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Cedar City: A Mighty Five Road Trip Must

If you’re planning to make a Mighty Five road trip in southern Utah,  then Cedar City should be on your itinerary. Not only is it close to the Mighty Five of Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion national parks, it has plenty of its own amazing landscapes and activities.

This story was created in partnership with Visit Cedar City.

overview of cedar city, part of a mighty five road trip

Day 1

Morning: Go For a Hike Among the Wildflowers

Cedar Breaks National Monument is Cedar City’s pride and joy. Just 30 minutes outside of town, the geological amphitheater has miles of hiking trails and incredible views all around. During the month of July, wildflowers begin to bloom alongside the trails, adding another dimension of beauty to your experience. In the summertime, the mountains offer a cool relief from the heat. We suggest trying to be there for sunrise, then going for a hike on the Ramparts Overlook Trail. Stop by Bristlecone Coffee for your caffeine and bagel fix on the way.

Mighty Five road trip stop: Stargazing in Cedar City pin

Utah hiking and flowers on mighty five road trip

Afternoon: You Thought You Weren’t a Theater Person?!

You may feel like you’re only surrounded by national parks and red rocks, but Cedar City is an oasis for anyone who loves live performances, art shows, local brews, and fancy wine. Speaking of local brew, you deserve an adult beverage after your hike! Check out Policy Kings Brewery, then walk over to the Pastry Pub to pick up a great sandwich to go. Since you’re just across the street from Cedar City’s art and theater scene, we recommend strolling over to the Utah Shakespeare Festival grounds, the perfect place for a picnic. 

utah shakespeare festival

The Utah Shakespeare Festival was founded in 1961. In 1962, the Festival attracted about 3,000 visitors. Today, it’s grown to nearly 100,000. Visitors can book a show in advance or stop by the box office on the spur of the moment to see what’s available.

Next door to the Festival is the Southern Utah Museum of Art, which is free! SUMA features regional artists, student artists, and distinguished artists from all over. We know you like national parks, so don’t miss the amazing landscapes featured here!

southern utah museum of art

Evening: Stroll Downtown District & See a Show

What’s great about Cedar City’s Downtown District is that it’s all walkable. When you start feeling hungry, head over to Centro Woodfired Pizzeria. Directly across from there is I/G Winery & Tasting Room. Enjoy the warm ambience by the fireplace or soak up the sunshine on their patio. If you didn’t get tickets for a show at the Festival, they offer The Greenshow on their lawn every night—a free, lighthearted, and fun play for the whole family. 

Winery, festival and pizza

Day 2

Morning: Pioneers & Petroglyphs

After breakfast, get ready to dive deep into the history of Cedar City, Iron County, and southwest Utah! Frontier Homestead State Park allows visitors to relive the pioneer days through hands-on activities like stepping inside a horse-drawn wagon, touring an old home and schoolhouse, crawling into Native American dwellings, and even panning for gold. 

Next, drive out of town to go further into local history at Parowan Gap. This site is known to be one of the most concentrated collections of petroglyphs in the West, plus, it’s very accessible! Park and walk right over to incredible galleries of Native American rock carvings.

parowan gaps petroglyphs and frontier museum

Afternoon: Take the Lift Up, Ride the Bike Down

Time to get the adrenaline pumping! Head back up into the mountains, this time to Brian Head Resort. Typically a ski resort, Brian Head remains a place for family fun in the summertime (open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays). The ski hill is transformed into a downhill bike park in warm months. The ski lift brings riders and bikes to the top so they can enjoy the long ride down. Additional activities include ziplining, disc golfing, archery, bungee trampoline jumping, scenic lift rides, and tubing. 

brian head resort and mountain bike park

Evening: Sunsets and Stargazing 

Enjoy the mountains as long as you can—stay in Brian Head for dinner after your ride! Drive just 10 minutes back to Cedar Breaks National Monument to witness the sunset turn all of the spires into a fierce, glowing red. After all of that, if you’re still awake, settle in for some out-of-this-world stargazing. Cedar Breaks is designated as an International Dark Sky Park and was voted in 2016 as the “Best National Park Night Experience.” Throughout the summer, the park even hosts “star parties” with rangers and volunteer astronomers. 

cedar breaks hiking and stargazing as part of a mighty five road trip

As if there isn’t enough adventure in Cedar City, hit the road and move on to the next of the five national parks on your Mighty Five road trip itinerary. Cedar City will be the breath of fresh air that offers fewer crowds, intriguing nightlife, and the “small town America” feeling. 




Avoid the Crowds: Utah National Parks in the Winter

My first time experiencing the Utah national parks was in February⁠—the middle of winter. I have to say, the next time I go back to Moab, I’m planning for winter again. From the crowd-less parks and low hotel rates, to the snow-capped arches and cozy cafes, it just seems like the best time to visit.

This story was created in partnership with Discover Moab. All photos by Tobey Schmidt.

Sure, Moab can be cold in the winter, but it can also be very sunny. Temperatures were above freezing during our visit, and there was snow in higher elevations, but the sun was out every day. Plan the perfect winter trip by skiing the slopes in Salt Lake City before heading south to experience the parks in Moab.

