Classic Westerns of the Silver Screen
Start: Salt Lake City
Finish: Las Vegas or Salt Lake City
Hours of driving: 16–19+ depending on an option to extend to Zion National Park and your return destination.
You've seen this before. Those monoliths, like two mittens rising from the desert floor. That arch. Those sheer canyon walls. John Wayne has roamed these lands in search of revenge. Westworld's The Man in Black is searching for ... well, something else. And when Paul Newman and Robert Redfords's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid take off running, that's also Utah. When you picture the American West, chances are you are picturing Utah. From the alpine backwoods of Jeremiah Johnson to the sweeping vistas of Westworld and all the John Ford's in between, Utah is the place to travel for movie magic.
You could pick any corner of Utah and settle in for several days checking hot Hollywood destinations off your checklist, but for fans of the Western, your trip really begins — after a pitstop at Robert Redford's Sundance Mountain Resort — in scenic, iconic Southern Utah. You'll explore the slickrock landscapes of the Moab area and wander through among the towering sandstone rock formations and high-country desert of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.
Moving west, the plot thickens in one of the most-loved locations, "Little Hollywood," in Kanab and wraps up in the setting of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." And while the films are the focal point of your tour, you'll be encountering some of America's most scenic parks and monuments of some of Utah's best state parks — this is listed as a six-day itinerary, but gift yourself extra days to fully enjoy it all.
- Arrive Salt Lake City
- Robert Redford's Sundance
- Gateway to the Iconic West
Landing in Salt Lake City, Utah, gets you close to Utah's extensive portfolio of national parks, monuments, state parks and open lands. But don't hit the road just yet. We have entire itineraries to explore classic Salt Lake City attractions and lesser-known stops both within the city and the surrounding area. Added incentive: In 2014, Wine Enthusiast Magazine named Salt Lake City one of America's 5 New Foodie Cities and things have only gotten bigger and better. There are also distilleries, breweries and some great live music. One more stop on the way to Southern Utah: Robert Redford's Sundance Mountain Resort, part of the Utah setting for his "Jeremiah Johnson." A stop at the Owl Bar is a stop at the restored Rosewood Bar, formerly of Wyoming, formerly popular among Butch Cassidy's crowd. From Sundance, it's on to Moab, a time-honored playground for filmmakers and outdoor adventurers alike.
Salt Lake City, Sundance Mountain Resort, Green River or Moab
10 minutes from SLC International Airport, Salt Lake City is the vibrant, urban heart of Utah. Nestled within a valley known as the Wasatch Front, Salt Lake City can be described as comfortably urban. For all its culture, amenities and access to the backyard mountain adventures, many visitors, first-time and return, add an extra day or two to their itinerary.
Sundance, Utah, home to "Jeremiah Johnson" star, Robert Redford, was one of the main shooting locations for the film. Redford acted as a tour guide for the scenes that were shot on his property. Today, Sundance is a year-round destination for outdoor adventure and rustic, yet upscale, amenities. Only an hour from SLC International, the mountain resort offers downhill, Nordic, fly-fishing, hiking, zip-lining, arts, fine dining and more, all in the shadow of majestic Mount Timpanogos.
Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind and rain. Widely known as a gathering place for outdoor recreation including slickrock mountain biking, it's also one of Hollywood's top Western America and futuristic backdrops. In all, more than 50 movies have been filmed in the Moab area since 1949 and countless additional commercials.
- Dead Horse Point
- Utah After Hours: Dark Skies
A character of its own, Dead Horse Point State Park provided some of the awe-inspiring landscape for the HBO series, "Westworld." The state park’s campground includes reservable yurts and in addition to scenery, visitors can experience IDA-certified International Dark Skies, an impressive mountain bike trail system, hiking and easy access to Canyonlands National Park. Even though Thelma & Louise took place at the Grand Canyon, the filmmakers went to Dead Horse Point to film the famous last scene when the women drive off the precipice. That said, many visitors find Dead Horse Point to be even more captivating than the views at the Grand Canyon, so come prepared with a camera and to extend your stay plan to book a site in the campground well in advance of your visit.
Lodging in Moab or camping in Dead Horse Point, Canyonlands or BLM land.
A character of its own, Dead Horse Point State Park, outside Moab, Utah, provided some of the awe-inspiring landscape for the HBO series, "Westworld." The state park’s campground includes reservable yurts and in addition to the scenery, visitors can experience IDA-certified International Dark Skies, an impressive mountain bike trail system and great hiking.
