Visiting Vashon Island and Blue Sky Farm

Vashon Island, Washington is a 15 minute ferry ride from West Seattle, a 10 minute ferry ride from Tacoma, Washington, and a visit to a more gentle, left-of-center, rural way of life than you expect to find near either of those cities. Vashon is both a residential and a tourist island.

Here’s the view as you arrive by ferry.


Vashon Island is about 13 miles long and 8 miles across; it has the same land mass as Manhattan, but with only 10,000 people. It consists of one main part and a secondary part to the south east called Maury Island connected by a thin strip of drive-able land. Vashon has always been primarily a farming community and initially was used to grow strawberries; hence it has an annual Strawberry Festival each summer. It now is the home to many other types of farms and orchards. Since it is commuting distance to two main cities, some people commute, while others rarely head in to the cities from the island. Many people try to live a self-sustaining life style on the island, growing their own food.

If you ever wondered what happened to socially active hippies of the 1960’s, you will probably find some of them migrated to Vashon.

Getting There

Vashon is actually about a half hour to an hour from Seattle depending on traffic and time of day. You drive south on I-5 to the exit for the West Seattle Bridge and follow the signs towards Fauntleroy and the Vashon Ferry. The ferry takes about 15 minutes to cross to the northern tip of the island and on a clear day, you can get a great view of Mount Rainier. Vashon is also a short hop on the Point Defiance ferry from Tacoma to the south tip of the island.

Vashon’s weather is much like Seattle’s. It can be wet and grey in January and February, but it is mild and can be lovely from April through October. The gardens are green and plentiful. Many people grow flowers, fruit, and vegetables on the island. The fresh food is wonderful.

The fruit and growing season is extensive. Pick Bing, Rainier, and pie cherries at the end of June. Eat or cook with apples which start being in season at the end of June with Transparents and are in season through November with Golden and red delicious, Japanese varieties, Gala, and Jonagolds.  Of course, the berries are amazing all summer with strawberries a highlight for the Strawberry festival, typically in July. Different types of plums and peaches are available in late July and August. The pears typically help wrap-up with apples in the Fall through October.

Many farms grow flowers, herbs and lavender as well as raise livestock and have honey and eggs available.

In general, you will want a car or bike to stay on and visit the island. You can walk onto either of the two ferries to the island and catch a bus to the main downtown. It is possible to stay at one of the lodges downtown and just walk or bus around to the sites downtown, also. But, there are many hikes and sites around the island so if possible, you will want other transportation.

The beaches around the island are often rocky and the tide charts are useful to note when water may cover your hike back to the road or car.


This site is not an advertising site, but since people have been asking me about our farm on the island, I wanted to post information about it and Vashon.

We host Blue Sky Farm Vashon, a beautiful farm which is available as a vacation rental on VRBO, if you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest, heading towards Mount Rainier or the Olympic Mountains, or near Seattle. This post is primarily about Vashon Island, but if you are interested in information about the farm, there is more information below.

Our almost 10 acre farm and orchard on Vashon Island’s westside is very private with a vintage 1924 farmhouse and three barns. It is reserved most weekends from April through October, but availability is updated, you can inquire about it and reserve it, if desired on VRBO. The listings are at the bottom of this blog about Vashon Island.

Things to Do and See on Vashon Island 

Here are some fun things to do on the island. You can:

  • Visit the Vashon Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings from 10 am to 1 pm on the main Vashon Highway across from the Vashon Thriftway (also the main grocery on the island). The weekly Farmer’s Market is a quirky combination of farmers’ produce, prepared food for sale, and market “wares”. It is a great, relaxed venue of island locals, tourists, and families eating Saturday brunch, listening to the occasional live band, picking up local produce and chatting.
  • Drop by the Vashon Library in town on the Vashon Highway. It is part of the King County system and a public library, which is open to all, and is a great stop if you are traveling with kids.
  • Shop at the main grocery store, Thriftway. It sells local produce as well as a good assortment of organic options and gifts.
  • Visit a brewery or two around downtown.
  • Get lost in The Vashon Pharmacy, It is a drug store and also has souvenirs, postcards and gifts.
  • Wander to a number of good coffee cafes (such as Café Luna) and gift shops (like Giraffe). It is fun to park and explore.
  • Visit lavender farms, such as Lavender Hill Farm which offer tours.
  • Visit and do a cider tour at the Nashi Orchards or other orchards on the island.
  • Drive to the south east corner of the island and see Point Robinson Lighthouse, with a rocky seashore, hikes, and a great view of Mt Rainier.
  • Hike one of the on-island trails. Most of the island maps show a few which start from the island’s roads.
  • Take the ferry off of the island from the north to visit Seattle or from the south to visit Tacoma. Two hours from Tacoma is the Mt Rainier National Park and two hours to the west from Southworth is the Olympic mountain range and Hurricane Ridge via Port Angeles. The Olympic Peninsula has many remote and beautiful things to see.


Charmingly, the downtown Vashon Theater shows mainstream movies, but only for a night or two, so catch them while you can. There is a posted schedule and movies are only in town for a short time.

Two restaurant and food options we enjoy downtown are May’s for Thai food (do make a reservation) and the Glass Bottle Creamery (no reservation necessary).  Towards the Vashon Theater, near the Zombie Restaurant and across from the Vashon Presbyterian Church is the relatively new Glass Bottle Creamery.

We stopped there on a warm June evening to try their handmade ice creams and sorbets. My boys tried the coffee chip and mint chip. I tried their toasted coconut and one of their fruit sorbets. They were both dairy free. I tried them as a single (two flavors together) in a gluten free cone. I was impressed by the variety of options available in their dairy free and gluten free choices. Their servings were generous. They have ice creams as well as cakes available in their tiny shop on Vashon Highway. They are also at the Farmers Market in their bicycle driven cart.

Many other island hikes are covered in the books on Vashon Island available. The Country Store sells a variety.  Here are general island websites with additional information: or

Blue Sky Farm Vashon

Here is more information about the Blue Sky Farm vacation rental on Vashon.


You can see availability, inquire about it, and reserve it, if desired via VRBO :

See you on Vashon!

One Week in Lisbon

We loved Lisbon, Portugal! In other reviews and write-ups about Portugal, it is often lumped with Spain, which is selling it short. It stands alone. Lisbon was economical, the weather in December was mild (60Fs) and sunny, and the food was fantastic – seafood and pastries. Say no more! Many of the locals involved with tourism spoke either English or some Spanish. We loved it. Now, I want to go back and see more of the rest of Portugal.

Our highlights were where we stayed, Villa Baixa, our walking food tour with Kika and the dinners we ate each night with seafood and ending with a pastry. Here is a full itinerary starting with where we stayed and then a day by day listing of things to do and places to eat.

There are five central regions where people generally stay. There are two hills of the older city called Barro Alto on one side and Alfama on the other with a flatter area of city streets called Baixa in the middle. There is a trendy area of shopping and eating called Chiado near Baixa which is in the hilly section as you head towards Barro Alto, also. We stayed in Baixa at a central, lovely clean apartment in a great location, with nice views of the castle out of our balcony at Villa Baixa. Our apartment, 5B was on the fifth floor, so the elevator was a plus. We liked being central, on flat streets with a variety of transportation around and easy to find at night.

Our apartment on the fifth floor of the building had a super view of the castle, Castelo de St Jorge. From the small balcony we could see down one of the main Baixa streets to the sea and in the other direction to one of the main plazas, Plac du Figueria. Although our cross street was busy (and lead to the well-known Elevator de Santa Justa), the bedroom was not noisy for sleep. The location was excellent with easy access into all of the main tourist areas of the old parts of the city. We also booked airport rides to and from the apartment (in advance), which was very convenient.

More Details on our Housing … In terms of feedback, having a few condiments, such as salt and pepper and also a map of Lisbon in the apartment would have been nice. Also, the woman who checked us in upon our arrival did not provide any information about the apartment. We did not understand how the lights worked with our key card, how to turn on the stove-top, how to open the safe (which was locked closed), and how best to operate the heating units. We arrived tired at night and she left shortly after we arrived. It would have been friendly and helpful to either have information about those special items in the apartment, to walk us to our apartment and tell us about those items or to tell us about them at the front desk upon check-in. But, the cleanliness of our apartment, the openness and light, having a secure front door with a mostly manned front desk and the central location made up for these issues. We would rent this apartment again.

Joao do Grao – The first night we arrived in Lisbon, we ate dinner close to our rental apartment at Joao do Grao. This restaurant is one of the ones “on the strip” near one of the big Plazas where the men with menus yell at you to eat at their place. We chose the one with the coziest inside decor and for which the man was not yelling, however, we did not know it was because they were closing soon. We thought the restaurants in Lisbon were open late. This place, however, only serves until 10 pm, at least on this Monday night.

As soon as we sat down, the wait staff immediately put out many spreads, bread and appetizers on our table. Beware, in Lisbon you will be charged for each of these! Only select the ones you want and send the rest back. We chose the fish pate and the bread and declined the others. We shared a seafood rice dish and a citron sorbet. The rice dish was filling and good, a bit generic, but hit the spot. The dessert was good. All in all, compared to the other dinners we had in Lisbon this was the least good, but it hit the spot for our first night.

