Are you planning to drive through Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks on the ultimate southwestern road trip? This route through the Grand Circle is one of our favorite road trips ever. This trip can be done year round but for the best time to visit and other trip planning advice read our detailed guide below. This article is part of our series on 20 Best Road Trips Through USA.
The Grand Circle area and the American Southwest are our favorite destinations for amazing road trips. We have been on at least a dozen road trips through that area, each time adding something new to our itinerary and yet haven’t seen everything this area has to offer.
Our very first trip through the Grand Circle was a winter road trip through Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon National Parks. We started from Las Vegas and also made additional pit stops at Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, Page, Antelope Canyon and many other exciting things to do in this area.
If you are visiting this area for the first time, then you have to see a minimum of these 3 National Parks. Here’s excellent trip planning advice to make the most of your road trip.
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“ You cannot see the Grand Canyon in one view, as if it were a changeless spectacle from which a curtain might be lifted, but to see it, you have to toil from month to month through its labyrinths.”
– John Wesley Powell
Grand Circle 101
The area in Southwestern US formed by parts of the states of Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico is known as the Grand Circle. This area has many large national parks, dramatic landscapes, beautiful waterfalls, incredible wildlife, ruins of ancient civilizations, and Native American heritage.
Many national scenic byways weave through these natural recreational areas. With beautiful campsites, great hiking and backpacking trails, and wide-open doors, this region is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and road trippers. The Grand Circle encompassed parts of the American Wild West and you will find many ghost towns and artifacts related to the same.
When is the best time to visit Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon National Parks on a long road trip?
The beauty of this route is that it can be driven year-round. Some roads near the Grand Canyon North Rim will be closed during winter, but other than that you can visit all three national parks throughout the year. We have been here from summer through winter and have found the changing landscapes beautiful and compelling. The Grand Canyon North Rim at peak fall was one of my favorite landscapes. In that case, when should you ideally plan your trip?
The peak season for this road trip is undoubtedly summer when schools are closed and everyone and their mother is embarking on the ultimate summer road trip. The season is beautiful and you can take advantage of the long daylight hours but all three national parks will be crowded and everything from car rental to lodging will be expensive. You can reduce costs by either RV or tent camping but most campsites will need to be booked months in advance.
Fall, just after Labor Day, is a good time to visit because the crowds have thinned but the fall colors make the drives more scenic. Hotels will be cheaper and campsites are easier to reserve. Similarly in spring just before the summer i.e. in May pre-Memorial Day is a good shoulder season.
We have made this trip in winter as well, once around Thanksgiving and once at Christmastime and had great fun. Car rentals were quite cheap for one – we scored a convertible under $200 for a week – and the temperature wasn’t that bad for most parts. Grand Canyon looked quite beautiful covered in snow and the Christmas decorations in all the towns along the route were beautiful to see.
How long should a road trip through Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon loop be?
I always wish we had more time when driving through this area. To completely explore Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon National Parks and the many monuments and attractions in their vicinity at a leisurely pace, you will need a minimum of two weeks.
However, since most of us are often low on time, we have planned this itinerary to be week long. That should give you enough time to explore the parks, hike short trails, and drive along scenic routes to see a variety of landscapes and geological forms. We have also provided suggestions to see the area in fewer days or spend more time – basically customize it as per your schedule.
Which direction should you travel this route?
Some people travel this route clockwise starting from Vegas and then visiting Grand Canyon National Park, Bryce, and Zion in that order before returning to Vegas. Many others also drive in the opposite direction – that is what we did – and that is what we recommend in this article. Either way, you won’t have much difference in the drive time or attractions visited. You can use our itinerary whether you drive clockwise or anticlockwise.
Why visit Grand Canyon South Rim as part of this trip?
We visited Grand Canyon South Rim during this trip because it has the best views. The iconic views of the wide expanse of the Grand Canyon, its many chiseled layers, its vast depth, and the Colorado River at the bottom can only be seen from the South Rim. There are more facilities near this rim including the Visitor Center, lodging and accommodation, restaurants and it is visited by the most number of people throughout the year.
