After driving 3,000 miles across six states in three weeks across the Western U.S.A., my friend and I compiled a list of our favorite places to stay, dine and where to go. The scenic drives on this roadtrip opened up to a rainbow of colors and remote landscapes with spectacular views that go on forever. We met friendly people along the way and learned about the vibrant history, found out locals picks on restaurants, hotels, and shops.
Starting in California, we overnighted in Reno, then continued east to Salt Lake City. We spent a few days exploring the greater Salt Lake Area which included Park City and Midway. Then headed southeast toward Moab National Park and onto Cortez, Colorado to visit Mesa Verde National Park.
After we stopped at the Four Corners where four states connect (Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico), our travels took us through the iconic Monument Valley, and onto Kanab where we visited more National Parks. Just when we thought the vistas couldn’t get better, we were amazed at both Zion’s National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Before helicoptering to the Grand Canyon to raft the Colorado River, our stop in Las Vegas helped us rejuvenate before the final stretch of our trip back to California.
Sharing our list below for reference as you plan your roadtrip through the Western U.S.A. Please add your favorites in comments below – thank you!
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Day 1 – 3: Drive from California to Salt Lake City
Stay: Kimpton Hotel Monaco a hip, upscale hotel in a historic building, only a 6-minute walk from the Salt Palace Convention Center and a 10-minute walk from Temple Square. Rooms include flat-screen TVs, yoga mats, iPod docks and Wi-Fi (fee). Suites have separate living areas with pull-out sofas, with some adding wet bars, dining tables and 2-person whirlpool tubs.
Perks include an on-site New American restaurant, a fitness center and ski services, as well as complimentary morning coffee, a wine reception and use of bikes. Pets are welcome, and receive toys and treats at check-in, as well as use of beds and bowls in-room.
Dine: Bambara contemporary cuisine in a historic building downtown; Dodo, Carvers, Ruth’s Diner, Market Street, Lion House Pantry, Sawadee Thai, Eggs in the City, Provisions, Sweet lake Biscuits and Limeade. Taggart’s Grills between Morgan and Park City too.
Day 3-4: Park City & Midway
The drive from Salt Lake City to Park City is only 40 minutes and leads you to a charming town.
Dine – Park City: Riverhorse Cafe – award winning dining experience at one of the oldest and most distinguished restaurants on park city’s historic main street. Hearth and HIll, Handle, Barcellos, Freshies are a few more places we want to try out on our next trip.
Dine – Midway: Heard these are good places to dine – Blue Boar, Mercantile, Lola’s Street Kitchen, Fill’er Up Coffee Station for great coffee and sandwiches.
Don’t miss! The drive along Guardsman’s Pass into Midway – this drive would be beautiful during the fall when the Aspen leaves are changing colors.
The Lodge at Blue Sky’s private mountain retreat where mountain luxury meets adventure.
You’ll want to stay here if you’re looking for a slice of Western Life …. 3,500 private acres to roam and hike to the mountaintop for a yoga session, go heli-fly fishing in the high Alpine lakes, visit the on-site sustainable farm to pick fresh vegetables for lunch or get grounded with outdoor yoga or guided meditation. Reconnect with nature – you might spot a herd of wild elk!
It’s only a 35 minutes drive from Salt Lake City Airport.
Day 5: Moab Arches National Park & Canyonlands National Park
Arches National Park has over 2,000 natural stone arches and hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive rock fins, and giant balanced rocks.
Mike Coronella, Owner of Deep Desert Expeditions knows this area better than anyone. He’s hiked alone through the challenging area of the Canyonlands National Park called The Maze, and leads treks through the deep deserts of Moab.
We met him to visit some of the highlights in Arches National Park including the Double Arches & Delicate Arch. This park is easy to drive through and see remarkable areas of the park. You can also hike many different trails here too.
Day 6-7: Cortez, Colorado & Mesa Verde National Park
From Moab, we continued to the southeast corner of Utah, and crossed into Colorado to stay in Cortez at Baymont Inn & Suites. Early the next morning we drove 15 minutes to the entrance of Mesa Verde National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We continued driving to the perch of Southwest Colorado and drove 45 minutes along the rim of the mesas to see some of the 4,000 archeological sites and cliff dwellings of the Pueblo people who lived here for 700 years.
Tip! Visit the Anasazi Heritage Center to learn about the Puebloan culture (26 tribes), then proceed to the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
Day 8-9: Monument Valley
It’s even better than the movies! Driving through the 17-mile Monument Valley Drive, a red-sand desert region on the Arizona-Utah border, is a jaw-dropping experience. No words can describe it. Not even photos capture the awe inspiring moments. Known for its sandstone buttes that tower up to 1,000 ft. and are located in the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. The area has been used as a location in several Western movies, and even a scene from Forest Gump. The steep mittens buttes can be viewed from the road or from overlooks such as John Ford’s Point.
Highly recommend a tour with Gouldings to visit the main points and learn about the daily life and culture of the Navajo Tse’Bii’Ndzisgaii people.
Stay: Gouldings Lodge is the area’s premier lodging and recreation destination. We met Owner and Manager Monica Lafont who shared the history of the lodge and noted, “Whether you choose the lodge or RV park and campgrounds, expect endless views with resort-style amenities. Feast on authentic southwestern and Navajo flavors in the Stagecoach Dining Room. Relax and rejuvenate in the indoor pool or on the sun deck. Commemorate your visit to the gift shop or pick up supplies at the on-site convenience store. Take a glimpse into the past at the Goulding’s Trading Post Museum or catch your favorite Western in the Earth Spirit Theater. A private airstrip is also available.”
