Going on a road trip in the southwest US in December...what's not to miss?

So over an extended Christmas holiday, Mr. Foxfyre and I will be flying to southern Colorado to visit the fam, then we will be driving through and around the southwest for about a week. The plan is to leave Colorado, drive to Flagstaff, go see the Grand Canyon, drive to Vegas, see the Hoover Dam, spend a couple days in Vegas, drive to Moab, spend two days there, and then drive back to Colorado Springs. So we essentially make a big loop and fly back out from Colorado. We already have plans to see the petrified forest, meteor crater, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, the strip in Vegas, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park. I have been to this area before, but it’s been quite a long time.

So dopers who live along that route, or have traveled it before, what are some more of the must-see attractions in the area?

Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon. On the return, take State HWY 50 back across Southern Colorado and drive the South Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and when nearly home see the Royal Gorge.

My parents actually live off Hwy 50, so we will be taking that route home, but I considered taking the north route through Eagle and Denver, which I haven’t seen a million times. I haven’t been further west on 50 than Monarch Ski resort. Thanks!

Best you check seasonal operating hours, and the weather. Much of what you plan to see might not be open nor available.

Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Don’t just stop at the Grand Canyon long enough to peek over the edge. This is not one of those things like Mt. Rushmore that you might as well have just seen a picture of; of all the places I’ve been, it’s far and away #1 on the “pictures don’t even give you an idea” list. Take at least a day there, so you can see it from a number of different vantage points, and walk along the rim to watch it unfold like the giant kaleidoscope it is.

If you like astronomy, the Lowell observatory is worth a visit (at night).

I strongly second Lamar Mundane’s suggestions. Black Canyon is an overlooked jewel, and while Royal Gorge is crowded and touristy, it’s still gorgeous.

CANYON DE CHELLY. I cannot stress this enough. It is beautiful! Try to take one of the longer, Navajo ranger-guided walks along the canyon floor.

I’d actually try to do less. Weather could play a huge aspect in your trip and two days in Vegas can exhaust you on top on your whole vacation plans. Driving on dark mountain roads while tired isn’t fun.

If you have the time / energy, consider hiking down and/or taking the mule ride down, at least part of the way. This is something I’ve not been able to do on either visit (due to physical limitions) and it looks like I’ll never see it from the bottom :(.

Oh - and that said: if you’re not doing any hiking, 1-2 days is plenty of time, as there’s not much else to do except walk along the edge and enjoy the sunrise / sunsets.

We were there in December 05, and be warned it CAN be pretty chilly!! Since you’ll be in Colorado you’ll have warm clothes; make sure you don’t have 'em packed at the bottom of the suitcase.

You absolutely should not miss Sedona, AZ, about 45 minutes south of Flagstaff. IMNSHO, it’s one of the most incomparably beautiful places on this earth.



We’ve been in the summer (hot!) and in the winter. I’ve seen photos of the rocks with snow on them (none when we were there) which added a whole different dimension.

Pink Jeep Tours are fun, if pricey, and can take you to some interesting sites. There are a lot of good hikes in the vicinity as well.

Last summer, we stayed at the Sky Ranch Lodge, which is no great shakes… except it’s right on top of one of the mountains, by the little airport, and the views are stunning. Some of the rooms have such nice views that they charge extra for them.

If you want to stay in one of the hotels at the Grand Canyon, make reservations 3 months ago. Nope, not kidding. If you need to stay outside the park, Tusayan is fairly near (10 or so miles) and has a lot of hotels. It basically exists only to serve the park.

Just one suggestion from me - the one day you do not want a hotel room in Las Vegas is New Year’s Eve (especially as it is a Saturday night this year).
Here are some comparisons of Wednesday 12/28 vs Saturday 12/31 rates:
Imperial Palace - $42 vs $250
Rio - $53 vs $325
Planet Hollywood - $82 vs $360
Caesar’s Palace - $142 vs $500

First on the list should be Bryce, with Arches in second place. And if you’re going to the Grand Canyon, don’t just see it from the rim, hike down into it or take the mule ride.

And don’t miss driving on Route 12, the road connecting Capital Reef with Bryce. It’s spectacular.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s at LV is outrageous.

I love Monument Valley. It’s a long drive to get there, but IMHO, worth it, absolutely. Then, if you are in that “neighborhood,” swing by Four Corners. It’s the only place in the US where four states meet. USGS upgraded the monument several years ago, paved all around it, and marked the states. With a little bit of person flexibility, you can put a hand or foot into four states, simultaneously.

We like NE Arizona so much, we bought land and moved here.