Our second day in Lisbon, I had reserved a food and walking tour with Culinary Backstreets. We lucked out; this was fantastic! At 10:30 am, we met Kika and four other people at Mercado du Riberia, now called the Time Out Market.


From 10:30 am until around 3 pm, she walked around the market, Baixa and Chaido areas of Lisbon with us, introducing us to ceramic shops and traditional foods of Lisbon and telling us about where things came from, how things were made and which shops and restaurants were traditional and good. It was charming, informative and fun.

After the market, we started at this plaza to try some of the traditional ginja (cherry) liquor from the red corner kiosk to warm us up.


My daughter and I enjoyed the walking, the food, the company and all of the information. The highlights of the tour for me were the view from the Nun’s Cantina, Vicente’s for lunch, Landau’s chocolate cake and Mantiegeria for traditional pastries – my daughter and I went back every night for one! We watched every step of their process and then ate two warm traditional pastries sprinkled with cinnamon.


I loved the traditional Portuguese shops as well. We enjoyed  Kika immensely and we liked our tour members so much we met up with them again later in the week for more. It was a great introduction to the city. We took every one of Kika’s recommendations for dinner through-out our week in Lisbon and each restaurant was great.

That night, we ate at A Cevicheria – This was one of my favorite dinners while in Lisbon. It has a low-key vibe, but lovely seafood dishes, many with quinoa. I loved the seaweed butter with squid ink crackers to start. Each dish had an interesting detail. I liked the green gazpacho with a scallop, Portuguese ceviche, fish with quinoa and octopus foam and dessert of citron quinoa. Surprising and fun.  Our wait staff was attentive and helpful. I appreciated the multi-lingual menu. The options were fresh and good. There is just a line of tables in this corridor style restaurant and it filled up quickly. So we ate at 7 pm and were glad to be early.

Arone – The pastries at Arone in Chaido are all made from various sweetened vegetable fillings with nut paste, such as sweet potato with almond, pumpkin with almond, spaghetti squash, etc. It may sound quirky, but the combinations are good and with crunchy meringue or toffee. They are sweet and exciting. We ate here twice after dinner for dessert and enjoyed trying a number of their prize winning pastries.

Gelato – While in Lisbon, we tried many of the various gelato places, all along or around Rua Garrett. We tried Grom, which had nice fruit and dark chocolate flavors. I liked Persimmon there. We also tried Santini both at the market and in Chaido. My favorite gelato were Santini and Sorbettini in Chaido off the main square. Santini used Valhonna for their dark Chocolate and it was very good. Their fruit flavors seemed to be just a bit denser and more flavorful than the others.

We loved our Baixa/Chaido neighborhood near the Santa Justa Elevator and would recommend it as an area to stay. We would have a lovely early dinner each night and then walk back to our active and lively area along Rua Garrett. There was shopping and pastry shops open until 10 or up to 12 Midnight around us. We would have a pastry or gelato and walk around. It was active near us, but our apartment was quiet for sleep. A perfect combination!


On our second full day in Lisbon, we had the full day to ourselves. We walked up from Santa Justa to the Castle, stumbling on a good route up (from Baixa marked with brown signs to the castle) which took us past historic graffiti about Fado and along a road with lovely look-outs towards the Sea. We stopped at a few tile shops we liked before we arrived at the castle walls.

Castelo de St. Jorge – There is an entrance fee, but it is worthwhile to be able to walk along the outer wall of the castle and see Lisbon from this viewpoint.


The esplanade is wide, filled with trees and on a clear day it provides a lovely view of the city. You can also enter the various layers of the old castle walls from here. There is an inner garden with peacocks, which is quite pretty. Then there are two to three layers of inner courtyards and walls of castle.


The castle itself is empty, but it is interesting to walk into it. We did not enter any of the inner buildings or museums, but the entrance fee allows you to.

We walked out of the castle and wandered some of the small streets outside the castle to get a sense for what the upper city was like before cars.

The streets around the castle and Alfama are small and quaint.


There is a very beautiful look-out at the top of one of the streets walking down from the castle towards Alfama. At this pillared viewpoint called Santa Luzia, which is ideal for photos, you can look out to Alfama and the Sea.


Further down the street is the Cathedral Sé. It’s particularly beautiful to be in this viewpoint in the afternoon or at sunset.

From there, you can walk down towards the Cathedral Sé. We loved to walk into the Cathedral and get a sense for the city in older times. It is not the city’s most beautiful church, but it is one of the largest.

Cantinko de Sé – We ate lunch at a restaurant down from Sé near a tram stop so that we could catch the #12 tram after we ate. This was not great food, but we had paella. Our guide later chided us for eating Spanish food in Portugal. But, my black squid rice hit the spot. We tried three pastries afterwards and they were not great. After walking all day, though it was good to sit down and get warm.

Tram 12 – Riding the trams in Lisbon is great fun. The central city trams are the best. It is easiest to catch these at the start of their run, at the start of a day or at meal times when they are not as crowded. Tram 12 runs a loop starting at Plac du Figeria, up the hill of Alfama, back down through the main street of Baixa and back to the Plaza again.


It is fun to just run the whole loop and see Alfama. It takes about 20 minutes. We got on in the Plaza and rode the tram the whole route for 2.90 euro each. My favorite part of the ride was that a number of older Portuguese women got on the tram after the end of their working day. They obviously knew each other and the driver, who was a young woman. They all greeted each other and chatted. The driver dropped each off at their home along the route. It was very sweet.  Tram #28 runs east/west across the city and goes past many of the sight-seeing spots in the city. It gets very crowded.  You can purchase 24-hour public transport ticket, which includes the metro and all tram and bus services for 6.30 euros, but they can only be purchased in metro stations.

Tapisco – We ate dinner at Tapisco for our third dinner out and it was my favorite. It is also at the top of Dom Pedro in Barro Alto near some of the other restaurants. It is a long corridor style restaurant which fills up as it gets later in the evening, so we were glad to arrive around 7 pm for dinner and not have a problem getting a table for two. We had a wonderful dinner. They served traditional, but very elegant and special food. I had the salted cod with potatoes and it was perfect. Fantastic service and food. We loved it.

Our third full day, we had another tour with Kika. Francesca Menano or Kika, is a tour guide with Culinary Backstreets, but is also starting to do private tours on her own. We liked her so much from our first official day and food tour (see above), we hired her on her own with the four other people we met before, for a tour of her choice. It was wonderful.

Fado with Kika – Kika met us north central and introduced us to Fado music and how it started in Lisbon. In the area known as Mouraria, which is between Baxia and Alfama, the Fado music of Lisbon and Portugal is supposed to have been born.


There are a number of famous Fado singers from this area. There are some well know female singers who started here who were very poor and probably prostitutes. The music was popular with the poor people of this area, but these singers also brought it to the people of Lisbon. One singer, Mariza was popular world-wide.

There are beautiful photographs which have been transferred to the walls of buildings in the streets of this area. As we walked to the Alfama, the photo transfer art on the walls depicts some of these singers and some of the neighborhood people of modern times, also. We walked through some small back streets and saw the buildings and places where Fado started. It was very special, since we would never have understood it or found it on our own.


From Mouaria, Kika lead us up a set of streets labeled with brown signs from Plac du Figueria to the Castle along which you can see the murals about Fado to the Castle walls. There are lovely shops and places to eat. There are also great views out to the water. Kika is an expert about the history of Lisbon and all the best places to eat, shop and to get the best views. She is indeed an expert on the city. We loved walking and eating with her.

Miss Can – For lunch, we visited Miss Can, which sells canned fish. I know, not everyone thinks they will like canned fish. But, we all went in and the charming owner (who is a friend of Kika’s) opened four to six cans of his fish caught and canned in the north part of Portugal. He also had a number of salads and we all tried different things: salted cod with garlic, tuna with rosemary, stuffed squid, mackerel in spicy sauce, tomato salad, etc. We also had special Portuguese “green wine” Vino Verde, which is like a champagne without bubbles in taste. Everything was wonderful. We all bought canned fish to bring home. I recommend trying it.


Ramiro – Our third evening, dinner four, we went to the famous Ceviche Ramiro for seafood. We knew we had to go early and that we would just have plates full of seafood, but we didn’t know what else to expect. We went at 6 pm. There was no wait and tables were still open. When we left at 7:30 pm, this was not the case. It was a wonderful experience. It is busy and loud with long tables for multiple parties at a table. The male wait staff divide up the parties at the tables. You order various plates of seafood and the food comes in the order it is ready. We had shrimp in garlic and butter, a steak sandwich, the crab, steamed clams and a plate of buttered toast. Everything was excellent. It was “just” seafood without any extras. No salads, no side dishes, no veggies, no desserts, unless you order them ala cart. If you love seafood done multiple ways, this is your place. No frills, nothing fancy and it was affordable.

