Do you see a three-day weekend in your future? It's a great opportunity to hit the road and see some pretty amazing things throughout Utah and Arizona.
My wife and I spent a three-day weekend visiting Bryce Canyon National Park, the sites around Page, Arizona, Monument Valley, Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. It's an adventure we still talk about today. Here's an itinerary for a long weekend road trip to help your family embark on a memorable adventure.
Begin in Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City to Bryce Canyon National Park
Hit the road as early in the afternoon as you can. Pack up your vehicle the night before or have it all staged and ready to be loaded in just before you leave. Sleeping bags may be a good thing in case you get caught in a winter storm, and a cooler full of food can help save you money from eating out at restaurants along the way.
When you're ready to hit the road, head south on I-15. Just past Beaver, Utah, take Highway 20 over to Highway 89, then follow that to Highway 12 and head east towards Bryce Canyon National Park.
Once on Highway 12, you'll drive right through Red Canyon, and if you have enough time to check out some of the trails along the red rocks, feel free to spend some time enjoying that scenery. We hit winter weather as we rolled into Bryce Canyon National Park, so the views were a little foggy. However, if the weather is better, you should explore Bryce Canyon at night, hiking along the Rim Trail and enjoying the beauty nighttime has to offer in the park – but bundle up to stay warm.
TIP: Book a room in the area ahead of time so you don't risk spending the night sleeping in your car (not advisable in the winter). The hotel usually has off-season deals, so be sure to check that out, too.
Bryce Canyon, Glen Canyon Dam, Lower Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend
Don't be afraid to explore Bryce Canyon in the morning before heading south into Arizona. Take a quick hike to Thor's Hammer or around the Navajo Loop to explore Wall Street. Just remember that however far you hike down from the canyon rim, you have to hike back uphill to get back to your car.
The Rim Trail is another great hike with little to no ascents or descents. Depending on the weather, you may want snowshoes or good winter gear. Jeans and a red poncho don't work well – just ask my wife.
TIP: Bring snow shoes and the right winter gear if you really want to get out and hike in the snow. It will allow you a more comfortable experience and the walking part will likely be a little easier.
After a morning in the park, drive west along Highway 12 to connect back up with Highway 89 and head south to Kanab, Utah, and follow the highway east toward Page, Arizona.
Take a few minutes to check out the Carl Hayden Visitor's Center at Glen Canyon Dam, and if you're interested, you can take a dam tour. If you brought your own food, this stop makes the perfect place to enjoy a quick bite in the parking lot before heading a few more miles down the road to Page, Arizona.
Once in Page, you'll want to stop by an ATM to grab some cash (because Lower Antelope Canyon tour tickets are cash only). The cost per adult for the roughly 60-minute tour is $40, plus a $8 Navajo Park Permit Fee. With steep stairways and narrow areas, plan ahead if you have young children or are claustrophobic.
The general tours of the canyon don't allow tripods, but if you're interested in doing a photography tour of the narrow canyon, that is an option as well – it's just a little more expensive.
We were both amazed with the beauty these slot canyons have to offer. The ranges of colors, the winding canyon and the rock formations will leave you and your family in awe.
TIP: Be sure to bring enough cash to cover your entire family going on the tour, otherwise you'll be wasting time heading back into town to find an ATM. You can make reservations in advance from either Ken's Tours or Dixie Ellis, but payments are still made onsite with cash.
After your slot canyon tour, head west along 98 back toward Page, but continue until you get to Highway 89, then head south about 1.2 miles to the trail head to Horseshoe Bend. Once parked, follow the dirt trail 0.6 miles to the edge of the deep canyon. The trail is pretty easy, with some minor changes in elevation. Bu you can take the hike at your own pace. If you're afraid of heights, like my wife, you'll probably want to avoid getting too close to the edge.
The view of the Colorado River far below, combined with the colors of the rocks and vegetation is surely a sight to see. Take time to explore the area. If you have small children with you, keep a close eye on them.
Monument Valley, Canyonlands National Park
You'll want to head east along Highway 98 until you reach Highway 160. Turn left and head northeast along the highway until you reach the town of Kayenta. Turn left and head north along Highway 163. Shortly after crossing the Utah/Arizona border, turn right and head down Monument Valley Road. There is an entrance fee ($20 per vehicle for up to 4 people; $10 per additional person) in order to access the Visitor's Center.
The Visitor's Center has a lot of great information about the history of the area and the Native American tribes. Enjoy the overlook of the buttes, but don't be shy about driving along the dirt roads for a closer look.
As you leave the park, head west to reach Highway 163 and turn right to head north. But when you start seeing the monuments in your rear view mirror, pay attention to where you are and take a moment to celebrate the view of the place where Forrest Gump decided he was done running.
TIP: You may see some other cars stopped in the area near mile marker 13, so be careful for any pedestrians trying to take a photo of themselves running barefoot along the roadway. If you or your kids are those pedestrians, please be careful.
After your Forrest Gump photo shoot, continue along the roadway through Mexican Hat until you reach Bluff, Utah. Head north along Highway 191 past the town of Monticello. As you continue heading north, you'll want to keep an eye out for a left hand turn onto Highway 211, which will take you near Newspaper Rock (a recommended quick stop if you have time) as you head into Canyonlands National Park – The Needles Area.
TIP: Both of the Visitor's Centers in the park are closed from about early December to some time in March, however, Arches National Park does sell some items from Canyonlands so don't worry about not being able to collect your souvenir.
The Needles area has a lot of trails of varying degrees, so be sure to check out the map so you don't end up on a trail that is more than you physical ability can handle. The map even includes a sidebar listing some shorter hikes, so find the trail you want to explore.
I've hiked Cave Spring Trail and Slick Rock Trail. Both of them offer something a little different, but Cave Spring Trail is probably more interesting to younger kids.
You may want to hit the road out of the park before it gets too dark. Head east to Highway 191 and follow it straight in to Moab. I've stayed numerous times at the Aarchway Inn and have found it to be a good price with quality rooms – and close enough to Arches National Park and the other sites in and around Moab. But you'll probably want to book a room ahead of time.
Arches National Park, Salt Lake City
Moab's location offers you a few options for the final day of your trip. Check out Arches National Park, Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park or Dead Horse Point State Park.
Arches National Park is just a few miles north of Moab. Make a quick stop in the Visitor's Center allows you to see what the park has to offer.
- Delicate Arch is a 3 mile round trip hike and is a Must Do if you've never done it.
- Landscape Arch is a 1.6 mile round trip hike that is fairly easy.
- Double O Arch is a 4.2 mile round trip hike. It's a little more challenging, especially for younger kids.
- Balanced Rock is another short (0.3 miles round trip) and easy trail.
- Double Arch is 0.5 miles round trip and is easy to get to. It's perfect for kids who want to climb on rocks.
- The Windows is only 1 mile round trip and is also family friendly.
There are plenty of trails to suit adventurers of all ages – and photographers, too.
After spending the time in Arches National Park, hit the road for the final stretch back to Salt Lake City. If you've have extra time, check out the Prehistoric Museum in Price, Utah. Once home, you'll have memories you'll be smiling about for years to come and roughly 1,000 adventure miles added to your car's odometer. You'll also be able to mark off three of the Mighty Five, so you'll need to schedule another trip to hit up Zion National Park and Capitol Reef National Park so you can say you've been to all the national parks in Utah.