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  • Las Vegas skyline
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    Las Vegas, Nevada: Good Times in Sin City

  • Bryce Canyon
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    Bryce Canyon National Park: Crimson Spires and Starry Nights in Utah

  • Moab, Utah
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    Moab, Utah: A River Runs Through It

  • Canyon Lands
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    Canyonlands to Monument Valley, Utah: Parks, Parks and More Parks

  • Antelope Canyon
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    Page and Lake Powell, Arizona: Natural Wonders

Horseshoe Bend in Arizona
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National Parks & Beyond: Canyons, Mesas and Hoodoos

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Towering Cliffs, Breathtaking Canyons and Glittering Waters in the Heart of the American West

You’ll want both Elvis Presley and Willie Nelson on your playlist for this western road trip. Dip into the decadence of Las Vegas, Nevada, then trace a route through Utah’s eye-popping scenery, national park-hopping across a landscape of spire-like hoodoos and natural arches. After a week behind the wheel, relax on a Lake Powell houseboat before a sojourn among the monumental red cliffs and canyons of Zion National Park.

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Las Vegas skyline
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Las Vegas, Nevada: Good Times in Sin City

Exiting your plane, you’ll notice a chorus of beeps and whistles. Las Vegas’ 200,000 slot machines are everywhere, from the airport to the hospital. The biggest concentration is on The Strip, the 6-kilometer boulevard lined with so much neon, it’s the brightest thing visible from outer space. This is action central, home to most of the name-brand casinos and attractions. Walk its length to get your bearings, past a colossal statue of Julius Caesar, a re-creation of the New York City skyline and a faux Eiffel Tower. When you’ve worked up an appetite, load up your plate at one of the city’s mammoth buffets. Or go upscale: Celebrity chefs from Gordon Ramsey to José Andrés have outposts in Vegas.

Want a thrill? Head to the 12-story-high Slotzilla zip line to soar above Fremont Street’s bars. Want to chill? Kick back at your hotel pool and sip a drink served in a coconut. There’s upscale shopping at the Forum Shops at Caesars and Via Bellagio, bargains at nearby outlets and 3,716 square meters of shot glasses and T-shirts at the Bonanza Gift Shop, the world’s largest souvenir store. Vegas comes into its own after sunset, when the partying begins in earnest at casinos and nightclubs, and concerts are headlined by music legends. Things are slower paced at Valley of Fire State Park, less than an hour from the city. Nevada’s oldest state park boasts petroglyphs drawn by American Indians and sightings of bobcats and coyotes.

421 km
4 hours by car
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Bryce Canyon
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Bryce Canyon National Park: Crimson Spires and Starry Nights in Utah

Stash your glad rags and lace up your hiking boots — things get wild as you travel into national park territory. Your first stop is Bryce Canyon National Park, famous for its hoodoos, those rocky red and pink spires that extend to the horizon. The park’s 30-kilometer scenic byway provides a good overview. Once situated in a lodge or cabin you can use the park’s shuttle service for getting around. Use it to visit Sunset Point, where you can take the requisite selfie in front of the hoodoo called Thor’s Hammer. There’s also Sunrise Point, the start of a switchback hike into a narrow slot canyon. Join a ranger-led trek to Bryce Amphitheater or visit it on horseback. At night, astronomy rangers will point out the Milky Way.

403 km
4.5 hours by car
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Moab, Utah
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Moab, Utah: A River Runs Through It

Now set your compass northeast toward one of the country’s lesser-known sanctuaries: Capitol Reef National Park, named for the rounded gray-white domes that, if you squint, look like the U.S. Capitol. Hikers should linger a day or more, home-basing in the quaint town of Torrey, which was settled by Mormon pioneers and is now home to a handful of bars and inns. Next stop: Cathedral Valley and Arches National Park, the site of more than 2,000 natural arches. There’s a vast variety of hiking trails, from easy 20-minute loops to the intense Fiery Furnace, a labyrinth of sandstone canyons best explored with a ranger. Finally, it’s on to white-water rafting heaven in Moab, where the Colorado and Green rivers meet and a dozen tour companies offer trips from mild to mega.

234 km
2.5 hours by car
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Canyon Lands
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Canyonlands to Monument Valley, Utah: Parks, Parks and More Parks

Rafting enthusiasts could traverse the next 150 kilometers by water: The Colorado River runs from Moab to the upper edge of Lake Powell. It’s the force that carved the chasms of Canyonlands National Park, thousands of hectares of mesas, buttes, fins, arches and spires. The area called Island in the Sky offers expansive views and excellent trail access. Next up is Natural Bridges National Monument. If you’ve had enough hiking for a while, you can view three natural bridges directly from Bridge View Drive. Continue two hours south to the Navajo Nation’s Monument Valley Tribal Park, which looks like a cowboy movie come to life: More Westerns have been filmed here than anywhere else in the U.S. You can take a Jeep tour with a Navajo guide, ride horseback across sandstone buttes, or just head out on U.S. 163 to pose for a photo at Forrest Gump Point.

199 km
2 hours by car
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Antelope Canyon
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Page and Lake Powell, Arizona: Natural Wonders

Drive two hours west to Page, Arizona, a tourist town on the southern shore of Lake Powell lined with motels and eateries. Plan ahead to visit Antelope Canyon (Local tip: Guided tours — the only way to visit — fill up early). Your group is led through at a brisk pace, but it’s worth it to photograph one of the wonders of the West, a slot canyon of sinuous, striated walls illuminated by beams of sunlight. Almost as mesmerizing is Horseshoe Bend, a perfect loop of the Colorado River. It’s just a short up-and-down hike from Route 89. Take care when you get to the 300-meter drop-off. Recover with some lazy house-boating on Lake Powell, a favorite way to beat the heat in Arizona. The man-made reservoir boasts nearly 3,200 kilometers of shoreline, ensuring privacy while sunning on your upper deck.