We started our fourth day at the Time Out Market for a brunch. We wanted to get there before the crowds, so we arrived around 10:30 or 11 am. It was perfect. We were hungry, the shops were open and not busy, and the tables were mostly empty. By the time we left at 12 Noon, it was packed with very few free seats. We got a steak sandwich and octopus salad at the Michelin star restaurant Sa Pessoaa. We got ham, cheese and melon from Manteigeria Jose Oliveria and Sorbetto from Santini. It was a wonderful brunch. By 12 N there was nowhere to sit in the market. The market is a great place to try small plates from some of the great chefs and restaurants with a Michelin star level in the city without having to walk all over the city and without having to pay for a large meal. It is very popular.


From Time Out, we crossed the street and caught the Tram #15 and rode it out of town about five miles to Belem. We got off near the small town and to see the Belem Monastery. You can view the lovely outside with all the carvings. If you want to go inside and see the chapel, you can see it free of charge. If you want to see the cloisters, you need a ticket. You walk further down to the art museum and you can purchase a ticket for the museum and the cloisters and see the sections you want to see. The ticket machines are automated, but there is usually a person there also to help. Unfortunately, the day we visited there were large school groups there which were very noisy and it was not very pleasant. It was still lovely to see the cloisters, but we walked through quickly.

Belem Tower – We walked further down the sea walk to see the famous sculpture of the people of Lisbon on the sea going vessel at the port and then to the Tower of Belem.


The Tower is from the 15th Century and is said to welcome the sailors coming back home into port to Lisbon.


It is wonderful to be able to walk around it and view it from many sides. You can also enter the tower and look out of its windows. We just viewed it from the steps and from the wall to its side. It is an icon of Lisbon.


Belem is famous for introducing the pastries of Lisbon. When Portugal became a dictatorship, the monks of the monastery were not allowed to worship any longer. They needed to earn money, so they started to sell some of the foods they had been preparing for themselves in the monastery. One of the recipes was for their cream pastries, Pastel du Nata or also called Pasties de Natal. These became very popular and are now one of the symbols of Lisbon. The original recipe is still a guarded secret, although other bakeries also make similar pastries. The Pasteis de Belem are available from the restaurant with blue awnings near the Monastery. There is usually a long line to purchase the pastries from the shop, but if you want to eat inside, you can go around this line and go inside to sit down. There may still be a line inside for seating, but it is usually much shorter. You can order from the menu and have tea and coffee. It is quite lovely to sit inside, also. The pastries of Belem were our favorite.

That night, we ate at the fanciest restaurant in Lisbon, Bairro do Avillez. We had made a reservation for 7 pm to make sure we had a table. There are three sections to the restaurant and we were in the back. Interestingly, although it had been hyped and the prices were much higher than other places we had eaten, the food was not better. The desserts were much more elaborate and were the best we ate anywhere, but the entrees were disappointing for the price. My daughter tried a traditional stew with pureed bread and it was not as tasty as she had hoped and was not served with anything to eat it with, such as rice or potatoes.

After dinner, we walked up towards Dom Pedro and went to Cafe Luso for Fado music. We had to purchase a minimum of food or drink, but the Fado was playing from 10 pm to 2 am. There were four Fado singers, three women and one man. We really loved one of the female singers and enjoyed her solo set the most. It was a real treat to get to hear the traditional Portuguese Fado music in a beautiful setting with the ceramic bricked ceiling of an older building.

Our last full day in Lisbon, we decided to do more shopping and see anything we might have missed walking through as locals might before the holidays. So, we:

  • purchased some gifts in gold at O Bau.
  • had lunch at the typical Portuguese “fast food” café, A Padaria in Baxia.
  • purchased textiles and woven wool at Chicoracao.


  • purchased a few gifts which were hand made by local artists at A Arte da Terra gallery, which is housed in a beautiful old building worth seeing itself.

Our last dinner in town, we ate at Cafe Fabulas in Chaido. It has a small non-descript front door leading through many hallways to a large outdoor patio and lovely lower ground seating with a tiled traditional roof. The food was simple and lovely. I had a traditional cod with egg and potato set into a quiche sort of pie and my daughter had shrimp. It was filling and good. We had our last Manteigeria pastries in the main Chiado square off Rua Garrett.

We loved Lisbon. It was affordable. The people were open and friendly. The weather in December was warm (each day was sunny and in the 60s). The city has many interesting areas and things to see and do. Most importantly, the food was fantastic. I would love to go back and also see other areas of Portugal. Portugal needs to promote itself more – it is such a wonderful destination!


Kauai and the Big Island, Hawaii with Kids

Reviews and Recommendations of Places on Kauai

Kiahuna Beachside – Our favorite place to stay on Kauai is Kiahuna Planation, which is a set of older bungalows on the south side of the island, Poipu Beach. They have survived for over 40 years and are in a large “plantation” style dotted around lovely grounds along the beach.  Each building has six condos with three on the ground floor and three on the top floor. Closer to the road there are larger and taller buildings. The condos closer to the beach are the ones to rent and I prefer the corner condos on the ground floor so that you can walk out to the beach from either the front or the back of the unit. The older, beach front units back onto the beautiful green lawn which in turn front onto the beach. It is a great setting for viewing the sunsets. There are grills for everyone to use. The only drawback is the pool is across the street near the Poipu Shopping Center shops.


Other than swimming right outside Kiahuna Beachside, we love to walk down the beach to the public beach outside of Brennecke’s Beach Broiler at Poipu Beach. If you can get there early in the morning, it is the best snorkeling on the island. Go to the tip of the beach near the island of rocks where the two currents come together and there is a tip of sand. To the SW side of the tip there are always groups of beautiful tropical fish and sometimes a turtle or two down deeper. Even younger kids can float on a board or be held with googles on and see fish in the shallow water here. It is sandy for about five feet out and then there are rocks, so if you are swimming, water shoes or flippers are best. You can see fish all day here, but before 11 am or 12 N is best before the sun is high, the water is more choppy and it gets crowded.

After snorkeling and swimming, you can always have lunch at Brennecke’s, which is a Kauai tradition. They have great tropical drinks and burgers. It is a grill with all sorts of fish options and great sandwiches, burgers and fries. Kids tend to love the food here. The seats on the second floor all have a great view of the beach and are breezy and fun. If you aren’t staying near-by and walk there from the beach, you can drive and park in the free parking for the Poipu Public Beach. Brennecke’s  even has a beach cam so you can see how things look on a particular day.


Lapperts Ice Cream – We have been coming to Kauai for 30 years and Lapperts was always in Old Koloa Town in the old buildings. They have moved into the new set of trendy and fun shops by the new round-about by the turn for Spouting Horn. But, the ice cream is still the best on the island. The flavors are great and varied and the servings are large. They are also offering gelato now. There are also baked goods for sale, including cookies and various bars. It is open until 10 pm some nights.  In this set of shops, The Shops at Kukui‘ula, there is also a nice organic style market with a juice bar, a few restaurants, as well as trendy and up-scale clothing shops.

Hanapepe Café – One of our favorite things to do while on Kauai is to visit Hanapepe on a Friday night for gallery night. From 5 or 5:30 until 8 or 8:30 pm all of the shops in the town are open with artwork for sale. There are food trucks and music lining the main street and the atmosphere is festive. The best food in town is at the Hanapepe Café. It had been closed due to health issues of the owner, but it is newly reopened since Fall 2015 in half the space. The other half of the old space is now a bakery. As soon as you arrive in town, drop by and put name on list with your cell phone number. When they have a spot, they will call you. Their menu is a small selection of great food including sushi. The night we went, we waited only 20 minutes for a table for five around 6 pm. Their mushroom soup was one of the best I’ve ever had (The other was at Café Gandolfi’s in Glasgow, Scotland around 1990!).


If you are driving to Hanapepe on a Friday night for open studios and gallery night, head out early enough for it to still be light on the drive. If you are coming from the south shore, you will pass Waimea Canyon, which is Kauai’s “Mini Grand Canyon”.


Even if you do not have time or energy to hike parts of it, the view from the road into it is a real treat, especially late in the day when the light on the rock brings the reds, oranges and greens out in the cliffs and trees. The view of the sea heading into Hanapepe is also beautiful.

Koloa Mill Ice Cream, Old Koloa Town – This is the ice cream place that took over the old Lapperts Ice Cream in Old Koloa Town on Kauai. We were surprised when we walked in, because all of the decor is the same. The place looks and feels the same, but when you look at the ice cream and the menu board, it becomes clear that the ice cream is “Koloa Mill”. The flavors are not as flavorful. We each got a double and the ice cream was just not as interesting as Lappert’s. We only went once in the week we were on the island.

A must stop in Old Koloa Town other than the Crazy Shirts chain for t-shirts (for more expensive, but well made, strong, long lasting cotton shirts with ever changing fun designs) is the Island Soap and Candle shop. I love their natural, handmade soaps and always take some for our rental place as well as some candles for gifts or home. You will probably find a smell or two you like and the variety of soaps they have is amazing. Each is good for your skin and gentle on sensitive skins.


Papalani Gelato – The best gelato on the island was at Papalani. We each tried different flavors and found them to be full of flavor and very dense. They were very satisfying. The gelato is made locally and served by the family. It was a relief to find a local family run place when other places on the island are becoming more chain based. It is too bad this is a hidden gem. I hope more people will find it, tucked in back of the Poipu Shopping Center.

