Jon and I are in the process of planning our next vacation. We are combining a family wedding with a road trip around the southwest to visit several of our nation’s National Parks. We are departing from Long Beach, California, on a big loop and visiting:
- Zion National Park
- Cedar City, UT
- Arches National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
- Moab, Utah
- Cortez, CO
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Four Corners Monument
- Farmington, NM
- Chaco Culture National Historic Park
- Santa Fe, NM
- Albuquerque, NM
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Williams, NM
- Grand Canyon National Park
Then after this action-packed itinerary, we are returning to the Los Angeles area for the wedding and the flight home. Here’s the visual version.
I would love your suggestions for the best things to do in these parks and towns/cities. The itinerary already includes quite a bit of driving, so if it is very far off the route, I’m sad to say we probably won’t make it there. And we only have a day or two in each place, so as much as I would love to hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, that won’t be happening on this trip (plus the hostel at the bottom was already full, and we won’t be lugging camping gear on the plane). As my mother pointed out, we could spend a whole week in each place, but until we get to retire, that won’t be happening…
I would love to hear from people who have been to these places – what are the best things to do, and what is worth skipping? Museums, restaurants, scenic viewpoints, places in the parks to see? Thanks everybody for your suggestions!
Forgive the following dissertation, but I have strong opinions that must be shared. 🙂 I wouldn’t spend much time in Williams, AZ. It’s very small and won’t take much time. There are a couple of animal farms (Bearizona and the Grand Canyon Deer Farm) which aren’t worth the time/money on a trip like yours. They’re ok, but not even on par with a good zoo experience. Sedona AZ, is spectacular, and only about 30 minutes south of I-40 from Flagstaff, which is about 30 minutes east of Williams. If you can’t drive up to the Grand Canyon, then save it for it’s own trip. Day hiking the Grand Canyon is lovely, even if you can’t hike to the bottom. But it really does merit its own trip some day. But if you can swing the drive down to Sedona, I think you’ll be glad you did. Highway 89A from Flag to Sedona is my favorite drive in the state. So pretty! Red rocks geology, art, funky (in a good way) spirituality, AZ wine tasting, so many reasons. The rest of the trip looks like my own personal wish list. The drive from LB to Flagstaff will be pretty much desert/never ending. And Vegas back to LB will be pretty miserable. But from Flag, east, then north, then west, OMG! You don’t mention a time frame. If this is the middle of the summer, it will be warm. Really warm. But still, it will be gorgeous. I’m so excited for you!
I don’t mind the dissertation at all! We weren’t planning to spend much time in Williams – we are just using it as a jumping off point for spending the whole day at the Grand Canyon. I have heard wonderful things about Sedona, but I don’t think that we will be able to swing it this trip. We are already so tight on time, and I worry if we stop in Petrified Forest then we wouldn’t have time to do Sedona as well. If only it were on the trip west from Williams back to Long Beach to stop in on the break. We are doing the loop the other way from what you described. Long Beach to Zion first, then up and over, then down to NM and then back west. Is there anything to break up that part of the drive – from Flagstaff back to Long Beach? I’m hoping we can stop in Flagstaff for a winery on our way west from Albuquerque – do you have a favorite to recommend if we can only do one?
It will still be spring, and my bones need some warmth! Although it was lovely here today. Thanks!
I’m not familiar with any wineries in Flagstaff. I googled it, and Google agreed with me. The wineries are all just south of Sedona. The 7000 feet elevation of Flag probably isn’t conducive to growing grapes. There are several really good microbrews in Flag, if you can do beer. And there’s a cute wine bar that has Arizona wines, called Vino Loco. It’s downtown and right next door to Hops on Birch, a super chill beer place, that has darts and board games, and is very dog-friendly. We had a glass of wine at Vino Loco and then moved next door for beer last time we were there. If you like beer, there are several places within walking distance, all downtown. You just have to watch out for the train, when crossing the train tracks. 🙂 As for breaking up the drive, Google Maps looks like you would go through Kingman. My college roommate grew up there. It’s a place that celebrates their Western history, and they have a Route 66 museum that you might like. It’s not a big town, but it would break up the drive a bit. As for history in Flagstaff, the Riordan House (pronounced Reardon) and the Museum of Northern Arizona are both excellent. The Petrified Forest is pretty amazing. You won’t be sorry. Names I will throw out, just in case you find yourself with extra time… 🙂 Walnut Canyon National Monument, Meteor Crater, and of course, Sedona. We are starting to plan a summer road trip, and are having to be very selective about where we go. It’s SO HARD! 🙂 Let me know if you need hotel or restaurant suggestions for Flag. Even though I live in Phoenix, I spent 6 years there and go back several times a year.
We do drink beer as well, so we will check out Flagstaff for a cold brew! I think it is just going to be a wine-lite trip! But we’ll check out the grocery stores and see if they have any of the local AZ wines that we can enjoy at the hotels.
I agree, Walnut Canyon and Meteor Crater both looked very cool! Once I have my anonymous benefactor 🙂 , I will just travel around the country going to all the National Parks, Historic sites, Battlefields, Preserves, Seashores and all the rest. They really are one of the amazing parts of our country!
Restaurants in Flagstaff would be great – we’ll be going through at dinnertime. Thanks!
