Some of the best adventures we’ve had are the ones that aren’t planned and just happen on a whim. We woke up last week and decided we needed to get away, so we packed our bags that morning and headed down to the Abajo Mountains also known as the “Blue Mountain Range” near Monticello, Utah. These mountains peak at over 11,000′ and this forest is thick and rugged. We found the bright blue skies and bold yellow and red fall colored leaves and it was just what we needed in a weekend adventure. Being in the mountains in September is truly the best time of year!
What I loved the most is that it felt like we had the whole mountain to ourselves! Some places can be so overrun with people that it takes some of the enjoyment out of it when you are fighting crowds on the trail and for camp spots, but this place truly gives you the feeling of being alone in the wilderness. We went the whole weekend only passing by a few others while we were out exploring! We could hear the large quaking aspen rustling in the wind and the wildlife all around us. We even heard the Elk bugling all over the mountain in the mornings! (And I am still thankful we didn’t run into any bears or mountain lions because we saw some fresh tracks on our hike!) From the top of the Abajo Loop you’ll get views of Comb Ridge, Bears Ears, Canyonlands and the La Sal Mountains. How cool is that??
One of the best things about Utah is that you can cover all different types of terrain in a matter of a few hours. It was so fun to start our day immersed in the tall quakies and pine trees while we were on the Blues and then drop down onto the north side of the mountains to drive right into the desert on our way home.
The Needles District forms the southeast corner of Canyonlands and was named for the spires of Cedar Mesa Sandstone that dominate the area. It feels a little more wild and less touristy in this part of the park and there is so much territory to explore. We loved being able to hike and roam without crowds of people around us like you sometimes get at the more popular side of the park, Island in the Sky.
Some of the popular hiking trails and four wheel drive roads in the Needles District lead to sites like Tower Ruin, Confluence Overlook, Elephant Hill, the Joint Trail, and Chesler Park. This is also a popular area for rock climbing and it’s always fun to see groups of people scattered over the huge cliffs and boulders. This is also where you will find the iconic petroglyph panel Newspaper Rock. The detail here is amazing and one of my favorites we’ve ever seen!
We pretty much just winged this whole trip, waking up every day without a plan and seeing where the day would take us. It felt nice to just go with the flow and not have a huge itinerary of things to do that we needed to check off our list.
It’s been a sad thing over the years to see some of our favorite places overrun with people and trashed because people disrespect the land. So as always when you explore the outdoors make sure to practice the leave no trace principles and leave the area better than you found it so we can all keep enjoying these amazing places for years to come!!
We’ve been on a lot of fun adventures this summer- but going camping in the fall is definitely our favorite! We’ve been looking forward to the cooler temps, the changing leaves and going back down to the desert more. We spent last weekend with our kids and our new little adventure pup at our favorite place! We love going down here to reset and recharge when we need to get away in nature and don’t want to be around crowds of people. We just got our little pup a few weeks ago and have been so excited to start hiking and going on adventures with her, so we also wanted to go somewhere we knew we could have dogs. If we thought it was lots of work to take two babies hiking and camping – we definitely have our hands full now adding a puppy into the mix. 🙂
Some of our Favorite Areas in the San Rafael Swell
Buckhorn Wash is one of the most iconic canyons in the swell and when you are standing at the bottom of these winding sandstone canyons you’ll see why we love this place so much 🙂 There are so many different trails to hike and explore around and some of the coolest camp sites! It’s so fun to be able to camp here with the red cliffs all around you and wake up to the sun coming up over the ridges. It always makes me feel like we are on a different planet.
The Buckhorn Wash Pictograph Panel is a must see for anyone who has never been here before. These designs are from the Barrier Canyon People who passed through the 130 foot horseshoe canyon seasonally and is the perfect example of barrier canyon rock style art. These are some of my favorite pictographs and petroglyphs in the whole state and I wish I knew what all of the pictures meant! Utah has such interesting history and I love learning about the areas we explore. Even though I’ve been here so many times before something knew I just learned is that Butch Cassidy once hid from the law in these caves and canyons! You can even see the names carved in the sandstone of some of his outlaw friends.
Swinging Bridge is a 160′ suspension bridge that was built in the 1930’s and was the only bridge over the river until the 90’s! They have rebuilt the bridge over the river to drive on now, but you can still walk across the original bridge to get the other side of the water. With the large red rock cliffs as your backdrop and the San Rafael River rushing by you with the large cedar trees giving the perfect shade – it was the best little hang out between our hikes and exploring and the perfect place to stop and eat lunch and play by the water. There is even a campsite here if this is somewhere you want to set up and stay.
