In 1847, Brigham Young famously led Mormon pioneers into this Utah valley declaring "This is the right place." There are several highlights that are well worth a stop in this scenic city. On top of a hill at the northern end of Salt Lake’s main State Street is the elegant Utah State Capitol, patterned after America’s Capitol Building, that has free guided tours available most of the year. Sculpture, murals and exhibits throughout the building tell the story of the settling of the West. Nearby recommended stops include the Pioneer Memorial Museum, Memory Grove Park, City Creek Canyon, and Council Hall for visitor information.
For an overview of the region, we suggest a visit to the Natural History Museum of Utah. The main lobby opens up into a towering slot canyon, reflecting the geology of Southern Utah. Visitors work their way through exhibits covering past epochs, life, land, gems and minerals, first peoples, Great Salt Lake (with a view), indigenous voices, and rotating exhibits. The museum is also the trailhead for the city’s Bonneville Shoreline Trail System.
Overnight: Salt Lake City
Pick up your rental car and embark on an adventure through The Mighty 5 National Parks. 300 million years of erosion carved unbelievably dramatic landscapes sculpted by the passage of time. Start with Arches National Park which contains about 2,000 windowed arches, towering spires, harrowing hoodoos, and precarious pinnacles on display, including Delicate Arch, perhaps Utah's most iconic feature - a must-hike destination in the park. A paved 36-mile scenic drive from the park entrance provides numerous parking areas for trail access and scenic overlooks. You will discover a sun-soaked red rock wonderland of eroded sandstone fins, towers, ribs, gargoyles, hoodoos, balanced rocks and arches.
We combine both Arches and Canyonlands this day into one full day of guided sightseeing and exploring. Although you may have seen parts of Arches on the previous day, this guided tour adds a different dimension. We will take you through both Canyonlands and Arches National Parks as we jump off the main roads in 4WD vehicles, leave the crowds behind and the expert guides reveal magnificent views and interpretive secrets that few get to experience. You will see famous sights and natural geologic wonders like Delicate Arch and Eye of the Whale just to name a few. The day is packed with wonder as you see wave after wave of deep canyons, formed by the currents and tributaries of Utah's Green and Colorado rivers, divided with towering mesas, pinnacles, cliffs and spires.
Canyonlands has four separate districts. Most visitors opt for the accessible views at Island in the Sky near Moab, but serious hikers can extend their stay and explore the more remote and dramatic parts of the park. The large petroglyph panel of Newspaper Rock is on the scenic road to the Needles District of Canyonlands. Visitor centres in Island in the Sky and Needles are open spring through fall.
The large petroglyph panel of Newspaper Rock is on the scenic road to the Needles District of Canyonlands. From there, continue to the Edge of the Cedars State Park and then Bluff Fort before heading south to Monument Valley. The next experience is Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, an iconic symbol of the American West and the spiritual heart of the Navajo Nation. In Monument Valley, as your indigenous guide escorts you through the park, you will learn of the importance of these ancestral lands to the Navajo people. The rugged landscapes are hauntingly familiar thanks to Hollywood's long love affair with this region. The park is stunning at night under clear skies.
Overnight: Monument Valley
Head north on S.R. 261 up the switchbacks and cross Cedar Mesa for a stop at Natural Bridges National Monument. Even if you only stop at the scenic overlooks, the three massive bridges are a wonder to behold. You cannot see the chaotic landscape of this remote monument from the highway. The amazing force of water has cut three spectacular natural bridges in White Canyon. A nine-mile scenic drive has overlooks into the canyon. Next is the Capitol Reef National Park with its splashes colour and drive a through a wilderness of sandstone formations, rock art petroglyphs that tell the story of early indigenous Fremont Culture people, and the large fruit orchards of an early pioneer settlement. In this world of spectacular coloured cliffs, hidden arches, massive domes and deep canyons, you get a feel for what the earth might have been like millions of years before life appeared. Don’t forget a slice of pie at Gifford Homestead, open seasonally.
Grand Staircase Escalante contains the most extensive network of slot canyons in Utah. On the All-American Road, the Scenic Byway 12, travel over the high-alpine Boulder Mountain and traverse the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. The allure of the Grand Staircase region is phenomenal. A sequence of brightly coloured cliffs mark the transitional “step” zone between Bryce Canyon National Park and the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
Overnight: Bryce Canyon City
Bryce Canyon National Park is a series of natural amphitheatres sunk into pink cliffs and filled with delicate red rock "hoodoos." Over millions of years, water and wind, as well as freeze and thaw cycles have carved endless fields of towering orange hoodoos, narrow fins and natural bridges in the high-elevation plateau. The most brilliant hues of the park come alive with the rising and setting of the sun. Summertime offers a myriad of walking and hiking trails and a 37-mile scenic drive overlooking incredible vistas (with a summer shuttle option to avoid driving in traffic). Historic Bryce Canyon Lodge’s location within the park means great access to the sites, hikes and starry skies of the park. Winter snowfall brings a whole new array of outdoor activities.
For a scenic tour of the Bryce Canyon area, we include a 1 ½ hour horseback ride in the Dixie National Forest and the rim of Water Canyon Amphitheater, the first canyon in Bryce Canyon National Park. Leaving the rim, we climb Bristlecone Pine Ridge with standing 1500 year old Bristlecone Pines. (One of the oldest living things on the North American continent.) From this ridge, you will also see Boat Mesa and Sinking Ship Peak, some of the higher points in Fairyland Amphitheater. This is a 6 km loop. Continue south to Kanab and gather information at the Kanab Visitor Centre, if possible, for recommendations.
Overnight: Cedar City
The allure of Zion becomes abundantly clear from the moment you pass through the park’s gates. Zion translates to "The Promised Land." For you, that means some of the most spectacular walks and drives of your lifetime and impossibly beautiful landscapes you will never forget. Carved by water and time beyond the stretch of the imagination, Zion National Park is a sanctuary of the natural order. The soaring vermillion cliffs and verdant valleys of Zion are a postcard backdrop to the gateway town of Springdale. To truly experience the park, consider planning for extra days with nights for stargazing and make an effort to take in other places around the national park.
Overnight: Cedar City
It is an easy highway drive back to Salt Lake City today. Return your rental car and have the evening free to explore the Temple Square area on foot. Between 1853 and 1893, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cut and hauled stone from the canyons and slowly built an icon in Salt Lake City’s skyline. Though the temple is not open for tours, visitors can explore the history, gardens, architecture, art and culture related to Mormon heritage and beliefs across 35 acres. Enjoy free weekly rehearsals of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, stop by the visitors centers and dine in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.
Overnight: Salt Lake City
Check out from your hotel and head to the airport for your return after your epic drive through some of the most stunning landscapes on earth.
Overnight: Salt Lake City