One Week Utah/Arizona Road Trip


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*Guest Post

Year visited: 2019

Time of year: June

I love having friends who live in tourist destinations!

Our family has a friend who moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. I have yet to take advantage of this (hopefully soon!) but my sister and her husband did. She has put together an itinerary of their road trip through Utah and Arizona to 3 national parks.

Utah Road Trips


Driving in Utah

Utah National Parks

In the United States, there are 63 national parks, all with awe-inspiring scenery to behold. Five of those incredible parks are within the state of Utah:

  • Zion

  • Bryce Canyon

  • Capitol Reef

  • Canyonlands

  • Arches

On our road trip we visited two of these national parks: Zion & Bryce Canyon, along with the Grand Canyon, just over the border in Arizona.

What Airport to Fly into?

As all five parks lie within the southern half of Utah, the closest major airport is Las Vegas, Nevada.

However, I had a friend in Salt Lake City, Utah, so my road trip started in northern Utah and went south, all the way across the Arizona border to the Grand Canyon.

Our Road Trip Itinerary

Because of the time change, it was still morning when we arrived in Salt Lake, so we had the whole day to explore the city before we started on our journey to some of the national parks the next day.

  • If you don’t have a lot of time the day you arrive in SLC, you can also spend more time exploring the city the day before you fly out.

The trip: Salt Lake City → Zion National Park → Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim → Bryce Canyon National Park → Salt Lake City

This map was made with Wanderlog, a travel planner on iOS and Android

Day 1: Salt Lake City

About Salt Lake City

Utah is unique within the US because of the significant influence of Mormonism in the state, particularly in Salt Lake City (SLC).

SLC is known for other things besides its founding by Mormon pioneers. The city hosted the Winter Olympics in 2002 and was the filming location for numerous movies and TV shows, including the High School Musical series.

Any time of year is great to visit SLC because there are plenty of outdoor (and indoor) activities for summer or winter, and the landscape is beautiful in spring green or winter white.

Things to Do in Salt Lake City, Utah

Temple Square


Salt Lake Temple

The centerpiece of a trip downtown is Temple Square, with the immense Salt Lake Temple, Salt Lake Tabernacle (home of the renowned Tabernacle Choir), Church History Museum, Brigham Young Family Cemetery and Historic Park, as well as many other sites related to the church.

Utah Olympic Park


Holding the “Olympic torch”

To the east of the city, you can visit Utah Olympic Park in Park City. This site was the location of the bobsled, skeleton, luge, and Nordic combined events in the 2002 Olympics.

Today, you can visit the Alf Engen Ski Museum, slide down the bobsled track in the winter (for $195), watch people train on the ski jumps (in the summer there is a pool at the base of the jumps), and pose for a variety of photo ops, including in a bobsled and with a replica Olympic torch.

High School Musical Filming Location


Passing by East High, home of High School Musical

You can drive by East High, the inspiration for the film; the cafeteria is still decorated as it was for the song “Stick to the Status Quo.” The school even allows self-guided tours on school days.

Hiking/Outdoor Activities


Hiking outside SLC

SLC is a haven of natural beauty and recreational activities for those who enjoy hiking, biking, skiing, snowboarding, and plenty of other things that I did not have time or aptitude for!

Day 2: Zion National Park


For Day 2 of our Utah road trip we rented a car from Salt Lake City to drive south to the national parks. Since we had a friend in SLC, she picked us up from the airport and took us to a car rental agency the next day so we didn’t have to pay extra to rent a car from the airport.

Our original plan was to take an Uber from the airport to her house, and again to rent the car to avoid the airport fees. You can also rent a car at the airport, but you will have to pay a convenience fee.

How to Get to Zion National Park

Zion National Park is essentially a straight shot south from SLC. You take Interstate 15 for about 280 miles before exiting onto two state roads (State Route 17 to State Route 9) that take you to the park.

There are no tolls on any roads you’ll take (except the entrance fee when you get to the park!). It’s about a 4½ hr. drive from Salt Lake City to Zion National Park.

  • Note: Credit cards are accepted at the entrance.

  • Entrance fee is $35 per vehicle or $20 per person for pedestrians.

