This is really a great option for a 2 week vacation. Allowing for 8 nights on the trip and then an overnight flight home, you’ll still have a few days to recover from jet lag if travelling from Europe. Of course it means a whirlwind tour through whichever parks you choose but there will be plenty of time for walks and relaxation.
Southern Utah boasts 5 major National Parks and then of course there is the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Monument Valley on the border between the two states. You’ll need to have a look at all of them, decide upon how much driving you want to do and sort accommodation if travelling in high season. Some of the parks have about 4 hours driving time between them. Driving itself is straightforward and most accommodation in the region has parking facilities.
We did not have a direct route option so Skyscanner found flights via Charlotte on the way out and Philadelphia for our return to Dublin. We had visited the region before so did’t include the Grand Canyon on this trip.
- Las Vegas – 1 night
(Las Vegas to Flagstaff – circa 4 hours driving time)
- Flagstaff – 1 night
(Flagstaff to Monument Valley – circa 3 hours driving time)
- Monument Valley – 1 night
(Monument Valley to Arches National Park – circa 3 hours driving time)
- Arches National Park (Moab) – 1 night
(Arches to Bryce Canyon – circa 4 hours driving time)
- Bryce Canyon (Tropic) -1 night
(Bryce to Zion – circa 90 minutes driving time)
- Zion National Park (Springdale) – 1 night
(Zion to Las Vegas – circa 2 and a half hours driving time)
- Las Vegas – 2 nights
This itinerary allows for sleepovers in Vegas at both the beginning and end of the trip. You won’t need a fancy room for your first night – there should be plenty of offers available off the strip. We booked The Tuscany Suites and Casino and were really pleased with our choice. It was good value but still close to the action. We had time for a quick swim to wake us up a bit before heading out for something to eat and a quick trip to the casinos.
You might like something flashier for your last few days . We got a good enough rate at the Bellagio which included a free buffet. I loved having my cocktail at the pool in the evenings!
FOOD AND DRINK
I’m not a lot of help here because I can’t resist a buffet and therefore have never needed to search any of the 4200 restaurants in town! So buffet breakfast and buffet dinner for me (I’m ashamed to say that I did, on one visit, also manage a buffet lunch!) . I’ve no particular favourites but on this trip we ate in the Bellagio and Paris (which I preferred). Two things to bear in mind – the buffets finish up earlier than expected and there are crazy queues for the more popular ones… do you really want to spend 90 minutes queuing for food?. There are buffet passes for purchase in some casino groups and I presume one can still get coupons on occasion.
On the Road
We broke our journey to Monument Valley with a stopover in Flagstaff. As a hub for the Grand Canyon, it can be a busy spot but has a nice redbrick centre for a wander and plenty of restaurants, bars and coffee shops.
For accommodation at the parks we booked motels in the towns of Moab, Tropic and Springdale. Both Moab and Springdale had plenty to offer with restaurants, shops and bars. Tropic didn’t inspire but was fine for one night and convenient for Bryce Canyon. We had one exception – we were lucky enough, when organising the trip on short notice, to get a cabin at The View in Monument Valley. This meant that we were perfectly situated to enjoy both sunset and sunrise in this incredible place.
Yes – it does take your breath away! The fact that the landscape is so familiar to us only enhances the experience. Just standing there and looking out at the famous Mittens is one of those special moments when you truly experience the joy of travel.
The area is not actually part of the National Park Service as it lies within the Navajo Nation Reservation. There is a $20 entrance fee per car. A 17 mile dirt and gravel driving loop brings you past the main landmarks. While a 4WD is not strictly necessary for the route, we had prebooked an official tour for early afternoon and were glad to be brought around for 2 and a half hours as part of a small group.
(Our cabin – I wonder why they called it The View!)
(Sharing the sunset…..)
(….and the sunrise)
Sunrise, breakfast and a 3 hour drive will bring you to Arches National Park by late morning.
Arches National Park
This landscape of arches, natural bridges, balanced rocks and other sandstone formations, along with its contrasting colours and textures, deserves more than a half day visit (but you could return the following morning before heading off to Bryce Canyon).
You can check the afternoon activities at the visitor centre when you arrive or just pick up a map and head off on some of the many hiking trails. They vary in difficulty and length -some will take just 10-15 minutes. Make sure you stock up on water and snacks – there is no restaurant on the site.
I’d never actually heard of this place until a few years ago when a friend returned from vacation raving about the incredible landscape. After 40 years of travel, this must be one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever visited.
Having driven the 4 hours from Moab, we spent the afternoon and evening travelling between the various overlooks, hiking parts of the Rim Trail and admiring the pinnacles or Hoodoos. The following morning we followed the Navajo trail down from the rim into the Amphitheatre. As always, there’s plenty of info at the visitors centre. There is also the option of a free shuttle bus in the park but even though we visited in early August, we used our own car and had no difficulties with traffic or parking.
(The Hoodoos from below)
Zion National Park
Zion Canyon, is a very popular hiking destination but even if the climb to Angel’s Landing is not for you (nor me!), there is a lovely Riverside Walk which takes about an hour and a half to complete as well as other trails of varying length and difficulty.
This time we parked at our motel in nearby Springdale and availed of the various shuttle options on offer. We spent a full afternoon and evening in the park and returned the following morning for a few hours before heading back to Las Vegas
(Massive sandstone mounds in Zion)
- Casinos – If you are travelling with kids, they will not be allowed anywhere near the casino activities – even to stand and watch. We had a 17 year old with us one time and he was moved on even if we paused beside a slot machine
- Shopping – There are tourist options in Flagstaff and Moab and Outlet Shopping Malls in Las Vegas.
- If you have time, there are free gambling lessons available at some of the casinos.
- Buy a cheap cool box and a slab of small water bottles before you leave Las Vegas. Ice is available for purchase at most gas stations and food stores.
- I actually can’t recall whether the motels had coffee making facilities but it might be worthwhile picking up a cheap kettle, plastic cups, coffee etc.
- Dining options in the national parks can be limiting at best and very busy in high season. There were no dining options at all in Arches. Keep a supply of snacks and picnic items in the cool box.
- Book accommodation as early as possible. With enough planning time you may get accommodation in the park lodges.