Inside: Get a family-friendly day-to-day itinerary with hotels, restaurants, and activities for a national parks road trip to Utah and Arizona.
This summer our family visited seven parks in Utah and Arizona–in just six days. And we had a fantastic time!
We took this trip with my high school French exchange student and her family (yes, we’ve stayed in touch for 30 years). They’d been wanting to visit the Western U.S. and thought it would be fun to do the trip together.
Since I didn’t know anything about Utah or Arizona, I was more than happy to let their travel agent handle the arrangements. But I’m also a world-class worrier, so when we got the itinerary, I was anxious about a few things:
The pace. I was worried that visiting six parks in six days would be exhausting. BUT I’m actually very glad we saw so much. Sure, we would’ve been happy with an extra day in Zion, but otherwise, we were ready to move on and see the next park each day.
The driving. The parks are 2-5 hours apart from each other, so there’s a lot of driving involved. BUT our family rented a minivan, so we had plenty of room to spread out and be comfortable (and both families could take short trips together in one vehicle, which was nice). Plus, the scenery was so breathtaking, and there were many scenic places to stop along the way, it truly made the time go by quickly.
The kids. Even though our kids are older (ages 11 and 15 when we took this trip), I worried they wouldn’t be interested in the views or that the hiking would be too strenuous. BUT I was wrong! They took it all in, did just fine on the hikes, and seemed to genuinely appreciate the beauty.
The heat. We were in Utah and Arizona the first week of August, so I was bracing myself for the weather. BUT besides the heat on the sand dunes at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, the temperatures weren’t too bad. It was even cool (in the 70s!) at the Grand Canyon.
A few important points about our itinerary:
- We did not camp. We don’t own camping equipment and knew we would be more comfortable staying in hotels. We all slept well each night and were grateful for hot showers, clean sheets and towels, and soft beds.
- We weren’t on a tight budget. We were able to use airline points to fly (almost) for free, but the hotels, activities, rental car, and meals did add up. There are certainly plenty of ways to see these parks cheaper, but we decided to splurge on this vacation and not stress about the budget so much.
- We were spontaneous with meals. We ate a lot of lunches in the van with the groceries we bought. I took on the task of picking the restaurant each night for dinner, but did my research on the fly as we were driving into town. I’ve indicated below the places we especially enjoyed and the ones that were just okay.
- Our families used this travel guide book: Lonely Planet Western USA in planning where to go and what to see.
There are a million different ways to see these parks, but I hope this gives you some ideas–or at least inspires you to see these amazing parks too!
Our National Parks Road Trip Itinerary
DAY 1: Zion National Park
- Arrive at Las Vegas Airport in the morning
- Rent car: We opted for a minivan so we would have more space and could share some rides with the family we traveled with
- Head to Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah
- LUNCH: on the road (we stopped at a Panera outside Vegas)
- Stop at grocery store between Las Vegas and Springdale to buy groceries (see the grocery list at bottom), plus a styrofoam cooler and ice. We are not typically Wal-Mart shoppers, but that’s what was most convenient. There are several along the route to Zion.
- HOTEL: Majestic View Lodge, located in Springdale at the entrance to Zion Park. There is a small pool and a restaurant, plus a fun little museum in the main lodge. This was the view from our first-floor room:
- Pick up rental equipment for hiking The Narrows (neoprene socks, waterproof boots, and a walking stick) at Zion Outfitter.
- DINNER: Meme’s Café or other nearby restaurant. There are a lot of options near the hotel.
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DAY 2: ZION, CORAL PINK SAND DUNES STATE PARK & BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
- Up at 6am.
- BREAKFAST: Eat in room from groceries purchased yesterday (we had bagels with peanut butter, milk boxes, and fruit).
- Drive to parking lot behind Zion Outfitter for free Zion shuttle. We were in line no later than 7am (it gets crowded and we were advised to be in the lot by 8am FYI!). Pack snacks and water.
- Hike The Narrows as far in as you want—it’s one way in and out! When we were there in August, the water was cool but not cold, and the deepest point hit my 11-year-old at the waist. We did two hours in, two hours out.
- Take the free shuttle bus back to the lot and return equipment to Zion Outfitter.
- LUNCH: Buy groceries (such as bread, lunch meat, fruit or prepared sandwiches) at the food mart next to Zion Outfitter and eat outside under awning.
- Drive to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Rent sled ($25 for three hours) and ride down sand dunes. Wear close-toed shoes (not sandals!) and hats and bring lots of water.
- Drive to Bryce Canyon.
- HOTEL: Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel
- DINNER: The Pizza Place. Dinner options are dismal in the surrounding hotel area. But this place is nice, affordable, and about a 15-minute drive from the hotel.
DAY 3: BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK & ARCHES NATIONAL PARK
- BREAKFAST: Free breakfast at hotel.
- Drive to three scenic points in Bryce (Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point). Park at each to view the canyon. We walked the Navajo Loop at Sunset Point, which took us about an hour. It was steep on the way back up!
- Drive to Moab. Take scenic route 12—one of the most scenic roads in America! It will add time onto your trip but be worth it. Stop at Kiva Koffeehouse for a pit-stop. Stop again at mini-mart where Rte 12 meets Rte 24 for a bathroom break.
- LUNCH: in car with groceries. (For a few days of this trip, we ate large breakfasts and dinners and used the groceries in our van to sustain us in between. We ate a lot of PBJs! It worked for us. You may want to do it differently.)
- HOTEL: Best Western Plus Canyonlands Inn Moab
- DINNER: The Spoke across the street from the hotel. It was fine, but there are lots of walkable restaurants around the hotel, including Italian and Thai places.
