Dear Bryce, will you be my Valentine?

Graphic by Michelle Nelson
Graphic by Michelle Nelson

I have a great Valentine’s Day date. The name is Bryce. Bryce Canyon National Park, that is. Valentine’s Day lands on a free admission day for the national parks, making it even easier to celebrate love for Utah’s wilderness. From Feb. 14-16, all national parks are waiving their entrance fees. Utah has five national parks, all within a short road trip’s distance.

  1. Arches National Park is home to the world’s largest concentration of natural arches.

With so many red-rock formations to choose from, the most widely renowned site in the park is Delicate Arch. The hike to the arch is three miles round trip and treks over slickrock, sandy washes and steps chiseled from stone. This hike is moderately difficult, but every bit worth it when you round a corner and catch sight of the iconic landform. Everyone has their own idea of what perfection is. This is mine.

  1. Bryce Canyon National Park is dotted with a mixture of hoodoos and forest.

From afar, these rock spires look like giant sandcastles. Fairyland Loop trail allows hikers a closer look as it winds through hoodoos along the rim and delves into the canyon. The eight-mile hike is somewhat strenuous, but is well-marked and maintained.

  1. Canyonlands National Park was carved into an outdoor playground by the Colorado River and the Green River.

The park is divided into three districts: the Island in the Sky, the Needles, and the Maze. The Maze is known for feeling like a remote labyrinth and routes are normally unmarked. Spires, springs, canyons and viewpoints make this a magical slice of Earth to wander around in.

  1. Capitol Reef National Park is named for its bright sandstone domes and cliffs.

One of the most popular hikes at the park is Sulphur Creek, which allows easy access to waterfalls, deep gorges and canyoneering. The Sulphur Creek hike is about six miles one way and ends at the Visitor’s Center.

  1. Zion National Park displays all the gems of Utah’s outdoors.

Offering sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, rivers, slot canyons and more, it really is “The Promised Land.” Angels Landing provides one of the best views of the park. This hike is moderately strenuous, with an elevation change of 1,488 feet, drop-offs and cliffs to make it a thrilling scramble. The five-mile hike begins relatively easy, gaining steepness as you progress. Take your pick and enjoy the break.