If you have seven full days to explore the star attractions of the area of the American Southwest known as the Grand Circle, you already know how lucky you are. What you may not know is which order to visit them in, how many days to spend at each place, and what you can do there. Well, grab your tablet, phone or – gasp! – pen and paper, sit back and relax and get ready to start planning the ultimate 7-day vacation to the Grand Canyon and beyond!
Before we dive into it, there are a few things to keep “front and center” in your mind:
- Since Las Vegas, NV is a popular “jumping off” point for a good majority of travelers to this area, this itinerary will be based on the assumption that you’re staging your trip from there as well.
- Buses, trains and other mass transit options are scarce to non-existent in this part of the country, therefore, this will be a self-drive itinerary. Click here if driving is not an option.
- Speaking of driving, drive times are on the long side. That’s how we roll in this part of the country, and you should be ready to do so as well. You’ll also notice that we give rather wide variations on drive time estimates. The first number is an estimate for “direct drive,” which rarely happens. You always have to factor in bathroom breaks, meal stops, and the inevitable “oh, wow, look at that!” moment.
- Grand Canyon South Rim lodging will be the most time-sensitive element of your trip plans. Hotel availability in this National Park should be the “lynchpin” around which your plans revolve, and evolve. Though this itinerary will go off the assumption that it will be the first stop on your tour, be prepared to hit these attractions in reverse order should Grand Canyon hotels be fully booked for the first part of your trip. Don’t worry, you’ll still have a great time!
- This itinerary includes several National Parks which charge anywhere from $20-$30 per vehicle to enter. Save money and time by purchasing the “America The Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.” For just $80, this handy little card grants you access to all National Parks, Monuments and other Federal Fee Areas for 1 year’s time. Exclusions: Native American Tribal Parks such as Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, the Little Colorado River Overlook, Moenkopi Dinosaur Tracks. Pre-order online (allow 6-8 weeks for processing) or simply purchase it in-person at the first National Park you visit.
- Book everything in advance, and we do mean everything, especially if your visit will take place during the peak visitation times, which is typically between March and November. Hotels, tours, dinners at higher-end restaurants, all should be prearranged. You can’t just “wing it” and hope for the best. Trust us, we live here.
Here’s how we’re breaking down your week:
- Day 1 – Las Vegas to Grand Canyon
- Day 2 – Grand Canyon to Monument Valley
- Day 3 & 4 – Page/Lake Powell
- Day 5 – Bryce Canyon
- Day 6 & 7 – Zion National Park
So let’s do this!
Head Southeast on US93. With an early enough start, you might stop at Hoover Dam, tour the visitor’s center and watch a short film presentation on the construction of this enormous yet elegant structure that made the West what it is today. If making good time is your first priority, proceed directly over the Pat Tillman-Mike O’Callaghan Memorial Bridge and enjoy the view of Hoover Dam from a lofty perch of 900’ above the bedrock!
Continue South to Kingman, AZ and head East on I-40. If you’re getting hungry at this point, Kingman has a good number of restaurants to choose from. Mr. D’s Route 66 Diner is a favorite in this area for its retro decor and hearty Mexican and American fare. You might also use this opportunity to stop into a grocery store, purchase a small cooler and stock up on supplies for a rimside picnic at the Grand Canyon. More on that later.
In Williams, AZ, head North on AZ64. Train, history or Route 66 buffs may also enjoy a stop in this Grand Canyon gateway community that is home base of the Grand Canyon Railway.
3 miles South of the entrance gate of Grand Canyon South Rim is the small town of Tusayan, AZ, also known as Grand Canyon Village South. Here you can stop and see the world-famous IMAX film presentation, “Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets” or do a little shopping before you head into the park.
Upon arrival at Grand Canyon South Rim, stop at the Canyon View Information Plaza located near Mather Point. Browse the informational displays to learn more about how the canyon was formed, talk with a helpful park ranger on how to make the most of your time at the South Rim, or hop on the free Village Loop Shuttle and tour the Grand Canyon Village Historic District. Don’t forget to grab that cooler and sandwich fixins you bought earlier. Park restaurants tend to get crazy at mid-day, so better to enjoy a relaxing “al fresco” lunch than to waste valuable sightseeing time waiting for a table at a restaurant.
