Although we can spend more time in the parks, 6 days were optimal for wintertime, when parts of the parks are closed. While we moved at the kid’s pace, we were able to see a lot. All the details and major stops of our national parks road trip – in the post below.
Canyons and national parks road trip
1. Our itinerary, where did we start, driving time and how long we were at the parks
Las Vegas was our starting and ending point (we flew from Seattle). After the night at the hotel, we stocked up at Costco/Trader Joe’s and were ready to go:
- Day 1: Las vegas, 1 hour drive => Hoover Dam (spent 2 hours) => 4 hours to Grand Canyon
- Day 2: Grand Canyon (full day)
- Day 3: Grand Canyon (full day) => 2.5 hours to Antelope Canyon
- Day 4: Antelope Canyon (90 min tour) + Horseshoe Bend trail => 2.5 hours to Bryce Canyon
- Day 5: Bryce Canyon (full day) => 1.5 hours to Zion
- Day 6: Zion (full day) => 2.5 hours to Las Vegas
2. Grand Canyon, Antelope, Bryce, and Zion in 6 days, how it was possible:
- Traveling during low season: little to no crowds, no heat, no problems with parking and traffic. We could book a hotel last minute, knowing for sure there will be a room for us. (For example, at Yellowstone NP roughly half of our time at the park were spent on waiting in September).
- Parts of the parks are closed for winter => relatively small areas to explore.
- Short distances between the canyons.
- Accessibility. Grand, Antelope, Bryce, and Zion could be explored and enjoyed without tons of efforts.
3. Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Bryce, and Zion: where we walked, stopped, and hiked:
Grand Canyon National Park
Until we reached Grand Canyon we had no clue how grand it is. 1.5 miles deep, 16 miles wide, so big our eyes can’t literally grasp its volume!
Our pros: marvelous, easy to explore, free shuttle bus service, lodges inside the park to warm up/eat. It reminds us of Crater Lake NP: driving along the rim, and stopping at the viewpoints to savor the greatness.
Our cons: a lot of abrupt cliffs at the rim trails:
We made stops at the mule barn (saw elks and deer there too :)) and more than a dozen viewpoints (Desert View Watchtower our most favorite):
Andd hiked the South Kaibab trail (till Ooh Aah point):
Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend
We booked a 90-minute Antelope Canyon X tour through Taadidiin Tours. Canyon X is located in the same drainage basin as popular “Upper” and “Lower” Antelope; location is the main difference.
Also, it isn’t high as Upper or Lower, has both, “A” and “V” shapes, and is much easier to book. We enjoyed our winter visit: the weather was perfect, +2 C,
no snakes, spiders, scorpions as during the warm time of the year. And very sunny:
Horseshoe Bend is located in Page, AZ, (as well as Antelope Canyon) and is accessible with an easy 1-hour long trail. Once again we were glad to visit during the cold time of the year, in summer it’s very hot.
While visiting Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend we stayed at the Wingate by Wyndham hotel. The room and hot breakfast were great, but the indoor pool was unheated.
Bryce Canyon National Park
One distinctive feature of the visiting canyons during winter was… stillness. Often, – complete silence, no chatting, bird’s chirping, wind blowing. Unforgettable and soothing experience:
At Bryce Canyon, we stayed at the Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn, pool and hot breakfast were good.
As for exploring, Bryce reminds us of Grand Canyon: driving along the rim, stopping at the viewpoints, and walking as long as we want. We loved the most: Inspiration point, Sunset point, Sunrise point:
And especially – Natural Bridge:
We liked Bryce a lot: hoodoos (rock formations), colors, hues, calmness, and vastness of the canyon. It was the coldest (and highest place), but we hardly noticed that – so sunny and bright it was.
Zion Canyon National Park
One of the best parts of visiting Zion was … driving through the park, at the very bottom of the canyon, watching all the beauty straight from the car! Leo added: “Zion changing all the time: during different times of the day different sides glowing in different colors”.
Kids participated in Junior Ranger Program and we explored two trails: Riverside Walk Trail and Emerald Pools Trail:
Emerald Pools Trail:
At Zion National Park we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, liked the outdoor pool; the hot breakfast was very good.
After 6 days trip to the canyons, we have some vacation time left. We spent 2 days at the Death Valley NP, 1 day at the Lone Pine, CA, and 2 days in Vegas. Liked all of them, but not so much as the canyons ;).
National Parks Road Trip: essentials
- The only place we to have to think of in advance (from entire trip) was Antelope Canyon. The canyon is accessible only by tours and has to be booked in advance.
- We could have gotten through the entire trip with a sedan, but with 4WD felt more comfortable in case of the snowfall on the road.
- The roads were cleared, and driving was much less stressful than we expected.
- We didn’t have a snow shovel and ice cleats, but they’d be nice to have.
- Weather was pleasant during our trip: very sunny and dry. Night temperatures were -10/-20C, daytime: -2/-9C.
- Don’t forget Annual National Parks Pass, if you already have one.
- Great book to bring from the trip: Grand Canyon by Jason Chin.
- Dress in layers and pack winter boots, jackets, mittens, hats, etc. We also took swimsuites. 🙂
- As winter days are short, we booked hotels with pools. (Some of them were heated outdoor pools.) We had wonderful time playing in the snow and warming up in the pools. Almost like in Iceland!
Video from Best Western Premier Grand Canyon:
Thank you for visiting!
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Death Valley National Park winter visit: Giant Sand Dunes sledding; Star Wars Canyon, Salt Flat, etc. 2 days adventure.
Lone Pine: unknown, Eastern side of California. Alabama Hills, Japanese internment camp, lowest and highest point in the US, hot springs.
Washington nature: 13 examples of bizarre and beautiful. Caves, volcanoes, top overlooks, butte, stone forest, Pacific ocean beaches, lakes, islands.