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American West Road Trip Itinerary: Southern Utah, 6 National Parks

American West Road Trip Itinerary: Southern Utah, 6 National Parks

This is the ultimate American west road trip. Utah has five national parks in just the southern half of the state, so you could easily cover ground without covering an overwhelming amount of distance. Add a sixth N.P. to the trip by hitting up the less traveled north rim of the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona!


#thisismyroute

Prepared by:
Tobey

State: 
Utah, Arizona, NEvada

Start/End: 
Las Vegas, Nevada

Total miles:
1,200 (1,900 km)

Suggested days: 
At least 12 – 16

Suggested season: 
All seasons, but spring and fall are best

Overview

The route that we have chosen for this American west road trip is a loop that leaves from and arrives back in Las Vegas, Nevada. It takes you to six national parks and multiple national monuments. This trip is ideal for people visiting the US for the first time, families with children, hardcore adventurers or honeymooners. There’s really no perfect itinerary–just follow the general route and make it your own! It can be adjusted to fit any need that your group is looking for.

Preparation

While you could technically take this American West road trip at any time of the year, spring and fall seasons have the most moderate weather, but larger crowds. If you choose to visit in the quieter summer or winter, just be prepared to deal with the heat or possibly the snow, and make sure you’ve brought appropriate clothing and gear. That being said, the desert looks incredibly beautiful when it snows!

Ideally, you would give yourself at least 14 days for this trip. There’s not a ton of driving, so it could be done in less than 14, but you might regret quickly passing through many of the stops. 

#1 las vegas, nevada

Las Vegas, Nevada sign

Unless you’re looking to win some money in Vegas and hit up a famous buffet in the morning–which is never a bad idea–it’d be best to arrive early, get your rental car and start driving to St. George, Utah. Flights to Las Vegas are usually fairly affordable from other major airports. Try to book your rental car as early as you book the flights, because those rates can be quite high. Now it’s time to hop on the I-15 North and get stoked!

#2 St. george

St. George, Utah

2 hours – 118 miles/303 km

St. George isn’t just known for its close proximity to Zion National Park. In fact, we suggest that you save Zion for the end of the trip when you stay in Springdale. St. George is a beautiful city nestled between red rocks in the heart of Greater Zion and there’s plenty of outdoor activities to burn your energy from that your flight and drive. There are over 668 mountain biking trails and the annual Red Bull Rampage, which is basically the Super Bowl of mountain biking. If you didn’t bring your bike, there are plenty of bike shops in town that rent them for a day rate.

Best short hike:

Red Reef Trail

Most unique hike:

Elephant Arch

Best experience for the whole family:

Horseback Riding at Snow Canyon State Park

Most unique advnture:

Spelunking at Bloomington Cave

#3 cedar city

Mountain biker on Lichen It trail in Cedar City, Utah.

1 hour – 53 miles/85 km

Cedar City is a beautiful stop for photographers, hikers, mountain bikers and skiers. It’s only a 30 minute drive from Cedar Breaks National Monument, a vibrantly red natural colosseum. Cedar City is also home to Utah’s two highest ski resorts–Brian Head and Eagle Point. 

For history buffs and Shakespeare fans, Cedar City is a good place to take a break from the outdoor adventures and experience some indoor culture, such as the annual Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Best short hike in Cedar Break NM: 

The Ramparts Overlook

Best long hike in Cedar Breaks NM: 

Rattlesnake Creek Trail

Coolest slot canyon:

Kanarra Creek Canyon

Best mountain biking trail:

Lichen It Trail

#4 panguitch & bryce canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park

1 hour – 66 MILES/106 KM

Finally, here’s where you’ll visit your first national park on the trip: Bryce Canyon. A 3-day itinerary for Bryce Canyon Country might be enough for you, but check out all the activities to decide how many days you’d like to stay. For an authentic western adventure, go horseback riding and then go out for a chuckwagon dinner.

Don’t miss this place:

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Most popular hike in Bryce Canyon:

Queen’s/Navajo Combination Loop

Best place to ride a horse:

 Panguitch Lake Horseback Trail

Point of interest: 

Rockin R’ Cowboy & Dude Ranch

#5 capitol reef

Capitol Reef, Utah

2 hours – 118 miles/190 km

Next, you’ll drive to Fruita and visit Capitol Reef National Park. This park is unique because of its rich history, one-of-a-kind geology, and the Fremont River, which supports plant and animal life that aren’t often seen in the desert. If you’re in Capitol Reef Country between April and October, definitely go fruit picking in the orchards that were planted by early Mormon settlers: cherries, peaches, pears, apples, and more. Also be sure to stop in Caineville and Hanksville on your way to Moab to get a taste of what an authentic western small town is like.