Early afternoon: check into your Grand Canyon hotel and do a little decompressing from the day’s drive and activities. Not ready to downshift? Take in more Grand Canyon views on the free Hermit’s Rest/West Rim (Red) shuttle line, or get a taste of the inner canyon with a short hike on the Bright Angel Trail. If you take us up on the latter, remember to double your time down as your estimated time to hike back out. 30 minutes down = 60 minutes out. Water and sun protection must also be carried.
Sunset: be somewhere – anywhere – on the canyon rim! Try to get to your chosen spot 30 minutes prior to sunset, and remain for another 30 minutes afterward to experience the full range of light changes, and the best photo ops. Popular viewpoints for Grand Canyon sunset viewing include, but are not limited to:
- Hopi Point (accessible only by the Hermit’s Rest/Red Line shuttle bus)
- Yavapai Point
- Mather Point
- Yaki Point (accessible only by the Kaibab/Orange shuttle bus)
- Moran Point
- Lipan Point
In the course of your trip plans, you may have heard that dinner at El Tovar Hotel is a culinary don’t-miss, and you’d have heard right! Reservations, though not required per se, are strongly recommended. They can be made 6 months in advance for guests of the El Tovar, and up to 30 days in advance for everyone else. Click here for contact information. If the prospect of dinner here doesn’t appeal or work out, breakfast or lunch at the El Tovar are just as memorable, and delicious!
Sunrise: If you missed sunset the night before, or even if you didn’t, greet your day in “grand” style be witnessing sunrise over the Grand Canyon. Like sunset, there’s no such thing as a “bad” place to be for sunrise, but there’s no denying that the best views are on the Desert View/East Rim Drive, which, by coincidence you’ll be passing through on your way to your next destination: Monument Valley!
Morning: Drive from Grand Canyon South Rim to Monument Valley, UT: Drive time: 3-5 hours
Note that the Navajo Indian Reservation observes Daylight Saving Time whereas the remainder of Arizona does not. You will “lose” an hour traveling from Grand Canyon South Rim to Monument Valley.
Head due East on AZ64 toward Cameron, AZ. Time permitting, stop at:
- Grandview Point (the author’s personal favorite for sunrise!)
- Navajo Point
- Zuni Point
- Moran Point
- Lipan Point
- Desert View Watchtower
Upon exiting the park, you’ll be on Navajo Indian Tribal Lands. A stop at the Little Colorado River Overlook will give you a greater appreciation for the beauty and complexity of the Colorado River ecosystem, and its spiritual significance to the native peoples of this area.
Visit the Historic Cameron Trading Post at the junction of AZ64 and US89 for a bathroom break/leg stretch, or breakfast. The Navajo Taco with an egg on top must be seen (and eaten) to be believed! Don’t be surprised, or concerned, if you end up with leftovers. Remember that cooler you bought? Grab a to-go box and enjoy your leftovers as a snack later on.
Head North on US89 for a short distance, then turn off on US160 East toward Tuba City and Kayenta. Time permitting, you might stop at the Moenkopi Dinosaur Tracks just West of Tuba City. One of the largest sites of its kind in the world, you can see clearly where a three-toed dinosaur left its indelible mark in the sandstone millions of years ago.
In the mood for some hiking? Make a detour off US160 to AZ564 and visit Navajo National Monument. A 2.5-mile round-trip hike up the Sandal Trail (no, that doesn’t mean you should wear sandals on it!) rewards you with a bird’s eye view of the Betatakin/Talastima cliff dwelling complex, one of the most sophisticated and well-preserved examples of Ancestral Puebloan architecture in the Southwest.
Continue East-Northeast to Kayenta, AZ, then proceed due North on US163 toward Monument Valley. Time permitting, and/or if you’re craving a Whopper®, stop at the Kayenta Burger King and learn more about the Navajo Code Talkers, a group of 29 soldiers who used their native language to help the U.S. transmit coded messages that were virtually indecipherable to Japanese and German radio operators during World War II. Featuring authentic artifacts and first-hand accounts, the Navajo Code Talkers’ Exhibit is regarded as one of the best and most comprehensive exhibits on the subject matter in Northern Arizona – and it’s free, how cool is that?