From our usual Southern location on Kauai, we always take a day to head to the northern coast. Puff the Magic Dragon lives at Hanalei, so we also visit that area. On a rainy and foggy day, looking out over Hanalei Bay, it’s easy to see how anyone could imagine a dragon living in that area. It is mystic and beautiful. It’s fun to take younger kids there, but it is a long drive to the area and if you drive to the end of the road, do plan on taking all day there and back.

One year, we stopped at the St Regis Princeville Resort and had afternoon tea. It was very fancy and quite fun for my daughter when she was young. I am  not sure if they are still offering this. But, if they are it can be a fun option. The view from the restaurant is the best of the Hanalei Bay.



The Dolphin, Hanalei – We visited the Dolphin for lunch while in Hanalei. It is on the very edge of town with indoor and outdoor seating. The outdoor seating is under cover, which is lucky because it started to rain while we were there. The outdoor seating is along the river and it is fun to watch the paddle boarders and swimmers float by. We loved our lunch. I enjoyed my poke and sushi. They offered many different kinds of fish poke in various sauces and I chose the salmon in sesame. I don’t care for spicy sushi, so I tried their fresh crab California Roll, which was great. My kids all had fruit drinks and loved them. The fish dishes were fresh and good. Dolphin was recommended to us as a great place for dinner also. They also have a fish market around back, so you can purchase fish to take home and prepare yourself. We purchased some souvenirs at that shop.

Hanalei park, Ke’e, Hanea end of the road – We loved driving to the end of the road outside of Hanalei. The road becomes more and more covered with jungle as you wind towards the end of the road. As  you turn, you glimpse small coves and beaches. The houses you see are up on stilts. Finally after a few enclaves of houses, you arrive at the last stop, the beach and State Park. When we got there it had been raining, but the sun shined through at sunset and everything was in a surreal golden glow. It was beautiful. There was a monk seal on the beach, very few people and we had a lovely half hour of sunset. It’s the Kauai shore at its best and the closest you can get to the Napali Coast on foot without hiking or helicoptering in.



Verde for dinner  in Kapaa – On our drive from Hanalei back to Poipu Beach, we stopped for dinner in the recommended Verde. It’s a popular place and we had to wait for 10 – 15 minutes for a table. They move the people through quickly, though and it didn’t seem too long. The food is innovative and fresh. All of us enjoyed our meals. I ordered their salsa verde to have with the homemade chips and it was great if you like more spicy salsa. The kids liked their kids burrito and quesadilla. They were offering the house margarita for $3 and they were tasty. There was also a house green tea which our kids got and enjoyed. I wanted something light and my only disappointment was the tostada. It looked fantastic – a huge mound of lettuce with many sauces. I got it with pork and the flavors were overwhelming. I had about a quarter of it and found it too much of contrasting flavors. Everything else made up for it, however.

Pink – We were disappointed in Pink. We had a recommendation of Pink as the best ice cream in Hanalei and it probably is, but it is not the best ice cream on Kauai. We had been driving all around the island. We love that Pink is owned by a couple and their brother is helping there. It is nice that it is locally owned. But, they only make one or two of their flavors. The others are made elsewhere. We found that their top seller is flavorful and the others were more average. We preferred Lapperts in Poipu.

Kauai Surf School with Kyle – The Kauai Surf School on Poipu Beach is one of the oldest surf schools in the area. Poipu is the best area for surfing, being on the south side of Kauai with the best and most gentle waves. We found the best time for a lesson is early in the morning. We took a lesson at 8 am on a Sunday with Kyle. Kyle is the son of one of the early teachers at the school. He is very relaxed and laid back. He is very specific in his guidance and gentle in his pushes with the waves. Both my daughter and I were up on our boards in the first few tries. We worked with him on land for a half hour and then in the water for an hour and half. We were both on our boards and had a feel for it for the last hour. He let us stay out on the boards trying on our own for another half hour to an hour. It’s harder without his push! Later in the day the waves can be rougher and there are more people swimming.


Plantation Gardens – This wonderful restaurant is part of the registration building on the western side of Kiahuna Plantation.  We have been staying at the Kiahuna for almost 20 years and we eat at the Plantation Gardens at least one night of our stay every year. Part of why we love it is the walk there. We wind our way there through the pathways of the property, ending up at the ponds to the east or towards the beach before we check-in. We have taken many family photos at the outside ponds down the back steps of the restaurant. I also love the open, expansive feeling of the building as we walk through it to our table. We always make an early reservation to sit on the veranda around 6 pm to enjoy the sunset outside during our dinner. The menu is not large, there is always a fish option, a rice option steamed in a big leaf and a stir-fry. I typically get the fish option. I like their tropical drinks. They have pasta dishes for kids. Their desserts are not inspired, but I like the atmosphere and environment for the meal.

Gaylords Luau – I believe this is the best Luau on the island at the Kilohana Plantation. Gaylords is the restaurant and on the grounds they host a luau twice a week and you can book it in advance on the website. We book the dinner and luau option. You arrive around 5 pm, get a lei, walk around with drinks and visit vendors and see demos. If you come with kids, you can get a family photo and take a train ride around the property. My family and I always come early and visit the Clayworks on the property and decorate a clay tile, which they ship back to us. It’s an annual tradition. There are other shops on the property you can visit before the dinner is served around 6:30 pm. The dinner is buffet style and includes a roast pig along with noodle and rice dishes and other Hawaiian favorites and fruit. There is dessert. The luau is a series of traditional story dances for a half hour to hour until about 8:30 to 9 pm. The parking entrance and exit is very efficient. All ages are welcome and the whole event is run very well.


I love the drive to and from the south side of the island. To get to Gaylords, you drive through the “tree tunnel” on highway 520.


Clayworks on Gaylord Plantation – My family and I visit Clayworks each time we are on Kauai. Clayworks sells unique items made by potters there and they also offer pre-fired “naked” clay items that you can decorate with glazes yourself. They will then fire them for you so you can take them home or they will ship them home for you. My daughter and I have been decorating an annual Kauai tile each year for years since she was young and she loves this tradition. The three women who run Clayworks are very friendly and helpful. I recommend this place highly for anyone wanting to visit somewhere with kids to help them create something unique during their visit to the island.


Spouting Horn and Market – Another activity we do on and off when visiting Kauai is to drive down the south coast and visit Spouting Horn, the market there and the Botanical Garden near-by. Spouting Horn is a blast of water that shoots up through the rocks every once and a while. It is fun to see and the kids enjoy its randomness. Beware the soil around the rocks in this area is the famous “red rock” and sand. Even a spot of it on any light fabric will be permanent. The islanders use it to dye fabric that reddish color that you can purchase. But, it can be discouraging to get it all over your favorite white shorts or pants. There is always a jewelry and craft market near the parking lot of Spouting Horn, also. Roughly across the street is one of the Botanical Gardens of the island. It is nice to walk around and through to see native plants and birds.

Community Cat Care of Kauai – This non-profit deserves a mention and support from visitors on Kauai. During our recent visit to the island, we noticed one friendly feral kitten had developed an upper respiratory illness and an eye infection. Losing an eye can mean not being able to hunt and not surviving for a feral cat. I contacted a vet who suggested I contact an organization who used to be called Feral Cat Care, now Community Care Care. There is a network of cat care providers all across the island who will help find feral cats, trap them humanely, find them care with vets, get them medication as necessary and spay and neuter them to help reduce the feral population. This is a huge benefit to visitors and to the island. If anyone needs feral cat help while visiting, I recommend this group. Feral cats are affecting the native bird and animal population, but by spaying and neutering hopefully, this problem can be addressed, also.

Reviews and Recommendations of Places on the Big Island with Kids

After one week on Kauai, we flew to the Big Island to visit the Volcanos. We rented a car and drove via Hilo to stay in Volcano near the Kilauea Crater. It was beautiful to drive into the Hawaii Volcanos National Park and see the crater at night. The park was large and spread out. You can drive easily to the main crater to see the smoke. There is an excellent hike, covered below, which we walked (counterclockwise due to its hilliness with our kids), lava tunnels and the end of the road, from which you can see the end of lava flows. Our boys were interested in all of these areas, but they are each a drive within the park.


Kilauea Lodge in Volcano – Our first night in Volcano, we went to this historic lodge for dinner. It is a beautiful, rustic setting. We loved the entry and the tables set in the entry lobby. Unfortunately, the service and the food were not as good. Our server brought one thing at a time and each stage of our ordering and meal was slow. I ordered the eggplant parmesan and it mysteriously contained many other vegetables such as green and red pepper, but very little eggplant.  I ordered it with spaghetti and it first arrived with rice. Small glitches such as that occurred throughout the meal. We enjoyed the setting and had to be content with a leisurely pace to dinner. The food was just ok on our visit.

