NATIONAL PARKS (MINUS THE CROWDS)
Road Trip: Utah Canyon Country
From Las Vegas, it's a short drive to these four parks with strikingly diverse landscapes.
DAY 1 Interstate 15 quickly leaves Vegas shrinking in the rearview and drops you in Zion National Park three hours later. Tourists line up for bus rides on the six-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive (cars aren't allowed on the main road in summer), but independent-minded travelers head to little-known Kolob Terrace Road: The hourlong drive cuts across the park's center to Lava Point, which, at 7,600 feet in elevation, allows a soaring view of the canyons. Spend the evening on the private porch of a cabin at Zion Lodge (zionlodge.com, from $159).
DAY 2 It's a quick drive north to Bryce Canyon, off U.S. 89. Take your time and do a two-hour horseback ride into the canyon (canyonrides.com, $50); then set aside the afternoon to drive to the outdoor-sports mecca of Moab, Utah, sandwiched between Arches and Canyonlands parks. The pueblo-style Gonzo Inn has bike storage, an espresso bar, and a hot tub (gonzoinn.com, from $159).
DAY 3 A day's time is enough to loop around all of the paved roads in Arches National Park and take in the most important sights, like Delicate Arch (the one on Utah license plates). But to find the park's true beauty, put boots to the ground and wander the narrow Technicolor maze of Fiery Furnace. There are no proper trails here, so hikers can only enter with a permit or on a ranger-led, three-hour walk (435/719-2299, walk $10).
DAY 4 Canyonlands may be the country's least drivable national park; much of it is inaccessible to cars. The broadest perspective by road lies at Island in the Sky mesa, 32 miles from Moab, which peers 1,000 feet down into the red canyons. Reach the plateau's edge via the mile-long Grand View Point Trail.
The usual rafting trip on the Green and Colorado rivers from Moab to Lake Powell takes five days, but you can get the same thrills in just two days on a motorized-raft trip with Western River Expeditions (westernriver.com, from $645).
Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.