Updated October 2020
Planning a big trip to the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park isn’t easy. There’s a lot of distance to cover and you want to make sure you’ve included enough time in each place.
Lucky for you Catherine and I have already road tested this trip and can say from experience that’s it’s amazing. If you’re only interested in the Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon portion of this itinerary scroll down to Day 4.
Day 1: Arrive in Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix, AZ
Depending on where you’re coming from this part of the trip can be variable. When Catherine and I made this trip we were coming from Massachusetts so we had a long flight to Arizona. We arrived in the evening and immediately picked up our rental car and drove to Flagstaff, AZ. This drive takes roughly 2hr. 15min. depending on time of day and traffic.
We knew we wanted to see Flagstaff, but instead of doing that on the way to Grand Canyon (we were WAY too excited to wait) we just arrived, hit the hay and then headed out the next morning. I’ll talk more about our Flagstaff finds on Day 7.
Day 2: Drive from Flagstaff, AZ to Grand Canyon National Park South Rim Village
The drive from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Village takes about 1hr. 20min. Along the way you’ll see lots of cactus, red rock, desert scrub and gorgeous weather worn rock structures.
When you enter the park you’ll have a chance to purchase a National Parks Annual Pass from $0-$80 depending on the type of pass you purchase. Since this itinerary includes three National Parks I HIGHLY recommend purchasing the pass on your way in.
If you were to pay to enter each park your entry fees would start at $72 and increase depending on the number of people you’re road tripping with. Buying the pass can save you a lot of money and it’s good at all the National Parks in America so you’re set for the year. BUY THE PASS.
Where to Stay at Grand Canyon:
For those of you who have been following Indoorsy Camper you know I’m a BIG fan of the National Park Lodges. Staying inside the park has its perks, namely you don’t have to wait in the entry lines each day and you get to see the canyon pretty much 24/7 while you’re there.
To learn everything you need to know about the Grand Canyon lodges check out my post: Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park Lodging at the South Rim.
Things to Do on Your First Day at the Grand Canyon:
On our way to Grand Canyon we stopped at a grocery store to stock up on picnic supplies. When we arrived we ate our lunch rim side, saving us a little money (things get expensive inside the park) and allowing us to take in the view while we ate. That first walk to the edge is unbelievable, and to be honest even in my pictures I often think the whole thing looks like a Hollywood backdrop.
Once you’ve been fed and watered check out the Rim Trail. It’s a 13 mile trail that’s mostly paved, making it family as well as handicap friendly. The trail includes several vistas and overlooks as well as exhibits and gift shops. It’s a great way to see the canyon from the top and a perfect way to stretch your legs after a drive.
That first night we decided to eat a light dinner in the El Tovar bar. We deserved a drink and some nachos after our drive and they were excellent.
Day 3: Grand Canyon National Park
Day three is all about exploring the many trails at the Grand Canyon. We decided to go big and opted for Bright Angel Trail, a 6-mile trail that descends 3,740 feet inside the canyon. We made it down as far as 3 Mile Resthouse and then turned back for the climb back out.
A word of warning. Going down is quick and easy, but it takes about twice as long to hike out. Make sure you bring lots of water, trekking poles if you need extra support and keep reminding yourself of the climb. It’s tempting to keep going down and down and down, but coming out will take infinity more work.
If Bright Angel isn’t for you check out this complete list of day hikes at the Grand Canyon.
After our big hike down and back out we were pretty beat so we went back to our room, cleaned up and ate dinner.
Day 4: More Grand Canyon Exploring + Driving to Zion National Park
Our last morning we got up in time to see the sunrise over the canyon, something I would highly recommend. The color change from blues and purples to warm oranges and yellows was striking and although I took pictures, none of them seem to have truly captured it.
After the sunrise show head into the El Tovar dining room for breakfast (it’s the cheapest meal they serve) and if you’re lucky they’ll seat you beside the windows so you can gaze out on the canyon as you sip coffee and butter your toast.
The next leg of the trip is the drive from Grand Canyon to Zion National Park. This leg of the drive takes about 5hr. 30min. We spent a little more time taking in the canyon and then headed out so we would have enough time to fit in a short hike in Zion before dark.
Where to Stay at Zion National Park:
Again, I recommend staying inside the park if possible, especially at Zion. Unlike Grand Canyon, Zion closes to the public in the evening. This means that reentry can be a long process, but if you stay inside the park there’s no waiting.
Zion Lodge accommodations come in several types; cabins, hotel rooms, suites and accessible rooms. We opted for a cabin because a friend of our highly recommended this option. Each cabin comes with two double beds, a log fireplace, private porch and full bath. I have to say the cabin in Zion might have been my favorite place we stayed during our entire trip. More information on Zion Lodge can be found here.
Hikes in Zion National Park:
Since our first day in Zion was short we opted to hike the Lower Emerald Pool trail. At 1.2 miles it was the perfect hike to get the lay of the land, see several waterfalls and get us back to the lodge in time for dinner.
If you’re looking for a family or more accessible hike try the Pa’rus Trail. This trail follows a paved route from the South Campground to Canyon Junction. If you want more tail options check out the full list of Zion National Park trails.
