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USA / Arizona / Nevada / Utah

Driving in Utah & Arizona - Day plans for an 18-day driving vacation

The first time we drove in the US Southwest was actually on our honeymoon. Maybe not the most classic romantic destination for us Swedes, but what an adventure! We loved hiking in the desert heat among the red rocks of Utah, watching the sunset over the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and glittering with the showgirls in Las Vegas. We actually loved it so much that we've been back and done roughly the same setup several times. So here comes spring ultimate driving vacation starting and ending in Las Vegas - 8 national parks and 200 miles through the most beautiful nature in the USA! A driving holiday probably can't get any better than this!

Do you want to read generally about driving in the USA? Check out my page 10 tips for the perfect driving holiday in the USA.

Daily plans

This trip can be done in two weeks, but then you have to count on quite a lot of driving every day. Recommended is at least 18 days, with longer stops at some of the Grand Canyon, Bryce, Arches or Zion national parks.


Large map

Days 1-3: Las Vegas, Nevada

Day 1-3: No car needed

Las Vegas – love it or hate it. It's big, bloated, artificial, glittery, sunky and really, really wonderful. For about 3 days. Then the constant bleep bleep from the slot machines starts to get to your head. Preferably book a casino-free hotel, so you have a refuge from the craziness. I can still long for Vegas sometimes, even though I've been here 4 times and I know how crazy I get after a day of enervating blip-blopping.

accommodation: Four Seasons Las Vegas (guaranteed casino-free and "affordable" luxury hotel)

Day 4: Route 66 towards Williams, Arizona

37 miles from Las Vegas

Now the luxury life in Vegas is over. Time to try the roads and the slightly simpler motels outside the big cities.

Have a quiet but hearty breakfast at the hotel before picking up the rental car and heading out on the roads. Today you pass it impressively Hoover Dam (be prepared for security checks) before you reach kingman, where you turn off a major highway and instead turn onto Route 66 and goes on one of America's most classic roads until Williams. Stop at one of the many hamburger trails along Route 66 and settle into the red faux leather chairs by the lace curtains and have a delicious lunch with way too much bacon. Life is good!

accommodation: Holiday Inn Express or The Quinta Inn in Williams.

Day 5: Grand Canyon NP, Arizona

9 miles one way from Williams 

Don't even think about that Grand Canyon would be a tourist trap! There is a reason why millions of tourists from all over the world come here every year. The Grand Canyon is unimaginably large and unimaginably impressive. Hike, raft, ride and enjoy the sunset and admire from above the large birds of prey that circle the gorge. The Grand Canyon is truly one of the wonders of the world. The South Rim is approximately 1 hour's drive from Williams, so there will be an early breakfast at the motel before departure.

accommodation: For those of you who are out in good time and can imagine paying a little more, book accommodation in Grand Canyon Village. For budget, book in Tusayan or Williams (see day 4). You have to drive a bit every day, but it works. We have never had a choice but to stay in Williams, it has always been fully booked in Grand Canyon Village when we have been here. But it feels perfectly fine to drive 1 hour to the national park, often it can be much longer than that from the nearest city to a national park.

Grand Canyon South Rim - Arizona
Grand Canyon South Rim

Day 6: Grand Canyon NP, Arizona

9 miles one way from Williams (if that's where you live) + 9 miles to Tuba City

Today the adventure continues in the Grand Canyon. Stay until sunset and enjoy the spectacle of the vast landscape before hitting the roads again for the night's accommodation. It's a long day's drive tomorrow to Moab, so to avoid sitting all day in the car, drive an hour to Tuba City already today.

Read more at my Grand Canyon site.

accommodation: There are not many accommodations on the way to Monument Valley, so you have to take what you find even if it is not affordable. We lived on Quality Inn Navajo Nation, a motel inside the Navajo Nation. Note that in the Navajo Nation alcohol is prohibited.

Grand Canyon - Arizona - USA

Day 7: Monument Valley, Arizona

40 miles from Tuba City to Moab + detour 

Today is the longest drive of the trip, a real full day with several exciting stops along the way.

The first stop is at Navajo National Monument, where in a ravine there are remains of a Pueblo village from the 13th century. The village is not as impressive and large as Mesa Verde in Colorado, but it is definitely worth a stop. Take a short hike to look out over the village and don't miss the dinosaur footprints.

Navajo Nation - Arizona
Navajo National Monument Trail
Monument Valley - Arizona
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Drive on across the great expanses, where the roads are as long and straight and endless as only roads can be in the USA. The closer you get to Monument Valley, the bigger the well-known red sandstone cliffs (so-called bullion tables and mounds) who stand alone in the midst of desolation. Monument Valley is the eternal backdrop of cowboy movies and a pure pleasure to drive through. You will find the most famous view in Navajo Tribal Visitor Center, where you (if you have a good 4-wheel drive car) can drive straight out among all the mesas on a really twisted road.

Goosenecks State Park
Goosenecks State Park

The last stop before we drive on to Moab, is Goosenecks State Park, where over millions of years the San Juan River has burrowed its way through the earth, forming a deep river channel that can be seen if you carefully approach the edge.

accommodation: In Moab there is plenty of accommodation and plenty of restaurants and bars. Live in a chain, for example La Quinta Inn Moab or try staying "glamping" at the tent hotel Under canvas.

Day 8-9: Arches NP, Utah

8 miles round trip from Moab 

Arches National Park is a category of superstar national parks all its own. Here you'll find over 2000 stone arches that seem to defy gravity, along with balancing rocks and beautiful red cliffs. To both have time to drive through the entire park and to hike up to the iconic one Delicate Arch, you need to split the visit into two days.

Arches National Park - Utah
Double Arch in Arches National Park - Notice how small the people are!

