If you want to see the world’s greatest geologic features and don’t want to drive more than one day to see them, you could do a lot worse than head to the the Utah-Arizona border.
This magic area contains the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and Zion National Park, all within a few hours of each other. And if you broaden your radius just a bit further, you could see Canyonlands and Arches National Parks in Moab as well! There’s so much beauty in Utah that it’s easy to see why Brigham Young declared it the Promised Land…Zion.
But what travel plan makes the most sense? These places are still pretty spread out, and some deserve and require more time than others. Here’s an itinerary that works beautifully (I know because I just did it March 2019):
Day one-Fly into Salt Lake City, drive to Moab (overnight Moab)
Day two-Arches National Park (overnight Moab)
Day three-Canyonlands N.P. (overnight Moab)
Day Four-drive to the Grand Canyon, stopping for a quick tour of Monument Valley (overnight Grand Canyon)
Day Five-Grand Canyon (overnight Grand Canyon)
Day Six-Drive to Bryce Canyon, stopping at Antelope Canyon for a quick tour (overnight Bryce Canyon)
Day Seven-Bryce Canyon (overnight Bryce Canyon)
Day Eight-Drive to Zion (overnight Springdale)
Day Nine-Zion (overnight Springdale)
Day Ten-Drive to Las Vegas, fly home
Using this route, you could fly into Salt Lake on a Friday and out of Vegas on a Sunday a week later. This itinerary allows plenty of time in each park as long as you’re not an avid hiker who wants to thoroughly explore each park, which could take a lifetime in any case. I’ve already written elsewhere about the Grand Canyon, Arches, and Canyonlands, but here are a few tips on the whole itinerary:
- Only sleep inside the parks when you must (unless you’re camping). The park hotels have lots of fans, but I’m not one of them. Their high prices aren’t justified by the service, but admittedly the location is hard to beat. On this trip, I would only stay inside of the Park at the Grand Canyon, and only because there are no convenient hotels in nearby cities. The El Tovar is adequate.
- Do not miss Antelope Canyon. No, it isn’t a National Park. No, it doesn’t matter. Take a look at the pix if you don’t believe me. Be aware they only take cash.
- Monument Valley is worth the slight side trip to get there, but I doubt the Navajo tour is worth the price. You can see essentially everything from the main road.
If you wanted to shorten the trip by a day or two, or wanted to spend more time at other parks, you’ll have to make some choices. Here I am force-ranking the parks to make this decision easier:
1-Grand Canyon (What else?)
Hope this helps. Last advice: make sure you get your picture taken a’ la Forrest Gump on the road to Monument. Yes, it’s silly, but that’s the point.