An Odyssey Through Utah’s National Parks

Experience the best of Utah’s national parks on this road trip through the heart of some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet.

Zion National Park

Days 1 & 2

After landing in Las Vegas it’s a pretty drive north as you enter Utah through the spectacular Virgin River Gorge, a precursor of things to come.

Zion Canyon is one of the most stunning landscapes in the Southwest and you’ll want to spend at least a full day exploring its soaring canyons. In the morning, armed with the right gear, it’s time to hike the famous Narrows. Wading through the shallow river with the precipitous canyon walls rising high above is an unforgettable experience. In the afternoon walk one of the many stunning trails, which can either be a gentle stroll among the aspens or a challenging push to the top of somewhere like Angel’s Landing.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Days 3 and 4

Nearby Bryce Canyon is equally as enchanting but very different from Zion. At a higher altitude, the sandstone of Zion Canyon is replaced primarily by limestone. The resulting hoodoos, an army of surreal rock columns that frame sweeping views of the Colorado Plateau, are breathtaking. There are multiple ways to enjoy the scenery depending on your appetite for adventure and we’ll tailor your time to suit you.

Leaving Bryce to the east you’ll pass through idyllic farmland surrounding several pioneer Mormon settlements before entering the fringes of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This spectacular wilderness area consists of 1.9 million acres of rocky canyon lands, desert, prehistoric villages and otherworldly rock formations. You’ll drive through this amazing landscape on the vertigo-inducing Million-Dollar Road.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Boulder

Days 5 & 6

Spend the next two days in the tiny and remote town of Boulder. Home to a great lodge, one of Utah’s best restaurants and perfectly placed for a full exploration of the area. Take a step back in time at Anasazi State Park, an ancient village site dating back as far as 1050, make the half day hike through the willows and cottonwoods to the stunning 126-foot Calf Creek Falls or let a guide lead you on a more adventurous exploration. Whichever you choose, you’ll have the delicious meals at Hell’s Backbone Grill to look forward to in the evening.

Capitol Reef National Park

Part of Day 6

Your grand journey through Utah’s national parks continues with a visit to Capitol Reef National Park on your way to Moab. Lesser visited than the other parks it is no less remarkable. Home to some of the most beautifully sculpted rock layers in a rainbow of colors, the central feature of the park is the Waterpocket Fold, a two hundred mile long wrinkle in the surface of the earth. Capitol Reef also provides a fascinating insight into the life of the hardy Mormon pioneers who planted orchards, built the pretty schoolhouse at Fruita and generally carved a life out of this tough environment.

Moab, Arches and Canyonlands

Days 7, 8 & 9

It is not surprising that Moab is often voted one of the great adventure hubs of the world. Its location on the banks of the Colorado River and in between two of Utah’s five national parks, Arches and Canyonlands, make it a paradise for lovers of the great outdoors. Staying at the beautiful Sorrel River Ranch on the banks of the Green River will mean you’ll have all the luxury bells and whistles to return to after a day of exploring. We’d recommend a day in each of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. This can be with one of our local guides or under your own steam. Take your last day in Moab to try your hand at one of the adventures sports that Moab is famous for whether that be mountain biking, rafting or offroading.

Bluff and Monument Valley

Days 10 & 11

After three days of adventure in Moab it’s time to head back south but not before stopping to wonder at the meaning of the ancient petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock. The little town of Bluff makes a great alternative as a base from which to visit the spectacular Monument Valley. Nearby Hovenweep, a series of 12th century Anasazi ruins, and Natural Bridges National Monument, where you’ll finest some incredible examples of natural stone architecture, make for a great day trip from Bluff.

Navajo Nation

Part of Day 12

The vast Navajo Nation spans the Four Corners region and provides a fascinating insight into Native American culture. It’s a big place and if you’re just passing through you’ll need to make some choices. Canyon de Chelly with its ancient ruins, the incredible Hopi Mesas perched on their rock outcrops and the Navajo National Monument are each worthy of visit.

Grand Canyon

Days 12 and 13

Arriving at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon by mid-afternoon will give you plenty of time to check into your lodge before making your way to the rim of the canyon to watch the sunset. It’s a sight that you won’t forget in a hurry!

Bright and early next morning you’ll be met by your guide for a hike beneath the rim of the canyon where you’ll gain a completely different perspective of this magnificent landscape. Each corner of the trail will reveal a subtly different view seemingly more breathtaking than the last and your guide will be on hand to explain the diversity of plant life, incredible geology and cultural history of the Grand Canyon.

After a day on the trail, finish your holiday with a well earned dinner in the historic dining room at El Tovar.


From The Magazine