Southern Utah – Bryce Canyon & Zion National Parks – Trip Overview

Most people don’t hear too much in the news about Utah.  Aside from Mormons and the Utah Jazz, what else is in Utah?  I would say it’s nature.  Northern Utah has some great mountains and ski resorts.  Southern Utah is very different.  It’s full of canyons, mesas, arches, spires, buttes, and other crazy geological formations.  Because of these features, southern Utah is the home to five U.S. national parks: Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion.  On my latest trip, I visited Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks.

This trip was just a small family trip.  I usually travel somewhere with them every two years or so.  Aside from some good quality time with their son, my parents enjoy seeing the world as well.  The travel bug must run in our genes! 

The Southwest is a vast area – big states and lots of road between locations.  I think most people fly into either Salt Lake City, Denver, Phoenix, or Las Vegas in order to visit the parks.  We flew to Las Vegas and rented a car.  Zion is only about 2.5 hours away from Vegas.

Depending on how much time you have, how much hiking/trekking you want to do, and how much you are willing to drive, there are lots of itineraries to choose from.  Perhaps the most grand itinerary is the “loop” of southern Utah – visiting all five Utah national parks, and also swinging south to Arizona to see Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon.  This sort of trip would probably take you two weeks, but it would be amazing!  I’ve already been to Arches, Canyonlands, Lake Powell, and the Grand Canyon (check out my blog articles on my trip to Arches & Canyonlands).  Therefore, it made more sense for me spend my time at Bryce Canyon and Zion.

Here was my itinerary:

  • Day 0: Fly to Vegas, rent car, eat, sleep
  • Day 1: Drive to Bryce Canyon (~4 hrs).  Visit Bryce Canyon.  Lodging at Bryce.
  • Day 2: Full day at Bryce Canyon
  • Day 3: Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument (1.5h east of Bryce).  Return to Bryce in evening.
  • Day 4: Pack up from hotel at Bryce.  Drive west towards Cedar City.  Visit Cedar Breaks National Monument.  Check in to hotel at Cedar City.  Visit Kolob Canyon portion of Zion park.
  • Day 5-6: Full days at Zion
  • Day 7: Check out from hotel in Cedar City.  Drive back to Vegas.  Chill out in Vegas – and enjoy some good non-park food!
  • Day 8: Fly home

The plan worked out really well.  The durations were perfect.  The most difficult part was finding lodging near Bryce Canyon.  We had originally planned on staying in Cedar City (a decently sized town) for the entire trip, but we later realized that Cedar City was only good for Zion (1 hour away).  Bryce Canyon would have been quite far away – a painful commute back and forth.  So we decided to stay near Bryce instead.  There are only tiny tourist towns near Bryce Canyon, and hotels usually need some advance booking.  Luckily, we found a place to stay at the last minute.

My next articles will discuss my experiences in the parks.

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