With my annual National Park pass, I’m ready to explore more natural wonders. My brother (Winston), paternal cousin (Nisa), her husband (Michael), and I visited Arches and Canyonlands near Moab. Winston and I continued to explore the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone in Wyoming. (Capitol Reef National Park was also on the list but was canceled due to unexpected snow). If I could carve out more time, I would visit a different national park every month! I’m addicted to the fresh air, solitude, and natural beauty of hiking, and happy to report my family caught the hiking bug after our trip together. (Pictured with Nisa (right) in Devil's Garden, Arches National Park. Photo by Michael!)
Here are details of our trip from airline, hotels, food options to hikes!
American Airlines direct flight from PHL-SLC. Used my Platinum Amex to save $200 and booked a first-class seat, which was comparable to a coach seat after the credit.
Hotels using Marriot Points accrued with my Marriott Bonvoy Business Amex Card:
Residence Inn – Murray/SLC, Utah Points became much cheaper once closer to the date. Booked one of the nights for 15,000 points! I love Residence Inns because their full kitchens are helpful for meal prepping and helping me stay healthy. There was also a generous breakfast buffet - and welcome snacks and spring water. (I love Marriot hotels.) We stayed just outside of downtown to be close to my brother, Winston. This location was conveniently close to CorePower Yoga – Highland Drive. I frequented this studio every day I was in Salt Lake City. I most enjoyed their Hot Power Fusion classes with Jenn with the amped-up heat!
Fairfield Inn – Moab, Utah I tested the two hotels closest to Arches National Park. Even though the Fairfield Inn was priced higher, it was outdated compared to the Springhill Suites. The floors were also incredibly thin. I could hear my neighbor above stomping from 4am - 6am. The hotel refunded me 20,000 points after I complained (originally 2,000 points were offered.) The cost for one night/room was 50,000 points.
Springhill Suites – Moab, Utah This hotel was connected to the Fairfield Inn and also very close to Arches, but was far more modern and fresher with a spacious living room in every room. I enjoyed keeping up with CorePower Live sessions in the living area! Unfortunately, my room was above the laundry facility, which caused major vibrations in my room. If you stay here, make sure you avoid Room 201! The morning breakfasts were plentiful and varied for vegetarians/omnivores. The healthiest options for me were the oatmeal bar (cooked in water) and lots of fresh fruit.
Springhill Suites – Jackson, Wyoming – right in downtown and within walking distance to all that beautiful Jackson has to offer. There is a free public parking garage directly across the hotel (no need to pay the $18/day hotel parking.) Same breakfast as the other Marriot hotels during our stay. Nicely updated rooms with living areas. I would stay here again if I would be able to use points (40,000 points per night/room), but maybe not worth the $300-400/night/room price tag.
Salt Lake City Eats:
One More Noodle House – authentic homemade noodle soups that reminded me of Dad’s village in Tengchong, Yunnan Province. Tucked away in a plaza called “Chinatown” near South Salt Lake City, this gem of a counter-style noodle shop was our favorite food experience. My favorite was Suan La Fen - spicy and sour noodle vegan soup with tons of herbs, vegetables, and tofu. My family loved their Dan Dan Mian. I tried all their spicy noodle soups, but Suan La Fen was my top choice, which also came with gluten-free yam thread noodles. The homemade noodles contain dairy and egg, so I didn’t try those but heard they were perfectly chewy. There was also a round rice noodle option which I tried but didn’t care for, because it was too soft and didn’t absorb the broths as well as the yam thread noodles (or handmade house noodles).
All Chay – Vietnamese vegan counter-style eatery with extremely warm and friendly service. My top favorites were the Lemongrass Tofu Bahn Mi made with tofu skin and the braised lemongrass tofu in the noodle salad. We tried the pho, spring rolls, and fried rice as well. The pho needed tons more vegetables and herbs, but the broth was flavorful. The fried rice was overly salted. The summer rolls were ok. I would return for their Bahn Mi and Noodle Salads!