Best place to go fruit picking:

The Fruita Orchards

Point of interest:

Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef

Most scenic drive: 

Cathedral Valley

For the adventurers:

 Canyoneer Pandora’s Box

#6 moab

Arches National Park, Utah.

2.5 hours – 144 miles/232 km

Ready to knock two more national parks off your list? Great, because you’ll want to spend a few days here in order to visit Arches NP and Canyonlands NP. Arches is known as being the park with more than 2,000 delicate, red-sandstone natural arches, while Canyonlands is known for its dramatic, expansive landscape that was carved by the Colorado River and includes rock pinnacles, remote canyons, and Native American rock paintings.

Best photo op:

Dead Horse Point State Park

Notable place to visit:

The Needles

Best place to see indigenous rock paintings:

Horseshoe Canyon

Most popular activity:

Mountain biking

#7 San juan county

Cliff dwellings "house on fire" in Bears Ears National Monument

1 hour – 55 miles/88 km

As you drive through the Four Corners area, you might be wondering what you can do next that isn’t hiking or mountain biking, as there’s a lot of that in Utah. The answer is rafting! Take a family-friendly three-day rafting trip on the San Juan River. There are three wonderful towns on along your route: Monticello, Blanding and Bluff, where you can grab food and set up base camp to explore the surrounding parks like Bears Ears National Monument. If you’re a climber, or someone who just loves desert towers, you won’t want to miss Indian Creek!

Best place for photographs:

 Goosenecks State Park

Well-known rafting outfitters:

Oars Rafting Guides

Best activity for all ages:

Edge of the Cedars State Park

Most classic spot to grab a bite to eat:

Shake Shack in Monticello

#8 Monument Valley

Monument Valley

1.75 hours – 93 miles/150 km

You can’t do an American west road trip without visiting Monument Valley–it’s iconic. Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is quite possibly one of the most iconic destinations of the American wild West, located on the Navajo Nation and the border of Utah and Arizona. We recommend staying at least one night here to experience stars above the towers at night and hopefully wake up to wild horses roaming in the morning. There’s a lot of history to learn about this area of the country and much more to explore in Monument Valley than just what you’ve seen from Hollywood.

For the campers:

The View Campground, El Capitan Valley Campground, Mustang Valley Campground

For the hotel-stayers:

The View Hotel

For those in between:

Monument Valley Tipi Village or Thunder Bird Tipi

A must-do activity:

Horseback riding

#9 kanab

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

3.25 hours – 197 miles/317 km

The drive to Kanab will be your longest yet, but it also has some amazing stops along the way to break it up. About an hour outside of Kanab you’ll drive through Page, Arizona, where you can access Lake Powell, a large reservoir with slot canyons on the Colorado River. Although Kanab is a small town, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it’s been featured in hundreds of Western movies and was given the title “Little Hollywood” in the 1940s. You can visit the museum, attend their chuckwagon dinner, and view old movie sets. Another state park to check off your list: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Sounds amazing, right? It is.

Must-see landmark along the way:

Horseshoe Bend

Don’t want to miss:

Take a guided tour of Glen Canyon Dam

A worthy hiking/backpacking stop: 

Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area

Family-friendly roadside attraction:

Toadstools hoodoos

#10 Grand canyon national park

Grand Canyon National Park

1.5 hours – 80 MILES/130 KM

Want to visit the Grand Canyon National Park without all of the crowds or the heat of the summer? Drive to the north rim of the canyon and back, which is doable in a day if you’re staying in Kanab. There’s a visitor’s center, a scenic drive, and many hikes available to you. This entry point is closed during the winter months due to snow. 

Activity for everyone:

Mule rides through the canyon

Best hike into the canyon:

Bright Angel Point Trail

#11 springdale & zion national park

Zion National Park landscape.

2.5 hours – 121 miles/195 km

It’s your last and final stop before you head back to Las Vegas. Springdale, which is just outside the entrance to Zion National Park, is the perfect basecamp if you’re planning on spending a few days exploring Zion. The park is one of the busier ones, so be prepared with an itinerary before you become overwhelmed with options and people. 

Most popular hikes:

Angels Landing Hike and The Narrows

Too many people?

Hidden Canyon

Best place to learn about history: 

Zion Human History Museum

For the hardcore adventurers:

Guided Canyoneering in Zion National Park

From Springdale, Utah, it’s about a 2 hour and 45 minute drive back to Las Vegas, where you’ll catch your flight home after a long and adventurous road trip through the desert. Make sure you shake off all that red dirt before hopping on the plane!
 