  • Park Pass: Get the America the Beautiful park pass for $80. This is worth it if you go to 3 or more parks.

Where to Stay-Springdale

To get to the entrance of the park, you will drive through the town of Springdale, which is lined with hotels and restaurants for those who want amenities such as swimming, multiple food options, and entertainment.

Note that if you stay outside the park and want to drive in, parking fills up very quickly, so leave early!

There is also a shuttle that goes from Springdale into the park. There is a second shuttle that runs to various locations within the park. Both shuttles are free, but neither run from January through “late winter.”

When the shuttle is in operation, private vehicles are not allowed to use the roads within the park beyond the visitor center, unless you are staying at the lodge.

The Springdale shuttle drops you off at the pedestrian entrance, so as far as I understand (having not done it myself), you would have to pay per person ($20/person, children under 16 are free) instead of a single vehicle fee.

Where to Stay-Zion Lodge


Zion National Park Lodge

If you book lodging at the Zion Lodge, which is within the bounds of the park, you receive a pass to put on your dashboard that allows you to drive your vehicle from the entrance to the lodge, guaranteeing you a parking spot in the park and earliest access to the shuttles.

The early shuttles are important if you want to hike one of the most popular trails (typically Angels Landing and The Narrows), as the trails will become crowded later in the day as more people arrive.

We chose to stay in the park at Zion Lodge so that we could:

  • Drive into the park without worrying about parking

  • Get the earliest shuttles

  • Stay after the park entrance closed (and star gaze!)

The Lodge vs. the Cabins

I did not have a great experience staying here because I had a hard time sleeping. I was so tired in the evenings that I did not get to take advantage of stargazing on the large lawn–a perk of being in the park after everyone else leaves.

The two main reasons for not sleeping well were that I was congested–Utah air is very dry– and that the walls of our room were very thin, so being a light sleeper, the neighbor’s snores kept me awake.

We chose to book a cabin, located a short distance from the main lodge, because we thought it would offer a little more privacy. What I did not realize was that the cabins are essentially duplexes with a door in the middle that can be opened if your party books both rooms in the cabin.

While our “neighbors” didn’t have access to our side of the cabin, the door was not flush with the ground, and sound traveled freely between the two sides of the cabin.

Our friends who stayed in a hotel room inside the lodge said they did not have any issues with noise. 


Dusk in Zion National Park

Zion Lodge vs. Springdale

While you do get to stay inside the park after the other park guests leave if you stay at Zion Lodge, the downside to that perk is the lack of amenities in the park.

There is a gift shop at the lodge (in addition to the gift shop at the visitor center at the park entrance) which has many convenience items, and there is a cafe (seasonal snack bar) and a restaurant that offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, the menus are limited, and we got a little tired of the food after two nights at the lodge.

After my stay at Zion Lodge, I wished I had booked a hotel in Springdale so I could use the pools that looked so inviting on our way through and have more choices for food, as well as a quieter sleeping experience; however, I would give the lodge another try (not in a cabin!) because the perk of getting the earliest shuttles and being in the park before and after the large crowds is a big bonus, especially if you want pictures without people in them!

Another consideration is the entry fee. If you drive your car in, the cost is $35 for an entry pass, which is good for seven days. As stated above, the Springdale shuttle drops you off at the pedestrian entrance, so as far as I understand, you would have to pay per person ($20/person, children under 16 are free) instead of a single vehicle fee.

If you have an annual pass, that would eliminate the entry fee issue.

Zion National Park Trails


Entrance to The Narrows

There are a number of trails in Zion, ranging from easy to strenuous, so there is something for everyone. However, depending on weather and safety, some trails can be closed from time to time.

When we visited, we were unable to hike the Narrows because the current was too fast due to high water levels, causing it to be deemed unsafe. Other trails were closed at the time due to rock falls.

The Narrows/Riverside Walk

The Narrows was the trail I most wanted to do, but we did walk the Riverside Walk to the entrance of The Narrows, so we could see a little of the landscape.

We took the earliest shuttle from the lodge to the Temple of Sinawava, which is where the Riverside Walk begins–the route you take to get to The Narrows.