If you are visiting the Grand Canyon National Park for the first time, then we absolutely recommend visiting the South Rim. Another advantage of visiting the South Rim s that it lends itself to a nice loop trip through the region. If you instead visit the North Rim, the route will look significantly different – Grand Canyon won’t look like you had seen it in the pictures – and you will be driving through the same areas over and over again.
Zion – Bryce – Grand Canyon Itinerary
Arrive at Las Vegas and drive to Zion National Park
We arrived and stayed in Las Vegas for 2 days before embarking on our road trip. We love Las Vegas for a variety of reasons – the shiny strip with its lavish casinos, dozens of free shows and entertainment, gourmet buffets, and of course, the slot machines. Another major reason to love Vegas is its proximity to the many national parks in the Grand Circle area.
Las Vegas combines an urban getaway with amazing road trip ideas and makes the perfect base for exploring the American Southwest. Also, most budget airlines have cheap flights to Las Vegas and we have often found tickets for as low as $70 round trip on Spirit Airlines.
The main attraction of Sin City is the fabulous Las Vegas Strip. Prior to having kids, we loved casino hopping – weaving in and out of casinos – Luxor and Tropicana being my favorites – and playing on the slot machines, getting sloshed with free drinks, seeing unique attractions on the strip including the Cirque Soleil performances and eating in various eateries including the pastries at Bouchon bakery.
We also enjoyed attending parties in different nightclubs like Drai and in general painting the town red. We also used to drive to Fremont Street in Downtown and see the music performances.
Post kids, we still love Las Vegas. Now we prefer spending time doing family-friendly things including the colorful plants at the Bellagio conservatory and seeing the famous fountain show, strolling inside Paris Paris and taking the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower, walking inside the Venetian, seeing the flamingos inside Flamingo Hotel, and buying lots of candies at the M&M Store. Read our post on 52 Best Things to do in Las Vegas for more information.
We usually relax in Las Vegas for 2 to 3 days before starting on our Grand Circle road trips. Another reason we like starting road trips in Las Vegas is that the city has one of the lowest car rental rates we have seen elsewhere. We have always found midsize cars for under $200 for the entire week in Vegas. Once we even scored a convertible for $220 for ten days! Hence, we recommend planning your Grand Circle Road Trip from Vegas.
We recommend driving to Springdale or St. George which are great bases for Zion National Park and staying there for the night. That way you won’t be wasting precious daylight hours on driving and can have an early start at hiking inside Zion before the crowds arrive.
Day 1 & 2: Zion National Park
After the ‘Big Three’ of Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Yellowstone, Zion is one of the most visited national parks in the country. Over two million visitors travel to Zion every year to see its beautiful landscape. Zion also is one of the best national parks for kids. It is just 2.5 hrs away from Las Vegas, making it the perfect last stop on this road trip.
Visiting Zion during peak and the non-peak season is very different for one major reason: free shuttles! The National Park Service runs free shuttles inside Zion National Park on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive during peak season which is usually from spring through fall and then again the week of Christmas.
When the shuttles are active, visitors can’t drive inside the park and need to park at the entrance in the Zion Visitor Center lot. When we visited during the fall, even the visitor center parking lot was full and we had to park further away in Springdale. Springdale is the closest town to Zion and the Springdale Visitor Center is located here.
A second free shuttle drops visitors from Springdale to the park entrance. In Springdale, visitors can find accommodation, restaurants, as well as rent clothes for hiking the narrows and any other required active gear including mountain bikes and helmets.
The park shuttles start from the Visitor Center and make a round trip up to the Temple of Sinawava which is the last stop on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and the start of the Narrows hike. Visitors can get down and board at 8 different stops on the shuttle route.
We also found many people walking from one stop to another while exploring the National Park – however, this is not a good idea since the roads are narrow and the shuttles are big plus frequent. You can read more about the Zion Shuttle System here.
The other time we visited Zion was in November and the shuttles were not in operation. We could drive on the scenic drive in our car at a very relaxed pace. This was by far my favorite way of getting exploring Zion. We received a free map of the drive at the visitor center – shuttle stops and what to see at each stop was marked on it.