 




Flagstaff is Your Hub for Adventure in Northern Arizona

Flagstaff, Arizona is a popular destination for world travelers and tourists, and for good reason! A short drive from the southern entrance of Grand Canyon National Park and neighboring Sedona, this historic city also sits squarely on iconic Route 66.

With three national monuments within an hour’s drive, a ski area with year-round activities, and a thriving downtown, Flagstaff is a destination in its own right. 

This story was created in partnership with Discover Flagstaff.

Flagstaff, Arizona is a Four Seasons Destination

There’s a beautiful regional airport five miles from downtown with daily flights coming and going from Phoenix, Denver and Dallas Fort-Worth in addition to weekly seasonal flights to and from LAX. There is simply no better time to put Flagstaff, Arizona at the top of your bucket list!

Play Outside, No Matter the Season

Flagstaff sits at 7,000 feet elevation, right at the base of the San Francisco Peaks on the edge of the Colorado Plateau. This unique destination provides Flagstaff with fantastic year-round weather—266 days of sun and 100 inches of snow, on average.

In the summer, hikers and mountain bikers will find nearly unlimited trails in the nearby mountains. The local resort, Arizona Snowbowl, offers activities for kids like a ropes course, bungee trampoline, and more. There’s also a chairlift that takes you up to 11,500 feet—with a local beer in hand and a view of the Grand Canyon! In the winter, the resort converts into a veritable downhill mecca with runs for beginners, experts, and everything in between. Last year, it received 330 inches of snow! Plus, Arizona Nordic Village offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Fall and spring are great times to enjoy Flagstaff’s other attractions, including beautiful fall colors and self-guided walking tours on the Flagstaff Urban Trail System and the Arboretum.

Flagstaff, Arizona is the City of Seven Wonders

Get to Know the City of 7 Wonders

From the depths of the Grand Canyon to Arizona’s highest point at the summit of Humphreys Peak, Flagstaff is a mecca for natural wonders. You won’t want to miss the seven highlights in the area: the aforementioned Grand Canyon National Park, Wupatki National Monument, Oak Creek Canyon, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, San Francisco Peaks, Coconino National Forest, and Walnut Canyon National Monument. Each of these areas conserves a significant cultural and/or natural treasure. Our favorites? Hiking the .7-mile Island Trail Loop at Walnut Canyon National Monument offers a fascinating look into how ancient people lived, along with stunning views. The 1-mile Lava Trail in Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument is perfect for an afternoon stroll, and exploring the intricate Waputki Pueblo is an absolute must.

The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, AZ

Take a Look at Flagstaff’s Lunar Legacy

Earlier this year, Flagstaff celebrated the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon. What does this have to do with Flagstaff? Astronomy runs deep in the city’s roots. All Apollo astronauts who have walked on the moon trained here at some point in their careers, and it was designated the world’s first “International Dark Sky City” in 2001. It was actually here at Lowell Observatory that Pluto was discovered!

All the magic happens at Lowell Observatory, founded in 1894. Today Lowell is an active research facility offering daily tours. Their brand new Giovale Open Deck Observatory (pictured above) is an incredible place to get acquainted with the night sky. Peer through six powerful telescopes aimed at celestial treasures like star clusters, Saturn, and more for a truly mind-bending experience.  

There's lots to do, and eat in Flagstaff

Enjoy the Robust Craft Brewery and Foodie Scene

You could easily spend your entire time in Flagstaff enjoying its many restaurants and breweries. To start, tuck into a hearty meal a few yards away from your hotel room. Try Northern Pines, located within the Days Hotel. Find mouth-watering fish tacos and burgers at Tourist Home Cafe, a location steeped in local history. As for the beer, Mother Road Brewing is a must during your time in Flagstaff. The Daily Driver Low Octane IPA is one of their defining brews, and seasonal gems like Pink Guava Gose are a special treat. Check out the Flagstaff Brewery Trail in Arizona’s leading craft beer city for even more recommendations.

For dinner, we can’t narrow it down to just one! The Silver Pine Restaurant and Bar at the Little America serves an exceptional cedar plank salmon (this writer’s favorite) and other seasonal specialties. We’re sure you’ll find a way to “cheers” to your time in Flagstaff!




