Southwest Grand Tour: travel planner
Our Southwest Grand Tour leads from Las Vegas into thecanyons and mesas that form the heart of the Colorado Plateau. Hereyou will find some of the best-known natural wonders anywhere inthe world, including Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Grand Canyon NationalParks. But here, too, are lesser-known gems, like Utah’s GoosenecksState Park and Arizona’s Antelope Canyon.
With their array of nearby services, the national parks providethe steppingstones around this area; you’ll probably want to centeryour journey around them. The trip described in this story took us10 days to complete, but we easily could have lingered longer. (Fora four-day option, see “Mini Grand Tour,” above right.) Exceptwhere noted, the entire drive took place on two-lane roads off theinterstates.
Frequent flights from just about anywhere make this a naturalplace to start your grand tour. Nearby attractions like Valley of Fire State Park (702/397-2088) will whet yourappetite for what you’ll see later on. For more information,contact the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority(702/892-0711).
Approximately 127,000 hotel rooms give you lots to choose from; for a listof lodging options, contact the Las Vegas Convention and VisitorsAuthority (702/892-0711).
ZION NATIONAL PARK
Zion’s towering red sandstone formations will stay in your mindforever. Shuttles take visitors through Zion Canyon, where two goodshort hikes are the 3-mile round-trip Watchman Trail (terrificvalley views) and the 2 1/2-mile round trip to the waterfalls andspring-fed pools on the Emerald Pools trails. Less crowded but justas spectacular is the park’s Kolob Canyons section, off I-15, wherethe 5 1/2-mile round-trip Taylor Creek Trail leads to thegrottolike Double Arch Alcove. www.nps.gov/zion Springdale, Utah, is the park gateway andhas a large selection of lodging and restaurants. or (435)772-3256.
Desert Pearl Inn. Beautiful, modern rooms. From $103. www.desertpearl.com or(435) 772-8888.
Zion Lodge. Vintage cabins as well as motel rooms in atraditional lodge in the park. From $107. www.zionlodge.com or (888)297-2757.
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK: Bryce Canyon is easily exploredvia auto or shuttle bus (mid-May until early September) on the18-mile main park road. But a hike into the formations gives awhole different perspective. The 8-mile Fairyland Loop is hard tobeat. Outside the main part of the park is the 3/4-mile round-tripMossy Cave Trail off Utah 12, where you can hike to a small grottoand also walk along the Tropic Ditch. www.nps.gov/brca or (435)834-5322.
Panguitch, Utah, is about 21 miles from the park and is thelargest nearby town. There are also several motels and restaurantsalong Utah 12 and in Tropic, about 7 miles from the parkturnoff.
Bryce Canyon Lodge. In the park, 2 miles from entrance. OpenApril 1 through October 31; it has both rooms in the main lodge andcabins. Make reservations early. From $99. www.brycecanyonlodge.comor (888) 297-2757.
Best Western Rubys Inn. Attractive, large complex justoutside the park entrance. Open year-round. From $66. www.rubysinn.com, (866)866-6616, or (435) 834-5341.
GRAND STAIRCASE-ESCALANTE NATIONALMONUMENT
This sprawling monument was established in 1996. OutsideEscalante, unpaved Hole-in-the-Rock Road leads 14 miles to thearches at Devil’s Garden, then 26 more miles to Dance Hall Rock― where Mormon pioneers held dances. Twelve miles east ofEscalante, a 6-mile round-trip hike visits Lower Calf Creek Falls.Find information at the Cannonville visitor center or the Escalante InteragencyVisitors Center (435) 826-5499.
Although tiny, Boulder, Utah, is nearby and offers dining, food,and gas services. Escalante, Utah, is slightly larger and also hasbasic accommodations.
Boulder Mountain Lodge. One of our favorite places, this isan updated take on a classic Western lodge. Its restaurant, Hell’sBackbone Grill, serves modern, Southwestern-influenced cuisine― a big cut above the more basic fare found at most spotsalong the drive. From $85. www.boulder-utah.com or(800) 556-3446.
MONUMENT VALLEY AND ENVIRONS
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Most visitors see thisicon of the American West from the Valley Drive, the 17-mileunpaved loop road that runs through the park. Try to time yourdrive for morning or late afternoon. Guided vehicle tours can takeyou into parts of the valley otherwise hard to access; you can hireNavajo guides at visitor center booths (from $25 per person). $5 park fee per person. (435) 727-5870.