We followed the map and got down at various points on the scenic route. There were hardly any other visitors in the park, and we could spot lots of wildlife including deer, sheep, and chipmunks. That’s why we would recommend visiting Zion in winter if possible.
For your two days in Zion, we recommend starting early in the morning with a round trip shuttle ride and getting down at each stop to explore the beautiful landscape.
If going in the off-peak season, just drive around the Zion scenic drive and get down whenever you see a parking spot. This roundtrip with short strolls and photos should take about three hours.
After that, we recommend early lunch followed by any of Zion’s famous hikes. Day hiking in Zion allows visitors to experience the Park’s rugged and wild landscape first-hand. We suggest hiking the Narrows on the first day and using Day 2 for an early start on the Angels Landing Hike.
Hiking the Narrows is one of Zion National Park’s most famous attractions. The Narrows is a five-mile one-way hike and takes anywhere from 5 to 8 hours to complete. The hike is also strenuous because most times you will be hiking on really cold, knee-deep water!
The Zion Narrows hike allows visitors to walk through the course of the Virgin River in what is one of the best hikes in the country. The Narrows is where Zion Canyon narrows down and the river bed is surrounded on both sides by vividly colored red rock cliff walls.
The bottom-up (upstream) hike is permit free and starts from shuttle stop #9 or the Temple of Sinawava. The top-down or downstream hike is 16 miles long, permit only, and should be attempted by experienced hikers or backpackers.
The first part of the hike is a mile-long walk known as the Riverside Trail which begins from the Temple of Sinawava to the beginning of the narrows. This is the easiest part and mostly out of the water and we recommend it for everyone whether you are hiking the narrows or not. The Riverside Walk is by itself a scenic trail that takes you along the Virgin River and its surrounding beautiful scenery.
Even if you start walking the Narrows, you can turn back whenever you want – we have seen people return even a quarter of a mile into the hike due to less time – so you can always fit the Narrows into a time schedule.
The Virgin River water is mostly always cold, even during summer, and that’s why we recommend renting proper gear in Springdale for this hike including wet suit/drysuit, hiking poles, shoes, etc. The water temperature is most comfortable during summer but even little rainfall can cause flash floods so we recommend checking with park rangers before attempting this hike.
To get the best views of the hike, we recommend walking at least 2-2.5 miles (~two hours) inside the narrows before turning back. The prettiest views by far are at the end of the trail/canyon around the 4 to 5 hours mark. The hike is really popular during summer and the crowds can be quite dense, so to get beautiful views into the canyon, we recommend going really early or in off peak season.
Angel’s Landing Hike
Zion’s second most popular hike takes you over mountain tops and to a ridge with panoramic views of the canyon. For Angel’s Landing Hike, you need to get down at the Grotto Trailhead or shuttle stop #6. This hike is moderately strenuous and five-mile-long roundtrip.
It begins along the river and rapidly gains elevation to about 1500 feet. The hike needs 3 to 5 hours depending on fitness level – during our visits to Zion we skipped it because of time issues – but it is on our bucket list! The real reason this hike is difficult and quite dangerous is the stretch beyond a viewpoint known as Scout’s Lookout.
The trail past Scout’s Lookout continues along the mountain ridge with steep drop-offs on both sides. Visitors can hold on to some safety chains but that’s it! We do not recommend continuing past Scout’s Lookout for those with a fear of heights.
If you do continue up to the summit, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the canyon. Since this is one of the popular hikes, it gets quite crowded around noon and that’s why it is good for Day 2 morning. We found this trail guide to be quite useful when planning our Zion Itinerary.
Zion National Park has many other short day hikes which are great to explore the park, its rock formations, vivid colors, and beautiful foliage.
Day 3: Bryce Canyon National Park
Your next stop is the Bryce Canyon
We recommend that you reach Bryce on Day 2 late afternoon, drive the scenic loop at sunset and stay nearby. Or set out around dawn for a sunrise drive. As you might have guessed, sunrises and sunsets in Bryce are pretty spectacular and you need to experience at least one of them.
