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More Great Boomer Roadtrips – Jan’s Itinerary (and Tips) for Utah

Category: Travel

Take a Hike!

By Jan Cullinane.
Editor’s Note:
Frequent contributor Jan Cullinane submitted this piece on her recent road trip to Utah and many of its National Parks. We thought it makes a nice “how-to” companion to our recent article: “Best Road Trips for Baby Boomers“.
August 2, 2014 — I live in a state with swaying palm trees, the second longest coastline (after Alaska), no state income tax, and a place that made the expression “hanging chads” popular. Yup, you guessed it – Florida. My husband and I love the warmth, glittering sea, and verdant greenery of the Sunshine State, but the mighty West, with its desert beauty and incredible rock formations beckoned. So, off we went in late June/early July on a ten-day trip to tour the “Big 5” national parks of Utah: Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, and Bryce Canyon. In addition, we visited Dead Horse State Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, and Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

The Itinerary
1. June 22: Depart Orlando, and arrive in Las Vegas. MGM Grand.

The Arches

The Arches

2. June 23 – 26: Visit Capitol Reef, then drive to Best Western Canyonlands. (Explore Canyonlands, Dead Horse State Park, and Arches National Park.)

3. June 27: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Go to Natural Bridges National Monument en route. Stay at the Hampton Inn in Kayenta.

4. June 28: Coral Pink Sands State Park, then on to the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon.

5. June 29/30: Bryce Canyon in the A.M., then drive to Zion. Stay at Best Western East Zion

6. July 1: Drive to Las Vegas, stay at MGM Grand

7. July 2: Depart Las Vegas for Orlando

A few thoughts for arranging a trip like this (and especially how to save money):

1. We flew into and out of Las Vegas on Southwest Airlines. If something unexpected
had come up, and we needed to cancel, I liked that we could bank our miles on Southwest without a penalty. The flight was non-stop, which has become a high priority for me. And, with about 150,000 hotel rooms in Vegas, there are lots of choices (we stayed at the MGM Grand for right around $100 a night. It was great, other than the long check-in line).



2. When possible, we stayed in Best Western Plus hotels or Hampton Inns. Free
breakfast, newspaper, and Internet, and proximity to the parks. We did this in Moab (close to Arches, Canyonlands, and Dead Horse State Park) and Mt. Carmel (close to Zion) and in Kayenta (close to Monument Valley).

3. If you or a travel companion is 62 or older, get a “Senior Pass” from the National Park Service. This is a $10 lifetime pass, which allows you and everyone in your vehicle (or admission for up to four people if the park charges by the person) admission to the park. The Senior Pass provides access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites for the rest of your life – an incredible deal. Go here for more info on the National Park Senior Pass.

4. Reserve a car early, then check back to see if the price goes down. We do this
whenever we rent a car; for this trip, the price of the car decreased from about $400 when we first reserved it to $220 for the ten-day rental. A big savings for a small investment of time. We use and These sites provide you with a wide range of prices and car rental companies. We drove almost 2,000 miles during the ten days. The scenery was spectacular on many of the roads, so the driving was an integral part of the trip, rather than just a means to get to our destination.

5. Use your AARP, AAA or other loyalty cards. We were able to snag better lodging
rates (usually a $10% discount) on most of our hotels.

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

6. Other than seeing “Man of Steel” in the Moab movie theater one night and entrance fees to the state parks and Monument Valley, there were no additional entertainment costs, since the hiking was free (unless you count the few souvenirs we purchased). Speaking of hikes, all abilities are accommodated. From paved, wheelchair-accessible paths, to strenuous 5-mile, 5-hour hikes that ascend more than 5,000 feet.

7. In Vegas, at the MGM Grand, we participated in a “focus group” at the CBS
Television research facility. We watched a new television show and answered questions about it.

Do-overs? I’d make these changes:

1. When visiting Zion, stay in Springdale rather than in Mt. Carmel. More traffic in Springdale, but also more choices for dining and lodging, and closer to a park entrance. And, entrance to the park includes a free shuttle to the visitor center from Springdale.

2. If you have to skip one of the Big 5, I’d say eliminate Capitol Reef. Although it’s beautiful, the scenery is similar to Arches, and Arches is more accessible. You’ll be exploring Arches from Moab, a cute walkable town.

3. We drove long distances to see Natural Bridges National Monument and Coral Pink
Sand Dunes State Park. If time is no concern, great. If it is, I’d suggest you pass on these two parks.

What Were the Damages?
Hotels, food, and transportation: right around $4,000 for the two of us for
ten days. But, as the Master Card commercial says, the experience was “priceless.” It truly is “America the Beautiful.” Also, think about when to go. Obviously the parks are a lot more crowded in summertime, so late spring or fall are less so. Even wintertime is beautiful there too!

Jan in "The Narrows" at Zion National Park

Jan in “The Narrows” at Zion National Park

All photos courtesy of the Cullinanes.

Comments: Please add your suggestions about making baby boomer road trips in the Comments section below.

For further reading:
Bagging the National Parks

Single-Womens-Guide-to-Retirement-150x150Jan Cullinane is the author of several books about retirement, including The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement (published by AARP and John Wiley & Sons).

Posted by Admin on August 2nd, 2014


  1. Sounds like Jan had a great trip. I’ll add a couple of suggestions that have worked well for us. First, if you’re a Costco member, go through their website to check car rental prices. Over the years, we have found their discounts to be as good as any we could find elsewhere. Second, before leaving for your trip, check to see if your favorite motel chains are running any specials (usually done in the summer months)and sign up for them. This summer we picked up one free night for two separate stays at Best Western properties and two $50 gift certificates for 4 separate stays at Comfort Inn & Suites properties. Some chains will give you an additional discount (above and beyond the AARP discount) if you book and pay at least two weeks in advance. By the way, we just used that free night for a nice anniversary weekend!

    by — August 3, 2014

  2. We live in Yuma Arizona and have visited Zion, Bryce, Arches, Monument Valley, Natural Bridges , Canyon Lands several times. When we visit relatives in Wyoming or Nebraska we nearly always drive through Moab and Monument Valley at least one way. If you are making this drive be sure to stop in Page Arizona and visit Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon consists of two slot canyons, upper and lower just a couple of miles outside of Page. While in Page check out Glen canyon dam and lake mead. From page drive over to the north rim of the Grand Canyon. If you have the time visit the south rim of the Grand Canyon on your way back to Las Vegas. This drive will work just as well from Phoenix, Arizona as Las Vegas. There is so much to see in the west. Come Visit!

    by Gary — August 6, 2014

  3. SO glad you mentioned Dead Horse Point State Park, Jan! It’s about 30 miles from Moab/Arches but well worth the drive–it’s like a mini-Grand Canyon, looking down at this incredible canyon cut by the very same Colorado river. The visitor center is nice there, and they even have put up some pavilions for shade (we were there in June and it was 103 degrees, but comfortable in the shade!). And there’s a little food stand by the visitor center — great ice cream! Best times to visit Arches are early morning and late afternoon/evening — midday can be brutal in summer, and there are a LOT fewer tourists then as well. Most of the Japanese tour buses are gone by then. I loved what I saw of Utah and hope to return. (Drive down from Salt Lake City was also very interesting…)

    by Paula — August 7, 2014

  4. As a person who lives in the southwest, and has off and on for several years, why would you wait until so late in the summer to make this trip? This would have been so much nicer in May. By late June you are already into triple digit days. For the rest of you…if you want to do this trip try April or May…you will have a much nicer time.

    by Ginger — August 7, 2014

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