6 Reasons to Visit Sierra Vista, Arizona

Southeastern Arizona is home to many hidden gems, and the city of Sierra Vista is one of our favorites. Located within eyesight of Mexico, this destination surprises at every turn. Here you’ll find lush nature preserves, miles of hiking and biking trails, historic ghost towns, delicious international cuisine, and so much more. Here are our top six reasons to visit Sierra Vista, Arizona. We think you’ll find even more during your stay!

This story was created in partnership with Visit Sierra Vista.

Stretch Your Legs in Coronado National Forest, Sierra Vista.

1. Stretch Your Legs in the Coronado National Forest

For the outdoor adventurer, there’s more than one way to break a sweat in Sierra Vista. This region is anything but flat—here arid grasslands are hemmed in by the Huachuca and Chiricahua mountain ranges. In between, the San Pedro River is the last undammed river in the American Southwest. These habitats provide an incredible home to wildlife and a huge range of plant life and offer an outdoor playground for the intrepid traveler. Birders will enjoy hiking the 5.6-mile Hamburg Trail in Ramsey Canyon Preserve. This area is home to a plethora of tropical birds, countless dragonflies and hummingbirds, and even the extraordinary and rare jaguar. Prefer to view the world on two wheels? Rent a bike from Sun & Spokes and try the 10-mile Cooper Loop that climbs 1,500 feet through the Huachucas for a tour of Sierra Vista’s extensive wilderness areas.

Local Landmarks in Sierra Vista, Arizona

2. Explore Iconic Sierra Vista Landmarks

There are countless ways to explore in and around Sierra Vista. History buffs will enjoy checking out Brown Canyon Ranch House, where a cattle operation thrived in the early 1900s and time has stood still since. Our Lady of the Sierras is an incredible place to take in the sunset and enjoy expansive views of the “sky island” mountains, neighboring Mexico, and the free-flowing San Pedro River. Coronado National Monument offers a fascinating look at our relationship with Mexico, as well as more great views and trails. And don’t forget to take a tour at Kartchner Caverns State Park during your stay! This limestone cavern was discovered in 1974 but kept secret for its protection for a decade. After intensive efforts to ensure the cave’s conservation, it opened to the public in 2003. Today it is one of the most stunning caverns in America, if not the world!

Wine Tasting Outside of Sierra Vista, Arizona

3. Taste Rare Wine Varietals at Family-Owned Vineyards

Another excellent way to spend the afternoon in Sierra Vista is to go wine tasting. The nearby town of Elgin is home to a number of tasting rooms, including Callaghan and Keif-Joshua. Meet the vintners and families behind the wines, enjoy views of the surrounding countryside and mountains, and find a new favorite varietal. We think the Rhumb Line Grenache from Callaghan washes down a day of adventure particularly well!

Adventure in Tombstone, AZ

4. Get to Know the Rich History of Sierra Vista

Like much of the Southwest, Sierra Vista has a robust western history. Nearby towns such as Tombstone and Bisbee are well-known haunts, but even closer are Fairbank, Millville, Pearce, and Gleeson. Enjoy stepping back in time for an afternoon at one of these locations and find yourself in awe of the romance of the West—and in appreciation of the modern amenities we enjoy today.

Global Dining on the Border in Sierra Vista

5. Enjoy World Class Dining Near the Border

Perhaps the most surprising part of traveling to Sierra Vista is discovering their burgeoning foodie scene. You can enjoy a homemade breakfast at your B&B followed by award-winning Vietnamese curry for lunch at Indochine, and a fresh seafood smorgasbord for dinner (we recommend any of the entrees at newly opened Tandem). Italian, Korean, Japanese, and of course Mexican cuisine are all within reach in Sierra Vista!

Lazy Dog Ranch in Sierra Vista, Arizona

6. Stay at the Lazy Dog Ranch B&B

There’s no better way to get to know a place than to stay with the locals. We love the Lazy Dog Ranch, located right on the banks of the San Pedro River and a short drive from town. Here you’ll find two spacious casitas (complete with WiFi), a swimming pool, and a wonderful breakfast nook prepared by your hosts. Did we mention the welcoming committee of several dogs plus a donkey, mule, and horse? You’ll feel right at home at the Lazy Dog Ranch and the rest of Sierra Vista, Arizona!




Chandler, Arizona: A Fun Family Adventure

Welcome to Chandler, Arizona!  Chandler is a thriving city in the tech industry located minutes away from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.  While business may take you to Chandler, we recommend bringing the entire family!  There are many fun family activities just waiting for you.  Here are our family’s favorite things to do, see and eat in Chandler.

This article was created in partnership with the Chandler Office of Tourism, Arizona.

