ZION & GRAND CANYON: Two Extraordinary Places, One Epic Plan

Grand Canyon South Rim

Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon are two extraordinary places that you can visit within one week of vacation. Here’s an epic plan to make it happen.

ZION & GRAND CANYON ITINERARY SUMMARY

Day 1 Travel Day
Day 2 Zion National Park
Day 3 The Narrows
Day 4 Coral Pink Sand Dunes & Horseshoe Bend
Day 5 Grand Canyon (South Rim)
Day 6 Petrified Forest National Park
Day 7 Walnut Canyon & Oatman Ghost Town
Day 8 Hoover Dam & travel home

Travel Day (Day 1)

Las Vegas is the closest major airport to Zion National Park, which is 3 hours away. If you end up first staying for a day and night in Vegas, be sure to check out my travel guide called Las Vegas: Top 5 Tips. One Quick, Memorable Visit.  

Zion National Park (Day 2)

Driving on Utah State Route 9 (UT-9), you’ll arrive in the town of Springdale, which has a variety of shops and lodging options (the Zion Lodge is the only in-park option). Once past there, you’ll enter into some spectacular scenery of Zion National Park. Enjoy the drive and get out at the many places for photo ops and exploring.

Zion National Park scenery
Zion Arch

I highly recommend the place we stayed: Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. We loved it! (It was outside the park on the east side). Lodging options range from tent and RV campsites, to cowboy cabins to covered wagons, and more. We went with the wagons because… well, how many times can you say you slept in a covered wagon?! It was an adventure for sure, but one we’ll never forget. 

Zion Ponderosa Ranch wagon under moonlight

The activities offered at this resort are absolutely endless. There’s ziplining, skeet shooting, canyoneering, horseback riding, Jeep tours, mini golf, paint ball… the list goes on and on, not to mention the awesome pool with waterslide and hot tubs. 

Zion Ponderosa Ranch pool at nighttime

The Narrows in Zion (Day 3)

A MUST DO while visiting Zion is hiking The Narrows. It’s the narrowest section of Zion Canyon; a gorge with walls a thousand feet tall. You have to hike through the Virgin River so you will get wet; how wet depends on how tall you are, and when you go.

The Narrows in Zion National Park
Sunbeam in The Narrows - Zion National Park

Depending on how long and far you plan to hike, it’s wise to rent some gear. Zion Outfitter in Springdale is a great option for that. It’s money well spent to ensure you stay dry and warm and stable – thanks to the neoprene socks, canyoneering boots and walking stick that’s all part of the rental package.

You can hike several miles into The Narrows so this hike can take up most of your day (plus the shuttle from the visitors center in Springdale there and back takes some time). Or, other people just hike for a couple hours and turn around. Still others don’t get in the water at all and just explore the 1.9 mile Riverside Walk, but that doesn’t get you into the coolest sites to be seen.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes (Day 4)

For a few hours of some outrageous fun, hit the Coral Pink Sand Dunes National Park (45 to 90 minutes away depending on where in Zion you’re coming from). First, just run up the huge sand dunes, check out the amazing sights at the top, and then run (or roll!) down.

Most importantly, make advance reservations for a guided ATV tour so you can also cruise around the trails in the park. 

ATVs in Coral Pink Sand Dunes National Park

Some tours, for instance, include use of their boards to sand surf down the hills!

After spending the morning at the Dunes, keep heading south towards your next big destination: the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (4 hours away). The route along US-89 takes you near some pretty amazing places that you’ll hopefully have time to make brief stops at and stretch your legs, like the Glen Canyon Dam.

Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Arizona near Zion and Grand Canyon

And, Horseshoe Bend

Additionally, Antelope Canyon is a sight to be seen. A tour guide is necessary, however, since it’s on Navajo Indian Tribal Lands. Even still, a Slot Canyon Tour is high on must-do lists for many people who visit this area. 

Grand Canyon (Day 5)

Grand Canyon South Rim

Finally, you’re going to see the Grand Canyon on this day! Whether you visit the South or North Rim is really up to you (click here to read more about the differences). 