TIP! Be sure to visit Horseshoe Canyon before continuing on to Kanab. It’s a short hike from the parking lot to get these views.
Day 10-11: Kanab
The Kanab Tourism Office helped us with learning about the Southern Utah area and all there is to see and do. Excellent resource for maps, hikes and other activities, including where to stay and dine. The tourism office shared that Kanab “serves as a gateway to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Kanab is a day trip away from major parks and monuments: Zion National Park (40 miles west), Bryce Canyon National Park (70 miles north), the Grand Canyon North Rim (80 miles south), and Lake Powell/Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (60 miles east). Kanab also offers easy access to smaller parks and recreation areas such as Cedar Breaks National Monument, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Grosvenor Arch, Cottonwood Canyon, Bull Valley Gorge, Buckskin Gulch, and Pipe Springs National Monument in Arizona. Camping, hiking, mountain biking, mule and deer hunting, photography, and sightseeing are just some of the endless recreational possibilities near Kanab.” Definitely need more than a day or two to discover all there is to see here.
Explore: Dreamland Safari Tours offers several tours in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona – the Kanab area, the Paria Wilderness & Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and the Arizona Strip, and popular places like Peekaboo Slot Canyon, White Pocket, the Wave, and Toroweap.
Dreamland helps clients get permits to access The Wave, South Cayote Buttes, White Pocket and other areas. Several of these locations are in the wilderness and limit the number of permits assigned per day. Dreamland Tours will enter your name for the daily lotto to see where you can get a permit and let you know the day before where you will be hiking. We were hoping for The Wave since it’s images are famous on Instagram and we wanted to see it for ourselves. Instead we received permits to visit the South Cayote Buttes which were just as stunning in a different way. Bring plenty of water and sunscreen during the summer months! Follow your guide’s directions!
Stay: We highly recommend Canyons Boutique Hotel where guests retreat to comfortable rooms and suites after a long day of hiking. Located near restaurants and the main street, this hotel is a wonderful place to stay on your roadtrip.
Dine: Peekaboo Canyon Wood Fired Kitchen – great salads and pizzas; click here to find more restaurants and cafes.
TIP! If you want to indulge yourself, check into the luxurious retreat Amangiri, a remote hideaway in Canyon Point, Utah. Perfect for adrenaline-fuelled adventure and peaceful desert retreats. We were there for a site visit and can’t wait to return for a stay on our next trip here.
Day 12-14: Zion’s National Park & Bryce Canyon National Park
If you want to visit these two national parks, contact Zion Guru to help you plan your hikes and outdoor activities.
Founder and Owner Jonathan Zambella whose vision is to “connect humans with nature in a holistic way – body, mind, and spirit. As we connect with our humanity, we can see numerous arteries between nature and our health, happiness, values, and purpose on Earth. It is this very rootedness to Earth that creates wholeness within us and it is this rootedness that feeds us through the darkest and bleakest of times. Nature is the balance, and we as humans are the disruptors of it. By returning to Nature, we return to ourselves, to balance – we become one with our own sanctuary, we become our own Zion.”
Our guru Scout guided us through The Narrows and shared her insights to both Zion’s and Bryce National Parks.
Stay? We recommend staying at Cliffrose Lodge a Curio Collection Hilton property, ideal for couples, families, friends, and solo trips.
It’s a peaceful retreat sits along the Virgin River and is a minute drive to the entrance of Zion National Park. Resort amenities include a heated outdoor pool, waterfall hot tub, riverside hot tubs, riverside beach, event space, and 5 acres of manicured grounds.
All of the rooms, suites, and villas feature luxurious modern amenities. Outside you will find private outdoor balconies or patios.
Eats: for quick bites, snacks – Thai Sapa, Cafe Soleil; best coffee? head to FeelLove Coffee
Day 15-16: Las Vegas
After a couple weeks on the road, we pulled up to the Four Seasons Las Vegas in our rental car that was covered in dust and orange dirt. We were quite a sight.
When checking in, we must have looked like we stepped out of a Wild West movie. We were in need of a scrub and day at the spa and pool. Reception pointed out, “The rooms and suites present a stylish, sophisticated interior with endless city views through floor-to-ceiling windows in this comfortable, contemporary retreat. Good to note, this tranquil Five Diamond oasis with a Forbes five-star spa offers the best of both worlds: serenity in a resort-like setting paired with the energy and nightlife of the greatest entertainment destination in the world. It’s one of the only non-gaming and non-smoking hotels and located on the end of the Las Vegas Strip.”
Day 17-21: Raft the Grand Canyon
Rated “Best River & Sea Outfitter on Earth” by National Geographic Adventure.
Day 22: Drive back to California
Our journey back home was a great finale. We left Las Vegas early to beat the heat and traffic, and drove through the Mojave Desert to Paso Robles, where we stopped for lunch at Jeffrey’s BBQ. Then continued back north to Monterey, arriving by mid-afternoon.
Acknowledgements: Global Adventuress thanks those mentioned in this article for hosting us during our roadtrip.