Magical Southern Utah

  • Zion National Park
  • Bryce Canyon
  • Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Red River Ranch


May 30 - June 6, 2024


  • Outstanding lodging: unique, hospitable, and with a world-class view
  • Visits to Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef National Parks
  • The Grand Staircase, Utah Route 12, and western towns

Trip Description

Let’s explore one of the world’s most fascinating landscapes, which draws explorers from all over the world!  This is an Explore Up Close favorite that sets the bar for scenic drives, opportunities to explore on foot, and inns that capture the spirit of the Old West.  We’ll make a cirque route that takes us to Zion National Park (featuring lodging inside the park at the Zion Lodge), to the Bryce Canyon / Grand Staircase area (our lodging features a “backdoor” entrance into Bryce Canyon!), over Boulder Mountain to the Capitol Reef area, and then back to St. George, Utah.  We’ll also soak in the phenomenal dark skies at night, remarkable views from our inns, and fascinating histories of the Native Americans and Mormon pioneers.


Day 1

We’ll fly into St. George, Utah, today, where we’ll begin our adventure!  St. George is a beautiful small city in the old “Dixie” region of Utah — where early Mormon pioneers were encouraged to grow cotton as a cash crop, using the waters of the Virgin River for irrigation.

We’ll drive northeast, and into the Kolob Canyons area of Zion National Park.  Our scenic byway will get us up close and personal with stunning rock faces.  This special area is less-visited than Zion proper, and will whet our appetite for more.  A fascinating drive through the Mormon villages of Tocquerville and Virgin will bring us to Springdale — gateway to Zion.  We’ll check into the Zion Lodge (inside the National Park) — our home for the next two nights.  Dinner and overnight at the Zion Lodge.

Day 2

After breakfast this morning, we’ll enjoy a guided tram tour the length of Zion Canyon.  It’a a great way to learn about the geology, wildlife, and human history of the canyon.  In the afternoon, we’ll enjoy another scenic drive — to the old “ghost town” of Grafton.  We’ll return to the Zion Lodge by the mid-afternoon for optional horseback riding or hiking — both options, close by the lodge.  This evening we’ll enjoy dinner in Springdale.  Overnight, the Zion Lodge.

Day 3

This morning we’ll drive the fabulous Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, as we exit Zion National Park in the direction of Bryce Canyon.  The Utah Parks Company cut the magnificent roadway out of Zion’s red sandstone, 1929-30, to create direct access between Zion and Bryce — plied by the famous touring buses of the day!  We’ll drive past Checkerboard Mesa, then exit through the Northeast Gate.  We’ll ascend the valley of the West Fork of the Sevier River, as we approach Bryce Canyon Country.

After driving through Red Canyon, we’ll arrive in the pioneer town of Tropic, and our digs for the next two nights:  The Stone Canyon Inn.  Rest and relax; enjoy the view of the afternoon sun illuminating the face of the south-facing Aquarius Plateau (elevation 11,000 feet).  Dinner this evening at the Stone Hearth Grille — at the Stone Canyon Inn.

Day 4

Enjoy a delicious breakfast at the Stone Canyon Inn.  This morning we’ll visit nearby Bryce Canyon.  Our visits will include a scenic drive along the “Bryce Parkway” to Yovimpa Point, offering views that extend 100 miles south, to the “steps” of the Grand Staircase and Arizona; and to the historic Bryce Lodge.  There will be an optional hike into Bryce — for up close views of the hoodoo formations — via the Navajo Loop and Queen’s Garden trails.  Those who prefer less walking can glide between Sunrise and Sunset Points, and enjoy the warm terraces of the beautiful lodge itself.  In the afternoon, we’ll return to the Stone Canyon Inn for R & R.  Those interested can join a short excursion to the Mossy Cave / Tropic Ditch trailhead, for a lovely (and generally easy) walk along the diverted Eastern Fork of the Sevier River.  Dinner this evening in Tropic.

Day 5

Million Dollar Highway, anyone?  Today’s drive north, will follow Utah route 12 — one of the world’s great scenic highways . . . to the most remote place in the continental United States (as determined by population density, radiating outward in each direction).  Route 12 was such a painstaking investment in sweat and money . . . that it earned the nickname “Million Dollar Highway” circa 1930.  We’ll skirt through the famous (and beautiful) “slick rock,” through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  We’ll stop in the town of Boulder for lunch at the acclaimed Hell’s Backbone Grill.  Our route will then take us up and over massive Boulder Mountain (elevation 11,317) into Capitol Reef Country.  We’ll arrive at the Lodge at Red River Ranch — our home for the next two nights.

