The American Southwest is home to some of America's greatest National Parks, such as the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Arches, to name a few. These natural wonders and endless desert roads are what draw people in and have them eager to return.
Check out this 9-day guide to road tripping through the treasures that Northern Arizona & Southern Utah have to offer. Bonus: you'll only need to take off 1 week of work, since you'll be able to travel on the weekends!
This is a jam-packed itinerary for a road trip that hits the highlights of 6 different National Parks, as well as Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon in Page, AZ. You will experience many early mornings and plenty of beautiful sunsets. Any of the stops on this itinerary can be omitted, but why not try to see as many National Parks as you can?!
2 weeks would be ideal, but vacation days can be hard to come by. For anyone who is only able to take off 1 week of work, this is the perfect road trip guide for you! Ideal travel days are from a Saturday Morning to Sunday of the next week, 9 days.
I. Road Trip Overview
II. Know Before You Go
III. Grand Canyon National Park
IV. Page, AZ (Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell)
V: Zion National Park
VI. Bryce Canyon National Park
VII: Capitol Reef National Park
VIII. Canyonlands National Park (Moab, Utah)
IX. Arches National Park (Moab, Utah)
I. Road Trip Overview
Grand Canyon ↠ Page, AZ ↠ Zion ↠ Bryce Canyon ↠ Capitol Reef ↠ Canyonlands ↠ Arches
Please note: You will need a car for this road trip. If you plan on flying, fly into Phoenix and fly out of Salt Lake City for optimal driving distances.
Travel Tip: If you can fly into Flagstaff Airport and fly out of Canyonlands Field Airport or Grand Junction, Colorado Airport instead of Phoenix/Salt Lake City, this will save a decent amount of drive time (flights may not be available/may be too expensive). You also have the option of flying into Las Vegas, but it is slightly further to the Grand Canyon than Phoenix is.
If you have an extra day or 2... make a stop at Monument Valley after the Grand Canyon, add another day in Page, AZ to see Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and add one more day in Moab to explore Arches & Canyonlands further
If you want to fly in and out of the same airport and only see the highlights... Fly into the Vegas Airport, then continue on your road trip from Grand Canyon ↠ Page, AZ, ↠ Zion ↠ Back to Vegas Airport. This will be a perfect loop. I also recommend throwing in Bryce Canyon after Page, AZ if you are interested and can make time for at least a half day!
See below for a look on time allotted for each destination:
Driving in from the East?
When I did this road trip, I drove from Houston Texas - this is another doable option if you don't mind driving! The itinerary will stay exactly the same, except you'll make Albuquerque your base point. Ex: Drive to ABQ, then follow the above road trip overview! After Canyonlands, drive back to ABQ for a night before the drive back to Houston.
If you plan your trip for October, you can coordinate your Albuquerque stays to line up with the International Hot Air Balloon festival. Although they postponed this year's event due to COVID, you can still check out my guide here!
II. Know Before You Go
Depending on when you do this road trip, the weather could either be scorching hot or icy and cold. I suggest avoiding July and August if you plan on hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The temperature at the bottom of the canyon is usually 25° hotter than the normal air temp, so it often reaches well over 100°, and that doesn't sound ideal.
Spring or Fall is the best time for this road trip. I went during the first week of October and it was perfect! The mornings and evenings were cool, and the days were warm and sunny, but never too hot. The foliage in Zion was in full force, too.
No matter what season you end up visiting, you'll need plenty of layers. Even in the summer, the evenings can still be quite chilly.
Make sure you have your hiking boots, band-aids (in case of blisters!), and a water pack. Check out my guide on What to Pack for a Day Hike!
In addition, have plenty of trail and car snacks that will last you through the week!
Always check driving distances on Google Maps! You may be close to the entrance of a Park, but the trail you wish to do may be 30 minutes inside the Park.
The longest wait times I had to enter inside the Parks were at Arches and Canyonlands, however, this highly depends on the day of the week. Any park on the weekend will have a longer wait to enter.
Every National Park costs $35 to enter. I highly recommend purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass. This pass will allow you admittance into any National Park for an entire year, and it's only $80. It's good for a whole vehicle, aka the whole family! Trust me, this pass pays for itself. Find it here.
Keep in mind that you'll be in a new time zone once you get to Zion from Page, AZ. Utah will be 1 hour ahead of Arizona.
Grand Canyon & Page, AZ operate on Mountain Standard Time
Utah Parks operate on Mountain Daylight Time
Another important thing to research is sunrise and sunset times during the season of your visit! I do this for every trip I take to determine the hours of daylight I'll have, when I want to begin hiking, and when I'll need to leave to see the perfect sunset. Just make sure you do your due diligence.
National Park Service Closures
There are a number of closures in place right now due to multiple factors, one of them being COVID. In addition, a few parks require reservations in some form, whether that be to enter the Park or use the shuttle system. Always be sure to check the NPS website before your trip to make sure everything is open and available during your visit.