Early afternoon: arrive in Monument Valley. Stop at the Tribal Park Visitor’s Center and take in the iconic views of Merrick Butte and the Mittens. One look at this dramatic panorama and you’ll know why movie producers fell in love with this area! The displays here will inform you about how these formations were made, and acquaint you with the traditional “Blessing Way” lifestyle observed by many residents of this area. If you’ve followed our advice at the beginning of this article, you’ll have made advance reservations for a guided tour of Monument Valley. If not, the staff at the Visitors Center can advise you about available options and make bookings for you.
Morning: rise early, eat a good breakfast, and enjoy a guided tour of Monument Valley. The valley interior can only be accessed by a 17-mile dirt road. Though private vehicles are allowed to drive on this road, the practice is discouraged, especially for those driving rental cars. Car rental contracts expressly forbid off-road driving and any damage sustained by disobeying this rule will be your responsibility. A guided tour is not only safer, but will be more informative and memorable since they are conducted by local Navajo guides.
Depending on your traveling party, personal preference, physical fitness, interests and budget, you can choose from:
- Guided jeep or 4×4 tours
- Horseback rides
- Guided hikes
Tour durations vary from 2 hours to all day. Horseback tours are typically conducted on gentle trail horses walking nose-to-tail; age and weight requirements may apply. Hiking tours may require previous desert hiking experience and may not be suitable for younger children. Click here for more information on guided Monument Valley Tours.
Late morning/early afternoon: Drive from Monument Valley, UT to Page, AZ – Drive time: 2-3 hours.
Note: Page, Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time. You will “gain” an hour as you pass from the Navajo Reservation to Page, AZ. Even though Antelope Canyon is situated on Navajo Indian Tribal Land, most Antelope Canyon tour operators go by Mountain Standard Time for the convenience of Page visitors.
From Monument Valley, UT, head South on US163, West on US160, then Northwest on US98. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your point of view – this stretch of road doesn’t offer much in the way of points of interest to stop at, until you hit Antelope Canyon Navajo Tribal Park just outside of Page, AZ. This world-famous slot canyon is on the “must-do” list for 99.99999% of travelers to Northern Arizona. Consequently, it’s become very popular. Advance reservations for tours is a must!
From the Tribal Park Entrance gate on US98, you can tour Lower or Upper Antelope Canyon, or both. Lower is the more physical of the two, requiring some stair climbing and mild boulder scrambling. Upper is a cakewalk, 100 yards of flat, easy trail, punctuated by some areas of deep sugar sand depending on weather conditions at the time of your visit.
Though mid-day is considered “prime time” to tour these canyons, visiting during the later afternoon hours (or earlier in the morning, if you prefer) has several advantages. The shapes and colors of the canyon walls are still beautiful, morphing into richer, deeper hues as the sun sinks lower in the sky. The biggest plus is you’ll have fewer people to contend with as you enjoy a more congenial and mellow experience with your guide.
Allow 90-minutes to 2 hours to experience each side of Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon Tour Reservations
If all that walking has made you hungry, take a late lunch or early dinner at the Sandbar, a lakeside restaurant in the Antelope Point Marina complex, or pick up some hand-made sandwiches for another “al fresco” picnic lunch from the Deli at Big Lake Trading Post.
Late afternoon: After touring Antelope Canyon, head West on US98 to US89 and turn left. Between mile markers 544 and 545 you’ll see signage for the Horseshoe Bend Overlook, another natural wonder that has helped put this corner of Northern Arizona “on the map.”
A .6 mile walk on a dirt trail will take you to a stunning view of a hairpin turn of the Colorado River, or an “entrenched meander” in geologist-speak. Be sure to allow 60-90 minutes to enjoy the view, maybe even take in the sunset (or a few bites of your sandwiches from Big Lake), but be sure to keep children and pets under control at all times. There are no guardrails here and it’s a long drop to the river! Also, remember to pack out your trash. “Leave no trace” is your M.O. for this trip.
Though manageable for most people in good physical condition, the uphill incline at the beginning of the Horseshoe Bend Overlook trail may be a challenge for anyone with mobility issues. Tips for those unable to walk to Horseshoe Bend. This area is also completely exposed to the elements, so water, hats and sunscreen should be carried with you.