Collage of Utah National Parks

Enjoy Solitude in Utah National Parks + State Parks

My partner and I sat completely alone underneath Delicate Arch at sunset. “Wow, I bet you never get to see this without people,” I said aloud.

Arches National Park

While it was unusual to have Delicate Arch to ourselves, apparently that’s not an uncommon occurrence during the colder months. ‘Why wouldn’t people want to come here in the winter?’ we asked ourselves. Glistening snow was dusted on the tops of the red, sandstone arches and the breeze kept us cool as we hiked uphill.

arches national park delicate arch in utah in winter

The best part about being alone in Arches was that I could really hone in my photography without having to worry about there being 30 random people in my shot.

Lucas looking up at Double Arch

Deadhorse Point State Park

Known for its incredible overlook of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park, Deadhorse Point State Park is a great spot to hit at sunrise. Hard to motivate that early in the morning? We stopped by Love Muffin Cafe for some coffee and homemade muffins to enjoy on the 40-minute drive. Muffins or not, it was so worth it to be out there as the sun rose over the canyon, reflecting off the river below.

Looking out over Deadhorse Point State Park at sunrise on a trip to Utah national parks in winter

Canyonlands National Park

After enjoying the sunrise, we drove just down the road to Canyonlands National Park. The park is split into three districts, and the closest to Moab is called Island in the Sky. We planned to hike, but the weather was nice enough that we could have even ridden bikes on the trails if we wanted.

Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, in winter

Since it was my first time in the park, I really wanted to photograph the famous Mesa Arch. It’s a quick loop hike that visits a spectacular arch on the edge of cliff. The bottom of the arch was glowing orange from the sun’s illumination. Looking through the arch we had views of the canyon and the snowy La Sal Mountains in the distance. We saw many arches on this trip, but Mesa Arch might have been my favorite.

Rappel into Slot Canyons

Many people don’t realize how many activities there are to do in the wintertime in Moab—it’s not all sightseeing and hiking. Looking for something more adventurous, we booked a full-day excursion with Moab Canyon Tours. Our guide, Zach, took us to Irish Canyons where we went up through one canyon, and down into another.

Irish Canyons with Moab Canyon Tours

Going up the first canyon required lots of scrambling moves using body tension. If Zach ever felt it was risky, he could give us a belay using a rope so that we wouldn’t fall. Going down the second canyon was even more fun. We rappelled three times, each time going deeper into the canyon. One rappel began by crawling into a hole and then descending another 30 feet, where we ended up in the most beautiful slot canyon I’ve ever seen. This tour was definitely a highlight of our trip.

Two pictures of Lucas in the slot canyons

Rock-Crawl in a Jeep & Visit Dinosaur Tracks

I’ve been off-roading in a Jeep only a handful of times, but this experience with Big Iron Tour Co. was something else! Owner of Big Iron Tours, Mike, took us on some dubious routes along steep, rocky ridges. I didn’t know the capabilities of the 4-wheeled rock-crawler until I watched Mike easily maneuver the Jeep over what I thought looked like vertical rock face.

Jeep crawling over rocks in Moab

Mike took us into a hidden cave where he taught us about the pictographs on the rock and what he thought the Native American had used the cave for. We also went to the sites of dinosaur tracks and fossils. I had no idea there was that much history so close to town. We (literally) rode into the sunset and watched the moon rise over the La Sal Mountains, all while Mike kept us entertained with his stories.

Big Iron Tour Co. Jeeps in Moab

Dine + Stay

Sometimes I get worried during travel that I won’t be able to find good food. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy cheap burgers and fries every once in a while, but it’s not what I want for dinner every night. Luckily the food scene in Moab is so rich, that I didn’t need to worry. From gourmet steakhouses to authentic Thai food, they have got it all. To top it off, there’s even a health-foods store with an impressive produce section, and a hot-food bar for quicker, healthy meals.

A collage of food options in Moab

As I mentioned, hotel rates are typically much cheaper in the winter than during Moab’s peak season. We stayed at the new Hoodoo Moab, Curio Collection by Hilton, where the rates were less than half of their normal price. Plus, g-l-a-m-o-r-o-u-s! It was nice coming back after a long day in the dirt to a clean room with an on-site hot tub.

Hoodoo by Hilton Hotel Moab, Utah

We are advocates of sustainable travel, and I know that Discover Moab is too, which is why they’d like everyone to learn how to do Moab Like a Local. Now bundle up and go enjoy those crowd-less Utah national parks! When you’re finished with Moab, head further south and experience Zion National Park classic hikes, “winter style.”

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Go Off the Grid in Capitol Reef Country, Utah

The Capitol Reef Country of Wayne County, Utah, is one of the American Southwest’s least-explored natural regions. Just one look at the map and you’ll see that this is a vast and remarkable area filled with parks, monuments, and countless hidden gems. Here you’ll find few lines and little traffic, leaving more time to enjoy the great outdoors in this alluring area in southern Utah—the perfect destination for year-round adventure!

