Fodor's National Park Road Trips:
There’s a Good Chance Your Summer Vacation Will Be Disappointing. Here’s What to Do
This itinerary takes you through Zion’s massive sandstone cliffs and narrow slot canyons, the hoodoos (odd-shape pillars of rock left by erosion) of Bryce Canyon, and the overwhelming majesty of the Grand Canyon, close to 300 river miles long, 18 miles wide, and a mile deep.
At a Glance:
Miles Traveled: 650
Suggested Duration: 10 Days
Start & End Point: St. George, UT
Parks Visited: Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Canyon National Park
Best Time To Go: Mar - Nov
Day 1: Welcome to Canyon Country
Stop Locations: St. George, UT
Plan to fly into and out of St. George Municipal Airport in St. George, Utah. It’s close to all three parks, with Zion a little more than an hour away.
From the airport, head east toward Zion National Park, about 46 miles. Depending on how much daylight you’ve got, you can start exploring the park—enter at the south entrance and head to the Zion Canyon Visitor Center—or find a room for the next three nights in Springdale, the bustling town just outside the park (1.1 miles from the south entrance).
Days 2-3: Zion National Park
Stop Locations: Zion National Park, UT
Start your day at the visitor center, just inside the south entrance, south of the junction of the Zion–Mount Carmel Highway and the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. Then explore the Drive, either in your own vehicle or via the park’s free shuttle, which runs during the summer months (a round-trip ride takes about 80 minutes). Intrepid hikers will want to tackle the Narrows, Zion’s infamous 16-mile-long gorge cut by the Virgin River, which requires hikers to spend more than half of their time walking, wading, or swimming in the fast-flowing river. For everyone else, Zion offers plenty of other hiking options. The Emerald Pool trails (about 1 mile each) take you on a fairly easy hike from Zion Lodge, about 3 miles from Canyon Junction, to Lower and Upper Emerald Pool and waterfalls.
Spend the next day exploring the Kolob Canyons, in the northwestern corner of the park about 40 miles from Canyon Junction. Take the Kolob Canyons Road 5 miles to its end at the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint, where you’ll get fabulous views of the surrounding red rock canyons. For a spectacular 5-mile hike, drive about 2 miles back on the Kolob Canyons Road to the Taylor Creek Trail, which takes you past historic homesteaders’ cabins and through a narrow box canyon to the Double Arch Alcove, a large arched grotto.
At the end of the day, leave the park via the beautiful Zion–Mount Carmel Highway and its historic mile-long tunnel. You’ll pass through slickrock country, with huge, petrified sandstone dunes etched by ancient waters, and head to Bryce Canyon, where you’ll spend the night (you’ve got a few lodging options, both inside and just outside the park in the town of Bryce Canyon).
Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park
Stop Locations: Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
Start your tour of Bryce Canyon National Park at the visitor center, about 1 mile past the park entrance. Central to your tour of Bryce Canyon is the 18-mile-long main park road, where numerous scenic turnouts reveal vistas of bright red-orange rock. If you’re visiting in the summer, the free Bryce Canyon Shuttle will take you to many of the park’s most popular attractions. Trails worth exploring include the 1-mile Bristlecone Loop Trail and the 1.3-mile Navajo Loop Trail, both of which will get you into the heart of the park.
At the end of the day, leave the park and head toward Kanab, 78 miles (about 1 hour, 25 minutes) away, to spend the night en route to the Grand Canyon.
Day 5: En Route to the Grand Canyon
Stop Locations: Grand Canyon Village, AZ
Today, you’ll drive from Kanab to Grand Canyon National Park, about 210 miles away. Check into a hotel in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim or in Tusayan, a few miles to the south, for the next two nights. If you’ve got time, hike (or take the shuttle) to Yavapai Point, just west of the visitor center in the South Rim Village, to catch the sunset.
Days 6-8: Grand Canyon National Park
Stop Locations: Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
If you didn’t make it yesterday, begin today’s tour with a stop at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center, near Mather Point in the South Rim Village, for the latest maps and information. While you’re there, check out the Historic District, with its early-19th-century train depot and other buildings, many built by the Santa Fe Railroad. Get your bearings with a drive (or, if you’re visiting early spring–late fall, a free shuttle ride) on the 7-mile-long Hermit Road. Take a hike on the Rim Trail, a nearly flat path (much of which is paved) that hugs the edge of the canyon from the Village to Hermit’s Rest, 2.8 miles to the west.
On your second day in the park, tackle the upper section of one of the “Corridor Trails”—South Kaibab or Bright Angel—which start at the South Rim and meet in the Bright Angel Campground at the bottom of the canyon (the third Corridor Trail, North Kaibab, connects the bottom of the canyon to the North Rim). Bright Angel, the easier of the two, is one of the most scenic paths into the canyon; the trailhead is near Kolb Studio, at the western end of the Village.
Note that visitors are strongly advised against attempting to hike to the bottom of the canyon and back in one day, which means you’ll have to pick a place to turn around before you reach the end of the trail. On Bright Angel, that spot would be Indian Garden Campground, about 4.8 miles from the trailhead, or Plateau Point, which is another 1.5 miles past Indian Garden.
For your last day in the park, take an interpretive ranger-led program; they cover a wide variety of subjects, including geology, history, and wildlife so pick up a list at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center. Afterward, you can spend the night in (or near) the park again, or start your drive back toward the airport in St. George. The town of Fredonia, Arizona (200 miles; 3 hours, 40 minutes from the South Rim) would be a good stopping point for the night.
Day 9: Heading Home
Stop Locations: St. George, UT
The St. George Municipal Airport is 74 miles (1 hour, 22 minutes) from Fredonia.