Monkeywrench – the first time we tried this vegan ice cream shop, I didn’t enjoy any of the flavors because it all tasted too sweet. My fault for adding caramel sauce on top of everything! I love the caramel sauce our pastry chef, Katie, created so much more.
The first night, we tried a brownie sundae with coffee ice cream, peanut butter cup ice cream, topped with caramel sauce. We also tasted a scoop of the lemon curd ice cream with shortbread cookies, which was all of our favorites. The caramel sauce was overly sweet and masked the flavors of the ice cream scoops and the brownie was too full of sugar to notice the richness of the chocolate. Online reviews raved about their brownies, but if you’ve had our organic/gf/vegan black bean brownie, skip theirs!
The second time we visited, I loved the flavors we tried: earl grey with biscuits, mint chocolate chip, caramelized peach with pecans, grasshopper (mint cookies and cream), and the peanut butter ice cream with fudge ripple. The latter two only came as pints. My top 3 favorites: caramelized peach and pecan ice cream, peanut butter fudge ripple, and the lemon curd and shortbread ice cream. I’m still thinking about the peanut butter fudge ripple ice cream.
Sweetaly – beautiful, white, light interiors inside this fresh batch gelateria with 6 vegan flavors. Their vegan options were more like sorbettos than gelato. Although their flavors were fresh and less sweet than Monkeywrench, I preferred the creaminess of Monkeywrench. Non-vegans will enjoy the gelatos. Reminded me of Capogiro!
Passion Flour – a vegan bakery with gluten-free options. Top favorites: pop tarts, banana cream tart, and cupcakes. We were so excited by this warm and inviting bakery, we all forgot to take photos of the pastries! I would skip their savory biscuit and croissants. The biscuit was more like a dry cornbread. Is it just me that isn’t into Just Egg? It tasted heavily of sour beans. The fake sausage patty was ok. The ham and cheese croissant was better than the sausage and egg biscuit, but these weren’t my go-to. I preferred the amazing Hostess Cupcake filled with custard and topped with vanilla cream and coated in a chocolate glaze. The cupcake was deliciously moist and the creams were well balanced with richness and sweetness. We also tried the macarons (would pass). The croissant was flakey and pretty good, but compared to Kettle Black’s vegan croissants in Philly...again we’re spoiled.
The Big O Doughnuts – not our favorite donuts. The donuts were oddly dry and airy, almost more like bread than a doughnut. I’m easily turned off by heavy grease-filled air and their little shop did not have good venting. I waited outside while my family ordered for me! (We loved the vegan doughnuts at Doughbird in Moab much more!).
Zest SLC. – vegan and gluten-free restaurant (not organic). The air inside this restaurant was also heavy with grease, which made me not want to try their savory options. We tried 4 desserts to-go: tiramisu, chocolate cake with orange zest and raspberry coulis, carrot cake, and chocolate hazelnut tart. The tiramisu collapsed and the flavors and textures were a miss. Maybe I just prefer our tiramisu? The chocolate cake and frostings were ok, but the orange zest as a garnish and the raspberry sauce didn’t compliment the chocolate cake – it was more of a distraction. If you’ve never tried our chocolate cakes before, I would say this is the best vegan/GF chocolate cake I’ve had. If you have had ours, skip it. The chocolate hazelnut tart reminded us of our ganache tarts, but we couldn’t taste the hazelnuts. We can relate as we have similar challenges with our chocolate hazelnut desserts. The carrot cake was my favorite. Dare I say, I enjoyed it better than ours?! It was full of shredded carrots and caramelized pineapple. I love the idea of adding pineapple to carrot cake. We may play with our carrot cake recipe!
Natural Grocers – similar to Mom’s Organic if you’re from the Mid-Atlantic region! I loved this organic grocery store which had multiple locations throughout SLC. Their prices were cheaper than WholeFoods, Harmon’s, and Smith’s and with a much better selection of healthy, organic supplies.