This story was created in partnership with Wayne County Tourism.

Off Roading in Capitol Reef Country, Utah

GET YOUR BEARINGS IN SOUTHERN UTAH’S EPICENTER OF ADVENTURE

Capitol Reef Country Pin

Capitol Reef Country is the hub for a massive amount of outdoor fun and excitement for the whole family. Wayne County itself encompasses Capitol Reef National Park, known for its iconic 100-mile formation called the Waterpocked Fold and verdant orchards, as well as the western rim of Canyonlands National Park, several towering mountain ranges, and numerous world-class canyoneering destinations, including Robbers Roost. Nearby you will find access to Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase National Monument, Goblin Valley State Park, and even parts of Lake Powell. As a result, Capitol Reef Country is the perfect base camp for the ultimate freedom to explore! 

 

Amazing Landscapes in Capitol Reef Country, Utah

EXPERIENCE THE THREE DIVERSE LANDSCAPES OF CAPITOL REEF COUNTRY

Within the immense borders of Capitol Reef Country, the terrain is divided into three distinct regions: the Western Highlands, a Central area, and the Eastern High Desert. In the Western Highlands, the Boulder and Thousand Lakes Mountains elevate the skyline at over 11,000 feet. Their meadows and forests offer a playground for year-round activities. Lower down in the central region, the colorful sandstone cliffs and verdant riverbanks of Capitol Reef National Park mark the landscape. Further to the east, time has stood still. Here in the desert, dinosaurs and famous outlaws used to call the complex terrain home. Today, the area offers access to the western edge of Canyonlands National Park and the Henry Mountains. It is still so wild that a large herd of buffalo continues to roam free!  

Hiking in Capitol Reef Country, Utah

HIKE, BIKE, AND MORE: ENDLESS HUMAN-POWERED ADVENTURES

Hiking is a popular all-levels activity in red rock country, and Wayne County offers endless trails to explore. Enjoy alpine meadows and aspen groves on Boulder Mountain or embark on any number of hikes through Capitol Reef National Park. Chances are, you’ll want to immerse yourself in the sandstone features of southern Utah. Guided canyoneering is a great option, and the San Rafael Swell and Robber’s Roost areas are world-class. In addition, mountain biking trails for beginners and experts abound, offering a different way to take in the landscape.

Prefer to experience nature with a fishing rod in hand? Boulder Mountain’s many lakes teem with brook and rainbow trout. Similarly, casting on the Fremont River is a popular choice. There are tremendous possibilities for human-powered adventures in Capitol Reef Country!

OHV Fun in Capitol Reef Country, Utah

ZOOM ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE WITH MOTOR-BASED FUN

One of the best parts of the southwest is zooming around the desert on four wheels, and visitors can rent off-highway vehicles to partake in the fun. In Capitol Reef Country, backcountry roads lead in all directions through diverse terrain and elevations. Throttle your way through high desert terrain, red rock landscapes, and mountains. The freedom to roam is truly mind-boggling!

Hoping to get a little exercise? Take a spin on an electric bike, or e-bike. The town of Torrey, a hub for adventure in Wayne County, offers rentals and an abundance of route suggestions. For beginners, a pedal through town is perfect, while ambitious cyclists might tour Capitol Reef’s panoramic paved roadways. One of our favorites is the aptly-named Scenic Drive because of how it winds through lush valleys beneath red rocks.

Capitol Reef Resort, Utah

ENJOY SOUTHWESTERN HOSPITALITY, MEALS, AND SERVICES

Capitol Reef Country serves up small-town charm and hospitality in healthy portions. The communities of Bicknell, Torrey, Hanksville, and others will keep you well-fueled for your outdoor pursuits. As for food: have you ever heard of a rattlesnake cake? It’s a local favorite, but nonetheless an acquired taste. You can find this and other Southwestern specialties like chili-infused dishes at any number of Wayne County’s restaurants.

As for lodging in the area, options range from camping in a plethora of designated campgrounds to staying in locally-owned bed and breakfasts and hotels. In conclusion, no matter where you choose to base your visit to Capitol Reef Country, you will find welcoming options at every turn.




Experience Culture in Bisbee, Arizona

About ten miles north of the US-Mexico border sits an artsy town called Bisbee, Arizona. Although its’ population of 5,000 people may be considered small, it was once the largest city from St. Louis to San Francisco and considered to be the most cultured town in the west. Now, Bisbee is full of quirky artists, new (and very old) breweries and bars, unique architecture, haunted hotels and a myriad of windy roads and allies to explore by foot.

Standing over Bisbee, AZ.

The History

The City of Bisbee was founded in 1902 a few years after U.S. army scouts discovered traces of copper and lead in the Mule Mountains nearby. It wasn’t long before Bisbee became known as the “Queen of Copper Camps” and the city’s population grew to over 20,000 people.

Mining copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc in Bisbee was extremely successful until the mid 1970’s. According to the Queen Mine, the local mines in Bisbee produced metals valued at $6.1 billion (1975 price), which is apparently one of the largest production valuations of all the mining districts in the world.

