A lot of attention is being paid to National Parks and Monuments this summer. And rightly so, as it’s the Centennial of the founding of the National Park Service in 1916.
And while I’m all about getting families to National Parks and Monuments, I’m not all about crowds.
Yes, you can always escape the crowd in a National Park by lacing up your boots and hitting a hiking trail, but another option is to choose less popular trails on less high profile public lands, including US Forest Service Wilderness Areas and Bureau of Land Management lands.
Need some inspiration? Here’s the skinny on one of our favorite (and much less traveled) BLM trails in eastern Utah: The Fisher Towers Trail near Castle Valley, Utah.
Utah, Glorious Utah
Forty-five minutes east of Moab, Fisher Towers is a complex of dark red sandstone monoliths and small creek-filled canyons. The trail climbs gradually to a high ridge offering big views of the nearby La Sal Mountains and more distant Book Cliffs.
While sandstone abounds in this region of the U.S., I think the color and structure of Fisher Towers is wholly unique. Geologists identify the composition of the towers as Moenkopi and Cutler sandstones, types of rock also known as mudstone.
To me, they look like the freeform sandcastles my kids build on the beach by dripping wet sand into a pile.
I most recently hiked Fisher Towers in early May and the wildflowers were abundant. It was midweek, so there were fewer people hiking and climbing (it’s a popular climbing route), but compared to the swarms of visitors at Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Fisher Towers was nearly empty.
The views along this trail are jaw-droppingly unique.
Words cannot do it justice, so here are some photos.
Joining me for this hike were two friends from Washington, DC, both of whom travel extensively and were spending a week in the canyons of Southern Utah.
I heard from one of them after they returned to the East Coast.
“Our hike with you was the best day of our trip,” she emailed. “And we would never have gone there if you hadn’t suggested it.”
Yes, our nation’s National Parks and Monuments are priceless treasures that should be visited and celebrated by every American.
But our other public lands can be equally amazing, a bit more adventurous and definitely more serene.
Enjoy your summer!
Fishers Towers Trail is part of the National Trails System, a network of scenic, historic, and recreation trails created by the National Trails System Act of 1968.
The trail is an out and back 4.4 mile round trip. The grade is mostly gradual, with a steep portion at the bottom of a ravine near the beginning. Getting to the panoramic view on a ridge at the end of the trail requires climbing down a steep ladder. Although dogs are welcome on the trail, many people with pets turn back at this point.
Mountain biking and horses are not allowed. The trail is west facing and best done in early morning during summer. Ideal seasons for hiking include fall, winter and spring. Bring water and snacks. There is a rest room at the parking area.
The trailhead is 25 miles east of Moab along scenic highway 128, which winds along the beautiful Colorado River.
Other Options for Solitude on the Colorado Plateau
The Colorado Plateau spans the Four Corners region of the southwest, encompassing some of the most beautiful scenery in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. This region has the highest concentration of National Parks (10) and National Monuments (17) in the country.
While the world-famous National Parks, including Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Mesa Verde receive the most attention, you can find quiet, meditative places of great beauty in the lesser known and less visited National Monuments.
Among our favorites are Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction, Colorado and Hovenweep National Monument near Cortez, Colorado. Hovenweep is just one of several National Monuments in this region established to protect ancestral lands and ancient Puebloan dwellings.
The geography of the Colorado Plateau is diverse ranging from expansive high desert, to dramatic red rock canyons, to the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Rocky Mountains.
US Forest Service and BLM land managers maintain numerous wilderness areas, as well as developed and primitive campsites and trails, across the Colorado Plateau. Mountain biking is especially popular on BLM lands near Moab and Grand Junction, but is not allowed on all trails or in Wilderness Areas.
Grab a map. Google the details. And enjoy!