Bryce Canyon is a rarely visited gem of Utah’s Mighty 5 National Parks due to its remote location. Bryce can be visited year-round but in winter the temperatures fall below freezing and frequent snowfall is common from October through March. The contrast of sparkling snow on deep red rocks results in some spectacular scenery at Bryce.
Also, Bryce is located at a much higher elevation than Zion and hence, it is usually 10-15 degrees cooler inside Bryce than Zion. Spring weather begins around April in Bryce while summer is pleasanter compared to the dry heat of Vegas, Zion or the Grand Canyon.
Just like Zion Canyon and Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon is also the work of millions of years of erosion by water, frost, and wind. Bryce has many unique geological features caused due to the continuous weathering and erosion of sandstone cliffs. It is most popular for its reddish crimson hoodoo rock formations.
Hoodoos are tall, thin, spire-shaped rocks that rise from the ground. The best places to see hoodoos in Bryce are the Main Amphitheatre from Bryce Point Overlook. The hoodoos look strange and weird and if you happen to visit them without crowds, the entire park seems desolate and eerily beautiful.
Bryce Canyon National Park Scenic Drive is an 18-mile long route that takes visitors along the park’s most famous viewpoints, overlooks, and famous landscapes. The drive all the way to Rainbow Point and back is beautiful and it is just a short flat walk from the drive parking to the viewpoints so it can be easily done by everyone including small children.
Some of the must stop viewpoints include Natural Bridge, Piracy Point, Fairview Point, Bryce Point, and Rainbow Point. You can either drive inside Bryce Canyon National Park or take the free park shuttle during summer. We recommend taking the shuttle if it is available so that you don’t have to worry about finding parking at scenic overlooks.
After the scenic drive, we recommend hiking some of the easy trails inside Bryce Canyon National Park to see the hoodoos and other fascinating geological features. Sunset Point to Sunrise Point is an easy, flat, paved, mile-long rim trail that can be easily done by beginners and kids.
The views along the trail of Bryce Canyon and the hoodoos from above are incredibly pretty throughout the day, so we recommend this trail as a great starting point even if you don’t reach during sunset or sunrise times. The trail has benches to rest and admire the views.
To go down into the hoodoos, you can hike the popular Navajo Loop Trail. The views of the hoodoos towering above the canyon floor from below are stunning and there is no better way to see them than on the Navajo Loop Trail. The trail starts descending at Sunset Point and follows along a slot canyon called Wall Street to reach the canyon floor.
From the canyon floor, you can either return via way of Thor’s Hammer to Sunset Point or continue on to Queens Garden Trail for even more spectacular views and climb up to the rim at Sunrise Point. On the canyon floor, you will see hoodoos in various stages of erosion and development.
Hikers can also finish the trail in the opposite direction – park at Sunrise Point and then hike Sunrise Point – Queens Garden – Navajo Loop – Sunset Point, then rim walk from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point to return to the parking lot.
If you don’t climb up through Wall Street canyon and instead take the fork towards Two Bridges Trail, then the trail passes by the famous Thor’s Hammer, one of Bryce’s most photographed hoodoos. Also, the Wall Street route is closed during winter – so you will need to take the Two Bridges route. The trail is 2.6 miles long moderate trail and can be done by visitors with decent physical fitness. It can be done in 2 to 3 hours.
Bryce Canyon has many other hiking trails of various difficulty levels that are perfect if you have more time. If you are hiking in winter, hiking boots with excellent grips or microspikes are necessary as the trails and switchbacks are slippery due to snow and ice. Bryce is also popular with cyclists, campers, equestrian riders, and backpackers during summer.
After leaving Bryce, we drove to Page, Arizona where we were staying for the night. The distance from Bryce to Page or from Bryce to Antelope Canyon is about 160 miles or roughly 3 hrs drive time.
Day 4: Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
Page is a desert city in Arizona that is the perfect base for a host of activities on the way from Zion and Bryce to Grand Canyon. Page’s most popular attraction is without a doubt the famed Antelope Canyon.