Take a Queen Mine Tour

All you need is close-toed shoes and $13, Queen Mine provides the hard hat, miner’s headlamp and a yellow slicker—because it is cold and windy down there! This tour was one of my favorite parts about my trip to Bisbee. We hopped on a small train car and made our way underground with a small group of strangers and a guide—a retired miner who had worked in the Queen Mine for 40 years.

The mine has seven levels with 143 miles of passageways. We spent about an hour underground and barely scratched the surface. Our guide showed us where he had worked many years ago and the dangerous techniques they would use. I recommend this tour to all ages!

What To Do in Bisbee

Explore the Artsy Alleyways

Wear your walking shoes because there’s lots of street art to explore by foot in Bisbee. Inside almost every alleyway is some sort of an art installment and at the top of every staircase is another alley that leads you to another staircase and more windy roads. I felt like I was in Europe.

Alleyway in Bisbee

YOU’RE IN SOUTHERN ARIZONA…OF COURSE THE FOOD IS GOOD

There’s fine dining, there’s casual, there’s vegan food, pizzaMexican food and even Vietnamese. Bisbee’s a small town, but the restaurants are plenty. Café Roka is a classic in Bisbee and the only fine dining, four-course dinner in town. It’s a great spot if you’re feeling fancy. The Quarry, which was my favorite, is a casual, farm-to-table restaurant just down the street from Café Roka. Comfort food and live music? Of course I loved it.

Alley in Bisbee Arizona

Go on your own architecture photo tour

As a photographer, Bisbee is a GEM to photograph. There’s tons of unique-looking buildings, old houses on hills and vibrant colors. Bring your camera!

A collection of photos in Bisbee

New breweries, old bars

Bisbee is home to the longest continually run bar in the state of Arizona. St. Elmo Bar was opened in 1902 and it’s still going strong. As it should, St. Elmo had all of the classics—a jukebox, pool tables, a punching machine and very loud live music.

Established more than 100 years later, the Old Bisbee Brewing Company is just across the street. I really loved the elevated patio at this place—you can look out over Bisbee and see just how lively the night life is.

Where to Stay

Copper Queen Hotel…Haunted?

I opted out of the hotels in Bisbee because I’ve heard tales of haunted rooms and that is not my style! I stay far away horror stories, movies, etc. However, if that’s your thing, I suppose this would be the place to stay as this hotel has been open since 1902.

Camp or Find a Great AirBnb

Camping is much more my style, and there’s plenty of it in southern Arizona. I camped at Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains. If you’re a rock climber or like to hike, put Cochise on your list. It’s about an hour and a half outside of Tucson, so we spent a few days climbing before driving another hour or so into Bisbee. Once in town, we stayed in a great Airbnb for a few nights. Lots of quaint places to book if you look ahead of time online.

Driving down a dirt road in the Dragoon Mountains.

Bisbee is a great place to visit if you’re looking to for a getaway that feels like a different country. The antique stores in Bisbee will be seeing me again!

Check out our Arizona road trip itinerary here.




3 Adventurous Days in Greater Zion, Utah

If you’re looking to get the most out of your next vacation, there’s really no better place than Greater Zion. Between lounging in resort pools with unobscured canyon views and hiking exposed ridges in Zion National Park, there is so much to be seen and done in this part of southwest Utah. Nestled alongside the Virgin River, Greater Zion is truly a unique area.

This article was created in partnership with Greater Zion, Utah. All photos provided by Greater Zion.

The best time to visit is in the fall and spring, when the weather is best. Although this itinerary only showcases three days, you could easily spend a week or two in Greater Zion without ever feeling bored.

Zion National Park landscape.

Arrival in Las Vegas, NV

After flying in to Las Vegas and renting a car, it’s only a two-hour drive to St. George, Utah, where we suggest spending your first night. This is a good way to break up your drive, get some rest, and prepare for your first full day of adventures. Grab dinner at the Painted Pony and head over to your abode for the night, Inn on the Cliff.

Day 1 in Greater Zion

Morning

After breakfast, hop in the rental car and head north! There are two state parks outside of St. George: Gunlock State Park and Snow Canyon State Park. Both are worthy of a visit, so choose your adventure. If it’s spring, check to see if the waterfalls are flowing at Gunlock. Or hike the Petrified Dunes in Snow Canyon, which features incredible rolling layers of sandstone and beautiful wildflowers. 

Petrified Dunes at Snow Canyon State Park.

Afternoon

After a lovely morning outdoors, head back to St. George for lunch and then east towards Zion National Park, where you’ll likely want to spend the rest of your trip. If you’ve never driven recklessly through bright orange sand dunes, then you’ll want to stop at Sand Hollow State Park and rent an ATV to romp around with. Another great stop nearby is Quail Creek State Park, a beautiful reservoir for picnics, stand-up paddle boarding, or boating. 

UTV driving through sand dunes in Greater Zion.

