hike didn’t have any people on it and gave great views back down the valley towards the Zion Lodge. Our kids really liked the hike and we really appreciated the beautiful views.

The Narrows Hike – Hiking the Narrows along the Virgin River was one of the stand-out hikes of our entire two week trip visiting seven National Parks. It is unusual to get to hike in the narrow area between two canyons and it is unusual to hike through a shallow river stream. It is special when a National Park enables you to do exceptional activities that stretch you as a visitor and give you a real sense for what makes a park unique. The Narrows gives you that activity. We took the recommendation to do this hike first thing in the morning while it was cool and to avoid the crowds. Here’s my recommendations on how to approach the hike. You take the shuttle to top of the line, which is the Temple of Sinawava stop. The hike starts with a mile walk on land down the Riverside Walk Hike and then you enter the stream. There is a stop there with a flat area and seats where you can adjust your gear, relax, drink, etc before you enter the water. You can hike to the stream and just take photos and turn around  without getting wet (and if you are less mobile) or you can hike any portion of the nine miles up and back in the stream from there. The only way is up the stream and back. My understanding is that the river water is waist high for an adult at times, so it is not advisable for kids to do the full hike. We hiked 25 to 30 minutes up and 25 minutes back and the deepest it became for our eight year olds was thigh high. Of course, do this hike only if no rain is predicted because of the danger of being caught in a flash flood. We got up at 6:30 am and had a light snack in our room. We caught the shuttle by 7 to 7:30 am and were hiking by 8 am on the trail and into Narrows. Three of us used water shoes; one wore Keens. Our boys were more stable with water shoes. The Keens felt like planks on the stones and didn’t give any “feel” for the stones. The water is cold, but it is like swimming in the Pacific. Some friends of ours rented special socks and shoes in Springdale in advance, but we didn’t find these to be necessary. The socks are for cold and the shoes are for stability. Since the rocks are slippery and the shoes are rigid, they seemed to increase your chances for slipping. Each person should use a pole, if you have them, or find a stick, for stability. I recommend technical clothing to dry easily. One adult should bring a camera, preferably a waterproof or water resistant one (in a ziplock bag or pocket).  We were done and had seen awesome rocks, walls and light by 10 am. As we were reaching the end of the water path where we had started earlier, the number of people starting was five times more than when we had started and the buses kept coming as we hiked the trail back. We returned to the lodge and had brunch at 11 am. It was a great morning and our boys felt like “Iron Boys”. If you do only one special hike at Zion with kids who are older than six, this is the hike I would recommend. Do it in an organized way, however. It’s a great one to approach with a “be prepared” approach with kids and get them ready and excited.

Weeping Rock and start of higher – This is a short, easy hike for all skill levels and for kids. You can take the shuttle to the stop for Weeping Rock. We found that the start of the hike can be a bit confusing. There is a small sign for the start to the hike up and to the left. The other harder and longer hikes go to the right. Once on the hike, you walk up to a large, arched rock with seeping water. There are metal steps to help you get under the water. It can be cool and refreshing and there is a nice view. It is often crowded here and the metal steps can be slippery.

Shuttles to other stops for photos – The shuttle service at Zion Park is the best we saw anywhere at the other Utah National Parks. The shuttles come often and do a constant loop. You can go either direction and get to any of the drop off points for the hikes you want to do throughout the day. We picked up one of the first shuttles around 7 am for the Narrows and we took shuttles back to the lodge in the evening up to 6 pm. It was very convenient. We had a parking pass for the lodge since we were staying there, so we just left our car parked there. Otherwise, you can leave your car parked at the Visitor Center or closer to the Park entrance.

Parking at the Visitor Center always worked – There is a lot of signage stating that you should not park at the Visitor Center or it was full. We found that there were always spots available at the Zion Visitors Center throughout the day, even when the full sign went up. People are constantly coming and going from the parking lots. We found parking there at all times of the day during the two days we were there in June.

We drove through Page, AZ to get to Monument Valley and Mesa Verde National Park. While in Page, we visited Horseshoe Bend in the Colorado River.

Horseshoe Bend on the drive out of Paige, AZ – I had read about Horseshoe Bend and it was on our map. So, on the way out of Page, we stopped. It is south on 89 at mile marker 545. I found the entire experience a bit scary for a number of reasons. It is about a mile and half hike roundtrip to the view point. The day we were there it was 100 degrees in full sun by 10 am. It is a State Park site and there is a ranger or two in the parking area, but it is not well maintained or managed as a park. The signage advises that people carry water, but the site was very crowded and most people we saw were 1) not dressed appropriately (not ready for a hike), 2) not carrying water, and 3) not wearing a hat. There is only one shade structure at the half-way point. The viewpoint is about 1000 feet above the river and canyon and there is currently no railing. When we reached the view point, hundreds of people were taking photos and selfies by sitting near or on the edge and dangling their feet off of the rim with cut away rock faces. One group of girls sat together taking a selfie, probably weighing 350 – 400 pounds on the edge of a cut away rock. I couldn’t even look near them as their boyfriends also took photos of them. The likelihood that someone would fall and die while we were there seemed very high. That said, the view of this dramatic turn in the river from very high up is amazing. It looked like they were installing railings this summer; two people died falling over the edge in April and in May 2018.  If you go, I would recommend dressing in cotton or technical, light clothes, wear shoes you can hike in, wear a hat and sun cream and bring water. Be careful near the edge of the rocks due to the extreme fall hazard.

