Summer is the season for swimming holes, shady groves, and a blanket in the grass with a cold drink in hand. It’s also the time to pack the car and hit the open road. And what better place to do so than the adventure-filled mecca of the American Southwest? Linking the region’s top outdoor destinations in one trip may seem overwhelming, but with proper planning and some drive-time stamina, you can create a jam-packed summer road trip full of swimming holes, waterfalls, canyon grottos, and mountain vistas. Beginning in St. George and ending in Telluride, here’s how to make the most of a weeklong road trip that travels from the sand to the snow across Southern Utah and Colorado.
To maximize coverage along this route, our trip begins from the west along I-15. St. George is a good launch point, and the biggest city anywhere on the trip, so take the time to stock up on all the supplies you may need. Then get outside. First, head north and aim for the tiny town of Toquerville, where a bumpy dirt road and short hike lead to a hidden oasis, Toquerville Falls—tall cascades that tumble into freefall and empty into a perfect swimming hole. There is also free dispersed camping on BLM land near the trailhead.
If you can wrench yourself from this paradise, it’s time to continue on I-15 to Zion National Park—but not the people-jammed part of the park that first comes to mind. Rather, this route takes us to Kolob Canyons, which is separate from the crowded south and east entrances. Here, traffic is much lighter, but it’s still loaded with scenery and plenty of options to choose your own adventure. A quick stroll to the vista at Timber Creek Overlook, rewarding day hikes in Taylor Creek, wilderness backpacking among canyons and arches of La Verkin Creek, rappelling a slot canyon waterfall in Beartrap Canyon, or simply staying in your car for the scenic drive are just a few to choose from.
After leaving the park, continue north and top off this region of Utah with an exploration of Kanarraville Falls, a shady creek hike into a narrow slot canyon with one of the most photogenic little waterfalls you’ll ever find. Paid camping is available in Kanarraville, or you can find free BLM land on a lake along Kolob Terrace Road, east of the national park if you venture out there.