Classic Westerns of the Silver Screen
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
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, 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
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
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 after three years, two months, 14 days, and 16 hours. You’re going to want to grab a snap.
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
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
Refer to longer itinerary
Depart Las Vegas or SLC
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.