Stay in a Luxurious Canvas Tent Under the Stars

Roast s’mores around a campfire, sleep in a private canvas tent with incredible canyon views, and enjoy meals on site with Under Canvas Zion. If you want to camp under the night sky, but still want a hot shower in the morning, this is the way to go. 

Under Canvas tents outside of Zion National Park.

Day 2 in Greater Zion

Morning

This will be your first day in the park and what’s a better way to explore than going for a hike? Greater Zion offers more than 656 miles of hiking trails, but for your first day we suggest doing one of the classics in the park: Angel’s Landing or the Narrows, you choose. 

Which hike?

Angel’s Landing, which ascends a prominent ridgeline, is a more advanced hike with steep drop-offs and very narrow sections of trail. The Narrows, which is much more mellow and accessible, is a 15-mile stretch of slot canyon where hikers wade through the Virgin River that created the canyon. Hikers take a shuttle to the trailhead and turn around when they please.

The Narrows, Angel's Landing and the Virgin River in Zion National Park.

Evening

After a long day on the trails, you’ll be ready to settle into Springdale and grab a bite to eat. The town of Springdale is surrounded on three sides by Zion National Park, which makes it the best place to stay for easy access. Springdale is known for its high-quality customer experience, so you can’t go wrong with any of the lodging. If you’re an art lover, Cable Mountain Lodge features different artists’ work in their rooms.

Hotel pool in Springdale, Utah.

Day 3 in Greater Zion

Morning

Indulge in some huevos rancheros and berry pancakes at Oscar’s Cafe for breakfast. Afterwards, go horseback riding through canyon country like a real American cowboy. Bring your camera, because there’s no better scene than a horse crossing a stream in Zion. 

Afternoon

Whether you and your family want to take it easy on your last day of vacation, or go out with a bang, we have options for you. For the more adventurous, we recommend taking a guided climb of the Eye of the Needle Via Feratta. For those who aren’t a fan of heights, rent a bike and explore the park from a different point of view.

Via Feratta and bike renal in Zion National Park.

Farewell

Depending on your flight, you may need to spend another night in Greater Zion. Before leaving Springdale, we suggest grabbing dinner at King’s Landing Bistro, owned by a man who fell in love with the local mountain biking and left his job in Las Vegas to move to Greater Zion, where he started this very restaurant. Finally, to take in the views one last time, grab your morning coffee at River Rock Roasting Company in La Verkin and sit out overlooking Confluence Park. 

Zion National Park landscape.

 




Not the Wave, but Still Winning in Southern Utah

Everyone sat in the BLM office throwing their hands up and down, imitating the classic “wave” formation commonly seen at sporting events. This office is what everyone came to see, right? No way, we were all packed in this small room to win a lottery position to see the incredible Wave formation the following day. If you’re not familiar with the Wave, it’s a rock formation imitating the most perfect surf you’ve ever seen. We didn’t win that lottery, but it turns out that there is an overwhelming number of sights near Kanab. At the end of our trip, we knew we had won big in Southern Utah!

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This article was created in partnership with the Kane County Utah Office of Tourism, Utah. Images by Emily Sierra Photography.

Better than The Wave: ‘Candyland’

Like twisted lollipops, tent-shaped rocks swirl toward the sky with shades of pink, yellow, and orange. As we approached one set of sandstone formations, we saw a herd of big horned sheep staring down at us—reminding us that we were indeed in the wild. In fact, this area in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument known as South Coyote Buttes remains incredibly wild! Access to the “trail” is challenging, and once you’re out exploring, nothing is marked. We were escorted by a guide from Grand Circle Tours that not only drove us safely to the area, but helped us efficiently see some of the most interesting features in South Coyote Buttes. This area made the top of my list for Southern Utah.

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Note: visiting South Coyote Buttes does require a permit. Reserve online in advance, or stick around after the Wave lottery at the BLM office. Nabbing one of these permits is considerably easier than the coveted permits for the Wave, and many believe it’s a far superior region to explore.

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Yellow Rock: Introduction to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Not that this part of Utah necessarily has a “beaten path”, but Yellow Rock is even more off the beaten path. The best way I can describe Yellow Rock is this: a massive dome that ice cream was spilled all over. Indeed yellow in color, the rock has honeycomb-patterned fractures throughout, and swirls of pink, red and white. From the top of the dome—and it’s worth the climb—you can see Castle Rock in the distance, a white multi-tipped mountain. Visiting this odd landmark was the perfect introduction to the vastness and beauty of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

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Buckskin Gulch: Long, deep & Magical

The temperature dropped quickly as we descended into Buckskin Gulch. The walls rose dizzyingly high, and the light danced around every corner of the slot canyon. People passed us with large backpacks, determined to hike the full the 25 miles through the canyon. Though the trailhead was a bit of a trek from Kanab, it was easy to access, which can’t be said for all trails in the area.

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More incredible places, close to Kanab

Red Canyon aka ‘Peek-A-Boo Canyon’

Our Hummer swam through deep sand to reach this trailhead. We were so grateful to Forever Adventure Tours for ushering us out the mouth of the canyon as the roads were quite beachy! Light reflecting in the canyon glowed deep orange, and the blue sky above made me think of Antelope Canyon. What a treat though: we were the only ones in the canyon and had plenty of time to ourselves there.