III. Grand Canyon National Park
When Zach and I walked up to view the Grand Canyon during sunset on our first night, we were speechless. I've only heard of the Grand Canyon's splendor from others, but it really is one of those places you need to see for yourself to understand the magnitude.
Carved by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon is 1 mile deep and remains one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Grand Canyon Overview
The Grand Canyon consists of two main parts: the North and South Rim. The South Rim is open year-round and offers expansive views of the Canyon, with countless viewpoints and lodging options. The North Rim, on the other hand, is much less traveled, offers less in the surrounding area, and is only open from Mid-May to Mid-October.
To drive from the South Rim to the North Rim, it takes around 5 hours. For first timer's with a short amount of time, I recommend visiting South Rim to get the classic Grand Canyon experience you're thinking of.
Where to Stay
For this itinerary, we will be visiting the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The Bright Angel Lodge would be my first choice, along with any of the other hotels located inside South Rim, operated by Xanterra. The views are immaculate, and staying inside the Park can cut back on some driving time. Unfortunately, it can be really tough to get a reservation.
Tusayan, AZ is the closest town with accomodations for the Grand Canyon, and this is where most people end up staying. It's only about a 15 minute drive to the South Rim entrance! Any of the options are good, and there are a few restaurants as well. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and I would absolutely stay again!
Itinerary: 2.5 Days
Road Trip Day 1 (Arrival Day)
Check into Hotel
Quick Dinner in Tusayan
Head to Mather Point for sunset
Depending when your flight gets in, you may have extra time to explore, but a perfect start to your road trip is witnessing your first Grand Canyon sunset at Mather Point. There is plenty of parking, so bring yourselves and your camera! I recommend venturing out and walking a little past Mather Point to get away from the crowds. You'll have great views anywhere along the paved Rim Trail.
Road Trip Day 2
Sunrise at Yaki Point
Hike South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point (6 miles RT)
Rest/Mid-day break for lunch
Drive to Desert View Watchtower and viewpoints along the way
Dinner in Tusayan
Park at the Visitor Center Parking and take the Kaibab Rim (Orange Route) shuttle bus to South Kaibab Trail & Yaki Point. For info on when the first shuttle leaves by season, check out more info here. Once you make it to Yaki Point and the South Kaibab Trailhead, snap a few sunrise photos and make your way down the trail.
On the South Kaibab Trail, you'll hike past the well-known Ooh-Aah Point and make your way down to Skeleton Point. Once you hit Skeleton Point, you can begin the trek back up.
Take the Shuttle back to the Visitor Center and head back to your hotel for rest and lunch. After lunch, drive along Desert View Road, stopping at various viewpoints such as Pipe Creek Vista, Grandview Point, Lipan Point, and the Desert View Watchtower. Try to catch the sunset at the Desert View Watchtower.
After driving along Desert View Road, head back to Tusayan for a late dinner!
COVID Update: All shuttles are currently shut down for the season. To get to the South Kaibab Trailhead, you'll have to park about a 1/2 mile away on Desert View Road.
Itinerary Option: Looking for more of a challenge? You also have the option of hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in 1 day, also known as the South Rim to South Rim day hike. This hike is no joke and should not be attempted by beginner hikers. It's a little over 16.5 miles and can take anywhere from 6 to 10 hours, with 9-10 hours being the average. You will descend almost 5,000 feet into the canyon and quickly climb back up. For many people, the change in elevation is the toughest part. To hike the Grand Canyon in 1 day, I recommend hiking down South Kaibab Trail and hiking up Bright Angel Trail. Although the last few miles were brutal, Zach and I loved accomplishing this hike. Since shuttles are down for the rest of 2021, I'd wait on this big hike until things are up and running again so you don't have to tack on extra mileage from parking far from the trailheads.
Views from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, Down South Kaibab Trail and up Bright Angel Trail
Road Trip Day 3
Hike Bright Angel Trail to 1.5 Mile Resthouse (3 miles RT)
Lunch & Ice Cream at Bright Angel Lodge
Rent bikes and bike down Hermit Road to the various viewpoints
Dinner at Maswik Food Court or in Tusayan
The Bright Angel Trail is a classic at the Grand Canyon, even if you're only hiking a few miles of it. Since the views are mostly better on the South Kaibab Trail, hiking to the 1.5 Mile Resthouse from the top of Bright Angel will be enough to see what this trail has to offer (and it's incredibly steep, so it will still be a nice workout)!
Park near the Bright Angel Lodge Visitor Parking. After hiking and exploring the areas surround the Bright Angel Trail (the top has so many good viewpoints, too), sit down for lunch at the Bright Angel Lodge and reward yourself with ice cream after!
After lunch, drive over to the Visitor Center Parking just a few miles down the road to Bright Angel Bicycles and rent bikes for the rest of the day.
Bike from the Visitor Center to the many viewpoints on Hermit Road, such as Powell, Hopi, Mohave, and Pima. Once complete, return your bikes and drive to the Maswik Food Court for a quick and easy dinner.
