The Making of Epic Adventures – Exploring Canyonlands

So do you have memories of trips while you were growing up that are so vivid that years later you relive them over and over again?  Do you just itch to have an adventure like you had back then, ready to go out again and make wonderful new memories?

We had a trip like that a few months ago that was all of that and more.  True to our theme, we did bring the kids and it ended up being the best trip of the year and everyone one who came is already looking forward to our next return trip.

So what makes a trip memorable and special?  How do you make an epic adventure?

First let’s start with the stories and pictures, then we’ll get into some of the details of what makes them special.

Growing up, my father had taken us all over the western US exploring and experiencing all of the beauty and excitement that the west had to offer. So I asked my dad, mom, and my brother and his family to join us on a return trip on a beloved trip to Canyonlands National Park.

Canyonlands is a remote, out of the way area.  Unlike Yosemite or Yellowstone with respectively over 3.8 million and 3.4 million annual visitors each, Canyonlands National Park has only a fraction of that at 452,952 visitors in 2012.  That is one thing that we like.  You get away from not only civilization, but also from everyone else.

There are three sections of Canyonlands National Park, split in thirds by the Green and Colorado rivers. By far the majority of the visitors go to Island in the Sky, but the Maze and Needles District are where the solitude abounds.  We hit the Needles District, where as soon as you get off the paved roads, monthly visitors to some of these areas is in the low hundreds.

We started with setting up camp.  The campsite was great with panoramic views in all directions.

We did a quick kid friendly hike with all of the little ones running around,

 climbing the ladders

and enjoying being out exploring.

Back at camp we broke out all of the toys and had a blast.  Check out more photos of the fun here.

Then in the middle of the night the rain started.  We hit the only two rainy days in almost a month.  Just add that to the mix.

Then off to take on Elephant Hill.  It is an awesome Jeep trail that isn’t for the faint of heart.  Jessica was nervous and unsure as we’ve done some scary trails before and she isn’t a fan of narrow roads with big drop offs on the side.  If you aren’t familiar with offroading, we wouldn’t recommend this as the place to start.  But if you do feel adventurous, it doesn’t disappoint!  Even if you don’t jeep, the hiking in this area is amazing.

As we crested the hill to drop down into the canyon, the rain started again, this time with a vengeance.

The whole road turned into a river and waterfalls were coming off of the rocks from all sides. 

We waited it out and were rewarded with and epic adventure.

We took our time, stopping along the way, enjoying lunch, letting the kids play

while the dads had fun crawling over the difficult sections of the road.

All the while, the kids were busy being kids, cheering on the jeeps,

finding lizards or splashing in every puddle they could find.

We camped at Devil’s Kitchen.

It’s a maze of rock with cracks, tunnels, narrow slits and passageways that you can spend hours exploring.

The kids did great and despite the cooler temperatures with the rain, we were able to dry things out and keep them warm.

The next day we headed to the confluence overlook of the Green and Colorado Rivers. The distances aren’t great, but since it is all jeep trails,

you get to take your time and enjoy the ride.

The confluence was amazing, the best we had ever seen.  All of the rain from the previous two days had caused flash floods into the Colorado River and turned it a deep red.

The dark red Colorado flowing directly into the clay colored Green River made the confluence pretty dramatic.

Not to mention the 1,000 foot deep canyon that you look down into.

What made this great?  Getting together with those we love.  Challenges and adventures for dads, new locations and spectacular views for moms, excitement and fun for kids – sand, sticks, lizards, and rocks – what more could you ask for?

Here are a few ideas on things that might help make your next big adventure an epic one.

  1. Start with Anticipation – one of the best things about planning your dream trips is getting ready for them and being excited to go.  There are so many
  2. Get a group involved – going with a group of people you enjoy spending time with adds to the fun and to the memories. If your kids have other kids to play with as well, they’ll be busy and you’ll have more time to enjoy as well.
  3. Do things that you love – Your kids haven’t experienced a lot of life yet, so they don’t know many options that are even available.  You do, and you can share the things you love with them.
  4. Choose to make it fun – the weather turned bad and actually pounded us with a huge rainstorms multiple times. Rain or shine, we had a good time.  Your attitude makes a huge difference.

Needless to say, this isn’t a trip for everyone. The 4×4 aspect scares many away, but if you dare, it is one of the most amazing parts of the US.

Since it is so remote, and difficult to get into, few people go.  If you do get the chance, we highly recommend it and remember to bring the kids!

8 Comments

  • Amanda says:

    I LOVE Canyonlands! A few of my favorite childhood trips were to Arches and Canyonlands. Looks like you had a great adventure!

  • Em says:

    whoa, canyonlands looks cool! The one time we tried it, we didn’t know where we were going. It was hot hot hot in the middle of summer, so we thought it was just an overlook into some canyons. Didn’t realize how cool it was.

  • This trip sounds amazing! It gets me itching to try our own adventure. I’m just bit nervous about camping with a 1yr old. Still, I think I might just throw caution to the wind and do it! Loving the 4×4 part of the trip. My hubby would love that. Thanks for sharing

    • bringthekids says:

      HA! Yes the thought of camping with kids can be pretty daunting, but it’s so worth it. The first couple of times might be a little rough, but once you get the hang of it, there’s nothing like it!!

  • Melissa says:

    I have to agree with the solitude thing. I’ve never been to a national park that was so quiet. I am so jealous you got explore it by jeep, that was the one thing we lacked.

  • I miss Canyonlands. I went a couple times as a child but didn’t get to do the 4×4. We have a Jeep but live on the other side of the US. Maybe some day.

    • bringthekids says:

      It actually might be worth the drive:) If you live on the other side of the country, a simpler alternative might be to fly out and rent a Jeep in Moab as you head out into the back country. However you make it happen, this is definitely a memorable experience.

  • Debbie says:

    I just wanted to thank you for sharing your awesome adventure! We were planning a trip to Moab and knew that mountain biking was out with our three and just turned one-year-old, so we had no idea what we were going to do. I shared this post with my husband and he planned a trip similar to yours. Jeeping the Elephant Hill loop was great! Devil’s Kitchen was the MOST AWESOME camping spot we’ve ever been to! The Needles District of Canyonlands was breathtaking! We did The Joint hike instead of the Confluence, but it was beautiful and amazing! Thank you! :-)

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