Even though "Thelma & Louise" took place at the Grand Canyon, the filmmakers went to Dead Horse Point State Park to film the famous last scene when the women drive off the precipice. That said, many visitors find Dead Horse Point and adjacent Canyonlands National Park to be even more captivating than the views at the Grand Canyon — from the safety of the mesa rim.
For a different kind of show, Dead Horse Point was the first Utah State Park to achieve a dark skies certification. Except in winter, the park offers multiple evening events each month, such as night hikes, telescope programs and constellation tours. Even in poor weather conditions, multimedia astronomy talks can be held inside the visitor center. The show is just as spectacular in Canyonlands.
- The Footsteps of Young Indy
- The Route to Sweetwater
- Castle Valley and Fisher Towers
Shot at the famous Double Arch in Arches National Park, young River Phoenix (playing an adolescent Indiana Jones) narrowly escapes the bad guys on foot, horseback and train. There are more than 2,000 arches in this park and miles of trail that can occupy days, but it’s less than a mile to recreate the movie memory at Double Arch. It's not exactly a Western, but it's a classic that's too good not to follow. Next, head up S.R. 128 along the Upper Colorado River. This scenic byway is part of the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway and accesses trail systems, rafting, a winery and canyon complexes surrounded by unforgettable red rock landscapes. The area is well known for iconic Castle Valley and the excellent Fisher Towers area — captured in the 1950s John Ford film, "Rio Grande," and in a number of "Westworld" scenes.
Take a second or third night in the Moab area or begin the journey south toward your next stop with overnight options in Monticello, Blanding, Bluff, Mexican Hat or Monument Valley.
At Double Arch in Arches National Park, young River Phoenix (playing an adolescent Indiana Jones) narrowly escapes the bad guys on foot, horseback, and train. There are more than 2,000 arches in this park and miles of trail that can occupy days, but it’s less than a mile to recreate the "Raiders of the Lost Arc" memory. Not exactly a "Western," but Arches is always worth the visit, especially at sunrise and sunset.
For lodging, wine tasting or movie history, consider the Red Cliffs Lodge, 14 miles east of Moab along the road paralleling the Colorado River on state Route 128 — an area that also provides the scenic backdrop through the windows of the replica steam train into "Westworld." The lodge is home of the Moab Movie Museum, is the actual site of many of John Wayne's movies and features Castle Creek Winery.
Onion Creek, just outside of Moab, Utah, combines a high-clearance, 4WD road with trailheads to the short Onion Creek Narrows, mountain biking and canyoneering, depending on your route. The canyon complex is surrounded by red rock landscapes in an area also well known for iconic Castle Valley and the excellent Fisher Towers Trail area — and for the 1950s John Ford film, "Rio Grande."
- Forrest Gump Point
- Goulding’s Lodge and Film Museum
- Navajo Spirit Tour
Monument Valley is an iconic symbol of the American West and a place of profound significance to the Navajo Nation. The Twelve Dancers feature, in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, is where John Wayne's character, Ethan, finally catches up with Scar, the Comanche chief. “The Searchers” is considered among the greatest and most influential Western movies ever made. To share in that history, make your way to John Ford Point, where the Texas Rangers plan an attack on the Comanches. In fact, the park is a consistent, stand-out character in John Wayne's western flicks. Another good place to start: "Stagecoach." Monument Valley also provided the majestic location for Stanley Kubrick to depict the story of evolution and the distant past in "2001: A Space Odyssey. The park also makes an appearance in Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer's "The Lone Ranger" and the Academy Award-winning Forrest Gump, among dozens of other movies. For the closest look at the park, book a Navajo-guided tour.
Monument Valley area or Kanab
Sometimes a memorable movie scene becomes so iconic it makes it onto the map. With Monument Valley as the backdrop, this is the point on U.S. 163 where Forrest Gump finally stopped running (in the Oscar-winning film of the same name) after three years, two months, 14 days, and 16 hours. Cameras ready. You'll want to stop as well. Please be aware this iconic photo-op is located along a highly-trafficked road. Due to the road’s traffic leading to past injuries and fatalities, we urge you to take your safety seriously and refrain from taking photos from the middle of the road. Visitors are welcome to pull off safely on the side of the road and take photos from the shoulder only.