Evening: Check in at your hotel in Page, AZ, get a good night’s rest, or a good dinner at one of many quality Page, AZ restaurants.
Sunrise (optional): Does your day back home usually start with a brisk walk or jog to get the motor running? Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean you have to take a vacation from your fitness regimen. Here, you can get some exercise and do a little sightseeing on the Page Rim View Trail. Popular with local walkers, runners and cyclists, this unpaved trail makes a 10-mile circuit around Manson Mesa, Page’s original townsite. Most adults and children who are at least moderately fit report enjoying this walk that offers beautiful views of Lake Powell (but no lake access). Springtime visitors are treated to a visual bonus of desert wildflowers in bloom. Once on the trail, you aren’t committed to doing the full 10 miles! There are several paths back to “civilization” you can take if you wish. Keep in mind it is completely exposed to the elements, so bring water, wear sunscreen, and of course, appropriate walking or running shoes.
Your day is going to be busy, and a good breakfast will keep your energy up. Select Page, AZ hotel room rates include continental or cooked-to-order breakfast. Guests at vacation homes or repurposed apartments can do their own cooking. Groceries can be purchased at Super Wal-Mart or Safeway. The River’s End Cafe inside Colorado River Discovery, the Ranch House Grille and Canyon Crepes are among Page’s most popular breakfast stand-bys.
Option 1 – 6.30 AM: Check in for the Glen Canyon Half-Day Float Trip. This scenic raft trip travels 15 miles down a flat stretch of the Colorado River, through Glen Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. Suitable for children 4 and up, rafts launch from the base of the mighty Glen Canyon Dam. At Petroglyph Beach, you can take a cool dip in the river, and ponder the meanings of carvings in the canyon walls left by Ancestral Puebloan people thousands of years ago. This is also the perfect time to enjoy a snack or bag lunch from one of the local grocery stores or restaurants. After disembarking from the your river raft, a motorcoach will pick you up at Historic Lees Ferry, and bring you back to Page at approximately 11:30 AM.
After lunch, or a quick bite, walk or drive to the John Wesley Powell Memorial Museum where you can learn more about the museum’s namesake, the Civil War veteran who in 1869, became the first known person to raft the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The success of his expedition opened the Southwest U.S. up to settlement and development, and raised questions about civilization vs. preservation that remain unresolved even now. Specimens of locally-excavated dinosaurs, and ancient artifacts made by the native peoples of the Colorado Plateau are also on display at the JWP. It’s a great place for souvenir shopping as well.
Option 2 – 7:00 AM: Check in for the Lake Powell & Rainbow Bridge Boat Tour at Lake Powell (formerly known as “Wahweap”) Marina. This 6-hour tour will show you the majesty of Lake Powell from the most intimate and personal perspective: by boat. Cruise past secluded sandy beaches, fjord-like inlets of Warm Creek Bay, Padre Bay and Navajo Canyon en route to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the largest natural stone arch discovered to date. A sacred site to many Native Americans in the Four Corners area, people of many faith traditions find the gravity-defying bridge against the backdrop of sapphire water evokes similar feelings of reverence. For Hollywood producers, Lake Powell evokes visions of dollar signs as a backdrop for big budget epics.
The return trip to Lake Powell Resort features a stop at Dangling Rope Marina, a facility that only boats can access. If you’re feeling the heat, a delicious soft-serve ice cream cream cone from the local snack bar will cool you off nicely. Depending on Lake Powell’s water level, a 3-mile round-trip walk may be required to get to the viewing area of Rainbow Bridge and back to the boat dock. Individuals with mobility problems or difficulty with sun exposure should know that portions of this walk are slightly uphill, and devoid of shade. Please consider these facts carefully – we want you to enjoy this tour! Water, coffee and lemonade are provided on the tour boat free of charge. Snacks and/or preferred beverages may be brought in reasonable amounts.