Monument Valley sits on the border between Arizona and Utah.Other than Goulding’s Lodge, the nearest services are available inKayenta, Arizona, 22 miles south, and in Mexican Hat, Utah, 22miles northeast. Bluff, Utah, is farther away (45 miles northeast)but with its galleries and restaurants is in some ways the mostattractive place to base yourself.
Goulding’s Lodge & Tours, Monument Valley. Founded byHarry Goulding and his wife, Mike, this is the originalaccommodation at Monument Valley. The facility includes arestaurant, grocery store, gas station, and museum in addition toits motel-style lodging. From $118. www.gouldings.com or (435)727-3231.
Cow Canyon Trading Post and Restaurant, Bluff, UT. Greatselection of Zuni and Navajo art. The restaurant is the area’sbest, with a limited selection that emphasizes fresh localingredients. Trading post open year-round, restaurant open Thu-Mon Apr 1-Oct31. (435) 672-2208.
Desert Rose Inn & Cabins, Bluff, UT. Built in atraditional lodge style, the inn offers hotel-style rooms andattractive cabins with timbered ceilings. From $69. www.desertroseinn.com or(888) 475-7673.
Recapture Lodge, Bluff, UT. A local institution, theRecapture has motel rooms but can take on the sociable feel of asummer camp, thanks to the many rafting groups that stay here. Mostnights, there are slide shows on local subjects; owners Jim andLuanne Hook are great sources of information on nearby trips andoutings to Monument Valley. From $40. www.recapturelodge.comor (435) 672-2281.
Best Western Wetherill Inn, Kayenta, AZ. From $70. (928) 697-3231.
San Juan Inn & Trading Post, Mexican Hat, UT. From $70. (435) 683-2220.
GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
NORTH RIM: If you have already visited the South Rim,consider making the North Rim your Grand Canyon destination. At8,000 feet, it is higher in elevation and less crowded. A drawbackis that snow limits the North Rim’s season to mid-May untilmid-October. Check out the Grand Canyon Lodge, which celebrates its75th anniversary this year. For great views, drive 23 miles fromthe lodge to Cape Royal or 11 miles to Point Imperial. An easy hikeis the 3-mile round-trip Transept Trail. www.nps.gov/grca or (928)638-7888.
With no nearby towns, lodging and dining choices are limited, soplan ahead.
Grand Canyon Lodge. Designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood,the lodge is a national-park classic. It offers vintage cabins andsome motel-style rooms. From $87. www.grandcanyonnorthrim.comor (888) 297-2757. Reservations are required for dinner andrecommended for other meals at the lodge’s spectacular dining room.(928) 638-2611 ext. 160.
Jacob Lake Inn. Motel rooms, rustic cabins, and a dependablerestaurant 45 miles from rim. From $55. www.jacoblake.com or (928)643-7232.
Kaibab Lodge. Cabins, plus restaurant open for dinner andcontinental breakfast. 18 miles from the North Rim village. Open May 15-Oct 15; from $80. (928) 638-2389; Oct 16-May 14,(800) 525-0924.
SOUTH RIM: The South Rim gets most of the park’s annual 4million visitors, which means that in-park lodging should be bookedin advance (888/297-2757 or www.grandcanyonlodges.com).In-park options include: Bright Angel Lodge. These rustic, cabinlike lodgings weredesigned by famed architect Mary Colter. From $56.
El Tovar. Wonderful 78-room canyon-rim lodge was built in1905; a must-see even if you don’t stay here. From $124.
Kachina Lodge and Thunderbird Lodge. Motel-like twin lodges. From $116.
Maswik Lodge. Modern motel units. From $63.
Yavapai Lodge. Large motel complex. From $90.
You’ll find other motels south of the park in Tusayan and morein Williams and Flagstaff, 60 and 80 miles south, respectively.
Arizona Office ofTourism: (888) 520-3434.
Dixie National Forest: (435) 865-3200.
Garfield County TravelCouncil: (800) 444-6689.
Grand Circle Association:(888) 254-7263.
Kaibab NationalForest: (928) 643-7395.
Lake Powell Resorts &Marinas: (800) 528-6154.
Page-Lake PowellChamber of Commerce: (928) 645-2741.
San Juan CountyMulti-Agency Visitor Center: (800) 574-4386.
Utah Travel Council: (801) 538-1030.
Lake Powell Ferry. For schedule, call Bullfrog Ranger Station (435/ 684-7400) or visit the ferrywebsite.
Mini grand tour
Don’t have the 10 days our Grand Tour requires? Here’s afour-day sample, starting from Las Vegas
First day: Kolob Canyons in Zion National Park.
Second day: Cedar Breaks National Monument.
Third day: Bryce Canyon National Park. Then return.