A Scenic Drive in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona

This is a big one, both in miles traveled and in destinations covered. It could literally take months to get below the surface at all of these destinations, but a survey trip could be made in as little as five to ten days and through it you could identify those places where you wanted to return to explore more fully. No matter how much time you can devote to this one it is guaranteed to be a spectacular trip.

This circular itinerary traverses some of the most dramatic parts of southern Utah and northern Arizona. Major destinations that can be visited include: Snow Canyon State Park, Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Red Canyon, Escalante National Monument, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Kodachrome Canyon State Park, Anasazi State Park Museum, Capitol Reef National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Hovenweep National Monument, Monument Valley, Navajo National Monument, Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, Marble Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, Grand Canyon National Park, and Pipe Springs National Monument. Towns that can serve as staging points include: St. George, Utah; Cedar City, Utah; Springdale, Utah; Torey, Utah; Blanding, Utah, and Page, Arizona. If you like to sleep out under the stars and are willing to do a bit of tent camping, your trip can be even more flexible and enjoyable. The best time to go is Spring and Fall. The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is closed in winter and summer is very hot throughout the region covered.

Access by air to the general area is easiest through Las Vegas, Nevada. Interstate Highway 15 from Las Vegas north to Salt Lake City provides a direct connection at St. George, Utah. From the south, Highway 89 from Flagstaff to Page, Arizona is another excellent connection. From the east the best connection is from Durango and Cortez, Colorado, to Highway 163 in Utah, where you will gain access to the Monument Valley portion of the itinerary. Make certain that you have up-to-date road maps for your trip in as much as a number of the roads in this area have recently had numeric designation changes. This five day itinerary starts in St. George, Utah, but because it is a big circle, it could just as easily start at any other point included in the itinerary with minimal adjustment.

Five Day Trip, Day One: Depart St. George after a very early breakfast and proceed to nearby Snow Canyon State Park. The park is small but spectacular. Take an hour or so and walk into the Petrified Sand Dunes. You will get excellent views of most of the park and see an outstanding example of ancient sand dunes that have been turned to stone. After visiting Snow Canyon get back on I-15 and head north to the Hurricane exit and proceed east on Highway 59 to the Arizona border where the road becomes Highway 389. Continue on to Pipe Springs National Monument. Take the ranger-led tour through the Mormon tithing ranch and see the historic spring that a variety of cultures have used through the centuries. Enjoy the picnic lunch that you brought with you from St. George. After lunch continue on east to Fredonia where you join Alternate Highway 89 heading east through Vermillion Cliff country to the Colorado River and Marble Canyon. Take a moment to stretch your legs on the historic Navajo Bridge and look down into the Colorado River then continue on east on Alternate Highway 89 to Highway 89 where you turn north to Page, Arizona. Page has a wide selection of lodging and restaurant choices and is very well equipped to support the exploration of Lake Powell and the surrounding countryside. Find an inn, take a quick peek at Lake Powell from the dam, and have dinner. Stop by one of the tourist information centers and collect brochures for your return trip. That evening read up on what you are missing this time through, particularly Rainbow Bridge, Antelope Canyon, and Lake Powell. Plan for a return trip some time in the future.

Five Day Trip, Day Two: Depart Page after a very early breakfast and head south on Highway 98 to Highway 160 and proceed northeast to the turnoff to Navajo National Monument. You won't have time to hike down into the canyon to the Ancestral Puebloan ruins but you can get a look at them from a short trail that runs along the rim of the canyon. Bring your binoculars. The site of this ancient pueblo is very dramatic. This is a good place to enjoy the picnic lunch that you brought with you from Page. After visiting the monument continue on Highway 160 until you reach Highway 163 where you turn north into Monument Valley. This is one of the more famous drives in this part of the world and, because of the dramatic scenery, was used as the backdrop for a number of western movies. It is an important part of the Navajo Nation and has special cultural significance to the Navajo people. After driving through Monument Valley turn north on Highway 191 and proceed to Blanding, Utah, in time to visit the Anasazi State Park located there before dinner. Blanding has several inns and a couple of restaurants.