Another must see site at the Swell is The Wedge that overlooks the massive gorges and San Rafael River and is nicknamed the, “Little Grand Canyon.” Here you will see panoramic views of Sid’s Mountain Wilderness Area, Window Blind Peak and Buckhorn Wash. This will always be one of my favorite places to camp! While we have camped here lots of times before – now that we have small babies and a pup I think I would be too nervous to set up camp here again until these kiddos get a little older since you’re so close to the cliffs. I definitely had a death grip on their shirts while we were here hiking around 🙂
After we explored and hiked in the deep canyons we headed over to Cedar Mountain to spend our last day. We hiked to the rim and had an amazing birds eye view overlooking the Swell. I love that you get the Utah desert vibe while you are in the bottom of the Swell and on top of Cedar Mountain you feel like you’re in the middle of the mountains. It was the perfect place to let our pup explore and kiddies wander.
While it definitely isn’t always easy to take a toddler and baby camping and hiking we’ve learned a few tricks along the way that has made it feel (a little) easier for us.
-Bring familiar items from home to help them settle at night when it’s time for bed! I don’t like to get crazy packing a ton of things so one or two is enough for us!
-I pretty much have learned to accept the fact that I can’t stick to normal routines for bedtime and naps 🙂 when I try to force them, it usually ends in tears for everyone. So naps are usually at random times when they get tired, and bedtime is usually later than it is at home. But I’ve found that letting them play – adds to the experience for them and us. Then when they are REALLY tired they usually end up crashing and sleep better and stay asleep through the night!
-A trusty hiking backpack is a must! Our little three year old is getting pretty good at hiking on his own these days and it’s so fun to watch him get stronger and experience new things on his own! We still always have our favorite Osprey kid carriers that we use for when his little legs get tired and for our one year old! We use the Osprey Poco Plus for our toddler – we have been using this since he was 6 months old and love that it has grown and adjusted as he has gotten bigger. Then we use the Osprey Poco LT for our one year old. This is their smallest and lightest kid carrier and I love how comfy it is for me and my son. When our toddler is hiking on his own we use the Osprey Daylite Pack so he can carry his own snacks and water.
If you’re new to hiking and looking for a hiking backpack I wrote an article for TETON Sports linked HERE. I walk through how to measure your body, how to adjust your pack and how to pick the perfect hiking pack for you! Even though we have been hiking forever it is still good for me to have refreshers when I get a new backpack to make sure it’s fitted correctly. Nothing is worse than when you are half way through your hike and your shoulders and back hurt from not having your pack adjusted properly.
-Clothes that are easy to layer on and off when the temperatures change throughout the day. Plus I always make sure I’m prepared for them to get dirty and wet so I always bring extra!
-Shoes that can get wet – we love Keens!! They easily to go from dirt to water and always dry quickly. So we are usually wearing these while we are out hiking and then we have a pair of camp shoes or sandals we can switch into when we are done hiking and exploring for the day.
-Lots of healthy snacks that are easy to prepare and pull out when your kids are hungry. If I spend the time getting snacks and meals ready before hand, it’s easier to pull out quickly in the moment when everyone is ready to eat! We also keep things super simple when it comes to meal times for our quick trips and overnighters so we don’t have to pack too much. We like brats and Mountain House dehydrated meals. When we are going for more than a few days is when we get a little more creative with our meals and bring stuff to actually cook. 😉 For us, the less to pack the better – so anything that makes it easier and less stressful is what we aim for!
-For some of my favorite camping games to entertain your kids click HERE.
Even though we were in familiar places where we’ve been before, it felt different being there this time with our kiddos. Our hiking pace was a little slower, we had more stops for snack breaks, we stopped at practically every river, lake, and puddle we found to throw some rocks, but it was so fun to be there with them making new memories! When we revisit our favorite places with kids it really is like seeing it for the first time again. We love giving our kids as many opportunities as we can to run wild and let their imaginations be free!
Boating, camping, fishing, sandy beaches, and warm waters usually bring visitors to Yuba Lake every year. This year the drought in Utah has been so severe that most of the reservoirs, lakes, and rivers are extremely low and Yuba is no exception. We had heard that this reservoir was only about 10% water capacity so we decided to drive down last weekend to check it out for ourselves and turn it into an adventure.
We first drove in to the Painted Rocks section and we were so surprised to see a completely dried up lake bed. We were able to drive the truck right down to where the bottom of the lake would have been. It was such a weird feeling knowing that just at the beginning of the summer water covered the surface we were standing on, and last year the water was half way up the rock cliffs.