Thai Bella Moab – authentic Thai in a resort town? Score! There were several Thai restaurants in town, but this one had the best reviews. My cousin, Nisa, grew up in Thailand and said this place was authentic! My family enjoyed all the things + the beer. I ordered steamed vegetables and an herbed vegetable noodle soup. The broth was extremely salty with a little bit of fried tofu and no vegetables. Good thing I ordered extra steamed vegetables! My brother enjoyed the wok hay on their green curry, pad sew ee, and pineapple fried rice (none of these were ordered vegan, so I didn’t try).
Moab Diner – my family needed a reward after conquering Devil’s Garden! I didn’t have anything to eat here except for the garden salad, which was fine by me. I tend to lose my appetite when I hike all day. My family said the food was mediocre and didn’t compare to the diners in Jersey. (Our favorite diner is Mastori’s in Bordentown, NJ. I haven’t been back since I turned vegan, so not sure what vegan options are available. One of my high school teachers introduced us to Mastori’s on the way to our Great Adventure trips!)
Doughbird – a fresh donut shop with a few vegan donut flavors on weekends. My favorite donut is any cream-filled variety – especially Boston Cream – but they only had glazed vegan donuts. My family ordered non-vegan and vegan flavors and said you couldn’t taste the difference. Their donuts were amazing in texture, not overly sweet, and not greasy. Loved the vegan chocolate glaze and vegan maple glazed donuts.
Moonflower Coop – I love scouting the local organic grocery store in every place I visit. This place was tiny but mighty. Everything one might need for organic, vegan, gluten-free supplies was available. They don’t provide bags, only reusable boxes. (Love that. Wondering if we can get away with that once our current supply of bags runs out?!)
98 Center Street – We really wanted to love this one. Our clothes and hair smelled of grease within 5 minutes. I would skip this fusion joint. Their flavors were lackluster and used a lot of pre-made components. I tried their vegan pho (served with bolted, barely-there Thai basil) and vegan kimchi nachos. The processed cheese, vegan mayo, and rancid chips didn’t hit the spot. (I love our nachos so much! If you’ve had ours, skip this one.) Their vegan/gluten-free cookies were dry and unappetizing. My family didn’t want to eat these even after a long day of hiking and having the munchies. If you’re craving Asian flavors, stick with Thai Bella Moab.
Jackson Hole Eats:
Persephone Bakery – French bakery (not vegan, gluten-free, or organic). I had to check it out for inspiration. It was packed and cozy inside with reasonably priced and beautifully handmade French pastries. I wish we could display our pastries in overflowing piles, but our high-maintenance sweets are too delicate!
Healthy Being Organic Café and Cold-Pressed Juicery – cold-pressed juices, raw vegan desserts, smoothies, and a savory menu. This place does serve meat, fish, and dairy. Read the menu carefully if you’re vegan. Their menu is not 100% organic, so ask for an ingredient list if you need to check. Love their $2 glass bottle return policy in cash! We really should do the same once we can stock glass bottles reliably again. Their raw, vegan desserts were amazing. Loved their blueberry cheesecake, lemon bar, and a snickers bar (but I do love our Snickers-inspired bar more). None was too sweet and tasted clean and healthful! They had expensive snacks and retail items for sale, which were beautifully displayed. Their staff was personable and inviting. Loved this cute little take-out spot with a few seats!
Cultivate Café – didn’t get to try this one in time, but it was high on my list. 100% organic restaurant with vegan and gluten-free options. Please let me know what you think if you go.
Teton Thai – I enjoyed this Thai restaurant in Teton Village even better than Thai Bella in Moab. It was less salty, less oily, and less sugary, which made me enjoy the fresh, herb-filled flavors that much more. Generous portions. Their warm, coconut sticky rice for dessert hit the spot on a cold, snowy day. Their service staff was exceptionally knowledgeable, warm, and welcoming.