Lighthouse Café for lunch sandwiches – Our host recommended we stop at the Lighthouse Café for pre-made sandwiches to take with us for hiking in the Volcanoes National Park since there is no food available in the park. This was a good suggestion since there was not any food available, however, the sandwiches were as basic as possible. They consisted of two pieces of bread, two pieces of luncheon meat, one slice of cheese and a slice of tomato and a piece of lettuce on the side. They were the most plain and simple sandwiches and most without-flavor sandwiches I have had in recent memory. I also ordered a slice of spinach quiche hoping for something with a bit of flavor, but none of us could eat it; it had been made with Velveeta cheese! Looking at their website, however, as I add their link, perhaps they have improved since our visit…

Volcano Acres Ranch – I highly recommend a stay at Volcano Acres Ranch, especially for families or groups of four to six. We stayed in the separate house next to the main house for two nights. Theresa and Randall were our hosts and did everything to make sure we were welcomed and our stay was comfortable. They have been hosting in this location for just a few years. They also have about 20 egg laying chickens, a friendly goat and a donkey. Our boys enjoyed talking to the farm animals and wandering around. There is comfortable sleeping for six along with heated mattresses on two of the beds, which was nice on the cooler nights. Theresa provides breakfast in the morning with many options including fresh fruit, juice, toast, muffins, waffles and a breakfast egg sandwich machine, which was a big hit in our family. Theresa cannot cook for you because of Hawaii license restrictions, but the breakfast is sumptuous none-the-less. She can also provide recommendations for the day. She provided excellent hiking and touring recommendations for Volcano Park and recommendations for when we left for Kona, as well.

Kilauea Iki Trail Hike and Thurston’s Lava Tube in the National Park – We spent half a day  hiking the 4.0 mile hike of Kilauea Iki from the parking lot along the rim of the rain forest, down into the crater and across the desolate land, back up through the rain forest of the other side. Crossing the road, you can then enter the lava tube, also. The key for us with kids was to do the hike counter clockwise. This direction meant that we did not climb so much and tire out the kids. Our two six year olds were able to complete the four mile hike in about two hours or so and they did enjoy it. After the tube, one six year old took a break and the other hiked the half a mile back to our car at the trail head.

Update: It’s important to note that both of these trails have been effected by 2018 eruptions since our visit and are currently closed. Please see the park websites for information about other trails and current hikes. I hope that other crater trails will be open instead.


The hikes are marked with piles of lava rocks and so are easy to track and can be fun for kids to follow.

Video at Visitors Center – The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park includes a video of the formation of the islands every half hour which is wonderful to see. I recommend it for kids so that they understand volcanoes and how the islands came into being and their fragile eco-system.


The scale of the valley left by the erupted volcanos is vast and interesting for kids to see.

Volcano Art Center – Within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, just past the Visitors’ Center is the Art Center. It is housed in an old lodge, so it is a series of smaller rooms, filled to the brim with lovely local art. It includes oil painting, wooden bowls and furniture, pottery, woodblock prints, photographs, dishes, fiber art and weavings. There is a full array of artwork here in cost, color and taste. You are bound to find a gift or a souvenir to bring home. We brought home a woodblock print from a local artist we had seen displayed in one of the Volcano restaurants an evening before. Supporting a local artist and bringing home art is a wonderful way to remember a holiday.

On the day we were there they hosted a demonstration of making leis and flower headbands to all children.


Ohelo for dinner – This was our favorite place for dinner in the Volcano area. They serve brick oven pizzas, delicious drinks and fresh good food. We shared three pizzas between five people and our kids got the kids’ pasta with butter and parmesan. The starter salads (we tried one of each) were all good. I tried a blood orange margarita which was tangy and good. The “white” pizza was very strong in its garlic taste. The sausage, mushroom and garlic pizza with a standard base was more flavorful and balanced.

End of the Road at Volcano Park – We loved this drive and stop. We drove this long road from the Kilauea Iki Hike down to the end of the road. It is fascinating to see the recent lava flows and how the island is expanding. At the end of the road, there are cliffs of lava and an arch where the sea is crashing into the land. We did not see any red hot lava, but the end of the road walk is beautiful in its own way. We walked down at the end of the day and no one else was there. As we walked toward the stand of palm trees, we could hear a rattling sound. There is a rattle pad plant along the road which makes a pretty sound in the wind. That along with the waving grass and the area has its own calming desolate peacefulness. There is nothing there and nothing to really see. It is just empty calmness and wind. The park website lists various stops and at times you can see lava flow and its effects at different places in the park.


Black Sand Beach and Turtles – We drove from Volcano to Kona for our flights home and one stop along the way is the Black Sand Beach. The turtles often come up on the sand here and so you can view them from about 20 feet away. It is a wonderful treat to see these beautiful turtles in the wild. The black sand beach is a treat as well. As the lava rock breaks up, it makes the entire beach black sand. It is very warm, which is nice on a cool day.


Punalu’u Bakery – As we drove from Volcano to Kona, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we arrived at a town which had this bakery for lunch. It is large and offers homemade sandwiches and ice cream. We ordered sandwiches and then unfortunately, an entire tour bus also arrived. Just at the time, they decided to close their second register and the line was a mile long when we wanted to get ice cream. Other than that, it was fun to find a place for lunch along a lonely stretch of road. Their ice cream was not very flavorful, except for the Kona Coffee flavor.  I also bought their Kona Cookies, which we enjoyed on the road.


Quinns Almost by the Sea, Kona  – Quinns did not live up to any positive hype. We visited on a recent Saturday night at the recommendation of our host. We waited for everything. The hostess took ages to even come to the hostess stand to seat us. We did get a table for five of us, which was nice, but then everything took a long time. Our waitress took a long time at each step: to bring waters, to take our order and our food took 45 minutes for fish and chips, which was not on the dinner side of the menu. We didn’t order any salads or starters in hopes that it would come more quickly. We ended up having to box our dinners and leave with them because we were so late. Our server was sullen and unpleasant. If our food had been wonderful, we might have been forgiving, but only the fried shrimp was flavorful. The fried fish was dry and uneventful. Quinn’s was a disappointment.

Before leaving the Kona area, we visited the native site, Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park and our kids loved running along the beach front here, seeing the old dug-out canoes used by native Hawaiians and the incredible carvings. It was a well-done and interesting site. There is a numbered walking trail with information at stops along the trail and a map you can follow, if interested in learning more about the people who lived there, how they lived and what the carvings were for. Native Hawaiians lived on the Big Island in traditional ways into the 1900s.


National Parks of Utah in a Two Week Loop Route

Take a two week Loop Route to visit the National Parks of Utah – In June, we flew in and out of Durango, Colorado and visited seven National Parks in and around Utah in a two week loop starting and ending in Durango by heading north and starting with Canyonlands and Arches and ending up at Mesa Verde.

A few side notes as we get started. We learned when the boys were young that if we tried to drive for more than six hours a day, we would have tired and cranky kids. On this trip, we tried to keep our driving to two to four hours a day and we listened to Harry Potter on CD whenever we were in the car.

We were also concerned about the heat in the parks in Utah in the summer, so we traveled as soon as school got out in the first weeks of June. It did get hot, but it was completely bearable.

Kick-off Trip in Durango, Colorado

Summary – Day 1/Night 1 in Durango via the Denver Airport:

We started our two week tour of the National Parks of Utah in Durango, Colorado by way of the Denver Airport. This itinerary with my reviews and recommendations is long, so I start each section (typically about a park) with a summary of what we did followed by a detailed list of where we ate, stayed and what activities we did along with my notes on what worked well and what didn’t with details on things that worked best with our boys.

DEN Wolfgang Puck – We ate at the Wolfgang Puck at the Denver airport and were pleasantly surprised. This place is in the central dining area by Concourse B. I got a humus platter and a salad. My boys got the usual chicken tenders and fries, but they were well made and my sons liked their meals. The healthy options were fresh and good. There was “something for everyone” and it felt like we could find fresh and reasonably healthy options even though we were at an airport.

DEN Haagen Dazs – There is a Haagen Dazs hiding near the B gates at the DEN airport between the  main central food court and the B50 – B80 gates. The signs say frozen yogurt, but if you look closely, there is a Haagen Daaz sign and set of ice creams on the very left-hand side. Why get frozen yogurt when you can have really good ice cream?! So, after our dinners at the food court, we stopped by for cups of Haagen Daaz ice cream to eat at our B gate while waiting to board. It was a good choice. There was even a sorbet option.

Strater Hotel – For our first night in Durango, we booked the Strater Hotel, which is a wonderful historic hotel in the heart of Durango. It is a great location to stay for seeing Durango and for getting a sense for the town when it was an old western town during gold and silver prospecting times. The lobby is fancy with dark, carved wood and wall paper and is full of wooden furniture. There is a bar/lounge on one side and a restaurant on the other, which is great for breakfast. The staff was very friendly and helpful when we checked in and out. There are stairs to all floors and also an elevator. Our first night at the Strater Hotel, our room was in the 240s on the back side of the hotel which looks out on the roof and is sunny in the afternoon. It is in the back of the hotel. It is one of the rooms with two double beds in the room. Our room was very stuffy and hot due to the sun on it all afternoon. I had a hard time sleeping. Our view was also only of the roof, which was not great. When we returned two weeks later, we were in the 330s, which was much larger and had a better view. It was still over the roof, but was higher and so we could see more. I also like that the old windows still open and you can get fresh air, if you would like to. One small annoyance which I think they could easily fix is that the bathroom sink drained very slowly. Otherwise, the bathroom was modern and clean. The hotel has parking advice, so you can park in front to unload and then they give you a map to follow to park your car, which is very helpful. Durango is busy and parking is difficult. If you visit with kids, make sure to ask the lobby staff to show them the secret cubby holes where hotel staff and special guests could stash their valuables in case of a hotel robbery in the old West. Our boys really liked those and they remembered all of them when we returned two weeks later.