Day 5: Zion National Park Hikes + Drive from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon
The drive from Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon is only 1hr. 20min. Since we knew the drive was short we decided to spend the day in Zion and hike The Narrows. Roughly 60% of this hike is spent wading or walking in the river. You can rent water gear from Zion Adventure Company if it’s cold when you go. We didn’t rent gear when we hiked The Narrows, but if I were to do it again I would want to have neoprene socks and hiking poles. Salomon makes some really great shoes for hiking through water. If renting shoes freaks you out and you’re willing to invest the money, I’d recommend checking out their line of Amphib shoes.
There are many other trail options if you’re not interested in getting wet. As of writing this post the Kayenta Trail and Upper Emerald Pools Trail and Hidden Canyon Trail are all closed due to flood damage and rock fall. Click here to see a list of Zion day hikes.
After our wet excursion we changed our shoes and pants and then got in the car for the short drive to Bryce Canyon.
Where to Stay in Bryce Canyon National Park:
Once again I’m going to sing the praises of staying inside the park. Although I will admit we stayed outside the park in Bryce mostly because our budget couldn’t handle another lodge reservation. Bryce Lodge offers three types of accommodation; Western Cabins, Sunrise & Sunset Motel Rooms and Guest Suites. Visit the Bryce Canyon Lodging and Cabin Rental page for more information.
Our first hike in Bryce Canyon was the Rim Trail, a 5.5 mile paved trail that extends from Fairyland Point to Bryce Point. If you have more time you can always extend your hike by heading down into the canyon. Here’s a link to the full list of Bryce Canyon National Park trails.
Day 6: Explore Bryce Canyon + Stop at Horseshoe Bend + Drive to Flagstaff
On our second day in Bryce Canyon we managed to link several of the trails together so we could see a good portion of the canyon. If you have the time make sure you look out for Queens Garden where you will see a rock formation in the shape of Queen Victoria.
Other hikes we enjoyed included the Navajo Trail where you get to spend time in a slot canyon where giant Douglas Fir Trees are reaching for the sky. As well as the Peek-A-Boo Loop which takes you through the heart of the Bryce Amphitheater.
Rather than drive from Bryce Canyon all the way back to Flagstaff in one go we opted for a scenic stop at Horseshoe Bend. Located a 2hr. 40min. drive from Bryce Canyon, Horseshoe Bend is a horseshoe shaped meander in the Colorado River. After a 3/4 hike from US Route 89 you will arrive to a gorgeous view of the river from above.
While the hike is short keep in mind that it’s very exposed and on sandy ground, making it a little harder than you would think. Make sure to bring your camera and take you time checking out the bend from multiple viewpoints.
After that scenic stop we carried on the remaining 2hr. 10min. drive to Flagstaff where we stayed for the night.
Day 7: Explore Flagstaff + Drive to Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix, AZ
When we booked our flights back to the east coast from Phoenix we made sure to choose an evening flight. This gave us time to explore Flagstaff and make the drive back to Sky Harbor (2hr. 15min.).
Flagstaff has a thriving art and culture scene with endless artisan shops to wander in and out of all day. Mixed in you will find rock shops, gear stores and plenty of Southwest charm.
If you need a coffee break head to Macy’s European Coffee House. Macy’s has been around for over 30 years and is an all vegetarian restaurant. I’ll just say that the coffee was excellent and so were the pastries.
If you’re looking for a great breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner spot head to MartAnne’s Cafe (pictured above). It’s southwest and Mexican fare with excellent margaritas, chips, salsa and guac. With our bellies happy and full we packed up the rental car one last time and drove to Phoenix.
Whether you choose to follow this seven day itinerary or use it as a jumping off point one thing is for sure, you need to do the Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon loop. Arizona and Utah are full of incredible national parks and these are only the beginning.
For us our Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion road trip was a must see bucket list item. What I didn’t expect is that we would love it so much we would head back to Utah to check out Arches and start planning our Rim to Rim hike (fast approaching in 2019)!
If you decide to take this trip template and run with it let me know. Or if you’ve figured out other great sites or routes to take share them in the comments.
Click map to view complete route!
Wondering what to pack for your road trip?
Here’s my list of must-haves:
- I LOVE my Osprey day pack! I have an older model, but any of these are perfect!
- I also like these cheap trekking poles. Someday I hope to upgrade to these, but for now my Amazon purchase is doing me proud.
- If you’re planning on hiking make sure you have comfortable hiking shoes. I love my Oboz Sawtooth low hiking shoes, but if you go to REI they will find your perfect fit.
- While we’re on the topic of feet…socks are gonna be your BFF. I’m a big fan of Smartwool and Darn Tough.
- Make sure to pack your sun protective clothing. Living in SoCal has taught me many things, but one of the most important is to cover up! Skin cancer is no joke. I love my Patagonia hooded top (it’s men’s but I honestly don’t care!).
- Don’t forget a hat as well. I usually go for a baseball cap, but any hat will do.
This list could go on and on, but these six items are the ones I simply can’t leave without.