Last week, I spent 4 incredible days in Southern Utah and I want to share the same itinerary that I used so you can also enjoy this trip! So where exactly is Utah’s Canyon Country? This map show exactly what it covers…quite a large area, huh? Most people know about Canyonlands National Park and Monument Valley, but there is so much more the Canyon Country that I’m excited to share with you! Below, you’ll find the Ultimate 4 Day Guide to Utah’s Canyon Country!
When you’re done with this article make sure to check out this Epic Road Trip Guide to ALL of the National Parks!
Day 1-Monument Valley
Day 1 will be filled primarily with driving to this destination. We left Salt Lake City early afternoon and got there for the evening. When you arrive at Monument Valley head directly to the Visitor’s Center and take in the view of the left and right mittens and Merrick Butte from the overlook. It’s interesting to note that natural forces of wind and water have eroded the land in Monument Valley for over 50 million years. As the wind and water cut into the surface of the layered sedimentary rock, unique buttes and pinnacles were formed, creating a stunning scene as you look over the horizon. The tallest butte in Monument Valley rises over 1,000 feet (304.8 m) above the valley floor. We were completely in awe from just taking in the views right from the Visitor’s Center!
Unlike some State and National Parks in Utah, the road that runs through the park is NOT paved. Making it difficult for some if you’ve got a low-clearance car like mine. The perfect solution? Taking a tour! There are a few companies that offer open-bed truck rides throughout the park, but we went with Simpson’s Trailhandler Tours.
They offer different tours including photography tours, rides throughout Monument Valley, and the most exciting one (in my humble opinion) is the overnight hogan tour! To begin, they pick you up in the lobby of The View Hotel and give you a tour of the main park with interesting stories and facts about the area.
After seeing some of the iconic landmarks, they take you to a beautiful picnic area and feed you Navajo tacos! Shortly after dinner, they’ll put on a performance where they will demonstrate some traditional dances along with their music. Once the dancing and singing are finished, your tour guide will drive you to your very own hogan for the evening! The structure and materials of hogan’s are made out of natural resources such as desert juniper trees, juniper barks (for insulation) and dirt (red desert earth) plastered over the dome-shaped structure made out of juniper logs. It’s cool in the heat of summer and warm in the winter. They will provide sleeping bags & pads but ask that you bring your own pillow.
After getting settled in for the night, our awesome tour guide, John, told us the Navajo’s version of ghost stories! One of the highlights of the entire trip if you ask me.
The next morning your tour guide will give you a wake-up call that you set with him the night before. We planned a sunrise wake-up call so we could go and catch the beautiful morning colors in the sky. Our tour guide took us to an area that was secluded, silent, and incredibly beautiful. It was one of the best sunrises that I’ve ever experienced. He then drove us around private land that you can only get to if you are on a tour. I highly recommend getting a guide to be able to see these secluded parts of the park.
Our tour guide dropped us off at the Visitor’s Center at 10am and then we were off to our next adventure! On the way out, be sure to stop at the Forrest Gump Hill just a few miles north of Monument Valley on Hwy 163. You can’t miss that!
Goosenecks State Park overlooks the largest entrenched river in North America. You can see the San
Juan River twist and turn as it flows to Lake Powell, ultimately traveling over six miles. As you look down upon the river, realize the canyon floor is 1,000 feet below, so be very careful!
Lunch: Twin Rocks Cafe, Bluff – Pick up lunch to-go before heading out to Four Corners. We recommend ordering box lunches in advance so you don’t have to waste any time.
You next stop with be the Four Corners National Monument. This is the only place in the United States where four states share a single point on the compass—Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet at this point. This is a great place for a Photo-Op! You can get quite creative with the type of photos that you take. Also, be sure to check out the vendor booths surrounding the monument. There is a lot of locally made items such as jewelry, arts and crafts, pottery, sand paintings, and more. Traditional Native American food is also available to buy.
Hovenweep National Monument- Ancestral Puebloans resided here and it is believed they were part of an agricultural community. The towers were first documented in 1854 by a Mormon explorer W.D Huntington. It’s either a 2-mile loop hike or .8-mile roundtrip hike to Hovenweep Castle.