But Page also makes the perfect base for exploring Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Vermillion Cliffs National Park, and Water Holes Canyon.
Outdoor enthusiasts will love Page for paddleboarding, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, and even helicopter tours over Horseshoe Bend / Grand Canyon. We were in Page just for one day and chose to see Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend Overlook.
Antelope Canyon is one of the most famous slot canyons in the entire world. Even those who have never heard of its name and location have seen iconic photos of a sunbeam entering the strikingly colored canyon with some version of the caption “Beautiful Places to visit before you Die”.
Read more: Upper vs Lower Antelope Canyon, Explained
So what is a slot canyon anyway? A slot canyon is a very narrow canyon formed by water rushing down through the rocks. It is
There are many slot canyons in the world – even the entrance to the famous archeological site of Petra in Jordan is through a slot canyon – the American Southwest itself has over half a dozen slot canyons.
But the Antelope Canyon is most famous because of its striking colors, particular appearance at certain times of the day, and its location on Navajo land hence, the added exclusivity. Antelope Canyon actually
Upper Antelope Canyon
More famous of the two canyons, Upper Antelope Canyon is the one featured in most photographs. It is more vividly colored than the Lower Canyon and hence, more photogenic of the two. It is also wider than the Lower Canyon and walking through it is an easier hike.
The canyon is very narrow at the top, hence at noon when the sun is directly overhead sunlight entering the canyon looks like a single shining beam in the darkness of the canyon. This sliver of light highlights the patterns on the red rock wall to create stunning photos.
Naturally, the photography tour at noon is the best way to see Upper Antelope Canyon. But even if you can make it on any tour between 10 am to 1 pm, you should be good. As a result, Upper Antelope Canyon tours are more expensive and sell out faster during peak season. We recommend booking your tour far in advance or plan your itinerary around available dates.
Lower Antelope Canyon
Lower Antelope Canyon is also located on Navajo Land and can be seen only via tours. It is wider at the top than at the bottom and hence, appears well lit during the day. Because of the narrow canyon floor, the Lower Canyon tour involves squeezing through narrow passages and climbing many ladders.
The hike through Lower Antelope Canyon is definitely more fun than the Upper Antelope Canyon but not for those who can’t climb or feel claustrophobic. Tickets to the tour are cheaper and don’t sell out as quickly as those for Upper Canyon, however, we still recommend booking in advance.
You can easily visit both in one day – we suggest booking the first tour after 10 am for Upper Antelope Canyon and the one around 1 pm for Lower Antelope Canyon to see them both in a good light. We recommend booking tickets as far as 6 months in advance during the summer and Christmas holiday season.
After seeing both the canyons, you should still have time to visit Horseshoe Bend Overlook. Though this might be trickier during winter months with limited daylight and you may need to choose between any two out of three attractions.
My first introduction to Horseshoe Bend was through the geography textbook in school. Horseshoe Bend is the perfect example of a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River. It is as old as the Grand Canyon itself and an excellent example of the millions of years of erosion caused by the Colorado River.
Horseshoe Bend looks especially beautiful at sunrise or sunset when the deeper colors are revealed. In winter, there is often a slight dusting of snow on the rocky cliffs and the whole area looks spectacular.
Horseshoe Bend Overlook is located about 5 miles from Page and can be reached by about a mile long steep hike over sandy soil from the parking lot. The hike can seem far more strenuous when the sun is shining overhead and we suggest taking it slow and carrying enough water even though it may seem like a short hike.
The views of the bend in the river flanked by steep slopes on both sides are breathtaking. The rim overlook does not have a guardrail and recently a teenager fell to her death here, so we advise everyone to exercise strict caution – especially if you have children in your party.
Day 5 & 6: Grand Canyon National Park
From Page to the Grand Canyon or from Horseshoe Bend to Grand Canyon, it is just about 2 hours. You can either spend the night in Page and drive to Grand Canyon early morning or drive in the night or stay in Grand Canyon Village or Tusayan, both of which are less than half an hour away from the Grand Canyon National Park Visitor Center. We stayed in Page on Day 4 and drove to Grand Canyon at dawn but stayed in Tusayan on Day 5 & 6.
