Itineraries: Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon National Parks
Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon National Parks are all such magical places. They had been on my list for a long time, but I hadn’t realized how close they were situated to each other. After doing some research I was excited to find out I could plan an awesome roadtrip, doing a “best of” tour at each park. I highly recommend this trip to people who are pressed for time, but still want to see everything! Even with only a few days in each spot, we felt that we were able to experience everything we had hoped. All three parks have amazing and legendary sites that everyone needs to experience at least once. Even standing there in person you still won’t believe what you’re seeing is real life!
Here is a look at our 8 day Southwest Roadtrip itinerary…
Day 1 - Arrive at Las Vegas airport → Travel to Zion National Park
Drive Time: Approx 2hr 45min; 171 miles
Being the adventure by flying into McCarren International airport (and resist dropping a quarter in those airport slot machines) pick up your set of wheels and journey on to Zion. Settle into your accommodations and then head into the park. Take the free park shuttle for a relaxing ride throughout the park. End your day with a delicious dinner in the town of Springdale and rest up for tomorrow.
Day 2 - Zion National Park → Angel’s Landing
Drive Time: Depends on your accommodations
Today you’re conquering Zion’s most famous trail. Don’t let photos psych you out...take a slow pace and enjoy the view along the way and then revel in the beauty at the top! Afternoon options let you choose from a variety of short easy hikes, like the Watchman Trail. Return to Springdale to explore and reward yourself with a scrumptious meal.
Day 3 - Zion National Park → The Narrows
Drive Time: Depends on your accommodations
Get ready to walk a really unique trail….through a river! Grab your waterproof footwear and hiking stick and journey down the river. You can venture as far as you like (or that the depth of water will allow), enjoy a riverside packed lunch and then head back to dry land. If time allows hike the short path to the Emerald Pools, before heading back for an early dinner.
Day 4 - Zion → Bryce Canyon National Park
Drive Time: 1hr 45mins; 81mi
Depart early for Bryce Canyon. Take the scenic drive through the park, stopping at each pull out (depending on the time of year you can drive your own vehicle or take a shuttle). After this great visual overview, Hike the Queen’s Garden Trail + Navajo Loop, getting up close and personal to some fabulous hoodoos. Later, enjoy some comfort food back in town and browse the numerous souvenir shops.
Day 5 - Bryce Canyon
Drive Time: Depends on your accommodations
Relax a little this morning with a leisurely start, meeting at the lodge at noon for an adventure on horseback! The Peek-A-Boo trail will take you on a three hour tour deep into the heart of the Canyon with the most amazing views. The rest of the day is free for dinner and relaxation.
Day 6 - Bryce → Horseshoe Bend → Grand Canyon National Park
Drive Time: 2hr 33min to Page, AZ; 152mi & 2hr 20mins to Grand Canyon; 134mi
Depart early this morning to Horseshoe Bend. Take the short hike out from the carpark to take in this unique view! Continue on to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, entering through the East Entrance stopping at the Desert View visitor center upon arrival. Go grab your first views of the majestic landscape before heading up to explore the Watchtower. Grab a quick lunch at the visitor’s center before driving the scenic trail (follows the South Rim for 25mi) stopping at viewpoints along the way. End the drive at the Grand Canyon Visitors Center, and head inside to learn more about the area. With the remaining daylight hours, hop on a shuttle to the South Kaibab Trail. It’s a steep trail, but it offers some of the best views in the park.
Day 7 - Grand Canyon National Park → Las Vegas
Drive Time: 4hrs 15mins; 277mi
Departure time today will depend on if you want to see some more of the Grand Canyon, or do a little exploring in Vegas. We wanted a relaxing day, and headed back to Vegas early, with time to relax, have a great meal and see a show.
Day 8 - Las Vegas → Home
Drive Time: Approx. 10mins from the Strip to the Airport
If you have a flight that departs later in the day, enjoy a little of daytime Las Vegas! Treat yourself to brunch and take in the sights on the strip before heading home.
We really lucked out with the weather on this trip. We had a few rainy evenings and a night of hail, but we couldn’t have asked for anything better. Most of our activities were done by the time the weather turned. Always check at the visitors center or with a park ranger before setting out on any hikes to make sure there aren’t any current dangers or trail closures. With the Narrows especially, even just a little bit of rain could make for a treacherous journey.
National park lodging is notoriously hard to obtain if you don’t plan early enough. So if you want to stay within the park you may need to start looking a year out to get your first choice! We were unable to secure lodging in Zion or Bryce, and ended up staying in the local towns. In Zion, we ended up being very happy with our location at the Zion Canyon Campground. We had decided to be a little adventurous and rent a camper van (for the first time ever!) and it worked out really well for us (us being my sister & I). While the RV spots at the campground weren’t very secluded and you were close to your neighbors we really didn’t mind it much, we didn’t spend too much time there! It turned out we really preferred being in the town as opposed to being in the park. The location was close enough that we could walk to the park (though there is a free shuttle that runs through the town) and were close enough to be able to walk to a bunch of different shops and restaurants. The bathrooms and showers were updated and clean and the front desk staff friendly.
