There are countless natural wonders in Utah’s Canyon Country. Every trip through this part of the country leaves me yearning for more time and deeper explorations. While some natural wonders in southeastern Utah are difficult to reach, these are all attainable on a single road trip. Basing our visit in Bluff, Utah was the perfect way to get out and experience the sights nearby.
This story was created in partnership with the San Juan County Economic Development and Visitor Services, Utah. Photography by Emily Sierra Photography.
Basing in Bluff, Utah
At a glance, Bluff seems like a small town, and it is, with less than 250 year-round residents. However, the town is a great hub for exploring Utah’s Canyon Country and also features a few gems to check out. On our last visit through the area, we were grateful to stay at the Desert Rose Resort and Cabins. The accommodations there are equally comfortable as they are stylish and art-driven, representing the surrounding landscape and culture.
Around town, we indulged in some of the fantastic eateries and restaurants. A few of our favorites from the last trip were the Cedar Shack Cafe for breakfast (try the Ancient Grains), Twin Rocks Cafe for lunch, and Cottonwood Steakhouse for dinner.
Taking a tour with Wild Expeditions
Although we missed our chance to get on the stunning San Juan River with Wild Expeditions, we still took a Jeep tour with a local Navajo guide to historic sites near Bluff. Reaching River House Ruin was such a treat, an impeccable site featuring a kiva, a variety of pictographs, and multiple one and two-story rooms. Our guide, Kristy, was eager to share history of the people who once inhabited this area and helped us spot pottery fragments on the ground. Above all, her intimate knowledge of the region gave us a deeper understanding of the Ancestral Puebloans who once thrived in these parts.
Exploring Bluff Fort Historic Site
Mormon pioneers in the late 1800’s traveled an arduous journey via the Hole-in-the-Rock trail and settled in Bluff, Utah. The Bluff Fort Historic Site is a collection of beautifully restored cabins and buildings that demonstrate the way of life for those mormon settlers. We loved the interactive features at each of the cabins, detailing a specific family’s story. Seeing one of the original wagons from the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition kept our imaginations reeling!
Getting immersed in Monument Valley
For years I had driven the highway through Monument Valley, stopping at “Forrest Gump Hill”, but never spending more time in Monument Valley. However, on this visit we spent the night at Goulding’s Lodge where we had an impeccable view of the monoliths from our front porch, and an easy transfer to our guided tour of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park the next morning. Our Navajo guide who grew up in Monument Valley shuttled us around, taking us to spectacular sights that we would have never been able to see without a guide. Without a doubt, this was the best way to make the most of our time in Monument Valley!
Rolling through Valley of the Gods
Some compare Valley of the Gods to Monument Valley (on a much smaller scale, of course). Stand-alone monoliths and buttes tower above the winding 17-mile dirt road. Realizing that we both had mountain bikes and we had two vehicles, we shuttled one truck to one side of the valley and rode our bikes through Valley of the Gods. We loved slowing down and experiencing the natural beauty that lurked around every corner in this wondrous part of Utah. Plus, we hardly saw anyone else on the route, save for a few folks camping in some awe-inspiring locations.
Standing dazed at Goosenecks State Park
Sometimes confused with the famous Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, Goosenecks State Park, however, is an overlook of one of the most incredible river meanders in North America. From our car, we walked slowly to the edge of the overlook, peering down at the lazy San Juan River below. The river cuts through time, exposing various rock layers and leaving the most stunning, extensive meanders in the canyon. Next time, I want to return in the evening and gaze at the stars in this internationally designated Dark Sky Park!
Seeking more road trip inspiration in southeast Utah? Scroll through more of our articles relating to this region:
Sounds of Silence in Utah’s Canyon Country
Blanding: A Sense of Discovery in Southeast Utah
Basecamp Close to Canyonlands National Park
Bears Ears and Beyond
For detailed itineraries in Utah’s Canyon Country, explore these:
2-Day Trail of the Ancients Itinerary
A Beginner’s Guide to Bears Ears National Monument: a 3-Day Itinerary