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Stars & S’mores Tour

We found the best way to take advantage of the dark skies in southern Utah with a Stars & S’mores Tour! We rode out to an old movie set location in a covered wagon and cuddled up around a big bonfire. Gazing at the stars, we talked local folklore and nibbled away on sweet treats.

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Kanab: Southern Utah’s trailhead

It’d be hard not to love this town. Founded nearly 150 years ago (anniversary in 2020!), Kanab boasts the first all-woman town council… in the country! I just love facts like this.

Beyond the politics, I very much loved the traveler amenities. We stayed at the historic Parry Lodge in downtown Kanab, which has hosted hundreds of celebrities over the years. Touches throughout the hotel nod to the region’s “Little Hollywood” and western history, but moreover it’s quaint, cozy, and incredibly convenient to the rest of town.

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We were also impressed by the diverse food options around town, from progressive Asian flavors at Sego and traditional French at Vermillion 45, to the best coffee and croissants at Kanab Creek Bakery. There were endless vegetarian and vegan options at Peekaboo Canyon Wood Fired Kitchen and Rocking V. Needless to say, we were treated every day après adventure! I wouldn’t mind returning to Kanab just to continue my food tour … and maybe try one more time to get that permit for the Wave.

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Sounds of Silence in Utah’s Canyon Country

Since I turned 30, my days are literally speeding by. Rapidly. I find myself ingesting new information faster and at a higher rate than I stop to reflect on past experiences. When I travel, I notice myself stopping for a few quick photo ops and hurrying onto the next place. Over a luxurious 8 days though, I explored Utah’s Canyon Country in southeast Utah.

WiFi is slow to non-existent in places, there’s arguably one traffic light for the entire San Juan County (nearly, the size of New Jersey!), cows stand in the roads and wonder why you’re moving so fast, and people slow down to talk with each other—to connect. The country there is vast, staggering, and beautiful. Ancient markings lurk around every corner, and I truly felt a sense of peace and tranquility. Between Canyonlands National Park and Monument Valley there are plenty of awe-inspiring and meditative moments.

This article was created in partnership with the San Juan County Economic Development and Visitor Services, Utah. Images by Emily Sierra Photography.

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Monument Valley

Numerous films made the vast Monument Valley famous. Striking sandstone buttes rise from the desert floor and ripple a rainbow of colors at sunrise and sunset. The valley drive through the Navajo Tribal Park alone is stunning, but for the full experience I went out with a guide from Gouldings. With a Navajo guide, I was able to see sights that are inaccessible while traveling alone. We were afforded uncommon views of the valley and multiple panels of petroglyphs and ancient dwellings. Incredible arches and natural rock features abound there—my favorite being “Big Hogan”. We even stepped inside a traditional hogan dwelling. At night, I hunkered down in my cozy little quarters for the evening, reflecting on beautiful southeast Utah, rich in culture and landscapes.

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Dancing and Dogs in Utah’s Canyon Country

I danced in four states at once (Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona) at Four Corners Monument before heading north to Hovenweep National Monument. There, I hiked along the trails with views of the stone structures that remain. Towers and dwellings from over 800 years ago stand proud, and I loved imagining life in this prehistoric village. Additionally, entrance to the the monument is free and leashed dogs are welcome on the trail.

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Heading north from the monument, I drove past thousands of yellow patches of rabbit brush and spotted the San Juan Mountains to the east. I opened my truck door at 3 Step Hideaway and was immediately greeted by Blue, an overly excited dog looking for a new fetch partner. I lit the wood stove in my cabin and strummed my banjo as the sky turned shades of purple before sparkling with stars. Back at the ‘cantina’ I shared a home-cooked meal with owners, Scott and Julie. The lack of cell service, WiFi, and ambient noise let my evening melt into reflection.

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Valley of the Gods

Seventeen miles of dirt road wind through massive monoliths in Valley of the Gods. While this road can easily be toured and enjoyed as a scenic drive, I chose to view the valley on a scenic ride. All day I craned my head back and forth at the sandstone buttes. Without any traffic (as in, I saw 2 cars all day!), the bike ride was easy-going and the best way to slow down and take in the views of Utah’s Canyon Country.

Famished at the end of my ride, I drove down to Mexican Hat to grab a bite to eat at the Olde Bridge Grille. I couldn’t help but marvel at the town’s namesake, truly a hat-shaped rock set against beige ridge combed with red rock.

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These experiences are just a sampling of my entire time in Utah’s Canyon Country. Common sentiments from fellow travelers in the area were, “I didn’t know there was so much to see here!” I imagine that many of them left feeling inspired and rejuvenated, just like me.