Afterwards, everything from light appetizers and custom coffee beverages to gourmet entrees with a world-class wine list can be had at one of five on-site dining outlets at Lake Powell Marina. The food is great, and the lakeside views are even better! Or, head directly back to town, but first, stop at the Glen Canyon Dam for a tour with the Glen Canyon Natural History Association. In 45 short but memorable minutes, you’ll venture deep inside this monumental and controversial structure that brought Lake Powell into existence, and remains an integral part of the Colorado River Storage Project. Tours are conducted on a first-come first-served basis. As a federally-managed facility, Department of Homeland Security regulations are strictly enforced at Glen Canyon Dam. You will be required to pass through a metal detector, and carry money, keys and identification in pockets since bags or purses may not be brought on the tour. No knives or any weapons will be permitted in the building, and armed guards monitor the facility 24/7.
Relax and reflect on your day’s discoveries back at your hotel, or discover a cool place for dinner. Those with energy to burn later might take the short drive off the mesa to the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook, also known as the “White House” overlook, or put on your dancing shoes and cut a rug to some great local bands at Ken’s Old West, the Windy Mesa or the Dam Bar before hitting the hay.
Early morning: Drive from Page, AZ to Bryce Canyon National Park, UT – Drive time: 2.5-4.5 hours
Note: Utah does observe Daylight Saving Time, whereas Arizona does not. You will “lose” an hour traveling from Arizona to Utah during DST.
Grab a breakfast burrito or bagel and cream cheese from your hotel’s continental breakfast spread and hit the road for Bryce Canyon. A straight-through drive is unlikely to happen as there are several points of interest to stop at along the way, including, but not limited to:
- The “New Wave:” just past the Glen Canyon Dam and opposite the Lake Powell Resort turn-off on US89 is an unmarked road to a small cluster of rock formations that bear an uncanny resemblance to “The Wave.” Unlike the “Old” Wave, the “New Wave” doesn’t require a permit, or charge admission. Because the road is not regularly maintained, it does wash out occasionally. If signage states “no admittance,” you’ll have to skip it.
- The Big Water Visitor Center: 15 miles Northwest of Page, AZ and just over the Utah border on US89, this unassuming facility offers up some impressive surprises, such as dinosaur bones excavated locally, a topographical relief map of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and paleontology and geology displays kids and adults will love.
- The Paria Rimrocks-Toadstools Trail: Between Page, AZ and Kanab, UT on US89 between mile markers 18 and 19 is a 1.5 mile round-trip trail leading to an unearthly rock garden where bizarre hoodoos, balanced rocks and other geological oddities grow. A moderate walk, don’t stop at what appears to be the end of the trail; the main hoodoo area is located up a short rock scramble.
- Kanab, Utah: a charming small town with a star-crossed path of a different sort, Kanab was once a popular site for Western movies and television shows. These days, tourism gets top billing on the economic marquee. A good stop for shopping or dining, the Rocking V Cafe and Houston’s Trail’s End Restaurant are popular among locals and visitors.
Option 1 – 1:30 PM UTAH TIME (12:30 PM Arizona Time): Check in at the Bryce Canyon Lodge for your horseback ride to the very bottom of Bryce Canyon! From Sunrise Point, well-trained trail horses will descend into the canyon as local cowboys orient you to the compelling history and fascinating geology of Bryce Canyon. Go ahead and bring your cameras, because you will be able to take pictures and experience the Canyon at your fingertips on this ride that is safe for people of all riding experience levels, even none at all! Bryce Canyon Horseback Riding Reservations
Option 2 – 1:30 PM UTAH TIME (12:30 PM Arizona Time): Take the free National Park Service tour to Rainbow Point. From Rainbow Point and its “neighbor” Yovimpa Point, you can see a good portion of Bryce Canyon to the North as well as some impressive cliff formations and hoodoo structures in the distance. You can board the buses at any one of six shuttle stops:
- Ruby’s Inn
- Ruby’s Campground
- Shuttle Parking and Boarding Area (across the street from Ruby’s Inn)
- Bryce Canyon Lodge
- North Campground
- Sunset Campground
The tour consists of approximately eight stops at scenic viewpoints in the southern section of the park. Visitors are advised to dress appropriately for the weather and bring lunch, snacks, water, etc. Reservations are required and can be made in advance by calling 435-834-5290 between the hours of 8:00 AM and 7:00 PM local time.