Goulding’s Lodge is a historic, sprawling complex in Utah, just outside the borders of Monument Valley. Goulding’s features a lodge, campground, stores, restaurant, screening room and a very cool little Western film museum capturing the circa 1920s-era effort by the owners to lure John Ford and other filmmakers to the landscape.
Visitors can tour the unpaved scenic drive on their own and get close to the setting of "Westworld," "The Searchers," "Stagecoach," "Easy Rider," "2001: Space Odyssey" and more. But within the park, there are several travel restrictions in place so the best experience is with a licensed Navajo guide, who can share the stories, legends and beliefs that accompany a deep relationship with the land.
- Welcome to Little Hollywood
- The Ghosts of TV Westerns
- Coral Pink Sand Dunes
Kanab is an adventure base camp near Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument also known as Utah's “Little Hollywood” for having welcomed numerous filmmakers to create classic, timeless movies. Perry's Lodge was known as the place to stay for incoming film productions. The guest list includes John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Ronald Reagan and more. A Kanab must-see is the Little Hollywood Museum, which houses an actual Hollywood set including a few structures used in the 70s film, "The Outlaw Josey Wales." The Johnson Canyon Western Movie Set is just a few short minutes from Kanab and was featured heavily in what is considered to be one of the longest-running prime-time shows on television, Gunsmoke. Kanab is an ideal base camp to the monument, Zion National Park and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, plus the town itself offers civilized amenities and upscale dining amid its quintessential wild western setting.
The towering Navajo sandstone cliffs and vistas of sagebrush have lured filmmakers to Kanab for nearly 80 years. Abandoned film sets collected in an outdoor museum are a tourist attraction. The buildings all over town have plenty of movie posters and autographed photos to support Kanab's self-proclaimed title, "Little Hollywood." Just walking the main drag is a self-guided tour through the town's film history.
One of Southern Utah’s truly great drives, the Johnson Canyon Road stretches north from Highway 89 and provides excellent vantage points of the colorful cliffs for which the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is particularly known. As a bonus, this road is notable for the old "Gunsmoke" film set, located some five miles from the Highway 89 turnoff.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is 3,730 acres, and more than 2,000 acres of sand are open to OHVs. It’s the only major sand dune field on the Colorado Plateau, and great for OHV enthusiasts, hikers, sand boarders, and families in search of a unique site. HBO's "Westworld" has made a stop here, as well.
- St. George Area
- Running Through Snow Canyon
- Grafton Ghost Town
Many travelers visit southwestern Utah to see the soaring cliffs of Zion National Park and to hike, climb and mountain bike the incredible red rock landscapes. For movie buffs, this scenic corner of the state of Utah comes alive with nostalgia for Robert Redford’s iconic film, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The complete list of filming locations includes the ghost town of Grafton, Snow Canyon State Park, the city of St. George and Zion National Park. There's a whole itinerary (Read: Butch Cassidy's West) that explores the memorable scenes from the film before chasing down the man behind the legend. For the sake of this itinerary, explore Snow Canyon State Park, the ghost town of Grafton (visit with respect) and, if you haven't been, Utah's top park, Zion. Of course, if you haven't been to Zion, you'll want to add some time to the end of this itinerary and consider booking advance reservations overnight in Springdale or within the park. It's a lot to take in. Read how to visit Zion National Park.
Las Vegas is closer, but it's only a couple of hours farther back to Salt Lake City, so you have a couple of options for round-trip air travel.
Below the rim of the Great Basin sits Utah's warm-weather retreat, the town of St. George. The stunning valley combines transitional land features from the neighboring basin and Colorado Plateau with the landscapes and wildlife of the Mojave Desert and is an excellent base camp to southwestern Utah's adventures and most scenic movie backdrops.
Contrary to its name, there isn't a lot of snow in Snow Canyon State Park, but it’s the backdrop for the famous 30-minute chase scene in "Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid." Get on a horse and see for yourself with Patty at Snow Canyon Trail Rides or set out on foot across the park’s playful blend of petrified sand dunes and lava fields amid red rock walls and bright skies.
Every ghost town has a story to tell. They are often reminders of long-forgotten dreams, hopes, struggles, and gradual decline. Some say that Grafton is the most photographed ghost town in the West, and it was, in fact, the filming location for parts of "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid," among other Hollywood movies. This is private property, so do not attempt to enter structures and visit with respect.