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Basecamp close to Canyonlands National Park

I stood at an overlook on the Chesler Park Loop Trail in the Needles District of Canyonlands, struck by how quiet it was. The sun was setting behind me, and all of the candy cane colored rock spires stood at attention in the distance. It was amazing how few hikers there were in this part of the national park. I drove back down the dirt road to the highway, dodging cows in the dark and settled into my basecamp in Monticello, Utah. Over the coming days, I would see how perfectly my travel plans would align with this convenient location.

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This article was created in partnership with the San Juan County Economic Development and Visitor Services, Utah. Images by Emily Sierra Photography.

Within 0 miles of Monticello

Staying in the Grist Mill Inn felt a little like staying at Grandma’s house, except way more comfortable. Vintage touches decorated the walls, and there were multiple cozy common areas to hang out. Not to mention, the location was close to downtown shops and restaurants. I loved the pour-over coffee option at Roam Industry, the sandwiches at Peace Tree Cafe, and the Thai delicacies Ja-Roen Thai Sushi.

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Miniature Golf…inside a general store!

Okay, this was just hilarious. I was so confused when I mapped Silver Queen Miniature Golf and it pulled up at the Monticello Mercantile. I wandered into the store and, sure enough, the neon-lit course entrance was inside! Hand-painted glow-in-the-dark murals covered the walls and mining sounds ricocheted throughout–a true nod to the area’s history. This was a great way to spend some time in town!

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Mountain Biking in Monticello

In the summer months, the Abajo Mountains outside of Monticello offer some incomparable singletrack. I was a little late in season for mountain riding, so Dustin at Roam Industry in town recommended the Abajo Foothills trail system. This is a newer network that definitely got my heart pumping! Small rollers, tight turns, and a couple of drops made for a great afternoon.

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Canyon Country Discovery Center

Serving as somewhat of a welcome center, the Canyon Country Discovery Center highlights the Colorado Plateau through adventure, education, and stewardship. Hands-on exhibits educate kids and adults alike on local ecosystems and culture in the area. Also at the Center was an indoor climbing wall, and an observatory outside. The dark skies in southern Utah are truly special, and learning about planets, stars, the moon, and other galaxies was an unforgettable experience.

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Within 25-55 miles of Monticello

It might seem like a long drive, but it’s a darn scenic one!

Looking Glass Arch

Looking Glass Arch sits like a bird nest in a massive rock on Looking Glass Road. From a distance it looks deceptively small, but the arch is actually quite large. Also, the midday sun reflects photogenically inside the arch and rock.

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Needles Overlook

Standing on the edge of–what feels like–the world, the Needles Overlook offers an expansive view over Canyonlands and beyond. The Colorado River cuts through mesas and the low-angle sun offers the best views of the contours on the landscape. There is no shortage of photo opportunities here!

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Newspaper Rock Petroglyph Panel + Hiking in Chesler Park

On the way out to Elephant Hill Trailhead in the Needles District of Canyonlands, stopping at the Newspaper Rock Panel is a must! Within the designation of Bears Ears National Monument is a rock panel with one of the highest concentrations of petroglyphs known to exist. The carvings are immaculately well preserved and tell stories of the past.

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Finally, once you reach the trailhead, choose your hiking adventure in Chesler Park and explore the surreal landscape. Absolutely don’t forget a map and GPS in this area, and give yourself extra time because there are photo opportunities around every corner–no exaggerating!

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Bears Ears and Beyond

This wasn’t the first time and it won’t be the last time that I pull into Utah at night, and wake up surrounded by giant red walls. Setting up a basecamp in the charming town of Bluff, Utah, I found a variety of adventures within a scenic drive’s distance. The fragile environment in this part of Utah and Bears Ears National Monument should be handled with deep respect. Swing by the Bears Ears Education Center and become oriented with the region before setting off.

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This article was created in partnership with the San Juan County Economic Development and Visitor Services, Utah. Images by Emily Sierra Photography.

Bears Ears National Monument

A pinyon-juniper woodland, canyons and rock formations, including two distinctive “Bears Ears” buttes begin to comprise this wonderland. Moreover, the monument includes an abundance of early human historical artifacts and sites, still sacred to Native Americans today. Bears Ears National Monument is truly a special place and exciting to explore. As this monument is still very new, travelers should expect to bring their own GPS, maps, snacks, and water out for the day. There are limited facilities and information throughout the monument as well. Finally, evidence of previous civilizations should always be left untouched.

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Bluff Basecamp

Waking up each morning at La Posada Pintada, I was excited to try Jennifer’s blue corn pancakes or one of the breakfast specialties. I welcomed conversation with other travelers about their plans for exploring that day. For such a small town, I was especially impressed with the modern fare at Comb Ridge Eat and Drink, and there were a handful of other nice options.

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Souvenir Stops

Bluff, Utah might be small, but it boasts two impressive trading posts. Both Cow Canyon and Twin Rocks offered an impressive amount of local artwork and gifts. The basketry in Twin Rocks Trading Post really caught my eye with its modern-day patterns and unique weaves. I couldn’t have imagined a better place to snag gifts for those back home.

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Scenic Drives around Bluff

Vast landscapes suddenly stall out at canyon rims, and sharp buttes rise up in every direction. Driving or biking in southeast Utah is a real treat!

