While driving on Route 66, and more specifically on the section between Gallup (New Mexico) and Flagstaff (Arizona), you should not miss the chance to visit some of the most spectacular natural masterpieces America has to offer! It might require a significant detour from your route, but I promise you will find it well worth your while!
And don’t worry at all, you’ll get back on the exact same point of Route 66 to continue your journey without missing one single mile of the Mother Road!
Petrified Forest & The Painted Desert
The Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert are literally on your way. They set a magnificent example on how nature alone can create a landscape from another world…. Shaped by wind, fire and water, a majestic tapestry of different colors, hues and shades is lying in front of your eyes!!
It’s hard to even imagine that this dry land was -million years back- a tropical forest. But plant and animal fossils found here reveal exactly that…
This place was also the homeland of prehistoric people, who built their pueblos and settled here… Likely, the drought forced them to eventually abandon their settlements…
You can visit both sites with just one ticket ($20 per vehicle or at no extra cost with the Annual US Park Pass “America the Beautiful”).
The Monument Valley is undoubtedly the most iconic symbol of the America’s Wild West and the land that Hollywood has loved like no other! It is a red-sand desert on the border between Arizona and Utah, famous for its rock formations that have been sculpted beautifully by rain and wind over the course of time…
The wider region belongs to the Navajo Indians, and it is actually them who will collect your entrance fee for visiting the park ($20 per vehicle, NOT included in the Annual US Park Pass “America the Beautiful”).
You can easily explore the majestic landscape by driving on the scenic route with your own vehicle. The route is perfectly sign-marked to ensure that you will not miss a single attraction. Reserve 2-4 hours for the scenic route, to be on the safe side.
Alternatively, you can book a half-day or full-day Jeep tour with a Navajo guide. Such a tour is way more expensive, but gives visitors the opportunity to access areas that only Indians are allowed to enter. The call is yours!!!
- Don’t forget to ask for your free Monument Valley drive map at the Visitor Center! And while you are there, don’t miss the view of the entire valley from the terrace of the restaurant that is located at the back of the Visitor Center.
- For the most up-to-date info on opening hours, admission costs, guided tours, and hiking/camping specs, I recommend checking the official site of the Navajo Nation Park prior to your visit.
Mexican Hat & Forrest Gump Point
Right after Monument Valley, head to the tiny village of Mexican Hat. Half way there, you will find the famous Forrest Gump Point. A wooden sign is marking the spot where (in the movie) Forrest decided to stop running, putting an end to his cross country journey. Needless to say that pulling over and taking some cool shots here is simply a MUST-DO.
Mexican Hat village has taken its name from a rock formation that sits in the area and resembles a Mexican wearing his hat!!! Since you are around the corner, you need to see and take a photo of this rock as a reminder of your visit in the area!
Goosenecks State Park
In short distance from Mexican Hat, lies Goosenecks State Park, a rare geologic marvel that definitely worth your visit! Here you can admire the paradox formation of a steep canyon carved by San Juan river over the course of millions of years…
The entrance fee for Goosenecks State Park is $5 per vehicle, while camping onsite is also permitted at a slightly higher fee of $10.
Valley of The Gods
Time permitting, consider visiting the Valley of the Gods on the very same area. It is an off the beaten track destination offering similar scenery with the Monument Valley, yet with fewer tourists.
Being nearly alone, yet surrounded by such an unspoiled natural beauty, guarantees a more personal experience, while an additional plus is that there is no entrance fee at all. On the negative side, the road at several points of the route is pretty rough, so you need to have a 4 wheel car to make it through the scenic loop.
I do strongly recommend including Page, Arizona in your detour itinerary!
From here you have endless possibilities for visits around the area, the most important of which being Antelope Canyon. This is one of the most photogenic slot canyons in the world with two different sections, the Upper and the Lower Antelope Canyon.
Both sections are equally popular and can be visited strictly through an organized Navajo tour. Having said that, please bear in mind that a reservation well ahead of time is mandatory! It appears that the Upper Antelope Canyon is selling out faster, but this does not mean that it is also the most beautiful. We visited the Lower Canyon which was just as impressive!
Budget-wise, the Lower Antelope Canyon tour will cost you around $48-50, while the Upper Antelope Canyon tour ranges around $60-68 (both including the Navajo Tribal Park entrance fee and local taxes). However, as far as the Upper Antelope Canyon tours are concerned, expect several fluctuations in the final price depending on the selected (or available) time of your visit (morning / afternoon), as well as the selected type of tour (standard / photography tour). The above-mentioned tour price refers to the cheapest standard tour.
You can get more info regarding the official tour operators and the wide variety of available tours through the specific section of the Navajo Nation Parks web site.
At a very short distance of about ten minutes from Page, you can reach the most Instagrammable spot in the entire area, the Horseshoe Bend! The Horseshoe Bend is a stunning canyon created similarly to Goosenecks by the flow of a river, in this case the Colorado River.
No matter how much you are craving for the best picture of you on the site, do not underestimate some basic safety rules and stay away from the cliffs! Only one fatal incident has been reported so far, yet it was a Greek hiker that fell into the deep canyon when the rock broke under his feet while he was standing at the edge… Do you seriously want to be the second person ever mentioned in the history of Horseshoe Bend for being so careless???