These pictures are where the Painted Rocks boat ramp and dock is. Completely dry! How often do you get the chance to stand in the middle of a dried up lake bed?
Since we had the little ones with us we didn’t make it up to the top of these cliffs to explore and try and find the Petroglyphs that are up there. Usually this is one of my favorite things to do when we are out exploring. Petroglyphs and pictographs are some of my favorite things about Utah’s history and the stories they tell about the ancient people who lived here. So next time we go back, this is definitely something I want to do! Lucky people can sometimes even find evidence of the ancient Native Americans who lived in the area by seeing old pieces of pottery, and stone tools. We were hoping to see something at the bottom of where the lake once was, but we didn’t have much luck.
We hiked and explored a little here, but it was hot and dry and definitely wasn’t the best conditions for our two little explorers to be on a hot August day when it was well over 100 degrees. So we decided to head over to the west and north beaches where there was still a little water left. We definitely put our Keen’s to the test hiking and exploring through mud, dirt, sand and water!
These west beaches are still open for now, but the guard told us that the Oasis boat ramp would probably be closing within the next few weeks too as the water gets lower. We were happy that at least for now there was still some water we could get in and cool off! The sandy beaches are so cool because you can still drive your truck right up to the edge of the water and get right out and set up your camp. I love that at this state park there is developed and primitive camping available and even designated beach areas where we were at – so there is something for everyone depending on what type of camping you like best. My boys had a blast playing in the mud, throwing rocks in the water, and swimming. If we had more time to spend here I definitely would have wanted to rent some jet skis and stand up paddle boards!
Our Rtic Hard Cooler that has been on all of our family adventures with us this summer! Investing in a good, durable cooler this year has definitely upped our camping game especially when we are out in the hot desert. It’s kept our drinks cold and our food dry because the ice lasts all weekend – we love it!
Are you a sticker person or not a sticker person?? For us it’s a definite yes! 🙂 Also, peep our new, “The Swell Life” sticker!!!
While the typical summer tourist season at Yuba may have been cut short due to water levels, here’s to hoping for an extremely wet and snowy winter to help out Utah’s water reserves and get things back to normal for next year at some of our favorite spots!
We have been to the San Rafael Swell more times than I can count. It’s no secret this is one of our favorite places to go since we’ve done multiple blog posts about the Swell and it’s where our site title came from. 😉 It’s where my husband and I fell in love, where we escaped to relax and recharge when we needed a break from our 50 + hour work weeks… and now it’s where we are taking our boys so they can grow up exploring and loving this place as much as us.
The most appealing aspect of the San Rafael Swell that keeps us coming back over and over again, is that you can go for a hike and see something new and different every time. This area is rugged and wild and there are endless Mesas and Canyons to search and explore. I love that there are places in Utah that can make you feel like you’re on another planet!
We headed out somewhere we’ve never been this trip to explore some new territory we haven’t seen before. When most people think of arches or slot canyons in Utah they probably think of the typical National Parks like Zion and Arches; but there are so many other cool places where you can see and find natural arches across the state! Fun fact: Utah has thousands of arches and most of them aren’t in a National Park! We got really excited to come across our own private arch for the afternoon to rest after our hike and let our boys play in the dirt… it was the perfect giant sandbox for them!
Imagine having a place like this to explore on your own for the day! We even got to stop by a wash filled with rain water to catch some frogs and tadpoles – which our three year old thought was so cool! 🙂 We didn’t come across one other person the whole weekend – we loved it! We say it all the time, but exploring off the beaten path and finding our own remote spots to hike and camp is our favorite way to explore.
When we want to try and find a new adventure spot one of the things we do is look at maps before we go. We know the type of areas we like to explore and now a days you can pretty much walk any trail virtually before you visit. Some of our favorite apps to use are All-Trails, Dyrt (a great app for camp sites – in a campground or dispersed camping) , OnX Hunt (for property lines to make sure we aren’t on private property) and you can even find areas on recreation.gov and google earth. For us, half the fun is researching where we want to go and finding our own perfect spot!
The smoke that has been blowing into Utah from all the wildfires in the west has been unreal! We hoped to escape it completely this last weekend but we still had some hazy views over the horizon, when we usually get bright blue skies when we are away from the city air pollution. This trip our pictures didn’t capture the backdrop and contrast of blue skies and rocky mountains like it usually does… but really photos never compare to seeing it in person. Here’s to crossing our fingers some more storms roll in and blow this smoke out for good!
We know we are extremely lucky to live so close to such a beautiful place where we can load the truck up on a whim and be there in a couple of hours. It’s been the perfect place for us to feed our adventurous spirit! We can only hope the San Rafael Swell will stay the way it is now; vast and untouched for generations to come.