Family-Friendly Activities:

Chandler puts a huge emphasis on public parks.  Their goal is to have a city park within 1 mile of every house, and they have come close to achieving that goal!  The city is 70 square miles, and they currently operate 63 parks.  Perhaps one of the most popular parks is Playtopia! at Tumbleweed Park.  Check out the gigantic covered playground, and don’t miss the kid’s zipline!  The inner child in you will love Playtopia! too!

For a different type of park experience, visit Veterans Oasis Park to see a glimpse of the desert without leaving the city.  When you follow the paved trail around the lake, you will be greeted by ducks and fishermen trying to bring in their daily catch.  But if you explore on the gravel paths, you will enjoy even more wildlife like jack rabbits, cottontails, lizards and lots of species of birds.

Chandler - Veterans Oasis Park

The newly-opened Chandler Museum is a fantastic piece of architecture!  It is located across from the second largest mall in Arizona in the Chandler Fashion Center area of town.  The entry courtyard is absolutely beautiful, covered in stunning shadows and light.  The awning and its cutouts create this pattern of light and dark which reminded me of a traditional tapestry.  Even if you only have a few minutes, play in the light created by this beautiful art!

Chandler - Chandler Museum

If you are looking for a relaxing morning, stroll the streets of downtown Chandler, popping into original, local stores and a cozy coffee shop along the way.  The water benches at City Hall were a big hit with Ephraim!  And of course there are delicious restaurants in the area when you get hungry for lunch.

Restaurants and Breweries:

Chandler - Downtown

Chandler is very diverse, and the Chandler foodie scene reflects that diversity.  We stayed true to our motto, “Eat our way through vacation.”  Our first stop at Chon Thai Food led us to delicious and authentic Thai food such as this panang curry beef, not exactly what you would expect in the desert.

Chandler - Chon Thai Food-Panang Curry Beef

We were pleasantly surprised to find a colorful, family-friendly venue at one of Chandler’s breweries, The Perch.  Conveniently located in downtown Chandler, The Perch Brewery is home to more than 50 rescue birds, including parrots, macaws and cockatoos.  Relax on the outdoor patio in the shade of a large umbrella while surrounded by colorful, exotic rescue birds.  Sample a flight of their brews and pick from a tasty menu for lunch, brunch or dinner.  I loved the Irish Cast Iron Skillet, filled with corned beef, poblano hash, Oregon Street beer cheese and cabbage.  What a unique dining experience!

Chandler - The Perch Brewery

Chandler is also the home of the well-know SanTan Brewing Company, so we stopped in for dinner one night.  They offer down home cooking, like the Southwest Fried Chicken with green chili gravy, poblano mashed potatoes and Mexi street corn.  The atmosphere is fun, but they were also prepared to cater to kids, loaning Ephraim a Magna Doodle (magnetic drawing board) which entertained him for the whole meal.

Chandler SanTan Brewing-Southwest Fried Chicken

Before leaving Arizona, we were craving some Mexican food, and thankfully we visited El Sol Mexican Cafe & Bakery.  Their tacos were wonderful…try the carnitas and carne asada.  The green chili is superb, in a burrito or by itself by the bowl.  To top it off, the service was super friendly.  Ephraim ended up with a colorful cookie that he graciously shared with Mom and Dad!

Chandler - El Sol

Sweet Treats in Chandler:

Great food and beer are not the only foodie options in Chandler…there is also dessert!  Depending on the time of your visit, Arizona may be a bit hot. But don’t worry, Chandler offers many fun and creative ways to stay cool.  While splash pads are common, we preferred the cold sweet treats option!

Chandler - Dripps Craft Soft Serve

Snowtime features a modern take on traditional Korean shaved ice.  I could not understand what that meant until I tried their cold, fluffy, delicious take on shaved ice, covered with Oreo dust and chocolate drizzle!  For a second twist on a classic favorite, Rewind Ice Cream + Tea infuses your favorite breakfast cereals into creamy vanilla soft serve.  Ephraim and I loved the perfectly-blended Reese’s Puff with Brownie Bites ice cream cone!  If you are looking for something a little more regional, try a handmade Mexican popsicle at Paletas Betty!  Giving Rebekah a break from the chocolate overload, the arroz con leche was a creamy and fresh way to cool down while exploring downtown Chandler.

Chandler - Sweet Treats

We loved our family-focused trip to Chandler!  Arizona fascinated me as a state.  After all, they were the 48th state of the Union, and they are proud of it!  I look forward to visiting again to explore more of Chandler and Arizona, with the state’s sunny skies, gorgeous ecosystem and charming residents!

Chandler - Veterans Oasis Park