Bryce Canyon

The luminous, high-desert landscapes of the West and Southwest regions of the United States have been sculpted by the forces of wind and water over millions of years. Nature's handiwork has resulted in geologic wonders like Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley and Zion Canyon, all of which you'll see on this seven-stop road trip through Nevada, southern Utah and northern Arizona.

Begin your adventure in Las Vegas, Nevada. You need two to three days to get a taste of all the dynamic city has to offer, from high-end casinos and top-notch live entertainment to world-class shopping and fine dining. Once you’ve finished sampling Las Vegas, pick up a rental car at McCarran International Airport and head northeast on Interstate Highway 15 toward southern Utah.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Valley of Fire State Park

Kilometers from Las Vegas: 84
Recommended minimum stay: 1 day
Lodging tip: You'll find motels in the town of Overton, near the park's east entrance.

Many vacationers bypass Valley of Fire in a rush to reach Utah's canyon country. Don't make that mistake. Explore its starkly beautiful landscape spiked with jumbles of fiery red sandstone, including signature formations such as Arch Rock and Elephant Rock. If it's too hot for hiking (summertime highs routinely surpass 38 degrees Celsius and can reach 49 degrees), you can still enjoy excellent views along the valley's most rewarding scenic drive, White Domes Road.

Then exit the park and head northbound on Interstate 15 toward the city of St. George, Utah.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park

Kilometers from Valley of Fire: 214
Recommended minimum stay: 2 days
Lodging tip: Make a reservation far in advance for the only lodging within Zion National Park, the Zion Lodge. If it's full, try accommodations in the park gateway town of Springdale.

With its towering rock monoliths and soaring sandstone walls in shades of crimson, cream and pink, your first look at Zion National Park will be one of awe. And you won't be alone. The scenic drive is closed to private vehicles from mid-March through October and on weekends in November to eliminate traffic at one of the country’s most visited National Parks. Instead board the park's shuttle (free with park admission), which chauffeurs you to highlights like Angels Landing and the Virgin River-carved Zion Narrows.

When you are ready to depart Zion, head northeast on State Route 9 to U.S. Route 89 North to State Route 12 East.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park

Kilometers from Zion: 116
Recommended minimum stay: 2 days
Lodging tip: The Bryce Canyon Lodge is within walking distance of the canyon rim. You'll also find motels in and around Bryce Canyon City.

A surreal landscape of vibrant red, orange and pink hoodoos (rock spires), Bryce Canyon is surely to be a trip highlight, as well as an endurance test for photographers. The scenery is so fantastic and otherworldly that you'll be tempted to simply take pictures at one spectacular overlook after the next (Sunset Point is tough to beat). To feel a visceral, magical connection to this remarkable place, get below the canyon rim and hike the labyrinth of stone spires, pinnacles and fins.

The road to your next destination, Scenic Byway 12, traverses Utah's stunning slickrock country.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef National Park

Kilometers from Bryce Canyon: 187
Recommended stay: 1 day
Lodging tip: The gateway town of Torrey hosts a handful of motels.

Capitol Reef National Park encompasses a 160-kilometer-long wrinkle in the earth's crust named the Waterpocket Fold (the "reef" in the park's name). A geologic layer cake, the park's sandstone canyons, arches, domes and dramatic cliffs make for classic Southwest scenery. In addition, you'll find a wealth of ancient petroglyphs etched into rock faces. The Scenic Drive, which is a nearly 13-kilometer paved road, and the easy Capitol Gorge hiking trail should be on every itinerary.

From Capitol Reef, follow State Route 95 to U.S. Highway 163 to the Utah-Arizona border.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona-Utah

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Kilometers from Capitol Reef: 296
Recommended minimum stay: 1 day
Lodging tip: Goulding's Lodge and the View Hotel are the park's only accommodations.

A backdrop for Western movies since 1939, Monument Valley's iconic sandstone buttes have set the stage for the likes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. A 27-kilometer dirt road passes landmarks such as the Mitten Buttes, Three Sisters and John Ford's Point, named after the famed director who made the park a star of many of his films. More remote areas of the park can only be visited on Navajo Indian-guided tours, offered by Goulding's Lodge and other independent operators.

Proceed to your next stop via U.S. Highway 160 and State Route 98.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Kilometers from Monument Valley: 204
Recommended minimum stay: 2 days
Lodging tip: Motels abound in Page, Arizona, a good base for exploring the surrounding area.

Take a boat cruise or rent Jet Skis for a bit of fun on Lake Powell, the sandstone-walled reservoir created in the 1960s by the damming of the Colorado River. Then tour Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the dam itself. Finally, check out the impressive Horseshoe Bend overlook, perched a dizzying 305 meters above the mighty, twisting Colorado River below. Don't leave the area without touring the famed slot canyons of nearby Antelope Canyon Navajo Nation Park.

Then take U.S. Highway 89 North to your road trip's grand finale.

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Flickr/Daniel Knieper

Kilometers from Glen Canyon: 70
Recommended minimum stay: 2 days
Lodging tip: For a slice of Hollywood Western history, try the circa-1931 Parry Lodge in Kanab, Utah.

The incredible "Wave" rock formation (Coyote Buttes North) is here — only 72 kilometers southeast of Kanab, Utah. But as anyone pondering a Wave pilgrimage knows, scoring a visitation permit (limited to 20 per day) can be frustrating. If luck's not on your side, take a guided, full-day Jeep tour to the remote Coyote Buttes South and White Pocket formations. You'll discover these geologic wonderlands are anything but consolation prizes.

You can return to Las Vegas via Interstate 15.

The Wave is on our list of 5 places you won’t believe are in the USA.