Strater Restaurant for Breakfast – We loved eating at the Strater Hotel for Breakfast.  The restaurant is right off the lobby of the hotel. The options for breakfast include many egg options as well as a pecan cinnamon French toast and a chocolate pancake options, which our boys loved. I got one of the egg scrambles each time. They have an option for using local farm eggs , which I chose. They also have gluten free bread for toast. The toast comes with a fresh fruit compote for jam which is incredible. The first morning it was berry and the second it was apricot. I wanted to lick the bowl clean each time it was so good. They provide a $3 off per person for breakfast if you are staying at the hotel.

The Ore House for Dinner – When we knew we were coming to Durango, we made a dinner reservation at Ore House, the historic steak restaurant in town. When prospectors found gold or silver, they would bring their ore into town, get money for it and celebrate with a steak dinner at Ore House. We wanted to get more of a historic sense for the town and so we ate here. Even though we had a reservation, we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table to clear. We tried a variety of seafood and steak options. Our service was excellent but our food was mixed. I loved my ceviche appetizer. My husband and son loved their steaks. I got a wild boar with a quinoa base special and it was disappointing. It was expensive at $40. The boar ribs were interesting, but the quinoa was mushy and uninteresting, with a strange overpowering sweet berry sauce; I left it. For such an expensive meal, it would have been better with just great potatoes or grains and really fresh grilled asparagus or veggies. We also tried their legendary lobster bisque and were disappointed. I love a smooth, dense bisque and theirs is chunky and not as flavorful as I like. The best options on the menu based on our experience were the steaks.  So, this is a place for a special night out and steak!

Start the National Parks loop at Canyonlands

Summary, Days/Nights 2 and 3:

  • On Day 2, for nights 2 and 3, we drove to Needles entry of Canyonlands (3.5 hours) and then to our Cabin
  • For lodging near Canyonlands, we booked the cabins near Mt Peale Animal Sanctuary east of La Sal Mountains.
  • We stayed in the San Juan Sunrise Cabin Moab Mountain #1; 22 miles off the highway. We stayed there two nights to see both ends of Canyonlands.
  • Canyonlands is more isolated but is Utah’s largest National Park and its least visited. It is at the meeting of Colorado and Green rivers.

To kick off our road trip, we drove to Monticello from Durango and had lunch at Peace Tree Café.

Peace Tree Café – It was so nice to find a healthy food stop in what felt like the middle of nowhere on our drive from Durango to Canyonlands National Park. We stopped for gas and found Peace Tree. Later in our travels we found there was a larger Peace Tree Café in Moab, but this was our first visit. You order at a counter and there is table seating or you can take it to go. We each ordered smoothies with healthy fruit, veggies and mix-ins. We ordered Mexican lunch options, such as burritos and warps with great meat, veggie and sauce options. There were also healthy salads. We got our food to go and were able to hit the road again. The parking for Peace Tree is on the side street next to the entry or in a parking lot across the street from the entry. They also sell some Native and local artifacts, jewelry and gifts in a small shop in front of the restaurant which are fun to look at as you wait for your food.

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.

Mt Peale Animal Sanctuary/Moab Mountain Cabin #1 – We really loved our huge cabin, Moab Mountain Cabin #1 at the end of the line off the La Sal Mountain Road (Route 46). It was quiet, big and open around us. The cabin was well equipped with two large separate bedrooms. Each bedroom had a sink in it and the bathroom had another sink and shower. The kitchen was huge with another futon. Everyone was comfortable. The cabin has a wrap-around porch which made shady outdoor seating easy. At night with no outdoor lighting for miles, the stars were amazing. The drive back to the main Moab highway was only 20 minutes and 30 minutes to Moab. The cabins are convenient and beautiful for Canyonlands (Northern entrance) and Arches.  Our boys also really enjoyed being able to help with the rescue animals. When we were there, they had a number of rescue horses, cats and dogs. The boys got to help with morning chores for the horses. They were able to say hello to the dogs. The two women there talked through the animals’ stories which were great for our boys to hear. Humane treatment to animals and thinking about that is a wonderful for visiting kids to be exposed to. It is a nice extra to being a guest there.


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

Love Muffin – We tried to get muffins here for breakfast and at 10 am they were out. Huh? This seemed odd for a muffin shop. We got coffee and left. It was disappointing.

Red Rock Café – We stopped by here (after a disappointing first stop) for muffins and breakfast items and were not disappointed. At 10 am, they were restocking their options. We found coffee and tea as well as a variety of scones, muffins and other gooey desserts. Our only complaint was that what looked like lemon bars in fact had no lemon flavor. Otherwise, everything was great.

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.

Zax in Moab for dinner – We had an early dinner at Zax in Moab. We parked easily on the street after driving in from Canyonlands. After being in the hot sun and hiking in the afternoon, it was nice to walk up to the spray mist around the outside of Zax. I don’t know how much or often they have the spray going, but they had it going all day during the week of early June we were in Moab. It was nice to walk by and feel it. We were seated outside and sat alongside the mist and that also felt nice when a breeze lifted it our way. Zax is known for its pizza. Their most popular option is the pizza, salad and soup bar. My husband ordered that. I ordered a custom pizza. We found that my pizza was the best, being the most fresh. If you want variety and quantity, the pizza bar is best with at least six to ten pizzas out at a time, but it you want fresh pizza and one kind will do, ordering one is best. Our kids loved their entrees, the kid’s salmon for one and pasta for the other. Our service was fine. It wasn’t high-end food, but it hit the spot after all day in the park. The drinks were huge which also helped us rehydrate.

Moab RoasterGelato – For dessert, we each got a small gelato, each of which was huge. My boys got two flavors and they could not finish theirs. Two flavors were labeled sorbet, but only one was a true sorbet without dairy. If you cannot have dairy, that is something to look for. They had interesting flavors, such as coffee chip and some good fruit options. It was a good gelato stop. My husband also bought some ground coffee for the rest of our trip.

Arches and Colorado River Rafting

Summary – Day 4; Nights 4 and 5

On the morning of our fourth day, we drove from our La Sal cabin to Arches National park for the next two days of exploring. We spent the next two nights (Days 4 and 5) in the smallest cabin I have ever stayed in!

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.




Broken Oar – I wish I could give this restaurant a good review. We also took a river rafting tour with Adrift Adventures and I understand that these two groups are linked. Unfortunately, Broken Oar is currently broken. Our waitress was new and the kitchen is painfully slow. We were seated for our 7:30 pm reservation and we waited for 20 minutes for anyone to bring us water or talk to us. No one came. I talked to the hostess station and one of them came over with water and eventually took our order a half hour after we had been seated!  The new waitress came with her. Our salads came in reasonable time, but then we waited for our entrees. And we waited… An hour after we were seated our food started coming. Many things were sweet that didn’t seem like they should have been. I ordered Insalata Caprese. The balsamic and oil on it were sweet. We got sweet potato fries since they are a specialty and they had a sweet sauce. I ordered surf and turf with steak and shrimp and that combo was good.  It ended well, but when we left two hours after we arrived, we were all tired and ready for bed.

Peace Tree Café – Moab – We had a great breakfast experience at Peace Tree in Moab. They also have mist spray all around the outside of the restaurant in the summer. It is so nice to walk by or be seated by the outside wall and have the occasional mist. In early June, we had full fun and daily temperatures in the 90s and the mist was refreshing. We each tried a different smoothie at breakfast. I liked my carrot citrus. We all ordered egg, French toast and pancake options and everything came quickly.  I liked everything mine came with except the potatoes. The fried potatoes are the cut up and fried variety rather than hash browns. The potato squares are powdered with a red spice mix which didn’t have a good flavor to me. Perhaps they would have been better at another meal or to another customer, but they didn’t appeal to me at breakfast. Otherwise, we had a great meal with friendly, attentive service.

Arch View Cabin – Staying here was a “mixed bag”. The web direction information for its location was confusing. Once or twice when we looked up the directions to it, Maps showed it six miles north of Arches near highway 313. This is the correct location. When we looked for its location from its website, Maps showed it six miles south of Moab and that information was incorrect. There is an “Arch- something else” in Moab which is not the same place and the Arch View reservation office is south of Moab, but that is also not the cabin or RV camp location. The location of Arch View Cabins and RV camping is north of Arches National Park, just north of the 313 turn-off. Once here, there are two reservation agents in the store building and checking in went quickly. Our cabin was a “deluxe cabin”, but it was tiny. We had two twin bunk beds on one side of the cabin and a double bed on the other side of the cabin and there was a small corridor between them. The “kitchenette” is only a mini-fridge and a sink and a microwave. There is not a chair or a table or anywhere to sit down in the cabin. You cannot cook or eat in the cabin. You can go outside and there is a grill which takes BBQ charcoal outside with a picnic table. The bathroom is right next to the double bed and has a toilet on one side and a shower stall on the other. There is no extra room anywhere. We could not even bring our luggage into the cabin; we had to unpack what we needed from the car and just bring that into the cabin each day and night. It is the smallest space I have ever slept and tried to move around in. On the plus side, there is a very small pool near the RV spaces and our boys enjoyed cooling off in that. It is about ten to twelve feet long and about five kids can play in it at a time. Also, the park is very close to Arches National Park and the entrance to Dead Horse State Park and the Islands in the Sky entrance (north entrance) of Canyonlands National Park. It is about six miles north of Moab. There are very few trees in the park and so the cabin got very hot and stuffy and we needed to run our AC most of the time. It was hot to sit outside. The parking for our car was directly to one side of the cabin and there was another cabin right next door to us. I would not stay here again unless we could not find larger accommodation in Moab.