Utah is amazing, its’ iconic red rock and arches are picture worthy and we definitely love to visit these areas… but some of our favorite adventure spots aren’t your typical touristy destinations like Zion and Arches National Parks. We love to explore off the beaten path to some of the more unknown and less popular areas where we aren’t fighting crowds and tons of people. These spots still offer the amazing views that Utah is known for, if not better! We are creating a long list of favorite places like this to explore and just added a new one! Last week we headed down to the Mineral Mountain Range by Beaver, Utah to explore some new territory. It was rugged and wild…. just how we like it!
We’ve been getting so much rain in Utah the past few weeks and it’s been great! (We’ve been in such a bad drought) Between the rainstorms it made for the perfect hiking conditions – the weather was cooler and it was cloudy so we could hike all day without it getting too hot for our kids! Plus the big puffy clouds gave some great contrast to the rugged granite mountains.
There are so many interesting minerals and rocks you can find all over the state, but Central Utah is an area that attracts rockhounders from all over the country. With a little internet research you can find out where you can discover geodes, opal, topaz, sunstone, smoky quartz, amethyst + so much more!! Rock and gemstone collecting is permitted on most public land, just watch land boundaries to make sure you aren’t on private property and the area isn’t posted. We wanted to take advantage of being in one of the coolest spots to look for some gemstones and crystals while we were hiking, and we were so excited when we came across some smoky quartz. Finding these in the wild is way better than buying them at a rock shop 🙂 Some of the other great spots for crystal hunting in Utah are Topaz Mountain and the Dugway Geobeds.
Before we had kids we were wandering souls. Hiking all day, sleeping in the bed of our truck, and always finding new places to explore. As we have grown our family it’s been so fun (but definitely hard work) to incorporate them into what we love. Adventures don’t have to stop because you have kids – it might take a little extra work to bring them along but its still doable! This can apply to anything you love to do in life. If you like to run – bring baby on your runs, if you like to spend time outside, bring your kids outside with you, If you like to travel, travel with your babies. Your kids will adapt to your lifestyle – so include them so they can fall in love with what you love too!
The heat in Utah has felt insane this summer! With temps practically over 100 degrees everyday we have been trying to spend as much time in the high mountain tops as possible. One of our favorite things to do in the summer to beat the heat is head to the Uinta’s. With elevation up to 13,000′ and temperatures 25 -30 degrees cooler than at home it’s definitely the place to be. From Kayaking to fishing to hiking and exploring…the Uinta’s offer an adventure for everyone!
When it’s so hot outside the ice cold river water is so refreshing to splash around in! We love being able to soak in the sunshine, breathe in the fresh mountain air and enjoy the views.
When we are out doing this type of hiking we always have our Keen’s with us. They are our favorite water sandal that easily goes from dirt trails to water and we all have our own pair! Even baby Jack 🙂 What I love so much about these for myself and my kids is that they provide enough arch support while we are hiking but they are still comfy enough to wear all day. Plus the bottoms are “grippy” so we can climb up and down the rocks without slipping, even our three year old!
My toddler and baby both have the Newport Style.
I’m wearing the Women’s CNX II.
Todd has on the Men’s Clearwater CNX
Investing in a good shoe that’s made for land and water is definitely worth it and makes it easier to explore on all of our summer adventures!
Mirror Lake (that sits at the bottom of Bald Mountain) is probably the most iconic lake from this Mountain Range, and it’s usually a stop that most people to choose to make when they visit. While the scenic views are definitely picture worthy here, there are over 1000 other different lakes scattered all over the mountain tops and over 400 miles of rivers. With a quick look at the All Trails App, or Google Earth (before you go as you probably won’t have service at the top of the mountains) you can find all sorts of trails and roads to explore. Or you can just use an old fashioned map book like we used that lead you to these mountain lakes and streams that are just as majestic but without all of the crowds.
To avoid the crowds, we chose to follow our own trail back into the forest and found ourselves our own lake to hang out at for the day! We crossed mini creeks and streams and passed a few smaller lakes covered in lily pads with ducks swimming around. We loved only having to hike a few miles in to reach such a cool spot and having our own secluded lake to play in. It was so refreshing and more our style of exploring! We kept talking about our plans for a week long backpacking trip deep into the heart of the Uinta’s some day – but definitely when our kiddies are old enough to walk themselves and carry their own packs!
