SW USA: 8 Day Road Trip To The Grand Canyon, Bryce, and Zion National Parks With Children
The lure of the Grand Canyon, for most Americans, is legendary. We have to see this natural wonder for ourselves as the stories of a canyon so deep and so vast are almost unimaginable. Add in the majestic peaks of Zion and the red sentinels of Bryce and this is a road trip of almost other-worldly proportions. Grab the kids, pack the car, and hit the road: One of the world’s most famous national parks awaits.
First, a few details: This trip is designed for families with small children but we’ve made some notes as to activities or side excursions that older kids might also enjoy. And if you’re feeling really adventurous, we’ve got the trip for you: Spend your two weeks floating in a raft down the Colorado River as it winds through the Grand Canyon. We’ve never done it….but it’s on our list.
We did this trip with a 9 month-old and a three year-old. We flew into Las Vegas and rented a car. Other convenient airports include Flagstaff and Phoenix. We arrived in Las Vegas late at night so this trip officially begins on the next full day.
And here is where we admit some trip preferences: while we liked the Grand Canyon, we loved Page (Arizona) and Bryce National Park the best. It’s true. There was so much for the little ones to do, particularly around Bryce. And our hike through the Narrows of Zion was spectacular…and definitely made up for the fact that the park was packed with people. So while we think you should make time for the Grand Canyon, don’t leave out the others as they might prove to be the surprise hits of the trip.
8-Day Grand Canyon Road Trip
Plan to arrive the night before or very early in the morning of Day 1
Day 1: Load the rental car, pack a cooler with lunch supplies, and leave Las Vegas. You’re heading southeast past Lake Mead. Check out Hoover Dam and perhaps a ghost town before spending your afternoon at Bearizona, a drive-through wild-life park. Spend the night at the Grand Canyon.
Day 2: Behold the magnificent canyon! Don’t just go to the viewpoints and gape at the abyss below. Spend a bit of time tromping along the Rim Trail or, if you’re a hearty sort, wind your way down into the mighty depths on the Bright Angel Trail. Then you can take in one last view point before heading northeast to the little town of Page, Arizona.
Day 3: It’s time to explore a slot canyon. But check the weather first. Lower Antelope Canyon is not to be missed; your kids will love the twisty turns but probably be a bit bored by the (required) guide. Do it anyway. Bring your picnic down to the nearby Antelope Point Marina for lunch and a quick dip in Lake Powell. As evening falls, drive a short distance out of town for a 20-minute walk to Horseshoe Bend in Glen Canyon. Keep a very tight hold on the kiddies, however, as these are 1,000 cliffs…and no guardrails.
Day 4: Hit the road early because you’re heading toward Bryce National Park in Utah. The Toadstools Hike in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is convenient, free, and a fabulous hike for families. If you arrive with enough daylight, do the 17-mile drive through Bryce as the sun is setting over the rocky formations. Tuck yourself into bed at Ruby’s Best Western, conveniently located right outside the park.
Day 5: Get up early: it’ll be chilly but the views are spectacular and you’ll be both the crowds and the heat. You must do the Queen’s Garden Trail hike down into the valley. There are plenty of spurs so feel free to add some additional mileage if you’re feeling energetic. Just save a little water for the hike back up Wall Street. It’s a humdinger of a climb. Grab your picnic and head for Grosvenor’s Arch and another kid friendly stroll: Willis Creek Slot Canyon.
Day 6: Drive west towards Bryce National Park, along the must-travel Highway 9 (Zion-Mt. Carmel route), checking into a hotel in Springdale, a town conveniently located immediately outside the park. Spend the evening taking in the Zion Human History Museum or moseying along one of the many trails near the river. We liked the Emerald Pools Trail, despite the lack of significant water in the aforementioned pools. if you’re up for a humdinger of a hike and have teens, take them up the world-famous Angel’s Landing trail. Not for the height adverse. Wrap up the day with a nice long soak in your hotel’s hot tub. You deserve it.
Day 7: Hike the NARROWS. It’s impossible to visit Zion and not hear about the Narrows: a slot canyon that puts all other slot canyons to shame. For this trip, you’ll be doing the ‘Bottom-up day-hike’; we sprung for special socks, shoes, and poles, three pieces of equipment that makes hiking up the canyon (and through the Virgin River) almost pleasant. Almost. It’s still cold, no matter the season. Pack warmly, bring lots of food, and don’t forget the camera (packed in a waterproof pouch). And prepare to get wet! Here is our guide for how to hike the Narrows.
Day 8: Time to head home. Sniff. Las Vegas is a few hours away. Enough time to put a few quarters in a slot machine, if you’re feeling lucky. Or, if you have an additional day, spring for a horse riding adventure through the park with Jacob’s Ranch.
Let’s Begin: Grand Canyon