This summer I am heading out with three friends to galavant through the American west on little more than gas money and a dream. The trip is looking like 2 weeks or so. Assuming I already know about major attractions (national parks and such) and that I'd like to avoid commercial experiences, does anyone have any unmissable places we should hit?

We're mainly looking for natural beauty. Hot springs, mountains, favorite trails, cool lookouts, small towns, communities, geological oddities, caves, ruins, forests, canyons! Looking for it all! Even if you know an area or a forest or a stretch of road that's just pretty, Do tell! While I want to avoid over-planning (road trip ruiner), I'd also like to avoid missing out on good scenery!

Here is the VERY tentative map: Mid colorado, through the mountains to lower colorado, into the four corners area, Run all around utah, hit the north rim of the grand canyon, maybe go as far south as flagstaff, az, up to northern-ish new mexico and done. Roadtripmap

Depending on the amazingness of the idea, 100 miles out of the way is not out of the question. The plan is to mold the route around areas and destinations.

  • 2
    Welcome to TGO! Our system is different from others and unfortunately your question is what we call "too broad." We can't plan your itinerary but we can help you if you narrow it down to a smaller region and what you're hoping to find there. Or think of something you like and ask if it's within 100 miles of Santa Fe. You can split it into a few questions, like "What caves can I see in Utah?" or "Are there hot springs near the Grand Canyon?" or "What part of the Navaho Reservation has a trail with the most wildlife to see?" Mar 6 '18 at 5:08
  • 1
    To understand more, use our help center for guidance. How to Ask and What to avoid asking explain why we can't answer too many questions at one time. Sometimes a question will be put on-hold or closed. Reasons can be "too broad" or something called "unclear what you're asking." Don't worry, if that happens we can still help edit it to stay within the rules. We're not trying to discourage you. In fact, just the opposite! We want to help what sounds like an exciting trip! Mar 6 '18 at 5:18
  • That trip is far too ambitious for two weeks. You need at least two months for that. More likely two years. Otherwise you'll just be rushing through anything pretty. You can easily spend two weeks in Bears Ears National Monument + San Rafael Swell/Canyonlands Maze area alone, and that constitutes less than 10% of your route. I did a fraction of your plan two years ago (GSENM, Coral Pink Sand Dunes SP, Zion, Bryce, Kodachrome Basin SP) and was frustrated by how rushed we were having only three weeks.
    – gerrit
    Mar 6 '18 at 12:23
  • I would drive non-stop to the San Rafael Swell, spend a week exploring San Rafael Swell as well as the Canyonlands NP Horseshoe Unit and the Maze, then another week in Bears Ears National Monument (pre-shrink), and leave the rest for other years. You're too late to plan Grand Canyon NP for 2018 anyway.
    – gerrit
    Mar 6 '18 at 12:32

Here are some points of interest you should definitely include, based on your rough proposed area:

  1. Arches National Monument. It's at least worth a day trip thru there. There are some natural arches in other places in the general region, but there is nothing like Arches.

  2. Bryce Canyon. The highest concentration of the best hoodoos anywhere. It's also a nice and comfortable place to stay, being about 7000 feet up.

  3. Grand Canyon, of course.

  4. Grand Staircase - Escalante. There are slot canyons all over the region you intend to explore, but this place has some great ones, and they are accessible. It's also still fairly wild. I'd stay off the beaten track in the adjacent National Forest. The campground in Capitol Reef is overrun with tourists, screaming kids, and drunken yahoos being rowdy until 2:00 in the morning.

  5. Bisti De Na Zin Wilderness. This is a amazing but little-known place (Shh, don't tell anyone). It's about 35 miles south of Farmington NM in the Four Corners area, a little east of the north-south road. It's very primitive. There is just a parking area and a fence to keep cattle out. You walk in and at first it looks like nothing special. Poke around in the side canyons to the right (south), and you'll see a whole bunch of other-worldly rock formations. If NASA ever needs to fake a landing on a different planet, this is where they'll go.


Gas Money and Dream will not get you into Grand Canyon NP. With some exceptions it is $30 per vehicle to visit the most popular areas.


Does not include other fees such as tours, lodging, reservations, etc.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 16th

National Park Week, April 15-16 and 22-23

National Park Service’s Birthday, August 25

National Public Lands Day, September 30

Veteran’s Day, November 11-12


Private Vehicle-$30


Bicycle, On Foot, or Shuttle-$15

REMINDER: No refunds for weather conditions Source

  • 1
    I think you can use the America the Beautiful Pass at most national parks ($80 for the year).
    – StrongBad
    Mar 6 '18 at 15:02
  • @StrongBad Concur, but for an 1800 mile drive at 25MPG, $80 is nearly half of the gas budget. Mar 6 '18 at 15:08

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.