Southern Utah practically bursts its seams with five delightful national parks, plus a national recreation area and monument. In addition, the Navajo Nation is home to wondrous Monument Valley park, along the Arizona state line. Visit these sites in a somewhat circuitous loop for what may very well be the best-ever national park tour in the American West. This trip begins and ends in St. George; air travelers will probably fly to Las Vegas, Nevada, and rent a car there. It can be done in 2 weeks, but is much more satisfying done in 3 weeks as described here. With extra time you can easily add the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Day 1: St. George
Stock up on supplies in town before heading to the parks, but also make some time for the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm, which showcases some 2,000 fossilized dinosaur tracks. Other noteworthy attractions include historic Mormon sites, such as the Jacob Hamblin Home, built in 1862, which is typical of pioneer homes throughout the West except for its two identical bedrooms -- one for each of Hamblin's wives; and the exquisite 1876 St. George Tabernacle, with pine finished to look like exotic hardwoods, and even marble.
Days 2-4: Zion National Park
Famous for its mammoth natural stone sculptures and unbelievably narrow slot canyon called the Narrows, this park begs to be explored. Hop on the shuttle bus that runs the length of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, getting off to take in the trails. Take the easy Riverside Walk, which follows the Virgin River down a narrow canyon through hanging gardens. Especially pleasant on hot days, the Lower Emerald Pools Trail traverses a forest of oak, maple, fir, and cottonwood trees, leading to a waterfall, hanging garden, and a shimmering pool.
Days 5 & 6: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
This national recreation area is best known for Lake Powell and its 1,960 miles of shoreline. This is a boating destination, so you'll want to either rent a boat to go exploring, fishing, or swimming, or take a guided boat trip. Whichever you do, be sure to save time for Rainbow Bridge National Monument in the recreation area and easily accessible by boat. Believed to be the largest natural bridge in the world, this "rainbow turned to stone" is considered sacred by the Navajo.
Days 7 & 8: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
To many of us, Monument Valley is the Old West we've seen in movies and on TV. Part of the vast Navajo Nation, the park has a 17-mile self-guided loop road that lets you hit most of the major scenic attractions, or you can get a more personalized tour with a Navajo guide. Either way, you'll see classic Western scenery made famous in movies such as 1939's Stagecoach, which starred a young John Wayne. Be sure to see the movie exhibits at Goulding's Trading Post Museum.
Days 9-12: Arches & Canyonlands National Parks
Beloved for its captivatingly beautiful red-and-orange rock formations, this area holds two national parks that flank the lively town of Moab. Canyonlands National Park is a hikers' park. Stop at the Grand View Point Overlook, in the Island in the Sky District, and hike the Grand View Trail, which is especially scenic in late afternoon. Arches National Park is easier than Canyonlands to explore. Take the scenic drive and walk a few trails -- on the Devils Garden Trail you can see 15 to 20 arches, including picturesque Landscape Arch.
Days 13 & 14: Capitol Reef National Park
This well-kept secret offers brilliantly colored rock formations with a bit of history. The Fremont River created a lush oasis in this otherwise barren land where 19th-century pioneers settled the town of Fruita, named for the orchards they planted. Today you can explore the town and even pick fruit in season. Hikers can examine Pioneer Register, a rock wall where traveling pioneers "signed in," and explore canyons where famed outlaw Butch Cassidy is said to have hidden out between robberies.
Days 15-18: Scenic Utah 12 & Bryce Canyon National Park
From Capitol Reef, go south on Utah 12 over Boulder Mountain and through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument; stop for a short hike to Calf Creek Falls before heading to Bryce Canyon National Park. Spend the night in the park or nearby so you can be on the rim of Bryce Amphitheater at sunrise -- the best time to see the colorful and whimsical rock formations known as hoodoos. Top trails here include the colorful Queen's Garden Trail, named for a formation that resembles Britain's Queen Victoria.
Days 19 & 20: Cedar Breaks National Monument
This small, high-altitude park -- with an amphitheater reminiscent of Bryce Canyon's Queen's Garden -- has a 5-mile road that offers access to Cedar Breaks' scenic overlooks and trail heads. Hike Spectra Point Trail along the rim for changing views of the colorful rock formations. The fields of wildflowers, especially colorful in late July and August, and the 1,500-year-old bristlecone pines are a real treat.
Day 21: Back to St. George
Back in St. George, catch the historic Mormon sights you missed earlier or possibly take in a few rounds of golf at one of St. George's eight splendid greens. If you want to see just one more park, drop in at one of Utah's most scenic, Snow Canyon State Park, which offers an abundance of opportunities for photography and hiking.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.