Hovenweep is the second location within Utah’s Canyon Country to be designated an International Dark-Sky Park. With a name that means “deserted valley” in the native Western and Numic languages, the park enjoys the darkness on account of its geographic isolation. It’s a Gold-tier dark park.
Bluff Historic Site – 55 N 6 East, Bluff, Utah
Explore the sites of the original Bluff Fort built in the late 1800s. Recently built ‘Pioneer’ cabins and a replica of the original mercantile building are also on the grounds for travelers to view. You are also able to dress up in pioneer clothes and take pictures if you’d like!
Dinner: Comb Ridge Eat & Drink, Bluff
Lodging: Bluff Garden Cabins, Bluff
We loved our stay at Bluff Garden Cabins! From the comfortable beds to the ‘welcome snacks’ waiting for us on the counter, we felt at home here.
Breakfast: Duke’s Bistro at the Desert Rose, Bluff
Order the Huevos Rancheros, you won’t regret it!
Valley of the Gods-Here you’ll find free-standing monoliths, delicate spires of sandstone and long rock ‘fins.’ This is the perfect area for hiking, biking, rock climbing and ATVing. There are many scenic locations to stop and explore the landscape. However, there are no designated trails. You can also just drive the 17-mile unpaved loop and enjoy the scenery! A slight word of warning though, if the weather is rainy and the roads are muddy, don’t go this route! Without 4WD, it could be very difficult and risky.
Lunch: Old Bridge Grill, Mexican Hat
Moki Dugway (Hwy 261)
Moki is a local term for the ancient Puebloan people who inhabited the area years ago. Dugway is a term used to describe a roadway carved from a hillside. The Moki Dugway is literally carved from the cliff face and talus slope on the edge of Cedar Mesa. The route connects UT-95 with US-163 by crossing Cedar Mesa and plunging into the dugway, revealing sweeping views of Valley of the Gods, the deep, entrenched canyon of the San Juan River, and Monument Valley on the southwest horizon.
Take a quick peek at Muley Point! It’s a remote, scenic overlook with stunning panoramic views of the desert landscape. On a clear day Monument Valley, the Four Corners, Valley of the Gods, and the Goosenecks are visible. Muley Point is accessed via County Hwy 241, a 5-mile unpaved road off State Hwy 261, located at the top of the Moki Dugway.
Cedar Mesa Hiking
Hike suggestions: Butler Ruins, House on Fire (just about 2.5 miles roundtrip) Cave Towers, or Salvation Knoll.
Dinner: Patio Diner, Blanding
If you don’t get the ice cream here, you’re missing out!
Lodging: Stone Lizard Lodge, Blanding, Utah
Edge of the Cedars State Park and Museum
Learn about the lifestyle and culture of the Ancestral Puebloan people. The Puebloan lifestyle is shown in many ways throughout the 6.65-acre park, including the restored kiva located behind the museum. Archaeologists excavated and restored the 1,000-year-old kiva to give visitors a first-hand look at the unique underground structure, and allow them to experience the environment used for religious rituals and political meetings. Explore this hidden gem to see one of the Four Corner regions’ largest collections of Ancestral Puebloan pottery and artifacts. Enjoy the unique ‘visible storage’ display which allows visitors to view one-of-a-kind artifacts normally kept in closed storage. Visitors can also climb a replica ladder down into a 1,000-year-old kiva located on the museum grounds.
Dinosaur Museum, 660 W 400 North, Blanding, Utah
Walk through the complete history of the dinosaurs through skeletons, fossilized skin, eggs, footprints, art graphics and realistic sculptures. Enjoy a special exhibit called the Hall of Hollywood Dinosaurs and see how dinosaurs make their appearance in many movies.
Lunch: Peace Tree, Monticello
After lunch, you’ll just your drive back home or to the airport that you’re flying out of!
We hope you enjoy your 4 days in Utah’s Canyon Country as much as we did! We want to thank Utah’s Canyon Country for hosting us on this trip, all opinions remain our own.
Additional Utah Posts to Read:
*three photos courtesy of bluffutah.com and canyoncountry.com and visitutah.com