Day 4: ARCHES & MONUMENT VALLEY
- BREAKFAST: Free breakfast in hotel.
- Adrift Adventures: 4×4 tour of Arches National Park. I would opt for a different activity if I could do it again. It lasts more than 4 hours and you only see one arch up close, and it’s not ideal for carsick-prone kids (like mine!).
- LUNCH: Stop in the cute coffee shop next door to Adrift Adventures for drinks and snacks.
- Drive to Monument Valley (Note: Monument Valley is a Navajo-operated park, so you cannot use a National Parks Pass for entrance. There is a separate fee involved.) On the way, stop at Valley of the Gods and Needles Overlook pictured below (both are amazing and worth the extra time!).
- HOTEL: The View Hotel. Get a room with a view—you can sit outside on your little terrace. Here’s the view from our balcony:
- DINNER: Get take-out from the hotel restaurant and sit on the patio to eat it. The portions are huge (my teenage son and I shared a burger and still had leftovers).
- Star-gaze! This was the most impressive display of the night sky that we saw on our trip.
Day 5: MONUMENT VALLEY & LAKE POWELL
- BREAKFAST: Buffet at hotel. It’s not included in your stay and a bit pricey, but we sprang for it in lieu of buying lunch.
- Monument Valley on horseback, in a group. Supervised by a Navajo guide. This lasted two hours and was our kids’ favorite activity of the trip!
- Return to View hotel for a stop in the bathrooms and to visit gift shop.
- LUNCH: in car with groceries.
- Drive to Lake Powell.
- HOTEL: Lake Powell Resort. This hotel is in the park itself and we had a nice view, but you could stay outside the park at a less expensive hotel. Here’s the view from our room:
- Antelope Canyon Tour: This is one of the most photographed sites in Western America and is also known as “Corkscrew Canyon”. You take a 20-minute ride in an open 4×4 to get there, then spend 1 hour walking in the canyon, which is cool and shaded. This was an excellent and beautiful tour!
- DINNER: Fiesta Mexican Restaurant across the street from Antelope Canyon Tours. This is a fun and affordable Mexican restaurant. Portions (and margaritas!) are enormous. Get there before 7:30 to avoid a wait.
Day 6: LAKE POWELL & GRAND CANYON ·
- BREAKFAST: Canyon Crepes Café. We loved this little place, tucked away around the corner from the Antelope Canyon Tours office. We got crepes (savory and sweet) and smoothies.
- Tour of Glen Canyon Dam. The tour lasts 45 minutes and costs just $5. Make advance reservations. If you don’t do the tour, you can still stop and check out the museum and look at the dam. It’s spectacular!
- Drive to Grand Canyon. Along the way, stop at Horseshoe Bend ($10 to enter) on the way, which involves a 25-minute hike to the scenic overlook. Check it out below. Gorgeous!
- LUNCH: in car with groceries.
- HOTEL: Yavapai Lodge East on South Rim of Grand Canyon.
- Head to Rim Trail for a 1-hour walk.
- DINNER: Yavapai Lodge cafeteria (you could find another option, this was just close and easy for us.)
Day 7: GRAND CANYON & DEPART
- Up by 6:30 to pack van and check out.
- BREAKFAST: Yavapai cafeteria.
- Take free shuttle bus across street on Blue Route to Hermits Rest Route Transfer to Bright Angel Trailhead. Hike down 30-45 minutes and back up.
- LUNCH: in van with remaining groceries on way to airport.
- Stop at Hoover Dam on the way if there’s time.
- Return rental van.
- DINNER: At airport before evening flight.
THINGS TO CONSIDER FOR A National Parks Road Trip
- Buy a National Parks Pass ($80 for one year for a family of four) to save money on entrance fees if you’re visiting multiple parks.
- Check out the FREE parks pass that’s available to all fourth graders: Every Kid Outdoors
- Take part in the Junior Ranger Program, which we didn’t have time to do but is supposed to be fun for kids. They get passport-type stamps at each park.
- Bring some games for the car. I printed out a License Plate Game (like this one), and my teenager actually ended up being the most excited about it (and he found 42 states!). Next time, I’d print out more games like that one.
Items to Pack for A National Parks Road Trip (Summer)
I love these packing cubes. I bought them in different colors, and each family member used a different color. They feature a “compression zipper”, so you save even more space. If you’re flying, here’s my favorite roller bag: We have this incredibly lightweight suitcase in two different colors, and you can either check it or carry it on.
- Hats (preferably wide-brimmed)
- Hiking shoes or tennis shoes with sturdy soles and good socks
- Pants and shorts
- Long-sleeved shirt or light sweatshirt
- Rain jacket
- Day pack
- Water bottles and/or hydration backpacks
Grocery List Ideas for National Parks Road Trip
- Syrofoam cooler + ice (you could also pack a soft-sided cooler in your luggage, but we didn’t have room)
- Hot/cold insulated bag (this made it easy to get ice from hotel ice machines plus store extra drinks, etc.)
- Peanut butter
- Shelf-stable boxes of milk
- Beef jerky
- Dried fruit
- Granola bars
- Small bottles sports drinks (I’m not typically a fan of sports drinks for leisure activities, but it was helpful with the heat and activity!)
- Bottled water (we mostly used our reusable bottles, but this was helpful to have in a pinch)
- Half-sized cans of ginger ale (in case of car sickness)
- Local beer (we kept this cold in the cooler and enjoyed it on the balconies of our hotels with our friends)
- Hard candy and/or mints for hikes
- Sunscreen (stick for face, spray/cream for body)
- Hand sanitizer
- Roll of paper towels
- Wipes to clean hands and other things
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