Monument Valley, Navajo Nation – When we arrived at Navajo Nation/Monument Valley area we noticed that there are two separate Visitor Centers or areas. First we arrived at the Navajo Nation Visitor Center and got a map. Then, we entered the Monument Valley drive and paid $20 entrance fee. They treat the drive like a separate National Park, but it is not as open and welcoming nor as well maintained as a National Park. Visitors can only drive a 17 mile valley drive with photo stops. Or, you can take a Navajo guide in a jeep, do a 1 – 8 hour guided hike or take a horse back tour. Our experience was that the road is not well maintained and it is best to do in your own car at your own pace. It is rocky, has potholes and is hilly at the start and end; the best cars for the drive were four-wheel drive. We were fine in a minivan and using the map as our guide. The people we saw with guides were in the open jeeps and were in clouds of dust. We did not see anyone on horseback or hiking. It was incredibly sunny and hot; I would not have wanted to be with a guide, walk 17 miles or be on a horse. The guide books recommended doing the drive at sunset to see the rock formations in the sunset color. We did the drive around 4 pm and looked at the view from the Visitors Center at 6 and 7 pm and liked the colors at that time. By the end of our two hour drive, we had seen enough of the formations. We were glad we drove around to see them, but once around is enough. Two main recommendations: be careful to stay on the road, our tires spun in sand once and I would not want to get caught in sand out there. The best view was at point 9, called Artists Point. If you don’t have time for the full loop, you can do the top half and Artists Point and see most of the formations. Here is a van coming out of the start of the loop road as seen from the scenic viewpoint.

In the morning, we drove 1.5 hours to Four Corners on the way to Mesa Verde; Mesa Verde is another hour at most, away.

At Four Corners, kids loved to put one foot in each of four states (which is a plaque showing a corner of each of the four states which come together in that place) for a photo.

Mesa Verde National Park was quite a shock coming from Zion and Bryce Parks. I would estimate that about 80% of Mesa Verde has been burned in fires in the past 20 years. The types of trees that grow in the park will take hundreds of years to grow back. So, as you drive through the park, it can feel quite desolate. There are many burned out sections in which the trees are empty and stark. The reason to go is to see the cliff dwellings in the rocks.

Cliff Palace (Ranger lead tour) – This was my favorite tour and we did it first. We learned how corn, beans and other crops changed the Pueblo Indians to become more sedentary and start settling down. They built the houses. We learned about all the structures and the mystery of what Cliff Palace might be. It is not residential, so it is not clear what it was used for. All of this knowledge was useful for the other tours. I recommend Cliff Palace first since it is the most majestic and then you have the background for the other tours.

Balcony House – This was my least favorite tour. It has the longest climb and the ranger had the least to say about the building and its contents. It was the spiritual house, supposedly so there could have been much to say about it. Our kids liked climbing all of the tree limb ladders to get up and around the balcony house, which is the highest and steepest of the dwellings we toured.

Long House – I liked Long House except for the long walk to it in the desolate forest. The park used to provide a tour bus to drive from the end of the road to the long house, but that has been discontinued, so the tour includes a long hike down to the dwelling. It is about a mile to 1.5 miles. It’s quite desolate country, so it can look beautiful or empty. We saw some wild horses on our walk, which was interesting. Long house includes some of the oldest dwellings and you can see the old soot on the ceiling from older fires. There are many tools and rocks from the inhabitants cooking which were interesting. It is a large, long set of houses and the hiking between dwellings is easier than in balcony house.

From Mesa Verde, we headed back to Durango to catch a flight home. We were scheduled to ride the special steam train in the mountains from Durango on our last day. Here is information about the Durango to Silverton steam train, which we didn’t ride due to fires in the Summer of 2018. The steam engine RR experience through the mountains is “stunning”. It is a full day experience. You leave in the morning from the town of Durango and ride to Silverton. You return in the evening. There are a variety of train cars and types of seating available, which is summarized on their website. Their customer service people are very helpful  when making your reservation, if you need more information about the types of seating, food and viewing available. I made a reservation for four for a Rio Grande open gondola car with seating on the left side both ways for our trip because apparently, the views are different on the two trips. The details for our trip were  we were expected for a 9 am arrival for 9:30 am departure our of Durango and in Silverton, it was a 3 pm return getting back to Durango at 6:30 pm.  For the kids the return trip views “can be scary” but it is the “best scenery in CO”.

Our railway trip was cancelled due to fires, so on our last day, we drove north from Mesa Verde to Ridgway and down highway 550 for lunch and ice cream in Ouray, Colorado.  Ouray is like finding a small Swiss town in the middle of the Colorado mountains. It is filled with trendy shops and restaurants, none of them are large or from chains and most of them seem healthier and outdoor-life oriented. It has a slightly European feel and it is surrounded by mountains and cool, clean air.

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