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When my husband headed west to Las Vegas for a conference, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to tag along to enjoy Sin City and to pair it with a bucket list road trip to Utah and the nearby national parks of both Zion and Bryce.
It was a great decision and reminded me just how beautiful our country is and all that Mother Nature provides to those who explore it.
The drive from Las Vegas to Zion is a quick 2.5 hours. Don’t forget: when you leave Nevada and enter Utah, the time zone changes from Pacific to Mountain
Here is our road trip itinerary and bonus content on what I did in Las Vegas.
Zion National Park
With the manufactured lights of Las Vegas in the rear window, the natural world unfolded around us. Nearing Zion National Park, the sandstone cliffs of bright pink, red, orange and cream greet you around every turn.
We stayed in Springdale, Utah, right outside the park. Although there are campgrounds at both parks, we went the hotel route.
We chose the Best Western Plus Zion Canyon Inn & Suites; reasonably priced and perfectly situated. It’s just minutes from the park entrance and on the free shuttle bus route for easy pick-up and drop-offs, within walking distance to many local restaurants, and incredible views of the mountains.
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All rooms have microwaves and refrigerators, balconies, or patios. The hotel also offers free hot breakfast and has a pool, hot tub, gym, and laundry facilities.
Early on our first morning, we hopped on the Springdale shuttle directly across the street from the hotel for the five-minute ride to the park. Once you arrive, you need to switch to the Zion bus.
But first, stop at the visitor center to learn about the history of the park, get maps, and talk to a ranger. You can also sign up for guided programs, including night sky hikes, Junior Ranger programs, and more.
The rangers give great advice on where to go, based on your hiking ability, how much time you have, and local conditions. Some hikes are short; while others go on for miles.
Although we saw many people with babies in carriers and strollers, we found that only a few paths were paved and good for the less adventurous. (Note: Bryce has more options for those who aren’t hikers.)
We took the park’s free shuttle to the last stop, #9, for the scenic Riverside Walk to The Narrows. The bus ride is approximately 45 minutes and is a great way to get an overview of the whole park.
Get the Right Gear
I recommend wearing good hiking shoes; most sneakers and sandals are too slippery for these trails. If you’re attempting to hike The Narrows, you can rent all sorts of gear, including walking sticks and boots with good grippy soles, neoprene socks, dry pants, and waterproof backpacks to store your phone and dry clothes.
We decided to go into the water in our own hiking boots. They did take a day to dry off, and all our clothes went right in the hotel washing machine as soon as we returned, because they were wet and dirty.
The Narrows is one of the most iconic hikes in America and although I was a little skeptical when I saw how high the water was from recent flash floods, I’m so glad I did it. It was exhilarating to wade through knee-high (or sometimes chest-high) water, against the current, through a narrow walled-in canyon with red cliffs above.
The rocks are slippery, so I highly suggest renting a stick to help you balance. There are many spots along the way to stop and rest and temporarily dry off in the sun.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Bring lots of water and pack snacks or lunch because there’s no place to buy any in the park and you’ll certainly be hungry and thirsty.
Plan on 2 or 3 Days at Zion
We also hiked the Kayenta Trail, to the lower, middle, and upper Emerald Pool trails and beautiful waterfalls, Weeping Rock, where springs drip out of crevices in the rocks and you get a little wet (something we welcomed on a very hot late summer day). We did not venture to Angel’s Landing, the most challenging and dangerous trail that you need a permit to enter.
Two to three full days are a perfect amount of time to spend here to do most of the trails. The same amount of time is good for Bryce as well.
After a full day of exploring, we enjoyed dinner at Camp Outpost. Have the delicious rotisserie chicken on a bed of garlicky potatoes and arugula. The second night, we ate at Oscars Cafe, with great burgers, portobello mushroom sandwiches, and the best sweet potato fries.
Road Trip from Zion to Bryce Canyon
Leaving Zion and heading to Bryce, you’ll drive through the park on a windy road of switchbacks through the red rocks. It’s a gorgeous drive worth taking during the day, even if you’re not heading in that direction. We did it one night and it was a little dicey.