In Bryce we stayed at Ruby’s Inn RV Park and Campground. Ruby’s seems to have a bit of monopoly on the area right outside of the park, owning a few hotels, souvenir shops and restaurants. It was all nice enough, but could do with a little updating. Unlike the downtown feeling Springdale had, the area outside Bryce was more of an “off the highway” vibe, lacking that downtown feeling with nothing really as nicely walk-able, we kept moving the car. The campground though was much more wooded and secluded from your neighbors than in Zion. The campground is very close to the park, and being there in May, we were able to drive in and out of the park with not too many congestion problems. (There are ticket booths that everyone must stop at on the way in and we would have loved a "I've already purchased a ticket" line) At the Grand Canyon we were lucky enough to get a spot at Mather Campground, within the park. Though the most basic of the locations we stayed (no water or electricity hookups) it was our favorite! The campground was the most wooded, and we enjoyed dinner around our campfire with a pack of elk that decided to rest for the night not too far behind us. (We were ready to give up our fajitas and s'mores to them if they had gotten too much closer!) The Grand Canyon is a MUCH larger park than Zion and Bryce, and so it was great to stay within the park and be able to use their extensive shuttle system to get around.
The campervan itself we rented from the awesome, Escape Campervans. I found them after researching a variety of different options from RV’s to motels. An RV, while more spacious inside seemed too big and involved for us (plus I wasn’t too sure about driving one!) Escape's vans are all painted by local artists and have different themes (they ever let you request an artwork theme when booking!) The staff was very friendly and walked us through how to use different van amenities before we headed out. The van had a bed in the back seat, a little refrigerator, a camp stove and a pump sink. Included in the rental price was dishes, pots, pans, various kitchen utensils, bedding, camp chairs, a heater and electrical connections. Oddly the only thing it didn’t have was a hose for a water hook-up. We bought one at our first campground location, and when we returned the van, we were told no one has ever asked for one before, that people would buy gallons of water and pour it in! Escape also offers a few plus up items that we didn't need, like a "second floor tent" that pops-up on top of your van (I REALLY wanted to try that!) regular tents, roof cargo shell, bike racks, sun awnings, baby seats, etc. We really enjoyed our brightly painted home on wheels, and would definitely rent from them again.
I’ve listed a detailed description below of all of the hikes and activities we did in each park, and will be posting detailed accounts of each soon, so check back!
These parks will forever hold a special place in our memories and though we’ve been to many different beautiful national parks, these three are SO different in landscape features that they really makes them stand out from the rest. No wonder attendance is rising each year!
Angels’ Landing - Strenuous
3-6 hours to complete; 2.4miles one way; 1500ft elevation change; full exposure
Trailhead - The Grotto, across the road and over the bridge
Open year round, tends to get crowded
Hiking Poles? - Yes!
One of the most popular and stunning hikes in the park. Marked strenuous due to the steep narrow trails with sharp dropoffs and scrambling. Not recommended for those afraid of heights!
Watchman Trail - Easy/Moderate
3miles roundtrip; 1-2 hours to complete; 300ft elevation change; moderate exposure
Trailhead - Visitor’s Center (along the road on the east bank of the river)
Open year round
Hiking Poles? - Nice to have (especially with tired legs after Angel’s landing!)
Short trip with a great viewpoint. If it’s warm, we saw people floating in the river at the beginning of the trail!
Narrows Day Hike - Moderate/Strenuous (river walking, over wet stones)
2.5miles one way to Orderville Canyon & Wall Street; 2mi more to Big Springs; around 6hrs to complete; elevation change negligible
Trailhead - Temple of Sinawava
Open Summer and Fall (due to snowmelt and water temperature)
Hiking Poles? Yes! Really helps when navigating those rocks!
What an experience! Journey through the river to incredible slot canyon views. No permit required for this day hike, but be sure to at the visitor's center for flash flood warnings before attempting this hike.
Emerald Pools - Easy
2 mile loops; 2-4 hours; 200ft to the middle pools and an additional 200ft to the upper pools
Trailhead - Zion Lodge (Can also be accessed from the Grotto stop, on the slightly longer Kayenta Trail)
Open year round. (Summer can bring the water level very low)
This pretty and stress free hike passes waterfalls and sparkling pools.
Bryce Canyon Hikes
Queen’s Garden Trail + Navajo Loop - Moderate
3mile loops; 2hrs; elevation gain 580ft
Trailhead - Sunset or Sunrise Point
Dubbed as the “best three mile hike” this is a great option for people with limited time. The trail takes you below the rim into the heart of the canyon, and brings you up close to all of the amazing hoodoos and spectacular views, finally leaving you off back up top at the rim.
Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail - Strenous (unless on horseback!)
4.8 mile loop; 4-6hrs on foot, 3hrs on horseback; elevation gain 1627ft
Trailhead - Bryce Point
View the best vistas in the park throughout the canyon on this steep but rewarding hike passing many memorable landmarks such as the Wall of Windows.
Grand Canyon Hikes
South Kaibab Trail - Strenuous
7.1miles; 4-6hrs; elevation gain 4780ft
Trailhead - Shuttle to South Kaibab Trailhead
Open Year Round
This hike begins with a steep descent into the canyon, passing numerous points of interest.