Because The Narrows was closed, we were the only people there when we started. By the time we made our way back to the shuttle stop, other people were on the trail. When The Narrows is open, it is a popular spot and gets crowded, which is why it is recommended to take the earliest shuttle and avoid the greater crowds.

While The Narrows (so named because it is the narrowest section of the canyon) is rated a strenuous hike because you are hiking through the river over slippery rocks, the Riverside Walk–the one-mile path from the shuttle drop-off to the entrance of The Narrows–is an easy walk on a paved surface with interesting views along the way.

There are several other trails rated easy that lead to unique scenery if you are not up for the more difficult trails. I felt intimidated reading about The Narrows before going to the park–many different kinds of gear were recommended from waterproof hiking boots to walking sticks to neoprene and other various clothing items to keep you warm but that also dry quickly–it was overwhelming to try to pack everything I thought I might need for one hike, in addition to everything else I needed for the rest of the trip!

I have a few friends who have hiked The Narrows, however, and they all hiked in their walking shoes, some even in shorts. I had brought quick-drying leggings and long-sleeve shirt (even though it was summer, the water is cold), and we each brought a pair of shoes we didn’t mind parting with if they got ruined. We also borrowed one walking stick each from our friend, and I felt confident about doing the hike; that is, until all my preparation was nullified by the trail’s closure.


End of Riverside Trail/entrance to The Narrows

Angels Landing

Angels Landing, one of the most difficult and popular trails in the park, involves hiking along a steep, narrow ridge to reach the final destination, a rock jutting over the canyon that gives panoramic views of the park.

Its name comes from a story of an early visitor who alleged that “only an angel could land there.” As I am afraid of heights, I did not attempt this trail, opting for other ways to see the canyon (though admittedly not with quite the same view).

Due to the crowds on the popular Angels Landing trail, a permit is now required to hike the trail. You can apply for a permit before your trip, which enters you for a lottery on the days of your choosing.

Lottery windows are for three months at a time and open two months before the earliest date (e.g. the window for March-May opens January 1).

If you are unsuccessful in getting a permit–which you will learn by email–, or did not get around to applying on time, you can also apply for a permit the day before you want to hike.

That lottery window opens at 12:01 a.m. the day before and closes at 3 pm. Mountain Time. You will get an email at 4 p.m. letting you know the status of your permit.


How long do you need in Zion National Park?

We spent a day and a half in Zion, and with a few trails being closed for safety reasons and no desire to hike Angels Landing, we had time to do six trails, visit the visitor center, and spend time around the lodge.

Day 3: Grand Canyon


The only guardrail we encountered

Our original intention was to spend a night at the Grand Canyon, but due to conflicts with our schedule and airline schedules, we had to shorten our Utah road trip. However, by mid-morning on our second day at Zion, we had done everything we wanted to and were able to do (due to starting the day early and The Narrows trail being closed).

As we sat on our porch back at the cabin, we decided to make the 2 ½ hour drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon as a day trip.

You can choose to stay 2 nights in Zion and just visit the Grand Canyon on a day trip (as we did), or stay 1 night in Zion and 1 night in the Grand Canyon.

  • Note: Credit cards are accepted at the entrance. Cash is not accepted.

  • Entrance fee is $35 per vehicle or $20 per person for pedestrians.

  • Park Pass: Get the America the Beautiful park pass for $80. This is worth it if you go to 3 or more parks.

The Drive to the Grand Canyon


The drive between Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon - North Rim

The drive from Zion to the Grand Canyon is a much lonelier drive than getting to Zion from SLC. It is entirely back roads through the desert, and we were often the only car in sight, although the roads are in good condition and you do pass through some towns where you can get gas or food (and cell reception!).

The problem with arriving at the park in the afternoon is that parking was difficult to find. I got out of the car and scouted a parking spot, fortunately happening to find one (and only one) that was available. We also had to wait in a relatively long line of cars to get into the park.

Where to Stay-The Grand Canyon Lodge

Before we had to shorten our trip, we planned to spend a night at the Grand Canyon Lodge. The lodges inside the national parks fill up very quickly, so I had booked our accommodations as soon as they opened up, which is generally a year before your stay.

