SUMMER VACATION IDEAS
Epic Road Trip: Southern Utah & Northern Arizona
Westward, ho! From admiring the incredible red rock views at national parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon to snapping the perfect Forrest Gump photo outside Monument Valley, the reasons to visit this beautiful, still-under-the-radar part of the American southwest will have you moving this trip to the top of your travel bucket list.
It's time to embark on an epic family road trip adventure through the rugged wilderness of southern Utah and northern Arizona. Whether you're planning to hit only a few of these places or want to cover the entire park circuit through Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Monument Valley, Arches, and Canyonlands, here's how to make the most of your trip without wasting a cent.
Slow down and savor the beautiful scenic byways
While your trusty GPS might say there are faster ways to get you from point A to point B, stick to Utah's Scenic Byways as you travel between the parks. State Route 12 takes you from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon on a beautiful 124-mile journey with awe-inspiring views at every turn. Give yourself at least three hours so you can stop for photo ops along the way.
Step into your favorite movies in the places they were filmed
There's a reason why some of this scenery looks so familiar. It's been the background in plenty of films, from John Wayne classics like Stagecoach (filmed in the Monument Valley area) to Thelma & Louise, (filmed in Arches National Park; the final scene was really filmed in Dead Horse State Point State Park, not the Grand Canyon—who knew?) Die-hard Forrest Gump fans can also be seen pulling over at Mile Marker 13 on Highway 163, outside Monument Valley, for a chance to take the perfect photo in the spot where, one day, Forrest just stopped running.
Get to know lesser-known national parks like Capitol Reef
Often overshadowed by Zion and Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park is definitely worth visiting: Admission is only $5 per vehicle, and you'll have access to unspoiled views of red rock country and a chance to explore the area's rich pioneer history. Infamous outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid even used parts of the park as a hideout! Stop by Rim Rock Restaurant for a gorgeous vantage point of the red rock as you dine, and stay around the corner at Broken Spur Inn (Rim Rock Restaurant, 2523 E. Highway 24 in Torrey, therimrock.net; Broken Spur Inn, rooms from $99 per night, 955, E. SR-24, brokenspurinn.com.)
Don't miss Page, Arizona, on your way to or from Monument Valley
Spend some time on the shores of Lake Powell, part of Arizona's scenic Glen Canyon Recreation Area ($15 per vehicle for a weekly pass), or rent a kayak at Lake Powell Resort to see the area from the water (kayak rentals from $45 per day, 100 Lakeshore Drive, lakepowell.com). Stop by Horseshoe Bend just south of Page on Highway 89 (free). Don't be intimidated by the three-quarters-of-a-mile hike through desert sands to reach the scenic overlook point. (Author's note: If I can do it, you can do it, and that amazing view from the top of the ridge was totally worth it!)
Immerse yourself in Native American culture and history in Monument Valley
Stay at Goulding's Lodge, a remote but charming outpost minutes from Monument Valley that's home to Goulding's Trading Post Museum. View photos and artifacts from the Old West; learn about the area's Native American tribes; check out John Wayne's Cabin, where She Wore a Yellow Ribbon was filmed; and catch classic western flicks at the Earth Spirit Theater. Goulding's also offers several guided trips into Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, including its three-and-a-half hour deluxe tour, which gives you a close-up look at scenic rock formations like the Mittens, the Three Sisters, and North Window, and the chance to explore parts of the park that are off-limits to the general public (tour from $70 per person, rooms from $89 per night November through April, from $211 per night May through October, gouldings.com).
Explore Bryce Canyon on horseback
Embrace your inner cowboy (or cowgirl) and get a different view of the park from the back of your trusty steed. Bryce Canyon Rides takes you on a two-hour guided tour from Bryce Canyon Lodge down to the canyon floor, past scenic spots like the Wall of Windows and the Chessmen. Bring plenty of water, and whatever you do, don't forget your camera! (from $60 per person for a two-hour trip, from $80 per person for a half-day guided tour, canyonrides.com; admission to the park includes unlimited use of park shuttles and is valid for seven days, $25 per vehicle or $12 per person entering on foot, nps.gov/brca).