In 2019, the Grand Canyon National Park celebrated it’s centennial or 100 years celebrations. President Theodore Roosevelt was a conservationist and great visionary who protected the Grand Canyon area by creating the National Park on 26th February 1919.
The Grand Canyon formed over 200 million years ago due to erosion work carried out by the waters of the Colorado River. A total of 11 Native American tribes call the Grand Canyon home
We reached Grand Canyon around 11 am and just drove along the Rim Road on our first day in the Grand Canyon. We utilized Day 2 to hike for half the day and then just relaxed back at our hotel. Here are some of the things we did on the Grand Canyon South Rim:
Grand Canyon Visitor Center
The Grand Canyon Visitor Center was our first stop after entering the Grand Canyon National Park through the South Entrance Station. This Visitor Center is located inside the Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. It was huge and quite crowded compared to most other National Parks visitor centers we have visited.
There a lot of things to do inside the Visitor Center including a documentary on the Grand Canyon, historical artifacts, geological exhibits, ranger-led programs, etc. We got our free map of the National Park. You can also buy souvenirs, rent bikes, and grab something to eat at the Visitor Center.
The first thing we did on exiting the Visitor Center was to view the Grand Canyon from Mather Point. The Mather Point viewing area is a short walk away from the parking/visitor center. The viewing area is big and was quite crowded but when we found an empty spot along the railings we were treated to our first, awe-inspiringly majestic views of the Grand Canyon.
We could see along the rim in both directions and had panoramic vistas over the Grand Canyon. From Mather Point, visitors can also walk along the Rim Trail to the next viewpoints but we chose to drive along the Rim Road. We also saw free shuttles along 4 different routes starting from the Visitor Center for those who prefer the Park-And-Ride system.
Yavapai Point and Museum
The Yavapai Point Overlook is also located close to the Visitor Center. We saw many people walking from Mather Point to Yavapai Point. The Yavapai Point has far better ooh and aah-worthy views of the Grand Canyon than Mather Point. Sunset views from here are beautiful, so we made our way back to Yavapai Point at sunset. There is a Geology Museum at this point which has informative exhibits on how the Grand Canyon was formed.
Grand Canyon Village
Next, we spent some time walking about the Grand Canyon Village, I was particularly interested in visiting the Grand Canyon Train Depot. We also walked inside the Verkamp Visitor Center which has informative exhibits about the Verkamp family who settled along the South Rim to cater to tourists in the early 20th century.
There are also exhibits about other Grand Canyon communities that settled there. Other things to see in Grand Canyon Village include Kolb Studio, Backcountry Information Center, Hopi House, and El Tovar Hotel.
Hermit Road is a 7-mile long scenic road that follows the West Rim from Grand Canyon Village. When we visited the Grand Canyon during summer, we had to take the shuttle since private vehicles are not allowed but could drive along the road in winter. There are about 8-10 viewpoints along the road that offer great views of the canyon.
The Canyon Rim Trail parallels the road and can be used to walk between viewpoints and shuttle stops. At Trailview Overlook we had great views over Bright Angel Trail which goes to the canyon floor. Other popular points include Maricopa Point, Hopi Point for sunrise or sunset, and Mohave Point.
Desert View Drive
The Desert View Drive is a scenic drive from the Grand Canyon Village to the Desert View Watchtower in the east. The route is 25 miles long and has about 10-12 pullouts and viewpoints along the way. We loved driving along this drive for one major reason: the farther we drove from the Village, the lesser was the traffic.
At the end of the drive, near the Desert View Watchtower – we had the Grand Canyon mostly to ourselves. Along the way, we stopped at Grandview Point – which has beautiful views of the Grand Canyon with bends in the Colorado River visible, the Moran Point – where we could see the Vishnu Basement layer of the Canyon’s oldest rocks, and the Tusayan Museum – which has ruins of ancestral Pueblo Village and exhibits about the Native people that settled there.