Other places you should visit are the rock formations at Fiery Furnace, Landscape Arch, Double Arch and Sand Dune Arch. Also hike along Park Avenue Trail, the hiking trail where the cliffs almost look like high-rise buildings in New York.

accommodation: In Moab, same as day 6.

Sand Dune Arch in Arches National Park
Sand Dune Arch in Arches National Park

Day 10: Canyonlands NP, Utah

15 miles round trip from Moab 

Canyonlands National Park is the Grand Canyon's slightly forgotten sister, which despite its size hardly gets any visitors. Perhaps it is because the distances are great and there is not as much service here as in many other national parks. But the scenery is magnificent! Canyons as awesome as the Grand Canyon, stone arches as big as Arches and with plenty of hiking trails at Island In the Sky. Don't miss going here!

Canyonlands National Park
Canyonlands National Park

Day 11: Towards Torrey, Utah

25 miles from Moab 

Today is mostly a stretch of transport and a chance to rest your legs, so take the opportunity to knock off all the necessary shopping or that mountain bike ride you had in mind in Moab, before heading to Torray in the afternoon.

accommodation: Capitol Reef Resort outside Torrey is well situated for tomorrow's national park adventure.

Day 12: Capitol Reef NP, Utah

17 miles from Torrey to Bryce + about 5 miles in the national park

Capitol Reef National Park was a bubble on our national park map, so we really had no expectations when we went here. Perhaps that was precisely why the park left such an impression on us, because here we had some of our best hikes ever. It was quite a heavy hiking day when we were there, the temperature was around 40 degrees and the air was still on the hiking trail. So we only walked a few relatively short trails, there Capitol Gorge became our favorite, with steep red cliffs and hiking in an old river vein.

Capitol Reef National Park Utah (2)
Capitol Gorge in Capitol Reef National Park

Before you leave the park and head for the night's accommodation in Bryce, stop for a pie and coffee in the historic Fruit. Here grow over 3000 old fruit trees from the time when Mormon pioneers lived here. It's free to pick from the trees and enjoy sun-warmed apricots and cherries directly, so take the opportunity to smacking away!

accommodation: In Bryce, you want to live centrally, so check in at well-maintained Bryce Canyon Grand.

Fruit

Day 13-14 Bryce NP, Utah

15 miles round trip in the national park

Bryce oh Bryce – our favorite of all the national parks! Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the most unique things in nature I have ever seen. Narrow, high sandstone cliffs in various shades of red and white (so-called Hoodoos) are gathered here in large numbers. Best of all are the hiking trails down in Bryce Amphitheatre, Navajo Trail + Queens Garden's Trail, starting in Sunrise and end in Sunset. It is considered tough, with large differences in height. Add in the fact that Bryce Canyon is at an altitude of 2500 meters, and the hike becomes even tougher.

Bryce Canyon - Utah
Heading down into the Bryce Amphitheater

You get the best view of the amphitheater from Inspiration Point, it is only then that you really understand how big and numerous all the Hoodoos really are.

Bryce Canyon - Utah
Bryce Canyon from Inspiration Point

Spend two days here in the park exploring more hiking trails and learning more about all the fossils found here. In the evening, take the opportunity to visit the Bryce rodeo and be horrified at how all the cowboys turn yellow and blue when they are thrown off their horses and bulls.

accommodation: Same as previous day in Bryce.

Bryce Canyon - Utah

Day 15: Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

15 miles from Bryce to Springdale (via Cedar Breaks)

Leave Bryce in the morning and head towards Springdale via Cedar breaks national monument. At 3000 meters lies a small subalpine version of Bryce, which is relatively unknown. During the summer months, spring flowers bloom in large quantities, which has led to the park organizing a "wildflower festival" every year. Here you can quite alone walk the edge of the gorge and watch the sandstone's color changes in the relatively cool air. Great after the heat that Utah otherwise offers during the summer months!

Cedar breaks national monument
Cedar breaks national monument

Accommodation: Canyon Lodge in Springdale


Day 16: Zion National Park, Utah

Shorter drive to shuttle bus

Zion National Park is one of America's most popular national parks, yet we haven't quite managed to find its charm. Maybe it's because during large parts of the year you can't take the car into the park (due to the large number of visitors), so you have to take the shuttle bus instead. The amount of people takes away a bit of the beauty of the area for me, but the park is still worth a visit. There are several circumscribed hiking trails here, of which "the Subway" is a tough one that requires rappelling, swimming and (preferably) a guide.

Something that Zion offered us in abundance, however, was encounters with animals. Mostly we saw bighorn sheep, but also some deer, so look out for the cliff edges!

Zion National Park - Utah
Zion National Park - Utah

accommodation: Same as the previous day in Springdale.


Day 17: Back to Las Vegas

25 mile drive to Las Vegas in the afternoon

Pay a final visit to Zion National Park in the morning and go as suggested Riverside Walk and Lower Emerald Pools, before dusting off your hiking boots and heading back to the Las Vegas sequin shoes. Two weeks of national park tour is coming to an end, but what experiences you have had! Unless this is it the ultimate driving holiday in the USA, so say!

accommodation: Hang out by the pool on Four Seasons Las Vegas as many days as the budget allows before flying home.

Zion National Park - Utah
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About the blogger

Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.

2 Comments

  • Christine - 29°
    May 3, 2018 at 21:48 pm

    Wow, what nature! We might have to redo our road trip in the US too. 🙂

    Reply
    • Eve on rucksack.see
      May 3, 2018 at 22:12 pm

      The national parks in the USA are really in a class of their own, you can probably always do another road trip in the USA! 🙂 We were so close to going to New Mexico/Texas this summer, but were really put off by the dollar exchange rate... 9,50 SEK/$ doesn't even make it affordable to stay in a motel anymore!

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