Option 3 – 2:30 PM UTAH TIME (1:30 PM Arizona Time): Check in at the Bryce Canyon Car Care Center (Sinclair Station) for a guided ATV ride. In just one hour, you’ll experience the lesser known areas of Bryce Canyon in a manner that’s fun, exciting and best of all, very safe. This guided ride on well-maintained ATV’s will get your blood pumping, while providing you with views of a primeval alpine landscape, and Bryce Canyon itself. Bryce Canyon ATV Tour information
Enjoy dinner at Bryce Canyon Lodge or one of the dining establishments at Ruby’s Inn, Bryce Canyon City, or nearby Tropic, Utah before retiring for the night and getting a good rest before the next day’s adventures!
IMPORTANT: PLEASE TAKE THE ROUTE FROM PAGE TO BRYCE CANYON MARKED IN BLUE! THE ROUTE MARKED IN GRAY IS AN UNPAVED, INCONSISTENTLY MAINTAINED ROAD THAT IS PRONE TO WASH-OUTS, ROCK FALLS AND OTHER WEATHER RELATED DAMAGE. TAKING A RENTAL CAR ON THIS ROUTE WILL VOID YOUR RENTAL INSURANCE AND YOU COULD BE HELD LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGE SUSTAINED.
After breakfast, explore Bryce Canyon a bit more before going on to Zion National Park.
Option 1 – Ride the free hop-on/hop-off park shuttle to some of the viewpoints you might have missed on your first day here. The voluntary shuttle can be picked up at the shuttle station north of the park, or at Ruby’s Inn and the Grand Hotel. It then stops at:
- Bryce Canyon Visitor Center
- Sunset Campground (Southbound/does not enter campground)
- Bryce Point
- Inspiration Point
- Sunset Campground (Northbound/on main road/does not enter campground)
- Sunset Point
- Bryce Canyon Lodge
- Sunrise Point (General Store & High Plateau Inst. are nearby)
- Bryce Canyon Visitor Center
Option 2 – Take one of several easy but spectacular hikes along the canyon rim, such as:
- Mossy Cave (.8 mi / 1.3 km round trip) – a streamside walk up to a mossy overhang and small waterfall
- Sunset Point to Sunrise Point Trail (1 mi / 1.6 km round trip) – see the amphitheater and its hoodoos via a paved and fairly level trail
- Bristlecone Loop (1.0 mi / 1.6 km round trip) – a hike through a spruce-fir forests to bristlecone pine-adorned cliffs and canyon vistas
- Queens Garden (1.8 mi / 2.9 km round trip) – the least difficult trail into the canyon, featuring ‘Queen Victoria’ (use your imagination) at the end of a short spur trail
Option 3 – Take one of several moderate scenic hikes into the canyon:
- Navajo Trail (1.3 mi / 2.2 km round trip) – this trail begins at Sunset Point and goes through a slot canyon where tall Douglas Firs reach skyward in a quest for sunlight and water, ending down in Bryce Amphitheater
- Tower Bridge (3 mi / 4.8 km round trip) – ancient Bristlecone Pines and the China Wall whet your appetite for the 1/4-mile shaded spur trail leading to the Tower Bridge formation
- Hat Shop (4 mi / 6.4 km round trip) – observe a cluster of balanced-rock hoodoos after the descent to the Under-the-Rim Trail; not for visitors with bad knees
Note: what goes down must come up! Remember to double your hiking down time in order to calculate your hiking out time (1 hour down = 2 hours out) if you venture onto inner canyon trails. Adequate footwear, sun protection and water must be brought on any of the listed hikes.
Grab lunch to go (remember, you have that cooler!), then drive to Springdale, Utah: 2-3.5 hours
Afternoon: check into your Springdale, UT, hotel, take the free Springdale shuttle, then transfer to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive Shuttle (mandatory for those not staying at in-park lodging) to the Zion Human History Museum. Here, you can get an excellent “pre-trip briefing” on the scenery and sanctuary that have made Zion National Park so famous. A free 20-minute video provides an overview of activities and park facilities, plus rangers are on hand to answer any questions you might have.