Definitely stop at Canyon Overlook on the East side of the Zion tunnel and take the one-mile round-trip, moderately challenging hike. It leads to an observation point with must-see 360-degree views of the area.
To get more views from above, we booked the Hidden Zion Cliffs Sunset Jeep Tour through Virgin Experience Gifts. It was an epic, two-hour off-road ride in a customized open-air jeep.
Our driver, Brian, took us on remote back-country trails and to two scenic spots to watch the sunset behind the Zion cliffs; spots most tourists don’t get to see. He also filled us in on the area’s history, wildlife (beware of rattlesnakes), and the strange smells of the Ponderosa Pine trees. You can identify them by smelling their bark, which smells like vanilla or butterscotch. And yes, they really do!
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is another picturesque hour-and-a-half drive from Zion. We did stop on the way for a delicious piece of strawberry rhubarb pie at the Thunderbird Restaurant in Mount Carmel. It’s worth a trip for the “Ho-Made Pies”! We also passed herds of buffalo grazing.
While in Zion you look up at the red cliffs, in Bryce you are above, looking into an amphitheater filled with hoodoos, and rock pinnacles shaped by weathering and erosion. It’s a layer cake of colorful sedimentary rocks, with colors changing with the weather and light, varying from pink and orange, to red and brown. It’s truly an astonishing sight, unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
It’s the perfect time to visit Bryce Canyon since the park is celebrating 100 years as a protected national treasure.
Take the Shuttle
I highly recommend taking the shuttle into the park instead of driving. The buses run every 10 minutes so you never wait long for one. Parking lots at all the viewing/hiking spots get crowded and at busy times you may not get a spot.
Our first stop was Bryce Point, the highest on the rim. Although you can stop at many places just to admire the vistas, hikers get the best experience of the park by exploring the canyon below.
We started with a walk along the Rim Trail to Inspiration Point. Then at Sunset Point, we began descending into a world that at times felt like being on Mars. We were alone in a world of sandy spires and rock formations, soaring vistas, and narrow canyons.
Next came Sunrise Point with a stop at Queen’s Garden and then a walk along the Navajo Loop Trail and back for more than a total of five miles of hiking trails. It was a long, but gorgeous day that ended with a climb back up via switchback paths and through an incredible slot canyon. Water was a necessity.
Scenic Drive to Rainbow Point
The only time you need your car is to take the Southern scenic drive to Rainbow Point. Drive about 17 minutes to Inspiration Point, and then stop off at viewpoints like Natural Bridge and Agua Canyon on the way back, when they’re all on your right-hand side and easier to access. We had no trouble parking because most don’t have trails so people don’t stay too long.
We stayed at the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, less than a mile from the park and right on the shuttle loop. It has spacious rooms, a heated pool and hot tub, a fitness room, and a hot breakfast with both indoor and outdoor seating. It’s also a short walk to Old Bryce Town, a hokey, but Instagram-friendly strip of little shops offering souvenirs, ice cream, and photo ops. You can’t beat the location.
Where to Eat Near Bryce Canyon
It’s also right next door to Ebenezer’s Barn & Grill. Don your hat and boots and enjoy an evening of live country music with seasoned Nashville performers, the Bryce Canyon Wranglers, and a steak, fish or chicken dinner in a big old barn. Meet some real cowboys for a fun, local evening and a musical journey through iconic songs. It’s truly entertaining, even if you didn’t think country music was your thing.
For dinner another night, we drove about 15 minutes to the nearby town of Tropic for some delicious IDK Barbecue. On the way, we hit another trail outside the park, at Mossy Cave. You’ll see the trailhead on your right and a small parking area. It was one of the best hikes; easy, and had a great payoff, with a beautiful waterfall in an otherwise dry area. You can even dip your toes in the icy stream to cool off.
More Things to Do Near Las Vegas
Also available in town: are horse tours, horse-drawn carriage rides through the park, helicopter scenic flights, and ATV guided tours. Although the parks are open year-round, shuttle services are only offered from April through October. Winter snow and ice can make hiking more precarious.