I’m looking for an anonymous benefactor, too! 🙂 Dinner ideas for Flag, all downtown:
Diablo Burger and Cuvee 928 are both located on a cool ‘square’ with outdoor seating. Depending on your budget, they are both good. You can then go up to the historic Hotel Weatherford’s balcony and have a drink and enjoy the views of downtown and the mountains. Flagstaff Brewing Company has delicious beers and a burger that has bacon and a fried egg that is AHmazing. The Lumberyard Brewing Company is a larger place, with lots of delicious beers, and a lot of outdoor seating, across the train tracks from FlagBrew and the rest of downtown. Those are the easiest to get to. And you’re downtown, in case you want to walk around. I’ve been to all of them and had a good experience. The wines probably won’t be local for most, but the beers should be. Those should help you get a feel for downtown Flag. You’ll be a few blocks north of Northern Arizona University, which is my alma mater, so you can wave as you pass for me. 🙂
I was in Santa Fe on a business trip many, many years ago, and the two memories I have from that are the Loretto Chapel and Bandelier National Monument. Loretto is a beautiful 19th century chapel, located mid-town, that has a “miraculous” staircase — I always associate it with Willa Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop. Bandelier is about an hour from Santa Fe, and has ancient Native American petroglyphs and dwellings. It looks like you’re taking I-40 through Arizona. The Petrified Forest is worth a look if you’re going through. The Grand Canyon is spectacular and absolutely lives up to the hype — you can spend a day or two scouting it out for a future, longer trip. As Patty says, the detour to Sedona would be worth a trip. I’m so envious — that whole Utah portion is on my bucket list.
I checked out the Loretto Chapel – that sounds neat – I put it on the list! Reminds me a lot of the free flying staircase at the Nathaniel Russell House in Charleston, SC – very neat! I am so tempted by Bandelier – Jon and I talked about it, but he really wants to see Mesa Verde so that is going to be our cliff dwelling park for this trip. One day though, because Bandelier looks amazing! We are planning to see the Petrified Forest (I have actually been there before and thought it was great, but Jon hasn’t), and we are spending a whole day in the Grand Canyon.
I can’t wait! And if you think of anything else, let me know! And I’ll be posting the play by play after we return – you know, to feed the envy 🙂 . It will have to be payback for all the neat sites you have easy access to over there on the other coast… 🙂 Camille
I’ll be curious to read your opinion on whether Loretto Chapel has lost any of its historic/romantic atmosphere, now that its a commercial wedding chapel and not a real Catholic chapel. I read “wedding chapel” and think Vegas.
I’ll be in Charleston next week, so will check out Nathaniel Russell House.
If we go, I will certainly post about it! Please let me know what you think of the Nathaniel Russell House! I posted about our visit here, if you are interested https://wineandhistory.wordpress.com/2012/07/21/the-grand-tour-day-4-charleston-afternoon/
I have nothing to offer except to say that I am jealous. This sounds like a great trip!
Thank you! I’m REALLY looking forward to it! Like really, really, super-really! (Can you tell I’m excited?)
For planning the Arches and Canyonlands portion of the trip http://www.discovermoab.com is a must! The actual park maps that the ranger gives you is online in pdf form to preview park possibilities. The accommodations list is complete for Moab.
Thank you for the tips! We are looking forward to our visit!
Sounds like a great vacation! We had to be in St George, UT for a few days last June and went to Snow Canyon to hike since we didn’t have enough time to properly do the National Park. (The intense heat of June makes the name of the park seem outrageous!) If time begins to be an issue, you are driving through the same basic geologic area in Utah’s parks, so you can pick what is most exciting in each rather than do everything in all. Same geologic sequence as the Grand Canyon – but I am sure you have looked most of that up already.
I lived in Lake Havasu many years ago, looks like you will go through it or by it. Of course, the big draw many years ago was the London Bridge (not the shops, but the bridge itself). My memory says it is probably too far off of the main highway to make it a pit stop.
It is possible to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back in one day. My husband and I did it. It was exhausting, but a fantastic and memorable experience. We started at 7 am and got back to the top at 5 pm. Your trip sounds like it will be a wonderful adventure!
Well that is good to know – maybe we will consider that. How much water did you take with you? I’m really looking forward to the trip!
We just went to the Grand Canyon, from Flagstaff and we loved the combination! Flagstaff is an easy distance from both Sedona and Grand Canyon.
Same feeling about Cedar City, UT and Zion National Park, and the one thing you really have to see in Zion is Angel’s Landing. They say it’s a 4 hour hike, but if you’re not really old or really young, you can easily do it in 3 (we took lots of breaks, cause it’s quite steep in places, took our top at the summit and still made it down in 3 hours)
A professional tour guide advised us that going to Canyonlands, the one thing you absolutely should make time for is Island in the Sky.
Safe travels! I’ll be following your adventures 🙂
Thank you for the information! We are planning to do Angel’s Landing – the other hike at Zion that I heard good things about is the Taylor Creek Trail in the Kolob Canyon section. It is supposed to take you by two settler’s cabins.
Thanks for the tip about Island in the Sky – always good to know which really are the best places.
We’ll be heading through, and probably stopping for dinner in Flagstaff- as much as I heard great things about it we decided to get closer to the Grand Canyon so we would have a bit more time there.
I’m really getting excited now! Camille