Desert View Watchtower
The Desert View Watchtower was my favorite part of the Desert View Drive. As if watching the Grand Canyon from the South Rim is not enough, you can actually climb to the top of the watchtower for even more epic views of the canyon.
The North Rim is just over 10 miles from here and when we visited during winter, we could see the snow-capped edges. The watchtower is designed by the famous architect Mary Colter to resemble the Native Pueblo architecture and has indigenous inspired art, murals, decor, and interior.
The Tower beautifully blends in the surroundings. There’s a souvenir store, Native American Trading Post, and restroom located near the watchtower. We recommend the Trading Post if you like dreamcatchers, indigenous sand art, handicrafts, Arizona turquoise jewelry, etc. The ice-cream here was also delicious and a refreshing treat in the summer months.
Bright Angel Trail
Bright Angel Trail is a strenuous 12-mile round trip hike that goes to the canyon floor. It is mostly completed as an overnight hike. While we did not complete the hike, we partially did it – descended into the canyon for an hour before climbing back to the rim trail. The climb up took us nearer to 2 hrs because of the steep ascent and also since we were tired by that time.
It is on our bucket list to hike the Bright Angel Trail in its entirety, sometime in the future. For those who want to do a comfortable day hike, going up to the Three Mile Resthouse and back is a great option. You still get to see epic canyon views without backpacking overnight.
To read up more about the South Rim viewpoints and decide which ones you should visit, check out this article.
Day 7: Flagstaff, Hoover Dam and Lake Mead
After visiting the Grand Canyon, we continued on our way back to Las Vegas. The drive from the South Rim or the Grand Canyon Village is roughly 4.5 hrs. We started early in the morning and broke it into several stops along the way. From Flagstaff to Kingman, Arizona we drove along Historic Route 66. Here are some great stops along the way back:
Flagstaff is a beautiful mountain city located among tall pine forests. It makes a great road trip pit stop as well as a good weekend trip destination. After leaving Tusayan, we stopped in Flagstaff for breakfast and wandered around the charming city. Flagstaff lies on Historic Route 66 which resulted in its popularity with tourists since early times.
The railroad also significantly contributed to Flagstaff’s development and today the Historic Downtown and Railroad District are great for exploring the area’s history. You can also easily visit Wupatki National Monument, a Native American ruins site while in Flagstaff.
Bearizona Wildlife Park
Located a short distance away from Flagstaff, Bearizona Wildlife Park in Williams, Arizona is a drive-through safari park where you can view animals in their natural habitat. When we drove through the park we could see lots of animals including bears, elks, mountain goats, mule deer, wolves, and bison. The park also has a petting zoo with goats for children. This makes a nice stop if you are traveling with kids.
The Hoover Dam is a superb engineering feat – this arch dam was constructed on the Arizona – Nevada border in 1936 – and is a major tourist attraction. The dam was constructed in the Black Canyon to control the flooding of the Colorado River, provide water for irrigation purposes, and generate hydroelectricity which powers Arizona, Nevada, and California.
Due to our background in civil engineering, we took the detailed guided Hoover Dam engineering tour and loved it. We got to learn about the diversion tunnels, spillways, powerplant, and walk inside the passageways of the dam. We had fun navigating the inspection gallery tunnels of the dam along with our tour guide and seeing parts of the dam that most people don’t see.
We also recommend visiting the Hoover Dam Bypass – the 4 lane arch bridge located downstream of the dam. It has a small visitor center/overlook which has great views over the dam.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area
Lake Mead is the reservoir created by Hoover Dam. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area is good to have a picnic lunch/dinner on the way to Vegas or to even stay as a short 2 to 3 days trip.
Lake Mead is especially popular with summer visitors for its water recreational activities. Visitors can take a boat on the water and visit secluded parts of the lake, scuba dive to see interesting underwater formations, take a lake cruise to the Hoover Dam, kayak, swim or birdwatch.
There are lots of hiking and cycling trails in the area and a variety of wildlife can be seen. On another trip, we drove along the scenic Lakeshore Drive and had great picnic lunches.