This is your last evening in the Grand Canyon, so feel free to drive around once more and catch another sunset. In the morning, make your way to your next destination in Page, AZ, departing no later than 6am.
IV. Page, Arizona
(Including Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, & Lake Powell)
A big regret from my Southwest Road Trip was not spending more time in Page, AZ. We only stopped through and stayed one evening to check out Horseshoe Bend, but I wish we added more to the itinerary.
I really wanted to check out Antelope Canyon, but we passed since you could only view them via tour groups and it seemed a little pricey. Looking back, it would have been worth the $60 per person price tag to see such an incredible slot canyon!
Where to Stay:
There are many places to stay in Page, Arizona during your short visit here. You'll only need 1 night, so just find something that fits the bill. I stayed at the Clarion Inn in Page. It wasn't anything to write home about, but it was a perfectly comfortable stay.
If you'd like something nice, stay at the Lake Powell Resort & Marina - it's right on the water!
Itinerary: 1 Day
Road Trip Day 4
Coffee & pastries at LP Espresso
Horseshoe Bend (1.7 miles RT)
Antelope Canyon Tour
Lunch in Page
Kayak on Lake Powell
Dinner at Latitude 37
After over a 3 hour drive from the Grand Canyon to Page, AZ, start your morning at LP Espresso in Page for some well-deserved coffee and breakfast pastries. From here, it's just a 10 minute drive to Horseshoe Bend.
It costs $10 per vehicle to enter the Horseshoe Bend parking area (and they don't accept the America the Beautiful pass), but it's worth it. From the parking lot, it's a short hike to the Horseshoe Bend overlook. When I visited, it was pretty crowded, but there are so many places to sit and take photos so I wouldn't worry about not getting the perfect shot - you will!
Travel Tip: This trail is only 3/4 mile each way and is newly paved! Now, it is ADA compliant and much easier to access the views at Horseshoe Bend.
You probably won't need to spend any more than an hour at Horseshoe Bend (heck, I think we stayed for 30 minutes!), so once you've explored and taken your share of photos, you can head back to the parking lot.
In the late morning/early afternoon, you'll want to do Antelope Canyon since lighting is best during these hours. I didn't get a chance to do anything other than Horseshoe Bend, but I'll recommend what I had on my list.
Descending into Antelope Canyon requires a tour that costs around $50-$70 per person. You can choose to see the Upper Canyon, the Lower Canyon, or both. The Upper Canyon is the most popular and arguably better for photos. Plan on spending around 2 hours doing the Upper or Antelope Canyon tour, including drive time.
There are a few companies that offer tours of Antelope Canyon - you can find them listed here.
Planning Tip: Tour reservations for Antelope Canyon book up months in advance. Plan ahead!
COVID Tip: Antelope Canyon is currently closed due to COVID - no tours are operating and it is inaccessible for the time being. Horseshoe Bend and Lake Powell are open for business, so you can skip Antelope Canyon after Horseshoe Bend and head to the Lake.
After your Antelope Canyon tour (if you're able to go!), you can head into the town of Page and grab lunch anywhere you please. There are quite a few different options. Ideally, you'll also be able to check into your hotel room a bit early before you head to Lake Powell for kayaking.
Rent kayaks (or your desired watercraft) from Antelope Point Marina and begin to explore Lake Powell. Even though Antelope Canyon tours are closed due to COVID, many people don't know that a portion of the canyon extends into Lake Powell, and you'll be able to kayak through some of the canyon!
After kayaking on Lake Powell, your room will surely be ready at this point so you can head back and rest. You can either freshen up for a nice sunset dinner at Latitude 37, located on Wahweap Marina at the Lake Powell Resort and Marina, or you can do a quick takeout meal and relax all night. Zach and I went for the latter option, but the restaurant I mentioned looks amazing if you want a nice ambiance or if you're staying in that resort.
After one night in Page, you'll head to Zion in the morning!
V. Zion National Park
Known for thrilling and unique hikes such as Angel's Landing and The Narrows, Zion is a popular destination on any Southwest road trip.
Zion is home to many mountains and canyons, most notably Zion Canyon, whose reddish tints of Navajo Sandstone were carved from erosion of the Virgin River that flows through the Park and continues to shape the Canyon.
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is where you'll find most of your bucket-list hikes and things on your to-do list, but if you have time, check out some of the few trails near Kolob Canyons located in the Northern part of the Park.
Please note: All access to Kolob Canyons is currently closed for 2020 due to COVID.
What's nice about Zion is that while it's a huge park, it doesn't require too much driving between different trailheads since most are located along the 8 mile scenic drive.
COVID Tip: Please note that you currently need a reservation to access Zion's shuttle service, which follows the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Private vehicles are not permitted along this road, so be prepared to retrieve reservations for the shuttle, or plan on biking.
Read more about Zion and COVID closures in my First Timer's Guide to Zion.
Where to Stay
The only lodging inside the National Park is at the Zion Lodge. If you're able to get a reservation, staying inside the Park would be a great choice because you're close to all of the trails and scenery.