Updated: Jan 4, 2022
The United States National Parks are each magnificent in their own way. My boyfriend and I have made it our mission to see as many amazing parks that we can. This year we took a week-long vacation to cross some amazing National Parks off our bucket list.
In the midst of a pandemic, I have learned that domestic travel within the United States can be as beautiful and fascinating as international travel. It is also MUCH more affordable.
Read on for a full itinerary on the shockingly low-cost way that you can plan a similar vacation.
When the pandemic hit I had to shift my priorities from dreaming of international vacations to a safer and actually possible way of vacationing. In the last two years, we have visited the following National Parks:
Glacier National Park
Arches National Park
Zion National Park
6 of the parks on this list are from our latest road trip vacation. We hit all 6 National Parks in 7 days and I'm here to share the full itinerary with you.
Full Route & Itinerary
Itinerary Note: We are not avid hikers, we were able to see what we wanted to of each park from viewpoints or light hikes. If you are an avid hiker, you may need more time in each park.
Flight: Morning flight from ATL (Atlanta) to LAS (Las Vegas)
Day One: Horseshoe Bend
We chose not to stay in Las Vegas on the first night and opted to get right on the road. The drive from Las Vegas to Horseshoe Bend was approximately 4 and a half hours. We chose to not stop at additional points in the Grand Canyon because we had previously seen this National Park on a separate trip. But there are great viewpoints of the Grand Canyon on the route from Las Vegas to Horseshoe Bend.
We saw Horseshoe Bend in the evening after our drive. It is a $10 entrance fee to the viewpoint overlooking the river.
We spent the night in Page, AZ. Unfortunately, Antelope Canyon remains closed due to COVID but if it is open while you visit, I would highly recommend booking a tour to the slot canyon.
Day Two: Canyonlands
Since we were unable to see Antelope Canyon, we got on the road first thing in the morning by 7:00 AM. The drive to Canyonlands was 3 hours and 45 minutes from Page, AZ.
We attempted to go to Arches National Park first, but learn from our mistake! Due to the smaller size of Arches, there is a limit on how many cars can go into the park at one time. This normally fills up by 11:30 AM.
When we were turned around at Arches we headed to Canyonlands for a long afternoon. There are several great viewpoints in Canyonlands, so we chose to drive through the park and do one light hike to the famous Mesa Arch.
Our overnight stay here was in Monticello, UT. At a gorgeous glamping site called "Glamping Canyonlands". I would highly recommend staying at this campground if you're looking for a unique and beautiful experience. It was about a 40 minute drive from the park entrance.
Day Three: Arches and Capitol Reef
This was another early morning in order to make sure that we were not going to be turned away at the entrance of Arches a second time.
We arrived at Arches around 7:30 AM and spent about 5 hours in the park. This was enough for us to see all of the arches that were on our list. You will need to take light hikes to get a good view of any of the arches within the park. Pictured here is Pine Tree Arches on the Devil's Garden trail. Many of the famous arches can be seen by doing this trail.
We had lunch in Moab, UT then hit the road again for Capitol Reef National Park. This is a much shorter drive, only about 2 hours from Arches.
Capitol Reef is an underrated National Park. I would highly recommend adding it to your road trip route. We drove through the park in the afternoon, stopped and took lots of pictures then ate dinner at our motel overlooking the park. The motel is called Rim Rock Inn. It was a cute spot, affordable and the location was phenomenal!
Day Four: Bryce Canyon
The drive from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon is another short one, only about 2 hours. Bryce Canyon is a park that took us an entire day to explore. The main viewpoints are right at the beginning of the park in the main amphitheater. I would stop at each of these viewpoints: Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunrise, and Sunset Point. We also decided to drive all the way to the bottom endpoint of the park (approximately a 30-40 minute drive).
Before we continued our afternoon, we had lunch at the lodge, which was actually pretty good. In the afternoon we decided to go on the Queens Garden Hike. This is a shorter hike but has a dramatic change in elevation. Definitely a hike I would recommend, it was gorgeous! Desert afternoons can be really hot, so if you're up for it, I would take the hike in the morning and visit the viewpoints in the afternoon.
After visiting the park, we spent the night in Panguitch, UT.
Day Five: Zion
Zion National Park was a favorite of both of ours. The drive in from Bryce Canyon through the east end of the park is stunning. Stop and take lots of pictures at the pull-offs!
A few major things to note about Zion National Park:
During COVID the shuttle is limited. You NEED to buy your shuttle ticket on https://www.recreation.gov/ at 5:00 PM on the dot for the next day. They sell out in minutes. The shuttle takes you to the famous areas of the park, you are also allowed to walk or bike up to these points but it is currently closed to private cars and is about 8+ miles long.
Parking is difficult in Zion. We parked both days at FeelLove Coffee in Springdale for $20 for the full day. This is about a half-mile walk from the pedestrian park entrance. If you want free parking at the Visitors Center, plan to be there early in the morning.
Once you leave the park, your shuttle ticket is no longer valid. Pack a lunch or snacks if you plan to be there for a full day.
On our first day in Zion we decided to do the Narrows hike. Which is famous for hiking through the river and the endlessly tall canyon walls that surround you. To access the Narrows hike you will need to ride the shuttle to the last stop Temple of Sinawava. There is a short walk to the head of the trail where you will get into the river to continue. The water was 65 degrees the day we were there and still felt a bit chilly. There are points where the river was up past our waist. If you decide to do the Narrows hike, BUY THE GEAR! At a minimum, buy the river hiking shoes and the walking stick. They were a game changer. We rented from Zion Guru right in town.
Day Six: Second day at Zion
On our second morning in Zion, we decided to treat ourselves to a full breakfast in Springdale. Springdale is the little town directly outside the Zion park entrance.
After breakfast, we drove back to the east entrance of Zion and did our first hike of the day called Cayon Overlook. This is a shorter hike but has some more difficult spots to navigate on the trail. It is worth the views at the end.
Our shuttle for this day was at noon. We took the shuttle to the Grotto stop. This is where you can see the emerald pools and the most famous hike in Zion, Angels Landing. Originally, I was scared of the Angels Landing hike. It is listed as one of the most difficult hikes in America. It's 4 miles up and 4 miles back with an elevation change of approximately 4,000 ft. We ended up doing this hike simply by continuing to say to one another, "I think we can get closer, let's keep going". It was one of the most difficult experiences but I am so glad that we did it. Bring enough water, take breaks and you can do it too!
We booked a glamping tent just outside of Zion for two nights. I would not recommend the site we stayed at unless you are an experienced camper willing to trade a shower and toilet for an amazing view, instead I would book a hotel or motel in one of the following cities: Springdale, Virgin, or Hurricane.
Day Seven: Back in Las Vegas
It rained on our last night in Zion. Because of the rain, we decided not to stay at our glamping site and drove to St. George about 45 minutes south of the park. This made our drive back to Las Vegas a bit shorter.
We spent the night in Las Vegas, gambled, ate, drank, and slept. It was the perfect recuperation ending to our trip before our flight home in the morning.
Changes I'd make
There is little I would change about our road trip. I would highly recommend this experience and this route to anyone who only has a week long vacation and is looking to see a lot on their trip.
Add Antelope Canyon if it is reopened
Drive through Monument Valley on your way north from Page, AZ to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks
Add an extra day in Zion for additional slot canyons when they reopen or check out The Wave in Kanab, UT
All in all, we had an amazing vacation and plan to see many more National Parks in the future. Are any of these National Parks on your bucket list? Send me a message if you'd like to learn more. I will happily share any details of our trip to help you plan a successful National Park road trip.
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