That’s it! You have just completed one of the most memorable road trips of your life. After returning to Las Vegas, we usually stay in the city for a day or two – just to relax and soak in the memories of the road trip – while devouring Las Vegas’s fabulous buffets!
If you have extra time, we would suggest visiting Death Valley National Park. It is just a couple of hours from Vegas and makes the perfect day trip or even a half-day trip if you are too squeezed on time! Read our post on 14 Best Things to do in Death Valley for travel inspiration.
Optional: Drive to Phoenix via Sedona
While we started and finished our road trip in Las Vegas, the Zion Bryce Grand Canyon Loop can also be done by starting or ending in Phoenix. You can also start in Vegas and end in Phoenix or vice versa.
The route from Grand Canyon National Park to Phoenix is incredibly scenic and passes through some of the most dramatic landscapes. We have done this route as part of our Houston to Grand Canyon road trip and have been extremely impressed with the views.
The scenery is constantly changing and you will see a lot of different vistas including the Saguaro and other cacti desert, red rock country of Sedona and Flagstaff with its pine forests and surrounding mountain ranges.
The drive time is little under 4 hours and the distance is about 250 miles. If you are planning to travel this way, then here are some of the must-visit destinations on the Flagstaff to Phoenix section of this road trip:
Sedona is a must-see on the route from Phoenix to Grand Canyon National Park via Flagstaff. Sedona’s red rock country and Oak Creek Canyon area are very scenic and one of the most romantic places I have seen.
The route from Flagstaff takes you along the Oak Creek Canyon into Sedona via SR89A, which is one of the best scenic drives in America. Another great scenic drive is the Red Rock Scenic Byway.
Once in Sedona, you can view incredible red rock formations including Cathedral Rock and Bell Rock. You ca hike, take jeep tours or do some rock climbing along the Cathedral Rock Trail. Sedona’s Chapel of the Holy Cross located among the red rock formations is strikingly beautiful to visit.
Montezuma Castle National Monument
One of Arizona’s lesser-known National Monuments, Montezuma Castle National Monument has beautifully preserved Indian ruins. The highlight of the visit is the 5 storied cliff dwelling built inside a sandstone cliff.
The ruins were initially supposed to be built by the Aztec people hence the name Montezuma after the Aztec leader of the same name. Historians and archeologists have since discovered that these dwellings were built by the Sinagua Indian people who settled in that area.
The Montezuma Well, a flooded natural limestone sinkhole, located 7 miles from the dwellings is also part of the national monument. This monument is located just along the road to Sedona and makes a perfect pitstop.
Jerome is a charming little mining ghost town which can be seen as an easy side trip if you have some time. We recommend starting your visit at the Jerome Historic State Park by visiting the Douglas Mansion. This museum has beautiful views of the red rocks and Verde Valley and is great place to know about the story of Jerome and its mining history.
Scottsdale is a beautiful resort city located less than an hour away from Phoenix. We recommend staying in one of Scottsdale luxury spa resorts and relax for a night after your hectic road trip. Scottsdale makes a perfect romance, honeymoon or babymoon destination.
Old Town Scottsdale is a charming area with many boutique stores, trendy restaurants, and art galleries. The area has distinct old Wild West feel and is perfect for a stroll.
For architecture lovers, visiting Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West home and studio in Scottsdale is a must. We took the detailed guided tour of the house and were able to view the living quarters, drafting studio, and other areas of the house. This was definitely one of my favorite parts of our visit to Scottsdale.
Before you return the rental car and fly out of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, you can take some time to see Phoenix highlights. One of the must-visit attractions includes the Desert Botanical Gardens – a beautiful landscape of the American southwest cacti and succulents.
The Phoenix Art Museum is the largest art museum in the Southwest US and worth a visit. You can also drive along the scenic Apache Trail. Phoenix also has great shopping and fine dining.
The Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce road trip is one of the best road trips in the entire country with good reason. While on the road, we traveled through ever-changing environments and witnessed dramatic scenery. We were able to see nature at its best and experienced the role of water in shaping the American Southwest landscapes. We saw a lot of wildlife and viewed some of the darkest night skies. In short, we had the time of our lives!