Get back on the shuttle and head up to Zion Lodge. Even those that are not staying at the historic hotel are welcome to stroll the grounds, dine at the on-site restaurants, or rent bikes for one hour or a full day from Xanterra Parks & Resorts, the authorized in-park concessioner. But as they say, the best things in life are free, and one of the best things about Zions is that the most fun can be had without spending a penny, in the form of hikes ranging in difficulty from “easy-peasy” to “are-you-kidding-me?” One of our favorites is the Upper Emerald Pools trail, a 3-mile round-trip hike requiring some uphilll walking, leads to a picturesque waterfall and pond. Swimming is not allowed, but generations of families have enjoyed this iconic Zion Canyon trail for many years. The Riverside Walk, also known as the “Gateway to the Narrows,” is an easy, scenic walk from the Temple of Sinawava to the shores of the Virgin River. Wear Tevas, Chacos or other footwear that hold up to water, but are still good for hiking. You’ll definitely want to get your feet wet! Easy Zion National Park Hikes
Head back to Springdale, UT for dinner. Restaurants are plentiful here, so choosing might be hard, but enjoying your meal won’t be. Get some sleep, and be down for some serious adventure in the morning!
Option 1 – Hike the Narrows. This is the hike to take in Zion National Park for the ultimate bragging rights. Traversing a cool riverbed through a narrow slot canyon, a hike in the Narrows can be virtually whatever you want to make of it: a quick hour’s jaunt to get your feet wet (pardon the pun), or a 10-mile round-trip all day slog. Doing the hike from the “bottom up” (from the Temple of Sinawava as far as Big Spring) does not require a permit and is therefore the easier way to go; the “top down” approach (from Chamberlain Ranch to TOS) does require a permit, and more in the way of advanced planning. Don’t want to do any planning at all? Hire a licensed guide to hike the Narrows and let them do all that for you! Caution: The Narrows are subject to flash flood dangers, especially during the monsoon season of late July – early September. It may be closed to hikers during this or any other timeframe, or in weather conditions determined to be dangerous.
Option 2 – Hike to Angel’s Landing. This is the grand-daddy of all Zion National Park hikes, not for the faint of heart, out-of-shape, or terrified of heights. Don’t believe us? A few people have fallen off the trail. We’ll just leave that there. Named for a terminus that evoked images of an angel landing on the head of a pin, Angel’s Landing is not a super-long hike (5 miles round-trip), but it’s a strenuous one on a steep uphill grade. Chains are placed on either side of the trail to aid those who might need extra leverage on the section between the Hogsback to the Landing. For those who initially think they might be able to handle it, but change their minds midway, Walter’s Wiggles makes for a good turn-around point. The trail begins and ends at the Grotto in Zion Canyon. Do your research, watch YouTube videos, and do more research before you commit to this hike. As with all hikes in the Southwest U.S., water and snacks should be brought, and appropriate broken-in footwear worn.
Option 3 – Go tubing on the Virgin River. Prefer an activity for your last day of touring that’s a little more kick back and relax-y and a little less huffy and puffy? Rent a river tube from one of several Springdale, UT outfitters, hop in and enjoy the 2-mile ride down the Virgin River, which carved Zion Canyon, and believe it or not, empties into Lake Mead near Las Vegas. Children must be at least 8 to take part in this activity, which is also contingent on a sufficient volume of water in the river. At the time this piece was written (May 2017), the snowpack in many Southwestern US watersheds is better than it’s been in many years, so Virgin River tubing should definitely be on for summer 2017!
Option 4 – Go horseback riding. Rides of one and three hours in length show you natural wonders of Zion National Park both out in the open, and behind the scenes such as the Three Patriarchs, the Beehives, and beautiful cactus gardens. The 1 hour ride (open to children 7 and up) follows the Virgin River to the Court of the Patriarchs and back to the loading corral. For those more adventurous (and at least 10 years old) the three-hour trip will take you around the Sandbench Trail, gradually ascending 500,’ culminating with a breath-taking view of the Southern portion of Zion National Park. Advance reservations strongly recommended. Book a Zion National Park Horseback Ride.
Go back to your hotel, and if it has a hot tub, enjoy a nice long soak, order in for dinner, then rest up for the 2.5 hour drive back to Las Vegas.
Like the sound of this, or did we leave anything out? Feel free to leave us a comment below. And remember, your experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly – will always be of help to future travelers in the area. Travel-related sites like TripAdvisor, Frommer’s, Fodors, even Facebook and Instagram love trip reports. Don’t forget to post one when you get back home!