This trip is a take 2, having really loved the road trip we did in 2018 too much. For a different itinerary, see Our Travel Guide to the American West.
I planned this trip back to the western U.S. to discover new treasures. Because there are plenty of beautiful places to see, discover and rediscover from new angles.
From May 6 to May 31, 2022, we traveled the American West. Two weeks in Arizona with 4 adults, then 10 days with my mom in camping and Airbnb mode in Utah and Colorado! Here’s an account of the second part of our trip!
Strategy in the American West with points: Utah and Colorado
10 days between girls exploring remote corners of Utah and hitting the roads of Colorado for the first time! From Las Vegas, we fly with United to Salt Lake City for an hour and 20 minutes at the cost of $120 per person. I booked this flight on Expedia via the Milesopedia affiliate link.
|Actual value $CA||Price paid $CA||Points valuation|
|2 one-way flights Las Vegas – Salt Lake City||533 $||120,000 TD Reward Points||0.5 cent|
|2 one-way flights Salt Lake City – Montreal||505 $||505 $ in dollars||–|
TOTAL for 2 people
|505 $ + 120,000 TD Rewards points|
That’s a saving of over 50% on airfares thanks to reward points!
As soon as we arrive at the airport, I get in touch with the person in charge of my car rental with TURO. It’s my first experience and it all goes well. Communication is easy and straightforward. I was able to save 250$ by renting from a private individual versus a company located at the airport.
|Itinerary||City||Selected accommodation||Actual value $US||Price Paid US$|
|1||Salt Lake City||Wingate Campground||48||–|
|2||The Needles||Elephant Hill canyonlands||35||–|
|3||The Needles||Elephant Hill canyonlands||35||–|
122 bonusdollars applied for a total of 105 $ in dollars
80,000 HSBC Rewards points applied to a dollar balance of 157$
|7||Aspen||Element basalt Aspen – Marriott||506||
1 annual certificate worth 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points
|8||Grand Junction||Fairfield Inn & Suites Grand Junction Downtown/Historic Main Street||340||
29,000 Marriott Bonvoy points (including breakfast)
|9||Grand Junction||Camping Saddlehorn colorado NM||22||–|
|10||Provo||Residence Inn Provo North||157||1 Marriott Bonvoy annual certificate (otherwise it would have cost 16,000 points)|
|TOTAL||1 928 $||
402 $CA +
122 Desjardins bonusdollars +
80,000 HSBC Rewards points +
2 certificates and 29,000 Marriott Bonvoy points
We only paid 402$ out of pocket thanks to the rewards points from the various programs we used, a saving of almost 80%!
American West - Day 1 Salt Lake City to Dead Horse State Park: 395 km, 4h
After a long day of driving and flying, we arrive at our campsite in the Wingate Campground section, just in time to set up camp and watch the sunset at Dead Horse Point, just a 2-minute drive away. A lot of people meet there for this purpose.
- 1 night for US$48
- Nearby toilets and outdoor sink for washing dishes
- Located 50 km from Moab, and right next to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park.
- Information: Wingate Campgroud
American West - Days 2 and 3: Dead Horse State Park, Canyonlands and The Needles, 185 km, 2h30
The Needles is located further inland in Utah. The rock formations here are completely different from what you’ll find in the Island in the Sky section. I had planned to come here in April 2020… so here I am again, 2 years later, making that dream come true!
Backcountry camping here requires a minimum of knowledge, experience and preparation. There’s no network and no source of water. Heat can be a real enemy. In July and August, heavy rains can create flash floods. You need experience to go there in the warmer months. April turned out to be a good choice! I never leave home without my Garmin mini InReach; in case of emergency I can contact the emergency services, and I can also communicate via satellite with my boyfriend to reassure him that all is well. I heard a ranger say that here they rescue people at least once a week for injuries, dehydration or lost people!
After a lot of research and planning, I managed to get a permit that could be booked 4 months in advance via the Recreation.gov platform. The site is very well designed, and you’ll find all the rules and warnings you need to know. For a total of $70 CAD, we had our permit in our pocket for 2 nights. Two dream nights!
By 9am, we’re ready to walk the 4km to our campsite. I recommend leaving before 9 a.m. to avoid the heat. The trail is relatively flat, but with a rucksack and 14 liters of water, we’re glad it’s not too steep! It is recommended to bring 4 liters of water per person per day, not including water needed for meals. We only had dehydrated meals that I prepared myself at home.
Our campsite was called Elephant Hill 2 (EP2). It’s probably the most remarkable place I’ve ever slept. The stars, the solitude, the silence. We had a huge place all to ourselves! Nearby campsites are a long way away.
We watch the beautiful sunrise from our tent, have lunch and set off for the Druid Arch. A beautiful day under the clouds. Which we appreciate, as it has allowed us to explore the area for longer and to save our water.