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.

Moab Brewery – We had a nice dinner at Moab Brewery. There is parking out front, but it was filling up when we got there. There is also street parking around the sides. We appreciated being seated without a reservation. My boys each got corn dogs and I tried a chile verde burrito, which was great. They have lots of steak and burger options and my husband liked his. This is a no-frills place where our service was fast and attentive and the food was all fine. It wasn’t too expensive and it was good enough for all of us. Sometimes unpretentious is the right thing. Afterwards, we stopped at the front door for gelato. If you have eaten there, you get a discount!  We tried the different flavors and enjoyed them. I liked my mango sorbet. The double in the waffle cone was too much for my younger boys. All good, especially with kids. We would return.

Tamarisk Café in Green River – On the way out of Arches to Capital Reef National Park, we stopped half way for brunch in Green River. We were pleasantly surprised by this nicely decorated, healthy, local food option right off the highway. There is tons of parking right in front. The booths look right out to the river. The food options are diner style, but have a healthy twist. There is a big “Rural and Proud” in lights on the wall and it rings true. There were mostly regulars and locals in when we were there for an 11am breakfast.  We tried the special cinnamon rolls, which are great but with tons of icing (too much for me, but my boys liked them). The special strawberry French toast was a favorite for one of my sons. They had nice healthy egg options. The only healthy option they didn’t have was soy milk, but that was asking for a lot. All in all, we had a great brunch when we were least expecting it, which was a treat.


Capitol Reef National Park

Summary – Day 5

  • Day 5 we drove to Capitol Reef park, which is 2 hours 15 minutes from Arches
  • It is north between Arches and Bryce. We stopped for breakfast in Green River.
  • The park gives out fruit to guests (apricots) before hikes because history of park was as an orchard. Visiting the Homestead house and barn is a nice stop. They have pie, for example.
  • Panoramic view of the gorge from Goosenecks and Sunset Point are worth the stop.

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.

Escalante to Bryce 

Summary – Nights 6 and 7

  • After day 6 at Capital Reef Park, we drove south to Canyon Country Lodge for two nights, our nights 6 and 7. (almost 2 hours south; have dinner before or on drive down). The drive between Boulder and Escalante on Route 12 is a most beautiful (and breathtaking) route.
  • Lodging: Canyon Country Lodge which is one hour from Capital Reed Visitor’s Center, 30 minutes from Grand Staircase National Monument and one hour from Bryce in Escalante, UT for nights 6 and 7
  • While in this area, you can visit the Grand Staircase National Monument Visitors Center in Escalante
  • We spent first morning in Grand Staircase area and Escalante. We visited the Petrified Wood State Park Visit in morning and drove to Bryce National Park in the afternoon.

Escalante Outfitters for dinner – We ate at EO for dinner late on our arrival night. We arrived at 8:30 pm and it was very full. Everything seems to close at 9 pm in Escalante, however, so it started clearing out quickly. It is known for its pizza. We ate pizza and calzone which all came with starter salads. There is plenty of inside seating, but it was nice to sit in the covered outside porch for dinner. There is one German waitress and many of the guests were German and able to speak with her. It was a nice benefit if you are a German speaking tourist. She has been there three years and lives locally all year round. We liked the pizza and calzone, each was sharable between two people.

Canyon Country Lodge – We stayed in this new lodge for two nights. We had a two bed double on the second floor. The lodge opened in September 2017 and is family run. On the positive side, our kids enjoyed the pool and we used the guest laundry while we were there. It was nice to wash our clothes midway through our two week travels. Everything was very new and clean, which we appreciated. One oversight in the new build, however, is that there is not an elevator. We are a young and athletic family, however, we had been hiking all day and each of us had a piece of luggage and a backpack. We had to haul our stuff up the stairs to the second floor. The person who checked us in volunteered to help us, which was nice, however, it would be best to have a simple one floor elevator for folks with luggage. I can imagine an older couple or anyone with physical issues would find this very difficult. We appreciated the complimentary morning breakfasts with egg options, waffles, cereals and fruit each morning. The only challenge there was that they closed the food down at 9 am, which is a challenge for us. Perhaps this is setup for business travelers, but I would think that the majority of their guests are on vacation and we tend to get up around 8 am and would like to eat at 9 am, not be done by 9 am. It would be great if breakfast could start later and go later. We appreciated the guest laundry on the first floor and large guest pool off the lobby to cool off after hiking in the parks. A good start for the hotel, but some tweeks would make it better.

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.


Circle D Eatery for Dinner – We stopped here for dinner on our way back from Bryce National Park and after a day of hiking. This had a good atmosphere on the patio, but was insanely slow. I got the ribs and the BBQ flavor was strangely sweet/tangy. I was not a fan. Our boys got hamburgers and pasta. My husband got a burger. The food was ok once it arrived, but it took an hour for our food to come. I had to request chips and dip to keep us sane.

Bryce National Park

Summary:  Day 7 and 8, Night 8 at Bryce National Park

  • We spent two days exploring Bryce, one from Escalante and one from Bryce Park Lodge. While in the Bryce area, drive Highway 12 one of our nation’s “most scenic highways”. Canyon Lodge in Escalante to Bryce is 1 hour.
  • On our first day, we returned to Escalante and Canyon Lodge (since the Lodge at Bryce was only available for one night). We booked Bryce Lodge for our second night. Please note that Park cabins and lodges need to be booked about six months in advance. Sometimes single nights can be found four months in advance.
  • We were able to see the sunrise at Bryce Canyon by walking from Sunrise to Sunset Point and stopping anywhere along that rim hike. This is a park highlight.
  • Other Highlights: Navajo Trail, Queen’s Garden and Inspiration Point to see the “hoodoos”, which are the tall rock formations of the park.
  • “No reservations required” at the lodge for dining; First come, first served

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.


Parking for all of these near Sunset or the Lodge and take the shuttle. 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 shuttle goes in a loop and picks you up and takes you wherever you want to go. 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.

Bryce Lodge Restaurant – We had a lunch and a dinner at the Bryce Lodge Restaurant. When I called ahead to try to make reservations, they said the restaurant was large and it was first come, first served. I was concerned about this, but once we got there, their approach seemed to work. The times we came for a meal, we were seated right away. At our late lunch, I had the buffet. The food was not great but it was quick. I had the chicken. Because it seemed most fresh on the buffet, I got a lot of it and it was not bad. The other food that had been sitting there for a long time was not edible, such as the salmon. But they replaced it with fried fish which was better. If you are trying the buffet, my recommendation is to try small amounts first, find what you like and then get a full plate of that option. The salad and fruit bar was good and the dessert pudding was sweet.  Dinner at Bryce was much better. We shared an enormous hummus plate. Our entrees were all fine. We all shared three desserts, our most on our trip.

Bryce Cabins – We stayed in a Bryce cabin for one night right near the Rim Trail. It was a treat. The cabin was just the right size for a family of four with two double beds, lovely rustic furniture and Native Indian inspired blankets and hangings. There is a nice porch for sitting and staying cool. I spent an afternoon sitting there and just reading, which was such a treat. The cabins are incredibly close to the Rim Trail between Sunset and Sunrise. In the morning, we were able to wake at 6 am, walk out our door and be at the best spot for seeing the sunrise to the left of Sunset point in two to five minutes. No driving and no fuss. I stayed in my PJs.  Once you park, you don’t have to worry about your car or moving it after you hike for the day; you are staying in the park!  It was super convenient for hiking and for dining. You need to book six or more months in advance to secure a cabin for your dates.

Backerei Forscher on the way from Bryce to Zion – When we saw the sign for Backerei Forscher on the way from Bryce to Zion, we were excited. We pulled right in at lunchtime. The bakerei specializes in German style baked goods and had a butter crumb cake, a cinnamon wrapped croissant type roll as well as a moist apple cake slice. These were all good. We thought they would benefit from also having lunch sandwiches, cool drinks, as well as many coffee options and by advertising better outside.


Zion National Park 

Summary – Days 9 and 10 at Zion

  • For days 9 and 10, we drove south to Zion where we had a place at the Zion Lodge booked for one night (Night 9).
  • We had a recommendation to hike the Narrows along the Virgin River (shallow and through water with steep rocks either side), only if no rain predicted. It is best in the morning.
  • Another visitor had recommended renting special technical socks and boots for the Narrow hike for all of us outside the park in Springdale before we entered Park, however, we hiked in water shoes and had a good experience.
  • The lodge restaurant serves all three meals
  • We had a dinner reservation at Zion Lodge Red Rock Grill, but it was not needed.