For us, this was the optimal feeling of what getting in the wilderness is all about. It felt like the perfect weekend outside…Blue skies, sunshine, time with the people we love the most and just enjoying the simple pleasures in life! So if you need us, this is probably where you’ll find us the rest of the summer until it cools off and we can head back down to the desert 😉
During the summer we are always looking for ways to be outside and go on family adventures, but also stay cool…especially when it’s over 100 degrees outside. So most of our outdoor adventures usually involve some sort of water. A few days ago Todd took us on the perfect, quick, easy outdoor adventure that was close to home.
Dripping Rock is one of those places that you want to tell everyone about, but also don’t want to tell anyone about so it doesn’t get bombarded with tons of people 😉 The name says it all – it’s a rock that has water dripping off of it.
This is a short paved trail that is easily accessible…especially for kids as it’s only about a mile round trip. We took a small path (that is steep and rocky) down the side of the hill to the river so we could see the dripping rocks up close. The water is fairly shallow so it’s perfect to splash around and play in – this is our version of the best type of pool for your kids to swim in 🙂 There are a few different rocks that have water dripping off so we made sure to hike up the river to see them all!
Seeing this spot all green and covered with moss with fresh spring water coming out of the rocks made it seem like you were on a tropical island somewhere. It’s been so dry and hot in Utah this was a refreshing change of scenery. Even our 10 month old loved playing in the water and throwing rocks into the river. He already wants to be just like his big brother!
If you want to visit this hidden gem in Utah just make sure to bring a towel and water shoes and you are good to go! We always have our favorite water sandals and hiking shoes for all of our adventures… to shop shoes we love click HERE
It was the perfect way to spend a hot summer day!! On to our next adventure!
Hiking has always been something the two of us have loved to do together, and still love to do! It just looks a little different these days. What used to be the two of us hiking 15 miles a day through the desert and rugged terrain has turned into shorter, mini hikes with our babies in tow….but we are so happy that we are still able to get outdoors and hike some of our favorite trails and explore off the beaten path – our favorite way to adventure!
We might not be going as far as we used to, but sometimes it still feels just as hard 😉 We’ve been taking these kids out since they were only a month old so they are growing up loving hiking just as much as we do. Their first hikes started out more as nature walks in my baby sling, but as they’ve gotten bigger they’ve evolved into real hikes in some of our favorite places. Taking young babies and toddlers out definitely takes some work – but we wanted to share some tips and tricks we have learned along the way that has made it a little easier for us.
Off to our next adventure!!
We’ve been talking about taking our littlest guy on his first overnight camping trip for a long time now and with a warm weekend weather forecast we decided it was finally time to try it! We packed up what felt like the whole house and headed down to one of our favorite spots where we could enjoy the sunshine and let our kids play in the dirt. Don’t be fooled by this first picture, it was within ten minutes of getting to our camp site and he’s already covered in dirt from head to toe 😉
We love going down around Moab and playing on the red rock this time of year because it’s warm enough to be outside without coats, but the temps aren’t too hot yet like you get in the summer months. Seeing as it was the peak of the busy season here we found our own remote spot to camp and hike that was outside the national parks and more in the back country… definitely our style even with kids! While campgrounds are nice – we tend to like primitive camping better so we have lots of space to explore and play on our own! These kids were made for this camping lifestyle… and baby Jack has got the relaxing at camp thing down pretty good!
We’ve been hiking with our toddler since he was 6 months old so it’s something he has basically grown up doing and loving. He still loves his hiking carrier and wasn’t ready to pass it on to his baby brother yet, so we invested in a second one so we could go on some real hikes with both kiddies. We started with shorter hikes and walks to get him used to the pack and he was all smiles the whole time and so excited to be like his big brother! (Wow this starts young! lol)
It was a short and sweet overnight trip but filled with lots of firsts for our little guy. His first camp out in a tent, his first real hike and his first time exploring the back country. While it can feel like loads of work to get out with young kids and set up a camp… when we get home we are always so happy we made the effort to get out. So we always tell ourselves this when we are in the thick of it! Something that has helped us when we are in the outdoors with kids is realizing that sometimes you need to let go of expectations and plans. Some days they want to hike with us and love it and other times they would rather sit in the dirt and play with rocks, and that’s ok too.
If you have young kiddies like us and are thinking of taking them exploring with you- I would highly suggest to do it! Whether you are at home, or in the outdoors some days are good and some days may feel hard… but the important thing is that your kids are getting outside and breathing the fresh air and especially you’re spending time together!
Even though our little guy might not remember his first overnight camping trip we always will! Plus we will have all sorts of stories to tell him about it, especially how his daddy had to stay up most of the night manning the heater so he didn’t get too cold 🙂
Here we are… two dirty, tired, happy and exhausted parents! On to our next adventure!