The Druid Arch can be done in a day from the parking lot, for a 17 km round trip. From our camp, we had only 7.5 km round trip. There are a few sections that are a little more technical, but two can do it quite well! We then spent the evening at our camp, never getting tired of its beauty and witnessing a superb sunset.
American West - Day 4: The Needles, Montrose, Colorado in 324 km, 4h
Back at the car, we’re sad to leave, but I’m excited to be heading to Colorado! I’ve been dreaming about it for ages!
We take Route 46 through La Sal and drive for 2 h 30 before passing a service station. Luckily, we weren’t at the end of our tank! There’s no network in this region, so be prepared! We stop for lunch and gas in Naturita, Colorado. Even in this town, the Internet seems to be non-existent. We take a bite at Blondies Drive In, a very simple restaurant, but, oh how the chicken fingers were delicious!
We arrive late in the day at our Airbnb, at a family ranch. The road up here gives us a taste of Colorado as it winds through mountains and greenery! We arrive at Diana’s ranch, where she welcomes us and invites us to settle into our little house adjacent to theirs. She is very easy to communicate with by text message and is always available for us. She invites us to visit her small farm of animals, all rescued from death.
We take a walk outside, this ranch is, my goodness, so well located: the mountainous backdrop is sublime! Around 8 p.m., we feed the horses with Diana’s son, who lets us drive the four-wheeler to help him go faster. We watch the sunset. Without a doubt, one of my best Airbnb experiences!
- Cost for one night: 228$, 122 bonusdollard applied for a total of 105$ in dollars
- It is possible to do your laundry in Diana’s garage
- Airbnb : Red pony cottage
American West - Days 5 and 6: Montrose to Avalanche Ranch in 2 hours, 154 km
We sadly leave Diana’s ranch and head for Redstone for a 2-night stay at the Avalanche Ranch! On the way, we take a short detour to visit Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park. The park can be visited from 2 entrances: Rim South or Rim North. We chose the Rim South because it was the most easily accessible side for us. The north side has no Visitor Center and is therefore more natural.
We drove along the South Rim Road, a scenic route with 12 possible stops along the way.
The canyon is 77 km long, including 21 km inside the park. It is very vertiginous and difficult to photograph. It’s not easy to show you the depth of it! It’s possible to hike a few trails and even descend to the bottom of the hill for more experienced hikers. You’ll be at an altitude of 2,500 meters, so bring warmer clothes if you’re there early or late in the summer. For wildlife lovers, you can come across many kinds of animals, including black bears, birds, deer, coyotes and more. Drive carefully!
Avalanche Ranch Redstone
What a jewel! A natural spa on a ranch! I have nothing but praise for this rejuvenating place in the heart of nature! You won’t regret spending a few days here. We stayed there for 2 nights and I would have taken an extra night. When you arrive at the ranch, you’ll head to reception and a member of staff will hand you the keys and give you a few instructions. We take possession of our wooden cabin and immediately go for a stroll around the grounds. The buildings are superb, and you really feel you’re in the countryside.
You can stay in wagon-style accommodation or a wooden cabin. Each accommodation has a different theme. We had the Route 66-themed cabin. Propane stove, fridge, auxiliary heating for the bathroom, everything is there.
- Cost for 2 nights: 557 $
- 80,000 HSBC points with a 157 $ balance
Accommodation rental includes :
- Access to the natural spa
- The right to fish 4 trouts in the pond
- Visit the mini farm
- Wednesday and Saturday evenings around the fire with a western singer and s’mores
On-site activities are available ($):
- Yoga classes
Here’s the inside of the Route 66 cabin:
The natural spa is just WOW! Accessible to those who live here 24 hours a day except Wednesday (part of the day), as they have to clean the pools. The water is simply composed of minerals, with no added products. If you’re passing through but not staying, the cost to access the spa is US$32. In the evening it’s really superb, with a clear sky full of stars.
On Day 2, we’re off to discover Marble, a town famous for its high-quality marble! Perched high in the mountains, it really is a tiny place with just 133 inhabitants. We relax on the shores of Beaver Lake. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were very close to the Crystal ghost town, where you can see the famous Crystal Mill. I hadn’t properly prepared what we could see around here. There’s plenty of hiking to choose from in the area.
After a good night’s rest, we headed off to visit the historic mining town of Redstone. Once again, a charming little village on the banks of the Crystal River! You can visit art galleries and antique shops. One of the local antique dealers has an Alibaba cave, right down to the river! It’s easy to spend more than an hour there! Then stop by the Redstone general store for their homemade strawberry ice cream! A real delight!
American West - Day 7: Redstone to Aspen in 75 km, 1h
Aspen is a popular ski resort in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, where you can marvel at the beauty of the mountains. Our visit was to see the iconic Maroon Bell, one of the most photographed places in Colorado. As a result, it’s a busy place! That’s why Maroon Bell Wilderness has put in place a bookable shuttle service. The number of visitors per day is limited, and that’s just fine.