  • Thankfully canceling our reservation was easy to do, and if you cancel at least 72 hours before your stay you get a full refund of your deposit. 

Although we only visited the Grand Canyon as a day trip from Zion NP on our Utah road trip, if you have the time, spend the night at the Grand Canyon Lodge and spend more time exploring this national park in Arizonza.

At the lodge–which is adjacent to the visitor center–there is a restaurant, coffee shop, and gift store.

The Grand Canyon-North Rim


After we had gotten in and parked, however, we had a great experience! The North Rim is a less popular destination than the iconic South Rim–which I’ve never been to–but I thought the North Rim was fantastic.

As we walked along the sidewalk to the visitor center, I got a quick glance of the canyon, which was mostly shrouded by trees in that area–wow! It was truly breathtaking. That quick glance didn’t even compare to the views when we got to the visitor center and the section you can hike.

It is one of those places where you can’t understand the feeling of seeing it until you have actually seen it. The vastness of the landscape and its natural beauty is inspirational.

Another neat thing is that there aren’t many safety measures, so you can clamber out and onto rock formations as far as you dare–although I certainly have reservations about taking my fearless daughter there, and there was at least one parent exhibiting anxiety over his child’s daring.

The North Rim also draws lesser crowds than its more well-known counterpart to the south, so it is a less populated park experience–though there were still plenty of people there. 

  • Keep in mind that the North Rim park closes in the winter.


Things to Do at the Grand Canyon-North Rim

Because we had to shorten our trip and just spent the afternoon at the Grand Canyon, we didn’t get to do all the activities I had originally planned.

One available option, which I had been looking forward to, is a mule ride into the canyon (or just along the rim if you’re shorter on time).

There are also a number of trails you can do on your own, as well as a short (½ mile), paved walking trail from the lodge to Bright Angel Point, which is what we did to witness the dramatic views we saw of the canyon.

Even just a short day-trip to the Grand Canyon North Rim was worth it to see the incredible views and experience the remarkable place in person. You will really understand why it is called “grand” when you visit.


Day 4: Bryce Canyon


From the Grand Canyon, we drove back to Zion Lodge for one more night before heading off to Bryce Canyon in the morning.

The drive from Zion to Bryce took about 2 hours, again driving less populated roads through the desert. There is a toll on this route.

If you chose to stay at the Grand Canyon for the night, it will be a 3 hr. drive from there to Bryce Canyon.

  • Note: Credit cards are accepted at the entrance. Cash is not accepted.

  • Entrance fee is $35 per vehicle or $20 per person for pedestrians.

  • Park Pass: Get the America the Beautiful park pass for $80. This is worth it if you go to 3 or more parks.

The Drive to Bryce Canyon

As you get close to Bryce, you’ll pass unique-looking rock formations along the way. There are pull-offs where you can pull over and take pictures, which we did once–after all, I’d never seen anything like this landscape before, so I wanted to document it!

Once you get to Bryce Canyon, however, what you have seen along the road on the way pales in comparison, so you might as well stay in the car and keep going, while taking time to appreciate the scenery as you drive.


Bryce Canyon Lodge

There is also a lodge inside the park at Bryce Canyon, but we had to cancel our reservation because of shortening our trip. There were no issues with canceling, and I’m sure it made some other travelers very happy that a spot opened up for them.

If you are short on time, you can return to Salt Lake City this evening, as we did. But if you have more time, stay at the lodge and spend longer in Bryce Canyon. Remember to book early, because national park lodges fill up quickly!

There are a few dining options in the park, all associated with the lodge. There is a sit-down restaurant, a pizzeria/coffee shop, and a general store, the latter located nearby but closer to the camping area. These areas did get pretty crowded around mealtimes, so we bought a pizza and ate outside due to space constrictions. 

How long do you need at Bryce Canyon?


We left Zion in the morning and arrived at Bryce in the late morning before it got too crowded, though it was just starting to hit peak population. We spent about half a day here before continuing the return trip to SLC (about a 4 hour drive, mainly on I-15).

Although we didn’t get to do as much as I had originally planned, we still got to see quite a lot and I was satisfied with my experience.