Five Day Trip, Day Three: Depart Blanding after a very, very early breakfast (this is going to be a particularly full day). Be sure to ask directions to Hovenweep National Monument. You will have to travel on a couple of dirt roads and you will need directions and a check on their condition from a knowledgeable local. The roads are not well signed and in rainy weather can be difficult. The Ancient Puebloan ruin site is, however, one of the premier such sites in the world. It is well worth a visit either on this trip or in association with a later trip to Mesa Verde just to the north east. Take a couple of hours and walk the two mile trail through the ruin. After Hovenweep proceed west on Highway 96 to Natural Bridges National Monument. This is a relatively small park but there are several very impressive natural bridges located there. All of them can be seen from the circular drive through the park but you will want to walk down to at least one of them. Although it will be getting well into the afternoon because of the Hovenweep visit, this is an excellent place for the picnic lunch that you purchased in Blanding. After the bridges, drive northwest on Highway 96 to Highway 24 where you will turn west through a section of the Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area, cross the Colorado River, and then proceed on to Capitol Reef National Park. Drive through the park to the west side where you will find some accommodations and restaurants. Find a room and have dinner. It was a long day go to bed early you will need your rest for the next day.

Five Day Trip, Day Four: Up as early as possible (this is going to be another long day) and back into the park. Morning light on the massive cliffs is unbelievably beautiful. Drive east through the park on Highway 24 to the petroglyphs. These are particularly beautiful examples of Native American rock art and easy to access. After the petroglyph stop, head back to the scenic drive through the center of the park. Unfortunately you do not have time to do any of the hikes in the park, but you can always catch them on your return trip next year. There are some very good ones. After a few hours in Capitol Reef head southwest on Highway 12 through Escalante National Monument. There are several small parks along the way but the scenery of the drive is about all you are going to have time for this time. Fortunately this too is dramatic country and very different from anything that you have seen so far on this trip. Proceed to Bryce Canyon, take the scenic drive through the park, stop at the pull outs and look down into the canyon. Unfortunately you do not have time to get down into this fabulous wonderland, but here again you can mark it as a place to which you will return when you have more time. After Bryce find a room in one of the inns just outside of the park and spend the night.

Five Day Trip, Day Five: Rise early and head west through Red Canyon on Highway 12 to Highway 89 where you turn south to Highway 9. Turn west on Highway 9 and drive through the southern portion of Zion National Park. Proceed to the Visitor Center, park your car, and board the bus that will take you through the park. The bus system is excellent and operates continuously throughout the day. You can get off where you want to wander around a bit and then catch the next bus to another part of the park. A lot of people visit the park and this is a great way to get around easily without the hassle of too many cars trying to park in not enough spaces. Lunch can be at the lodge inside the park or in one of several excellent restaurants just outside the park in Springdale. If you insist on getting back to St. George today you will have to depart the park by late afternoon, but this will still give you enough time to do a short hike or two. The better solution would be to stay overnight in Springdale just outside the park and spend the entire day enjoying this fabulous place.

Modifications can be made to this itinerary by including extra days, but it will be difficult to shorten it very much without making it even more of a marathon driving exercise than it is at five days. There are several places in the itinerary where an extra day can add a great deal. On Day One an extra day would make it possible to head down to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon after visiting Pipe Springs National Monument. After an afternoon of exploration and an overnight in the Grand Canyon one could continue with the remainder of the Day One itinerary to stay overnight in Page. That would also make it possible to get in a visit to Antelope Canyon on Day Two. If an extra day was added after the Page stop on Day Two it would make it possible to hike down into the ruins at Navajo National Monument. If an extra day was added to Day Three it would make the Hovenweep visit more relaxed and permit more time to explore in the Natural Bridges National Monument. If more time was added to Day Four it would make it possible to do at least one of the hikes in Capitol Reef and/or to visit a few of the small parks along the way within the Escalante National Monument or perhaps add a hike down into Bryce Canyon. If an additional day were to be added to Day Five it would be possible to add a morning hike into Bryce Canyon or the Kolub side of Zion National Park to the itinerary.

Even at ten days you will not be able to visit all of the destinations in this region let alone explore them fully. You will need to return for one or more visits, but each of the succeeding visits can be more tailored to your specific interests. This survey trip will give you an excellent idea of what is available for future enjoyment.

Southern Utah and Northern Arizona Scenic Drive Links
Anasazi State Park Museum
Bryce Canyon National Park
Capitol Reef National Park
Cedar Breaks National Monument
Escalante National Monument
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
Grand Canyon National Park
Hovenweep National Monument
Kodachrome Canyon State Park
Lake Powell
Natural Bridges National Monument
Navajo National Monument
Pipe Springs National Monument
Red Canyon
Snow Canyon State Park
Zion National Park
Along the Way
St. George, Utah to Page, Arizona