- Cost: US$16 for adults, US$10 for children under 12
- Parking is available at the cost of US$10.
- More information on the shuttle here
To get the most out of the place, I suggest you come in the morning for a hike called Crater Lake. If hiking isn’t your thing, you’ll be delighted to walk to the 1st lake, Maroon Lake, which doesn’t really require much effort:
- 5.6 km round trip
- ascent: 210 metres. But don’t take it lightly, because you’re at an altitude of 3,000 metres! If you’re not acclimatized, you may be out of breath!
- Allow at least 5 hours with lunch at the lake. It’s best to allow yourself extra time to time yourself with the return shuttle. If you miss the last shuttle, you’ll have to stay overnight!
We chose to spend the night a little away from the Aspen ski resort for the simple reason that it’s more affordable! The Element Basalt, a Marriott, was an excellent choice. Our room had a small kitchen and a large bathroom. The place is very clean and modern. Many restaurants are within walking distance, including K’Gen Asian Cuisine, which I recommend for its service and food quality!
- 1 free night with a 35,000-point Marriott certificate. The value at the time was US$506, including breakfast!
American West - Days 8 and 9: Aspen to Grand Junction in 200 km, 2h15
A little surprise for my mom, who loves animals! On our way we stop at an alpaca farm! Admission is free, and you only have to pay for your bag of food to feed them. The owners are very welcoming and if you want to stay overnight, you can book their Bed and Breakfast! For further information, click here.
La Belle Vie Vineyard
For lunch, we stop en route in Palisade for dinner at La Belle Vie Vineyard. A truly superb place to taste Muscat, Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah and their famous peach wine! The food and service are excellent. A charming place that’s well worth a visit!
Colorado National Monument – Grand Junction
Our plan for the next 2 nights was to camp at Saddlehorn Campground, a campground with a first-come, first-served section. When I looked at the weather forecast for the night, it predicted really bad weather: lightning, rain, hail. So we decided to rent a last-minute hotel room with my Marriott points. The cheapest was a room at the Fairfield Grand Junction: 29,000 Marriott bonvoy points worth US$340, including breakfast.
In my opinion, this hotel is not worth the detour. Dark but clean room and very disappointing breakfast. The bagel and cheese sandwich was very dry. Nor is it located in an area with beautiful attractions within walking distance. I recommend it as a backup plan!
Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument was an instant favorite! It’s well worth the detour to explore its scenic route. Many stops to plan and short hikes to make. Admission is US$25, otherwise the America Beautiful card is accepted.
Hikes completed :
- 1.2 km round trip
- 25 minutes
- Ascent 42 metres
Coke Oven Trail
- 1.8 km round trip
- 35 minutes
- Ascent 53 metres
The day after our night at the hotel, we hope that the weather will be on our side for our camping night. The sky is cloudy at Colorado National Monument, but its neighbor, McInnis Canyon, is sunny! We decide to spend the day there and (once again) fall in love with the place! There are a multitude of trails and I strongly suggest that you have an app with you. We had chosen a route, but lengthened it on the way. The rain and hail caught up with us at the end of the route, but we had a great time! McInnis Canyon is a BLM, so access is free!
Chosen route :
- D1, D4 and D6
- 6.8 km with an ascent of 153 metres
- Time: 2 hours
We leave to try camping at Saddlehorn campground in Colorado National Monument. It’s raining, but it should stop in the next few hours. We choose a location and the agent tells us that the campsite has emptied because of the weather. We wait for the rain to decrease, and then surprise! Barely 20 minutes, then the big sun! This campsite is really great. You only have to walk a few minutes to find yourself on the edge of the canyon!
We chose a site in the first-come, first-served section at a cost of US$22 per night, payable in exact cash in a self-addressed envelope.
American West - Day 10: Grand Junction to Provo 573 km, 7h
Day of return to Salt Lake City, the sun is radiant, why not add a detour on my route! I chose scenic route 128 north of Moab, not really knowing what to expect. It was breathtaking! I suggest it to everyone and I intend to go back and spend 2-3 days there! Vineyards, climbing, biking, hiking, river descents and horseback riding await you in this spectacular location!
We were amazed to see the snow-capped La Sal mountains appear through the red canyons.
We went to do part of the Fisher Tower trail. We had dinner there, watching crazy people climbing walls I never thought were possible to get to! Fisher Tower has dark reddish-brown rocks that I’d never seen before this place.
Without the accumulation of points, I would never have been able to make this trip, especially with the Marriott Bonvoy points that were accumulated over a long period of 2 years. Don’t forget to sign up for credit cards via the referral links. It’s the best way of thanking this wonderful community and keeping up to date (almost all the time, day in, day out!!).