Ahhhh finally putting together the most exciting blog post!! This is going to be a long one guys. My boyfriend and I took a trip through Nevada, Utah and Arizona this past May and had the most amazing 9 days! This was my second time driving a big loop through these 3 states, and honestly I think I could do it every year and never get tired of it. If you’re into the outdoors + BREATHTAKING views and scenery… you neeeeed to take this trip!!
Quick note: We bought the America the Beautiful Pass to get into the national parks, otherwise you will encounter a fee on your way in. Read more about it here. We originally had 3 parks on our list, so it made the most sense to get the pass to save money. Due to Covid, we ended up only being able to do 2. If you’re doing 3 or more though, I recommend looking into the pass.
DAY 1: VALLEY OF FIRE
We flew into Las Vegas McCarren International Airport and went straight to Hertz to get our rental car! We chose Hertz because of the discount you get if you have AAA. You also get the young driver fee waived by having AAA, which is a plus! After picking up our rental we drove straight to the grocery store to grab some groceries for the week. We picked up waters, sandwich stuff, snacks and a styrofoam cooler! We packed everything in the cooler and headed to our next stop…. Valley of Fire State Park!
Unfortunately, our plane landed late in the afternoon, so by the time we picked up our car and got our groceries, we didn’t have toooo much time to spend at Valley of Fire. I wish we had more time because it was stunning, and we easily could’ve spent hours hiking the trails and taking in the amazing views! We made sure to drive White Domes Road (sometimes called Mouse’s Tank Road) aka “the” road. It was even more stunning in person. We also stopped by Atlatl Rock and drove by the Beehives and Elephant Rock. If you have time, the Fire Wave trail looked really cool… we just didn’t have time.
After exiting the park, we pulled over at a pretty view point and made sandwiches with the stuff we picked up from the store. Dinner with a view… can’t beat it 🙂
We then drove straight to Zion National Park. We got there pretty late at night, so we unpacked and went to sleep.
Where we stayed while at Zion: Best Western Plus in Springdale (even if you don’t stay at Best Western, make sure you get a hotel in Springdale! It’s the cutest town just outside the park entrance!)
DAY 2: HIKING ZION
We woke up EARLYYY (like 5am) surrounded by huge, pretty red rocks. We jumped in our car and headed into the park! I recommend getting there EXACTLY for park opening (or earlier) to ensure you get a parking spot where you want! Since we were there in May, Covid was obviously a thing, so they had limited parking. However, during ‘normal times’, there are usually shuttles running continuously that can take you into the park. I used the shuttle system during my first visit here and it was great!
We parked in The Grotto parking lot and hiked to the Upper Emerald Pools via the Kayenta Trail. Omggg the VIEWS. I mean, everywhere in Zion has amazing views… so I’ll probably keep saying that this entire post. We also ran into some deer-looking friends on our way back down the trail. They were super friendly and not afraid of us at all!
After our hike, we parked near the Virgin River and walked down to eat our lunch (we packed sandwiches, of course. Good tip if you want to save some money on food!). We sat along the river for awhile and relaxed. This was definitely one of my favorite lunch breaks of the whole trip. I could’ve sat along the river surrounded by the huge rocks and gorgeous scenery allll day long. Zion is just one of those places where you look around and could cry at how beautiful and magical it is.
Next up: Watchman Trail! We enjoyed this trail as well, and it’s definitely a must-do! Afterwards, we headed back to our hotel and rested a bit before heading out for an early dinner. We ate outside at Meme’s Cafe and enjoyed the surrounding views.
We finished eating a little after 4, and then decided to drive the scenic highway (Mt-Caramel Highway). We didn’t drive the entire thing because we knew we’d be coming back through in 2 days when leaving Zion. It’s sooo neat driving through all of the rocks/canyons. There are a few pull-offs along the way if you want to stop for pictures!
DAY 3: MORE HIKING AT ZION
You already know… suuuuper early wake up call! We parked back at The Grotto and hiked to Scout’s Lookout! This is the lookout before the chain section to Angel’s Landing. Unfortunately, Angel’s Landing chain section was closed while we were there 🙁 Scout’s lookout was just as gorgeous though.
From Scout’s, we decided to keep following the trail up to the very top (if you’re standing at Scout’s looking out at the view, Angel’s Landing is to the right and the other trail that we took is to the left… I’m not sure what the name of it was). This hike ended up taking us higher than Angel’s Landing actually. I think it ended up being about 5 hours roundtrip! Oh and don’t worry… there are restrooms at Scout’s Lookout if needed. Don’t ask me how they manage that lol. This hike was DEFINITELY the most difficult of the entire trip. Breaks (and lots of water) were needed haha.
We then did the Riverside Walk. It’s an easy, out and back walk on pavement along the river. At the end of the path is actually where you begin The Narrows hike. We decided to be spontaneous and hike The Narrows the next morning. It wasn’t originally on the itinerary, but after Zach saw people doing it… there was no going back. That evening we headed to Zion Outfitter to rent gear (you need to rent gear for this. It’s impossible to do it without it!).
DAY 4: THE NARROWS + CORAL PINK SAND DUNES + BRYCE CANYON
We got in line for the park entrance at least 30 minutes before it was supposed to open (and we were STILL many cars back!)… crazy. We ended up getting the LAST possible parking spot for The Narrows trailhead. We got lucky! We walked the Riverside Walk again in our gear and headed straight into the canyons. This was unlike anything I’ve ever done and I highly recommend it if you’re visiting Zion! I feel like it’s something that you just can’t pass up, especially because it’s so different from all of the other hikes! Make sure to talk to the park rangers to get info on the water levels, water temp, and best place to turn around.