Hotel Gyms had all the equipment I needed to keep up with my strength training workouts with my trainer, Sam Shorkey of Jack on the Beanstalk!
CorePower Yoga – Highland Drive (Salt Lake City has 3 franchise locations. My all-access pass allowed me to take classes without extra cost.)
CorePower Yoga – Live Loving the Live workouts when I can’t get to a studio. My favorite teachers so far are Andre Hu and Linh Le for their clear instructions and varied teachings. Thank you, Andrea and Linh!
Hiking.... see the list below!
Delicate Arch – short hike, a nice intro to Arches. (From left to right, Nisa, Winston and me pictured below. Photo by Michael.)
Dead Horse Point - this State Park is as impressive as the National Parks. Do not miss on your way to Canyonlands. The history of its name is quite haunting.
Neck Spring Trail – was recommended by a Canyonlands Park Ranger. Once we reached Canyonlands, we learned it was another 2.5-hour drive to reach the Chelser Loop Trailhead. We didn’t have enough time to do the drive and hike 10 miles, so opted for a closer hike near the entrance of the park. Neck Spring offered a different landscape, hiking on sandy switchbacks through the canyons. (Pictured below are Winston [left] and Michael [right]. Photo by Nisa.) It was a nice follow-up to Delicate Arch, but glad we did this before Devil’s Garden because…
…Devil’s Garden was the most beautiful and impressive hike we did near Moab. Wow. Wow. Wow. The varying terrain and views were spectacular. I may never enjoy an East Coast hike again after being spoiled with the beauty of this trail. Hiking on the AT just feels like walking through a never-ending forest with few views!
Old Faithful – we walked the boardwalk trail while we waited for Old Faithful to erupt (about every 90 minutes +/- 10 minutes). The myriad of geysers and eruptions along the boardwalk, and the occasional bison was a special place to be.
Grand Canyon – I wish I had spikes with my hiking boots and more time to hike the wonderful trails with views of Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon! We visited these two spots after a snowy night. There was less traffic, but the temperature was hovering 28 degrees Fahrenheit. We drove through Idaho to reach the West Entrance because the South Entrance was closed. Check for road closures and make sure your GPS is updated with road closures.
Leigh Lake – we only had half a day to get a taste of the Tetons before our drive back to SLC. We parked at the Leigh Lake trailhead, which is connected to String and Jenny Lake. Wish we had more time to walk/hike all these trails. As the youngest mountain range in the country, there is so much spectacular beauty to observe. The Tetons are as stunning as the photos tease. Can’t wait to return during warmer months to explore these trails during wildflower season.
Living Room Outlook –A trailhead on the University of Utah’s campus and incredibly close to the city center. What incredible views and elevation, so convenient to the city. Parts of the trail were tricky navigating a water-carved trench, but check the All Trails map for the best routes!
Memory Grove Park – another easy-to-reach nature walk in a pretty part of SLC. Memory Park connects to City Creek Canyon which offers a bike trail and a walking trail for about 6.5 miles. You’re within the city, yet feel like you’re among secluded grassy, canyons.
This trip was full of varied terrain, outdoor activities, and warm/friendly people. Can’t wait to return next year to further explore Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon next September. I pushed it a bit by visiting in October. The weather was ever-changing with the frequent chance of snow even within the first 2 weeks of October. September may be more crowded, but the weather should be more predictable.
My return flight to Philly was delayed 7 hours, then ultimately canceled. I was put in an airport hotel and rebooked the next day, routing through Chicago. Apparently, many people had delays coming to SLC from PHL during the past week due to equipment failure. I was lucky my outbound flight was smooth. (Since I purchased my flight with the Platinum Amex, the delay qualifies me to be reimbursed for incidentals/personal items/food.) I feel lucky and grateful to have experienced this trip with my family and having a supportive staff to take care of the shop while I could spend time away. I missed Tuffy and Tommy on this trip, and hope they can join me on the next adventure!