What outdoor lover doesn’t have a trip to the Utah national parks on his or her bucket list? Everyone has seen the iconic photos of Delicate Arch, Bryce Canyon, and the Virgin River in Zion, but planning such a trip can be daunting! Many people try to see all five national parks in a week, which means too much driving and not enough time to do the premier hikes in the parks. This is Part 1 of a two-part series, and this itinerary will cover the closest parks to Las Vegas for a one-week trip to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and some lesser-known but equally fabulous scenic areas of southwestern Utah. All three campgrounds and all the parks mentioned in this report are open year round. Summer is the most crowded season, of course, and conditions can also get quite hot. Spring and fall are wonderful times to visit, and winter can be beautiful with snow on the ground. Note that Bryce sits at over 8,000 feet in elevation, however, and it can get quite cold in winter!
Any itinerary in this area should be considered a beginning. If you have the time to extend your trip or you are interested in planning a follow-up, check out A Perfect 7-Day Itinerary for Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands, as well.
Travel to Zion National Park and set up camp at the Watchman Campground. If you get there in time, check out the sunset from the bridge at the intersection of the Zion Scenic Road and the Zion-Mt. Carmel highway, about 1/2 mile past the Zion Human History Museum.
Lace up your hiking boots and take the shuttle bus to the Angels Landing Trailhead. Get a very early start, as you don’t want to be fighting crowds on this narrow and popular trail. If you don’t feel up to tackling the Angel’s Landing hike (it’s not for people who are afraid of heights), the Hidden Canyon Trail gives excellent views and is not as vertigo-inducing. After lunch, if you aren’t too sore, take the shuttle bus tour of the canyon and maybe take one of the short and easy hikes like the Emerald Pools Trail. Before you settle in for the night, go rent your river gear (river boots, waders and walking stick) for the Narrows adventure tomorrow!
The Narrows hike is glorious and should be savored. Take a lunch, grab the wading gear, and head up the shuttle to the end of the line. The Narrows is an out-and-back hike, so go as far as you like on this amazing hike. The afternoon can be spent doing one of the short hikes from Watchman Campground or just savoring the beauty of the park.
After breakfast, head out toward Zion's east entrance, park just after the historic tunnel, and take the Canyon View hike. It’s short but lovely in the morning, with views almost as good as those from Angels Landing! Take your time driving out the east side of Zion and enjoy the amazing rock features. Mountain goats are often spotted in this area. Head north toward Bryce Canyon and take the time to visit the beautiful Red Canyon and take one of the short hikes like Pink Ledges or Arches. These are often passed-by, but they are well worth a few hours. Once you are settled in at North Campground in Bryce Canyon National Park, head up to Bryce Point for the sunset, ideally a few hours before the actual sunset as the amphitheater gets in shadow early.
Don't miss the sunrise from Sunrise Point. You won’t be alone, but there is lots of room to explore and find a good spot. After absorbing the beauty of the dawn, head up to Ruth’s for a hearty breakfast and then back into Bryce to walk the Navajo + Queen’s Garden Loop, which is a great way to really experience the heart of the canyon. In the afternoon, take the scenic drive up to Rainbow Point and check out all the overlooks along the way. In the afternoon, drive to Kodachrome Basin State Park and settle into your campsite.
First thing in the morning, take the Angel's Palace Trail from the campground. After breakfast, pack a lunch and head out to the Willis Creek Slot Canyon for a very fun hike if the water is not too high. You might get a little wet. Next, head out into the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for a bit of dirt road driving (passenger cars are fine) to the Grosvenor Arch and the Cottonwood Narrows canyon hike.
If there is time, do the Panorama Trail hike in Kodachrome Basin for some beautiful solitary desert views and then pack up to travel back to Las Vegas and home. Or, if you’re lucky, continue on to Part 2 for the rest of the Utah parks tour!