Route: Bryce, Utah, to Joshua Tree, California 364 miles P"/>

The Ultimate Western National Parks Road Trip


Route: Bryce, Utah, to Joshua Tree, California

364 miles

Park: Bryce Canyon

Bryce is known for its high desert landscape, with towering hoodoos rising like exclamation points from the amphitheater-like canyon. The park is blessed with a relative abundance of water and a rain catchment system, resulting in an interior full of fir, spruce, and aspen forests. Backpack the 23-mile Under the Rim Trail (one way) through surprisingly lush meadows, bursting blue with columbine flowers in late summer. Must know: Obtain a $10 backcountry permit at the Visitor Center, camp at one of seven designated sites, and arrange a pick-up. There are springs along the trail, but check with the ranger station for water availability before heading out.

Living room: under canvas

Perched on 750 acres of high plains, this glamping operator’s newest property is just 15 minutes from the park and sits at 7,600 feet above sea level (meaning summer temperatures in the 70s and 80s). Each tent has an en-suite bathroom, king-size bed, wood-burning stove and views of John’s Valley. From $329

Detour: Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

This underrated preserve on the Arizona-Utah border features Zion-quality slot canyons without the crowds. The site’s signature adventure, hiking Paria Canyon, guarantees solitude: only 20 permits are granted each day. The non-technical 38-mile hike follows a riverbed deep into the canyon, taking you to narrow passages where rock walls rise 200 feet. You’ll need a four-wheel-drive rig with high clearance to really explore.

Park: Sion

This stunning sandstone is a road cyclist’s dream, starting with the main thoroughfare, Zion Scenic Drive, which is closed to all vehicles except shuttles. The real gem is Kolob Terrace Road, a secluded two-lane asphalt that crosses the western edge of the park for 25 miles, gaining 5,000 feet in elevation. If you have a gravel bike you can add Smith Mesa Road, a hard dirt road that forms a 25 mile loop around Smith Mesa. Must know: Reserve a seat on the free park shuttle to explore Zion Scenic Drive.

Adventure: Lake Mohave

You’ve been in the desert for a while and are heading for more stuff, so a dip in a lake is mandatory. While Lake Mead is Las Vegas’ busy backyard pool, the lesser-known Lake Mohave further up the Colorado River is perfect for paddlers. Launch at Willow Beach and head upstream along the Black Canyon National Water Trail to search for quiet coves that reveal hot springs, waterfalls and caves. If you can, plan your trip for a Sunday or Monday, when motorboats are not allowed on certain stretches.

Stay: Spirit of Zion

This newly opened wilderness retreat on 1,100 acres in the Clear Creek Mountains is just one mile from the eastern border of Zion. It’s outfitted with 40 suites and small cabins, all with a focus on sustainability — think leaf-shaped solar panel roofs — and each cabin has a wellness studio and viewing deck. The property also includes a restaurant, a swimming pool and an aquaponic greenhouse. From $3,000

Eat and Drink: River Rock Roasting Company

This cafe in the small town of La Verkin might have the best coffee and most enviable views in southern Utah. Find a seat on the patio – it overlooks a basalt canyon carved out by the Virgin River – and enjoy a breakfast burrito in the morning, then return in the evening for a pint and kale and sausage pizza.

Park: Joshua Tree

There are plenty of remote stretches you can reach on foot in this nearly 800,000-acre park, but triple-digit summer temperatures make any big adventure silly at best, deadly at worst. The solution? Go underground and discover a handful of small caves and rock shelters that few visitors know about. The most spectacular is a quarter-mile passage called Chasm of Doom. No technical climbing gear is required, but you’ll dash through cathedral-like rooms and weave through tight corridors, so be mentally prepared. Must know: Even if you’re hanging out in a cave, the heat is no joke. Bring plenty of water and, for the dark, a headlamp.

Stay: The Bungalows

Embrace the desert landscape during these new digs on the 152-acre Joshua Tree Retreat Center campus, designed by the late architect Lloyd Wright (who was almost as accomplished as his father, Frank). The 14 rooms are decked out in mid-century modern furnishings, and the grounds include hiking trails, a pool, and enough wellness activities to satisfy your inner yogi. It’s all just three miles from the entrance and village of Joshua Tree. From $250

Eat and drink: Sam’s Indian Food and Pizza

The gateway city of Joshua Tree buzzes with an eclectic restaurant and cocktail scene, thanks to its proximity to Los Angeles. At Sam’s, you can enjoy authentic chicken tikka masala and curry pizza. After dinner, head to the restaurant at 29 Palms Inn, where you can drink prickly pear margaritas by the pool.

About Derrick Hill

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