Personally, I’d recommend the South Rim, and if that’s where you end up, start by heading to the Bright Angel Trail. It’s one of the ways to get below the rim of the Grand Canyon, and how far you go in is really up to you. With kids, a 45-minute hike down is probably enough for everyone as it typically takes twice as long to get back up again.

People up for even more adventure may want to add a stay at Phantom Ranch to their bucket list. The only lodging below the canyon rim, it must be reached by mule, on foot, or by rafting the Colorado River. Consequently, it’s 10 miles on the Bright Angel Trail to get to the ranch (average hiking time down is 4-6 hours, and back up is 6-10 hours). Due to demand, there is a lottery that you have  to enter with the schedule starting 13 months out. 

Other points of interest

Lodging near South Rim

As far as lodging goes, there are lots of options both inside and outside the park. But, warning, places book months in advance especially during spring break, summer, and fall weekends. 

Petrified Forest National Park (Day 6)

Next, spend more time exploring the Grand Canyon on this day, or if you’ve had enough, there are endless places in Arizona worth checking out within a few hours drive. Staying in Flagstaff would be a good central spot. 

I’d recommend, for example, visiting Petrified Forest National Park. This place has landscapes that seem to change every couple miles. At times, it might even seem like you’re on the moon!

Petrified Forest National Park scenery south of the Grand Canyon
Fallen tree in Petrified Forest National Park south of the Grand Canyon

The Blue Mesa Trail and Point (.8 mile loop) and the Agate House Trail (.4 mile flat hike to an archeological site) are both worthwhile stops. And, of course, you’ll see the fallen petrified trees, which have turned completely into stone during the last 225 million years.

Walnut Canyon & Oatman Ghost Town (Day 7)

Walnut Canyon is also well worth a few hours of your time (located about 10 miles from downtown Flagstaff). This really amazing rock island within a canyon is where ancient people once carved out homes in caves. A one-mile, round-trip hike allows you access to view 25 cliff dwellings. For sure, something you’ll remember!

Heading home via a flight from nearby Flagstaff or Phoenix is definitely an option at this point. But, if you’re heading back to where you started for a flight home from Vegas, make your way north again (4.5 hours).

Have you ever been to a ghost town? We hadn’t either, so we went a bit out of our way to Oatman, Arizona. Formerly a mining town about 50 minutes southwest of Kingman, it’s along the historic Route 66. Exploring this tiny town for a couple of hours is indeed memorable, and the wild burrows that roam the streets provide lots of entertainment as they greet the tourists.

Hoover Dam (Day 8)

Finally, a visit to Hoover Dam is a must (just 35 miles from the Vegas airport). This man-made marvel will surely far exceed your expectations.

Vertical view of Hoover Dam
Bridge View from Hoover Dam

Take the Guided Dam Tour (get there early in the day before all times sell out). It’s a one-hour tour that takes you into the powerplant and the passageways inside the dam itself.

Inside Hoover Dam Tunnel

Pin these trip ideas for later!

Zion Grand Canyon Road Trip Itinerary

More time in Zion & Grand Canyon?

  • Angel’s Landing – one of the world’s most renowned hikes, but not for the faint of heart with its steep drop-offs and very narrow sections. Anchored chains are available in certain sections to assist hikers. SCARY! 
  • Bryce Canyon National Park – should be high on your list if you’re already in Zion. I’ve heard of people who get up super early to hike to certain spots to see the sunrise, and they’ve captured the most amazing pictures.
  • Grand Canyon Skywalk (North Rim) – a horseshoe-shaped glass platform that allows you a breathtaking view with a feeling like you’re walking on air.

More Zion & Grand Canyon ideas.

What do YOU recommend? Please include your tips in the comments section below

And, be sure to follow “Whoa, What a View” on social media to see the comments other travelers are leaving there about their favorite parts of Zion and Grand Canyon.


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Tags: Arizona, Grand Canyon, Itinerary, Travel, Utah, Zion National Park
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