Good to Know:
- The site is usually open from sunrise to sunset. In the summertime this translates to 4:30 am until 7:00 pm. Try to get there the earliest possible! Rush hour starts already at around 9:00 am.
- At the time of our visit (2018) the entrance to Horseshoe Bend was (still) free of charge. Status has now changed and a fee per vehicle is applied ($10 for a normal car).
- There is no facilities for buying water onsite. Due to extreme heat conditions in the summer months, be mindful and bring plenty of water with you!
- From the parking lot you will need to walk for approximately 15-20’ until you get at the top of the cliff that is overlooking this stunning canyon. However, the trail to the cliff is deep sandy, and especially in the summer time the sand can get incredibly HOT! By all means avoid open-toed shoes and flip flops (like I did!).
Glen Canyon Dam & Lake Powel
The famous Glen Canyon Dam as well as the Lake Powel also deserve your attention.
The vital purpose of this huge Dam was to create a water reservoir (that is, Lake Powell) aiming at the generation of cheap electricity that would suffice not only for the needs of Utah itself but also of other US States. However, there have been several controversial discussions over the real benefits of such a construction, mainly due to the enormous environmental disaster the creation of the Dam has caused to the Colorado River.
Lake Powel, on the other hand, has been very much loved by the Americans and is now a popular destination offering various recreation and exploration options of both the Glen Canyon and the Colorado River. Some of the most popular activities are fishing, boat riding, rafting, kayaking, budgie jumping or taking a helicopter tour!
If you are interested in visiting the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area you will need to pay $30 per vehicle, or at no extra cost with the Annual US Park Pass “America the Beautiful”.
Being on the road for so long, we decided to skip all these and just chill on a “secret” beach recommended by our kind host! And the view while approaching the “beach” can be seen on the featured photo…
Before getting back on Route 66, we will make a last stop for visiting one of the world’s most spectacular landscapes (also designated as one of the seven natural wonders of the world), the magnificent Grand Canyon!
With a length of 445 kilometers, you will inevitably have to choose between the North and the South Rim for your visit. We decided to do the South Rim, as it is believed to be the most impressive out of the two!
Half day is the minimum time you should reserve for your visit, and it would only suffice for reaching the most popular viewpoints. In order to make the most of your time, I strongly recommend having a look at the map of the respective Rim you are planning to visit to get a better idea of the distances, decide on the points of your personal interest and look for the possible ways to get there.
Speaking about the South Rim, it is important to know that from March 1 until November 30, the Hermit Road is closed to private vehicles. That means you will have to depend on the free shuttle buses to get there, as this is the place where you will find a handful of exceptional panoramic lookouts.
Even if the shuttle buses are running quite frequently (every 15 minutes), you should not underestimate the time needed to get on one. During the high season there are usually long queues at the bus stops, and you might have to wait for the second or the third bus in a raw to pick you up. In addition to that, the time needed to get from one point to the other is not as close as it might look on the map!
The three more useful bus lines for you to use are:
- The Kaibab/Rim Route (Orange Line) – Takes 50’ for a round trip
- The Village Route (Blue Line) – Takes 50’ for a round trip
- The Hermits Rest Route (Red Line) – Takes 80’ for a round trip
The easiest way to go around the South Rim is to start from the Visitor Center and walk your way to the Mather Point for a first glimpse of the Canyon. This viewpoint is generally the most crowded one, but the stunning views you can enjoy from here definitely worth the wait.
From the Visitor Center you can get the Blue Bus Line to the Village Route Transfer and then ride the Red Line up to the Mohave Point. From here you can start walking your way down along the Rim Trail, making various stops at the different lookout points. This area is best to be visited at sunset time, but try not to lose track of your time, as the last bus from Hermit Road taking you back down departs only 30’ after sunset!
It is believed that Hopi Point is the best sunset viewpoint of the entire Grand Canyon. But if you are running out of time and cannot get to the Hermit Road, you can alternatively visit the Yaki Point which is quite close to the Visitor Center and is also one of the most favorite spots to enjoy the sun setting over the majestic canyon.
The entrance ticket to the Grand Canyon (valid for 7 consecutive days, including both the North and South Rim) costs $35 per vehicle or at no extra cost with the Annual US Park Pass “America the Beautiful”.
My last recommendation for another well worth detour from Route 66 is on the section from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. Here you will find the hottest place on earth, the driest place in the entire North America, and also the lowest point beyond sea level (86 meters) in the western hemisphere.
The name says it all; ladies and gents, here lies the land of all extremes… the Death Valley.
With the highest temperature ever recorded in the region being 56,7 degrees Celsius, we managed to survive in just … 54!
The size of Death Valley is simply enormous. But if you plan a full day there, then you can cover quite a lot. The best starting point is the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. From here you can easily drive to the most important attractions, being the Zabriskie Point, the Artist’s Palette, the Badwater Basin, the Salt Flat, and Dante’s View.
Back to Furnace Creek and on our way out we decided to take a short walk on the Salt Creek Trail and make two last stops at Devil’s Cornfield and Mesquite Dunes.
The entrance fee for the Death Valley is $30 per vehicle, valid for 7 consecutive days, or at no extra cost with the Annual US Park Pass “America the Beautiful”.