Day 6

We’ll enjoy a wonderful home-prepared breakfast at the Lodge . . . then it’s off to explore Capitol Reef — an uplift of sedimentary rock, forming colorful formations, and unique features like the Waterpocket Fold.  The start point is the poineer town of Fruita — an 1890’s Mormon community that saw the production of fruit trees by the thousand, watered by the Fremont River.  Our day will include scenic drives, viewpoints over the valley, and optional short hikes.  In the afternoon, we’ll return to the Lodge.  Enjoy the enchanting grounds for exploring, and the comfortable interior spaces.  Dinner this evening, at the Lodge.

Day 7 – 8

We’ll enjoy yet another made-to-order breakfast at the Lodge, then bid adieu to our hosts.  Our route will take us through the heart of south-central Utah, through the old towns of Koosharem and Circleville — one-time home of Butch Cassidy — to Panguitch, and the heights of Cedar Breaks.  It’s a remarkably scenic country, and we’ll make enjoyable stops along the way at both cultural and natural sites.  We’ll spend our last night in Utah in St. George, convenient to the airport before our departure.

The following morning, we’ll depart from the St. George Airport.  Happy trails (wherever they might lead)!

Featured Experiences

The Zion Lodge


The name “Zion” means a place of peace and refuge. As a sanctuary with over 146,000 acres of cliffs, canyons, diverse plant and animal life, and uninterrupted beauty, Zion is well-named. Its massive sandstone walls, some as high as 3,800 feet, offer an opportunity for serenity and reflection for all who visit—and Zion Lodge offers the only in-park lodging inside this hiker’s paradise.

The Stone Canyon Inn at Bryce Canyon

The Stone Canyon Inn affords you views of the park and the surrounding areas. From our large deck facing east, you can sit outside and enjoy a magnificent dinner. In the late afternoon, as the sun sets, it will “light up” Powell Point – a 10,000+ plateau across our eastern valley.Later, as the sky darkens for the night, that same deck offers you world famous star gazing while enjoying your dinner.

Our view from the front of the Inn is spectacular! You’ll get to see parts of Bryce Canyon that can only be seen from our vantage point! You can look up from your living room or patio and see Bristlecone Ridge, Sinking Ship, Fairyland Amphitheater, Sunrise and Sunset Points. Many facilities in the area only show views of the trees, buildings or parking – we have the park itself, looking right down on our Inn – how fantastic is that?

Enjoy your Bryce Canyon lodging with us while in Southern Utah. It will be as simple as stepping out your door, into your choice of adventures.

The Lodge at Red River Ranch

Our Torrey, Utah, home will be the Lodge at Red River Ranch, where rustic meets luxury. We'll enjoy our homey digs in the beautiful Fremont River valley, in Capital Reef Country. The Lodge will be our jumping off point to exploration of one of Utah's most scenic, and less-visited regions -- at a comfortable altitude of almost 7,000 feet.

What's Included

  • Comfortable van transportation
  • Accommodation with breakfast for 7 nights
  • 4 lunches and 5 dinners
  • All activities/admissions per the itinerary
  • Guide and concierge service throughout the trip

Trip Price

$4,974 / person (double occupancy; single supplement, $950)

What's Not Included

Price does not include airfare, alcohol, other meals, or trip insurance (recommended).

Couldn't have asked for more in terms of weather, accommodations and scenery. Can't wait to go on another adventure with Explore Up Close!
My husband and I love the attention to detail. We always have a wonderful experience: visiting new and interesting places, eating lots of good food, making new friends, and exploring new places!

Trip insurance safeguards your travel investment, your belongings, and most importantly, you. Though trip insurance is optional, we strongly encourage travelers to purchase trip insurance in the event you have to cancel or leave a trip for any reason. Please note, all trip participants should wait for confirmation from Explore Up Close that the trip has the minimum sign-up required to be a “go” before purchasing travel insurance or airline tickets. Please confirm with Explore Up Close before making any additional travel arrangements.

Once you have received confirmation from Explore Up Close, we recommend contacting a travel insurance provider directly to request a quote and compare pricing and features. You can find other providers that may fit your needs at, or we can gladly connect you with our travel agent.

Please note, all trip participants should wait for confirmation from Explore Up Close that the trip has the minimum sign-up required to be a “go” before purchasing airline tickets.

Explore Up Close will provide a recommended flight itinerary for your consideration, which is intended as a helpful suggestion. We encourage travelers to choose airfare depending on their personal preferences, as some travelers may prefer to travel independently and meet at our destination, or may wish to extend their travels at the beginning or end of the trip. Our travel agent is available to assist you with booking flights and trip insurance.

Again, please confirm with Explore Up Close before purchasing your airline tickets or making additional travel arrangements!

Book Trip