After finishing The Narrows, we checked out of our hotel and returned our rental gear on our way out of the park. We drove the Mt. Caramel Highway again heading towards Bryce Canyon and The Coral Pink Sand Dunes. We stopped for lunch at Thunderbird Restaurant on the way. So yummy and I highly recommend!
We then drove to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. There was a $10 entrance fee. Honestly, it was pretty cool to see, but I wouldn’t say it’s 100% necessary to stop here. The sandy hills were actually soooo hard to walk on and it was SO windy. We took a few photos and left! They do ATV rentals over the dunes which looked cool… we decided to skip that though.
Okay, so on to Bryce Canyon…. an absolute GEM. I love how different Bryce and Zion are from each other, and they’re perfect to visit in the same trip since they aren’t too far from each other. The bright orange/red hoodoos are just otherworldly. We arrived around 6pm and did the Navajo Loop hike. 10/10. Do notttt skip this! We walked around the general store in town and then headed back to our hotel for the night!
Where we stayed: Red Ledges Inn in Tropic, UT (you can also stay closer to the park if you want. This was just cheaper and our original plan was to leave from Tropic anyways. That ended up changing… but Tropic was still a cute lil town!)
DAY 5: BRYCE CANYON HORSEBACK RIDE + HIKE
Eeeep one of my fav activities this trip! Horseback riding through Bryce! It’s SO cool riding the horses over and into the canyons. Anyone a big fan of Spirit as a kid? Well, that’s what this will remind you of! It’s absolutely amazing and it was one of my favorites activities this trip.
After our horseback ride, we took the scenic drive to all of the lookout points. We drove alllll the way to the end FIRST, and then made our way back stopping at each lookout. I recommend doing this because (personally) I think some of the best views are at the beginning (so work backwards!). We took another hike that evening as the sun was setting (the sunset glow on the hoodoos………unreal).
DAY 6: BELLY OF THE DRAGON + PARIA RIVER CANYON + PAGE, AZ
So our original plan was to leave Tropic and drive Cottonwood Canyon Road on our way to Page, Arizona. It looks BEAUTIFUL, but it’s a sketchy dirt road, and once seeing it, we decided to turn around since we had a rental car. I’m sure some people still do it in a rental… but we were too nervous if something were to go wrong! Instead, we drove back the way we came into Bryce. That meant passing Thunderbird Restaurant again (of course we stopped for lunch again!).
After eating, we stopped at Belly of the Dragon! Belly of the Dragon is actually a manmade tunnel that was originally created as a water culvert under HWY89, and it’s only a few minutes down the road from Thunderbird. The inside looks like the belly of a dragon, hence the name, lol. It was pretty neat to see and not far off from the main road!
From there, we drove to Paria River Canyon (Kanab). We drove out and back, and we passed an old cemetery along the way. The “rainbow” striped canyons were beautiful. Definitely a neat stop if you have time!
Afterwards, we headed straight to Page, Arizona, where we spent the night! Our first stop was Wahweap Overlook for some gorgeous views!
From there, we checked into our hotel and went to Wahweap Beach (Lake Powell) to relax. The water was cooold, but the views were worth it, plus it was nice to lay on the beach for awhile after doing so much hiking! The huge canyons emerging from the lake are amazing. After resting for awhile, we got dinner at Bonkers. This was one of my favorite restaurants this whole trip! It was an Italian place and everything was sooo good. It was the perfect weather for eating outside, too!
Where we stayed in Page: Best Western View of Lake Powell Hotel
DAY 7: HORSESHOE BEND + SEDONA, AZ
With another early start time, we spent our morning at Horseshoe Bend. Make sure to stop here before leaving Page 🙂 It’s just as beautiful as the popular images you see floating around the internet! You will encounter a $10 entrance fee. After leaving Horseshoe Bend, we were originally supposed to visit the Grand Canyon, however, it was closed because of Covid. Instead, we drove to Sedona and spent the day there!
Since we’d been doing a lot of hiking the days prior, we decided to keep our time in Sedona pretty chill. There’s a TON of really cool hiking trails though, if you’re up for it. We just walked around, visited Chapel of the Holy Cross, Airport Mesa and Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village. After spending the day here, we drove back to Williams, AZ to sleep. Williams was on our way back to Vegas anyways, and closer to Route 66 (which is tomorrow’s stop!).
Where we stayed: La Quinta in Williams, AZ
DAY 8: ROUTE 66
Ahhh our last full day! We slept in a bit today since the only thing on our agenda was Route 66 before heading back to Vegas. If you reallly want to get in the spirit, you can play the Cars soundtrack on your way there 😉 We found a cute spot for lunch and then walked around! It was honestly a ghost town (again, due to Covid). We met the sweetest shop owners and talked to them for quite awhile before continuing on our way.
You don’t need a TON of time here. Between lunch and walking around we probably spent around 2 hours. The shop owners we met recommended stopping at Oatman and/or Jerome on our way back to Vegas. They are both ghost towns! We were planning on doing that, however, our rental car broke down on our way there 🙁 Sooooo eventually a nice guy helped us out and got it started again, and from there we drove STRAIGHT back to Hertz because we didn’t want to risk it breaking down again. I was so sad, but better safe than sorry. We spent the night in a hotel near the Vegas airport and ordered Cheesecake Factory takeout 🙂
DAY 9: FLY HOME
Our only flight option was leaving super early in the morning. We were originally going to spend a night in Vegas when we first arrived, but our flight times got shifted so that ended up changing 🙂
If possible, get a late flight home and enjoy hanging out in Vegas for a bit before leaving! OR, just book an extra day and get a hotel on the Vegas strip and spend a day or two there. Vegas is a neat city, so definitely try to spend at least one night there!
Brooke Blasiak is a fine art wedding photographer serving exceptional couples throughout the East Coast and worldwide.
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