This month we’re heading out for an 8 day, 7 night Grand Canyon and Zion National Park road trip. We’ve planned this trip for almost 18 months, but we’ve dreamed about seeing Grand Canyon and Zion for a lot longer than that!
Today we’re sharing our planned route and some of the stops we have planned. We’d love to hear your suggestions and tips in the comments section or on our Facebook page if you’ve done this route before.
What else should we know before we go?
- Year after year Grand Canyon and Zion are two of the most popular national parks. Last year a combined 10.75 million people visited the two parks (check out the list of Top 10 Most Visited National Parks). That means crowds can be a big factor.
- So is the weather. We picked the shoulder season of April to avoid the heat and extra people. But it also means that the North Rim of the Grand Canyon will be off-limits. The road typically doesn’t open until late-May.
- Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks are very close to other terrific travel spots, including Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Parks. It’s tempting to continue adding parks to the road trip. But we’ve found it’s better to choose fewer parks, spending less time on the road and more time hiking and exploring.
- Utah is in the Mountain Time Zone. Nevada is in the Pacific Time Zone, one hour earlier than Utah. Arizona is in the Mountain Time Zone, but does not observe daylight-saving time. Paying careful attention to your watch will make sure you don’t miss any tours and leave with enough time for your flight home.
Planning the Itinerary
Visitors commonly choose Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Flagstaff airports when flying in for a Grand Canyon and Zion National Park road trip. All are options for the circle-route we planned, it just changes the place you’d hop on the loop. Our departure is through Las Vegas as we snagged cheaper flights from our base camp in Minnesota.
While it’s also possible to do this trip in under a week, we opted to camp for several days in both Grand Canyon and Zion. Reserving campgrounds early is important for both of these parks. Our camping plans also determined whether we stayed in Grand Canyon or Zion first.
The Route: Grand Canyon and Zion National Park Road Trip
Estimated Mileage: 750 miles / 1,200 km
States: 3 – Nevada, Arizona & Utah
National Park Units: 5 Total (Lake Mead National Recreation Area; Grand Canyon National Park; Glen Canyon National Recreation Area; Pipe Spring National Monument; Zion National Park)
Arrive at Las Vegas International Airport and pick up rental vehicle. Drive about 30 minutes east to Lake Mead National Recreation Area Headquarters. Pick up the first passport stamps and unigrid of the trip. Check in at the campground and spend the afternoon hiking near the lake.
Break camp early to be at the Hoover Dam Visitor’s Center by 9 AM. Some tours are filled first-come, first-serve so arriving early is important to get a time slot early in the day. After the tour, continue driving East another 4 hours to Mather Campground in Grand Canyon Village. While there are other tent camping choices, Mather is the only campground on the South Rim with reservable campsites. It’s also open year-round.
Spend the next two days hiking around the South Rim. With lots of options for look-outs and ranger-led hikes departing from the campground there are plenty of options in Grand Canyon Village. Desert View watchtower and the lobby of the Grand Canyon Hotel are also on our list.
This is the longest day of driving of the trip. Departing by 8 AM, we’ll drive northeast to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the Carl Hayden Visitor’s Center. Depending on time and tour availability, checking out the controversial Glen Canyon Dam.
After a lunch at Horseshoe Bend, it’s back in the car. We’ll drive 91 miles west to Pipe Spring National Monument. Pipe Spring preserves much of the Native American and early pioneer history of the Southwest. The grounds have restored buildings and gardens with heirloom trees and flowers.
In the late afternoon, head back in the car for another 42 miles to Zion National Park. Check into the South Campground and check in with rangers for a full list of shuttle bus times and hiking trail conditions.
Spend the next two days in Zion, with hikes around the park. Weather can be tricky in the shoulder season at Zion, so we’re planning to check in with rangers when we arrive for the best options.
All good things must come to an end. Including the perfect Grand Canyon and Zion National Park road trip. Pack up from the campground and drive 177 miles west to Las Vegas International Airport.