There are so many other Southwest national parks and other sites to see nearby, that you could spend weeks in the area visiting them all.
Kodachrome State Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and Grand Staircase National Monument are all less than an hour’s driving time from Bryce. Even the Grand Canyon in Arizona is less than a three-hour drive. Plus, there are many slot canyons around that are worth a day trip for hiking or canyoneering.
The Valley of Fire State Park is less than an hour outside Las Vegas, and a perfect stop-off on the way to or from Zion or Bryce. And Hoover Dam is a 45-minute drive from the strip. You can take day tours from there.
We flew in and out of Las Vegas, but Salt Lake City is the same driving distance from Bryce and might offer different scenery and stop-off points.
For more information:
- Visit Utah: https://www.visitutah.com/
- National Park Service/Zion: https://www.nps.gov/zion/index.htm
- National Park Service/Bryce: https://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm
- Visit Las Vegas: https://www.visitlasvegas.com/
- Bryce Canyon Country: https://www.brycecanyoncountry.com/
Las Vegas Fun
The Las Vegas strip in Nevada is like Times Square on steroids. It’s a sightseeing wonderland and an amusement park for adults (and kids will have fun here, too).
While my husband was in meetings, I explored the glitz and glamor of the Strip. We stayed at the Paris Las Vegas Hotel & Casino, in the heart of the Strip. There you can sit at the gigantic pool right under the Eiffel Tower. Makes for great photos.
It’s also a great place to see the famed Bellagio Hotel fountains from above, with sprays soaring more than 400 feet in the air.
I was lucky enough to have dinner at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant (try the scrumptious filet mignon with fois gras, or the delicious seafood matelote) with great views of the fountains and up and down the Strip. For a more casual vibe – and still a front-row seat for the fountain show – head to the second-floor rooftop Beer Park restaurant for “brews, bites and views.”
More things to do in Las Vegas:
- Walk in and out of each hotel, seeing the Chihuly glass ceiling and botanical gardens at the Bellagio, ancient sculptures and aquarium show in Ceasar’s Palace, the canals at the Venetian, and the flower carousel at the Wynn.
- Kick-start your culinary exploration with a tasty walking tour. I booked the Afternoon Las Vegas Strip Food Tour with Lip-Smacking Foodie Tours, through EatWith.com.
- The 2.5-hour adventure took me and my fellow food lovers to four local restaurants to taste four signature dishes at each. I dined on grilled octopus at Milos, baby back ribs al pastor at Chica, pig ear pad thai at Sugarcane, and a spread of desserts at Jardin. Creative cocktails were also offered. You won’t leave hungry.
- Virgin also offers several fun tours including the Downtown Pop Culture Walking Tour packed with tidbits about the legendary casinos, celebrity personalities, and cinematic history of Sin City. And the Downtown and Fremont Street Donut Tour, where you’ll sink your teeth into confections from local bakeries while learning about the city’s culinary traditions.
- Area 15 is not to be missed. It’s a fun-filled complex minute from the Strip with restaurants, bars, music venues, shopping, and much more. You could spend an evening or a whole day here being entertained.
- Be sure to save a couple of hours to explore Meow Wolf’s Vegas trippy experience, Omega Mart. It’s a must-see storytelling, art exhibit, immersive, interactive installation extraordinaire, where you’ll discover secret portals, and enter strange worlds and playful landscapes. It’s something surreal, that has to be experienced to truly understand. It’s Instagram gold! (Take it from me: wear white or something neon for the best photos!)
- Prohibition may be long gone, but Vegas has several hidden speakeasies if you know where to look. Here’s a list of several of the best.
- The city’s new Sphere, is a futuristic entertainment venue in the world’s largest spherical structure. The gigantic dome, which looks like a spaceship landed near the Strip, is covered with LEDs programmed to flash ever-changing imagery. One minute it’s a bright blue orb and the next it’s covered in moving patterns and photos.