With just half a day at Bryce, I was able to see what I wanted to see, and while I certainly could have spent much more time there, it was worth making a quick stop to experience a small portion of the park. The geological structures were unique to anything I’ve seen anywhere else, and the views were spectacular.

You can get great pictures from the Rim Trail with astounding aerial views over the canyon. Each stop we made on our trip was vastly different from the other stops, and each was worth experiencing for whatever amount of time we had.

Things to Do in Bryce Canyon National Park


The two things I most wanted to do at Bryce were to hike along the rim above the canyon and hike down into the canyon among the hoodoos (columns of rocks).

We were able to do both of those things, although our hike along the 11-mile Rim Trail was significantly shortened.

We took the shuttle–which runs in a loop around the rim between overlook points and trailheads–from the visitor center to a location on the Rim Trail that was close to our ultimate destination.

Then we walked along the Rim Trail from there to the entrance of the Navajo Loop Trail, where we descended into the canyon. The shuttle, which is free with park admission, is a great resource for getting around the large park, especially if you are short on time and have certain spots you want to hit.

The Rim Trail is an easy hike, mostly flat, offering spectacular views of the canyon. The Navajo Loop Trail took some lung-power when we hiked back up from the canyon floor but overall was not strenuous and would be fine for anyone in moderately good shape.

Another option if you prefer not to hike is to take a horseback ride to the canyon floor. Horseback rides are offered seasonally, from the beginning of April through the end of October.


Day 5: Back to Salt Lake City

If you are short on time, drive back to Salt Lake City after your day at Bryce Canyon on day 4. If you have more time, you can spend more time in the parks and make some more pit stops on the way—see below!

It is a 4 hr. drive back to Salt Lake City on 1-15.

Once you arrive in Salt Lake City, you can also do any of the above mentioned things to do in SLC that you might not have had time for on Day 1!

Pit Stop in Provo

On our way back to SLC, we stopped at the Barnes & Noble in Provo to get a book signed by one of our favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson lives in the SLC area and routinely stops by this particular Barnes & Noble to autograph the books they have in stock by him. The area is very developed and there are numerous restaurants within a few-minutes-drive, so we made this our dinner stop, as well.

A newer event you can also attend if you are a fantasy/Sanderson lover is the Dragonsteel Convention, which in short is a two-day convention devoted to Sanderson’s works, as well as seminars on topics ranging from writing to board games. The convention generally takes place in November at the Salt Palace Convention Center.

If you are a fan of the Stormlight Archive series by Sanderson, a bonus of a Utah national parks trip is that when you are visiting the canyons, you can imagine them inspiring Sanderson when he developed the geography of the Shattered Plains.

Day 6: Fly home

If you followed this itinerary, fly home today from Salt Lake City Airport.

  • Our return flight was in the morning, which is why we drove back to SLC on day 4 and spent the night in Salt Lake. If you are able to get a later flight, you can spend more time exploring northern Utah! There are a number of state parks in the SLC vicinity.

Park Comparisons

The Views

At Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon, you enter the park above the canyon so you look down into it and can choose to hike into the canyon.

At Zion, the park is at the bottom of the canyon, so you look up at the canyon walls and can choose to ascend the cliffs on certain trails if you want an aerial view.


Bryce Canyon National Park

Zion National Park

The Weather

Bryce is at a higher elevation than Zion, so it is cooler. I wore compression leggings, long-sleeves, and a sweater (which I removed in the afternoon), and my husband bought a sweater at the gift store when we arrived because it was so chilly.

The weather at Zion was quite warm in June, so we were in shorts and t-shirts/tank tops the whole time.


Wearing lots of layers at Bryce


Parking is hard to come by at all the parks if you don’t get there early, but Zion and Bryce have shuttle systems that traverse the parks.

Zion has a separate shuttle for guests staying outside the park, and the shuttle at Bryce also makes stops at a few hotels outside the park entrance.

Our Favorites

Of the three parks we visited, the Grand Canyon was the most spectacular to me because of how massive it was, and Bryce Canyon was my husband’s favorite because of the distinctive rock formations.

Bryce was the best for taking pictures because it seemed like the scenery changed every time you went around a bend on the Rim Trail, and the subject matter is very conducive to photography.


Grand Canyon National Park - North Rim

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