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Goosenecks State Park

The road to Goosenecks State Park is beautiful on its own, but arriving at the canyon edge is more incredible than I could have ever imagined. The San Juan River below meanders lazily, creating long, deep bends in the canyon. There really isn’t a bad time of day (or night!) to see this natural wonder.

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Moki Dugway to Muley Point

Driving along the highway, the road seems to just run right into the cliff ahead. A sign warning drivers to slow for frequent switchbacks prepares me for the drive up the… indeed, cliff! I used every available pullout along the Moki Dugway to snap numerous photos before continuing on. Once at the top, I continued along the dirt road to Muley Point (not marked on the road). As with many places in Utah’s Canyon Country, there was no one else to be seen up there. I had views straight out to Monument Valley and the immense landscape below all to myself.

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Witnessing the Past

Before arriving at the River House Ruin site, we were greeted with incredible views and impossible roadways. Squeezing through the Comb Ridge, Spencer with Wild Expeditions navigated tricky 4WD moves to get us where we were headed. I could see River House Ruin before we arrived and felt immediately sucked in. The stone structure is set in a rock alcove, and a variety of petroglyphs and pictographs decorate the surrounding area.

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A few miles from River House Ruin is Big Kachina Panel with numerous figures, offering evidence of some of the oldest civilizations in the Four Corners region. Both River House Ruin and Big Kachina Panel are best accessed on a river trip down the San Juan, but taking a Jeep out with a guide was another great way to glimpse the past. Now I’m just imagining the future—with my next visit to the area.

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Discover 6 Unbelievable Sights in Navajoland

Planning a trip to the American Southwest? Make extra time for the sights, sounds and flavors of Navajoland. The Navajo Nation boasts landmarks that range from ancient to otherworldly. Navajo historical and cultural heritage remains strong, and will fascinate even the most intrepid travelers.

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This article was created in partnership with the Navajo Tourism Department, Arizona. All photos provided by the Navajo Tourism Department.

Traveling through the Navajo Nation in the American Southwest is a moving experience. While planning your trip, download a digital copy of their visitor guide for extra inspiration. In addition, be sure to review protocol and best practices before you embark.

Northern Navajoland

Antelope Canyon

Immaculately shaped walls glow shades of yellow, orange, red, and purple under the Arizona sun. Antelope Canyon is understandably one of the most interesting landscapes to photograph with rock walls that dance under the light. Guided tours are mandatory to access the canyon.

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Monument Valley

Many movies over the years popularized some of the most classic views in Monument Valley. Beyond the views though (and trust me, they’re insanely impressive!), there is so much more to explore in the Monument Valley Tribal Park. Make the most of your time in the area with a guide that can take you to out-of-bounds ancestral sights and rock formations.

Shiprock Pinnacle

The volcanic rock formation—Shiprock Pinnacle—stands strikingly against a barren New Mexico landscape. It is visible from miles around, and one of the most photographed features in the region. The peak itself is sacred to the Navajo, and should only be observed and photographed from a distance. Climbing and hiking near the peak is strictly forbidden.

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Southern Navajoland

Bisti Badlands

This dreamland of bizarre landscapes is a true slice of American wilderness. Exploring the Bisti Badlands is a remote and rewarding experience. Notably, “egg” and “wing” shaped hoodoos, piles of petrified wood, and a complete color palette decorate the landscape. Before you run wild in these badlands, be sure to observe the region’s protocols. In other words, there are no facilities or signage in the area.

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Canyon de Chelly

Beneath the towering canyon walls, Navajo families continue to live and farm the land, similar to their ancestors 5,000 years ago. Views from the rim of Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “can-yun duh shay”) are absolutely breathtaking! One short hike is available, and the experience can be further enhanced with a local Navajo guide.

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Window Rock Navajo Tribal Park & Veteran’s Memorial

The Window Rock Navajo Tribal Park & Veteran’s Memorial is located on sacred ground of cultural and historical importance. There, a natural arch looks over a veteran memorial that recognizes soldiers who fell during World War II. In fact, the memorial identifies code-talkers who provided secure communication for the United States military.

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Stay in Navajoland

Throughout the region there is a wide range of accommodations. While unzipping your tent to the monoliths of Monument Valley is quite gratifying, there are plenty of cozy hotels to settle into as well. Additionally, one of the more unique experiences in the region is to stay in a traditional Navajo hogan. Though sleeping in this sacred dwelling is more rustic, it will surely be a highlight of your vacation.

What to look for in Navajoland

Navajo Tacos

Throughout the region, keep your eyes peeled for Navajo taco stands! This local treat combines fry bread (deep-fried dough), meat, cheese, vegetables, and special seasonings. Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, this is a meal you don’t want to miss!

Arts and Crafts

Near most monuments and attractions, you’ll find tables set up with locals selling Navajo arts and crafts. Some of the most impressive art examples are found in trading posts that are located throughout the Navajo Nation. Truly, the best type of souvenir is a handmade one!

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Find more ideas for your trip through the American Southwest here.