The drive into Zion is so dramatic from Bryce. We never drove through to Springdale, which is another common route to and from the Zion park.

Hiked to Nature Center for Ranger Program – 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.


Red Rock Grill – The Zion Lodge serves all three meals. There is a convenient café with vending machines, coffee and quick food downstairs, but there is also a nicer restaurant upstairs from the Lodge check-in called the Red Rock Grill. We had dinner as well as a breakfast here. It is not overly busy and there is indoor and outdoor seating. For Dinner at Zion Lodge, I got the hummus plate as well as salmon entrée. The salad bar came with everyone else’s meals and they got very filled up. The service was good and the food came in large servings. For Breakfast, we were running very late and found the Breakfast Buffet very convenient. There are tons of options set out and ready to go. You can have pancakes, eggs, oatmeal or cereal. There are many fruit options. Everything you could want for a brunch or breakfast is there. It was super-fast. We all had so much to eat that we didn’t need lunch.

We stayed overnight at the Zion Lodge. We were in the Watchman Building which is not in the lodge building, but over to the side on the lower floor.  The rooms were not cabin like, but hotel like and stuffy. We had two standard double beds and a bath. We also had a balcony and windows, which were nice to open once the night air cooled off enough, but because we were in a small hotel room without cross ventilation, there really wasn’t any breeze. There was an ice machine on our floor and it was good to get ice into our cooler for our food and water bottles.

Store at Zion – The gift store in the Lodge was separate from the Visitor’s Center and had nicer items that the typical National Park Visitor Center gift store. It is at the entrance for the Lodge next to the check-in desk. The store had many Native Indian artifacts, arts and craft items for sale. It was nice to see some of the area’s tribal art available. There were also many toys and gifts for kids.

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.


Page, AZ and Glen Canyon Dam (on Route to Monument Valley) 

Summary – Night 10 in Page, Arizona

  • Drove to Page, AZ; Lodging is 2 hours and 15 minutes away from Zion
  • Stayed at the Red Rock Motel for the night of Day 10 in Page, AZ
  • Visited Horseshoe Bend in Colorado River in the morning as we left AZ

Glen Canyon Sunset point from highway – It was a bust. We decided to stay in Page, AZ on our way from Zion to Monument Valley. There were a few things to see and it was mid-way between. One of the things to see was the Glen Canyon look-out at mile marker 552 on Highway 89 at sunset. Yes, you can see 360 degrees to Page and the dam and up and down river and to Lake Powell, but I found the environment desolate. There are only trees in Page. The surrounding land is barren.


Red Rock Motel – We stayed at this motel on our way from Zion to Monument Valley because we thought it might be a throw-back for our kids, something out of the Cars movie or from Route 66. On the positive side, it is one block off the main street, which made it quieter. Each room was more like a small apartment and has space for parking in front of it. The rooms were large, more cabin like than hotel room like. There were two separate bedrooms with a bath between and a separate living area, dining area and kitchen. The shower in the bathroom was modern and clean. The A/C and other details of the rooms, trim, painting and outside, however have seen better days. The motel is a period piece. It is locally owned and it is nice to support a non-corporate owner. It was comfortable for our stop-over, but it is not polished or pristine.

Big John’s Texas BBQ with music – We ate BBQ and listened to western rock and roll for dinner while in Page. This was a treat. We sat outside on picnic tables; we had one end. Each of us had ribs, brisket or pulled pork sandwiches. There was a variety of sauces and the meats were good. There are salads for sides or various fries and large drink options. The night we were there, there was a live band on stage in front of us and they played two sets during our dinner. It was a mix of well-known old rock favorites and some country I didn’t know. The band called kids up to help them play percussion which was a nice extra. It made for a fun atmosphere and noisy place to pick up a big, sloppy meal.

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. Just to get a sense of scale… the white dots on the right in the water are boats!



Monument Valley

Summary – Day 11

  • On Morning of day 11: we drove to Monument Valley, which is 2 hours away from Page
  • Monument Valley, the famous movie backdrop, is on Navajo Land. You can only drive a 17 mile valley loop with photo stops, or take a Navajo guide, do a 1 – 8 hour guided hike or take a horse back tour.
  • The recommended drive is at sunset to see the rock formations in the sunset color
  • Our lodging for Night 11 was Gouldings Lodge in Monument Valley, UT. We reserved dinner there or at the View. Please note that the View will only serve their hotel guests after 7 pm! There are not many places around to eat and these are the two hotels at Monument Valley.

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.


Gouldings Lodge – We stayed in one of the new cabins at Gouldings. We loved it. They are spacious with two double beds and fit our family of four well. They had a view out to Monument Valley. We ate dinner and breakfast at the restaurant, enjoying their Navajo Fry Bread meals and the Navajo Tea. We also used the pool. The history of the lodge and the land being established by the Gouldings was interesting to us. My kids were intrigued by the early settlers and how they worked with the Indians of the region. This is a cool place to stay while in this area.

The View (Please note: The View will only serve their own guests after 7 pm!)– We wanted to eat at the View and look out at their fabulous view of Monument Valley, but when we arrived after 7 pm for dinner we were informed that they only serve guests who are staying at their lodge after 7 pm??!  We were staying at Gouldings, the other lodge in town and so we returned and ate there. What a strange limitation. Be warned!

Gouldings Restaurant for dinner and breakfast – We ate one dinner and one breakfast while we were guests at a cabin at Gouldings. We really appreciated the service we had while dining here. We tried some of the Navajo specialties of the restaurant and our Navajo server talked to us about what she ate and liked. We liked the Fry Bread options. At breakfast, there are many good and filling options for kids and adults. The booths have a nice view of the old Trading Post and parts of Monument Valley.

Old Trading Post has a nice little museum and the Gouldings original house upstairs. It is nice, especially for kids to see how they lived. The upstairs house has a lovely, lived-in feeling.


Four Corners and Mesa Verde National Park 

Summary – Days/Nights 12 and 13

  • 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.
  • Four Corners is on Native American land.


  • We had booked our next lodging at Far View Lodge which is in Mesa Verde National Park. We were going to stay one night, but changed it to two.
  • The best way to see the cliff dwellings in the park are on ranger lead tours. You can book Ranger lead tours of Cliff Palace, Balcony House and Long House once you arrive at the Visitors Center at the park. You can only book in person once you are there, one to two days in advance.
  • We spent nights 12 and 13 at Mesa Verde in the Far View Lodge in the park. We booked dinner in advance for one of the nights at the lodge at Metate, which is the nicest dinner option.
  • The Scenic Route back towards Durango starts North of Cortez

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.

Far View Lodge in the National Park – We stayed at the Far View Lodge for two nights while enjoying Mesa Verde Park. It was nice to be able to book ranger-lead tours a day in advance at the main cliff dwellings and still have time to relax and see the museum, stores and some of the hikes along the road. Our room was a hotel room, but since one door opened onto a balcony and the front door opened to our parked car, we were able to get the most wonderful full open breezes and blasts of air. The lodge is in wind swept country on the top of a hill and contrary to other national parks it does not feel crowded at all. The lodge has three dining options: Terrace is cafeteria style and we ate breakfast at the buffet there every morning. The Lounge upstairs had burgers and other options, but it was very slow. Metate is upscale dining and very nice, but also very slow. We enjoyed our stay and would stay in the park again.

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.

Meals at Metate – Good food, very slow service. The food at Metate was the best of the three restaurants at Mesa Verde, but the service is very slow. They serve some of the same food at the grill in the lodge at Far View, but the service is also incredibly slow there, as well.

Terrace for Breakfast – Great breakfast buffet. We ate at this breakfast buffet each morning and enjoyed the options there. The kids had eggs and cereals and I liked having oatmeal options. We found that it closed earlier than we would have wanted (9 or 10 am, I believe) and we were always getting there as they were taking some of the food away from the buffet.


Back to Durango, the Silverton Railroad and Ouray, CO 

Summary – Day and Night 14

  • We originally were going to spend our last two days in Durango and end with a historic steam train ride in the mountains, but fires shut the train down, so we spent our last day in Ouray and our last night in Durango rather than two days.
  • We booked lodging at the Strater Hotel in Durango for our last night

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.


Ouray Brewery for lunch – We liked the order process in which you order at the roof top bar. There are a number of overly friendly people talking to you about the options and specials and you feel like family. They have many drink and beer options. After ordering, we enjoyed hanging out in their rooftop garden seating as they or we brought our lunch stuff to our table. We had nice views of the mountains and town. Good, easy-going, but on the healthy side, food. I liked my falafel sandwich and everyone else liked their sandwiches.

Mouse for ice cream – After lunch at the brewery, we went across the street for ice cream and handmade chocolates. We each got a double at Mouse. They had interesting handmade flavors and it was more than our kids could eat.

From Ouray, we drove back to Durango with a police escort at times to get through the fire damaged areas, which were dramatic, closer to the road and sad to see. We stayed again at the Strater Hotel, which I have covered previously. From Durango, we flew home on day 15.

Any one of these National Parks is wonderful to see and seeing a number of them in a loop is a real treat. Most of the ones we visited are part of the Grand Staircase of rock formations which end at the Grand Canyon… that will be a park for another trip!