Welcome to Part 2 of our Southwestern Road-trip! In Part 1, I detailed our stops at the Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, and Lower Antelope Canyon. Below, I lay out the remainder of our trip and conclude with some tips to help you plan your own Southwestern Road-trip!
Hoover Dam > Grand Canyon > Horseshoe Bend > Antelope canyon > Monument Valley > Bryce Canyon > Zion > Vegas
Day 4: Monument Valley
We got up early to watch the sunrise from our hotel room balcony (the view was that good), and had breakfast at the restaurant we ate at the night before. After breakfast we headed to Forest Gump point, just outside Monument Valley. This spot has become very popular over the years because it’s an iconic viewpoint of Monument Valley, and it’s also were Forrest ended his cross-county run. There’s a little beat up sign marking the spot, but it’s so small that you would miss it from the highway. We only knew we were in the right spot because of the huge crowd of cars & people parked along the side of the road. There were little pull-off spots, but there were far more people than there were parking spaces. It took a lot of dodging people & traffic, but the view was pretty cool so I’d say it was worth it. We were also there just after breakfast, so I’d suggest getting there earlier if possible to beat some of the crowds.
After hanging around Forrest Gump Point for about 30 minutes, we headed into Monument Valley. Make sure to check their website before visiting! It’s native tribal land, and they sometimes have cultural celebrations where public access to the park is prohibited. General Admission was $20/vehicle, but can vary from season to season.
They offer a number of guided tours to take you through the park, many of which take you through otherwise prohibited areas. We did a self-driving tour of the Tribal Park Loop instead of a guided tour so we could go at our own pace, and I don’t feel like we missed out on anything. This loop through the park is a dirt and gravel road that starts and ends at the Monument Valley Visitor Center, and takes you past some of the most popular sites. A 4×4 vehicle is not necessary, our standard sized rental car made it without any real difficulty. It’s bumpy and very dusty, so it’s slow going, but that was fine since we were both looking out the window the whole time anyway.
The loop will take a few hours depending how much/how long you stop at each point. I’d say it took us a good 3 hours, and we didn’t even stop at every lookout. This road was very dusty, and the entire interior of our car was coated in a fine red dust by the time we were finished, so be prepared for that!
Monument Valley was worth going way out of the way to visit. The landscape was definitely the epitome of the “wild west” and the rock formations didn’t look real. Unfortunately, since it is so far out of the way, if you’re short on time this stop may not be an option.
After we did the loop, we made the 5-hour drive to Bryce Canyon. It’s such a long drive because you have to do a lot of back-tracking, but the landscape was lovely so it didn’t feel like it was dragging. All the good hotels around Bryce Canyon were booked, so we ended up staying in Americas Best Value Inn & Suites in Tropic, UT. If you can avoid it, DO NOT stay here. It was super close to the park which was great, but the carpet in our room was covered in stains and the grout in the bathroom also looked stained.
Day 5: Bryce Canyon National Park
We started out our time in Bryce by hiking Mossy Cave Trail. It was a very chilly 32 degrees that morning, so I was very thankful I had packed a jacket and some leggings! The trail to the cave was 0.8mi round trip and a very easy hike along a pretty stream. The cave at the end of the hike was a little bit of a letdown because it was more of a deep depression in the rock-face, not a full-on cave like I was expecting. It’s also blocked off, so you can’t go into it at all. On the way back down the trail, however, you get a great view of a beautiful waterfall. Just before going over one of the bridges that goes over the stream, there’s a branch-off from the trail. We took that were able to get really up close & personal with the waterfall, which ended up making the hike worth it!
After that little hike, we headed into the main entrance of Bryce Canyon. Parking in the park is very limited, but there is a free shuttle that goes to different points throughout the park that makes it really easy to get around.
We decided to do the Navajo Loop Trial, which is the most popular hike in Bryce. This trail is just 2.75mi round-trip, and takes you down into the canyon and among the hoodoos. The trail is rated as ‘moderate’, but that’s only because the decent and accent are very steep. Sunset Point is the starting and ending point for this hike. Once you get down the switchbacks, the trail flattens out and goes through pretty pine forests. It’s a very easy walk, and even with some wandering around we made it through this part of the hike pretty quickly. I liked this hike because it covered some of the most popular sights in Bryce all in one hike- Thor’s Hammer, Two Bridges, and Wall Street (the only slot canyon in Bryce). I very strongly recommend going down the Thor’s hammer side and up the Wall Street side, as the Wall Street switchbacks aren’t as brutal as the Thor’s Hammer switchbacks!
After the hike we checked out Bryce Canyon Lodge. This place would have been amazing to stay at if we’d had the opportunity! You can literally walk right out the back and have amazing views of the canyon, and the surrounding pine forest smelled wonderful. They have a restaurant in the Lodge that we ate lunch at, and it was delicious!
After lunch, we drove up to Bryce Point to take in the stunning view of the amphitheater. We did a little out-and-back hiking around this area before heading up to Rainbow Point. At 9,100 feet in elevation, this is the highest point in the park and at the end of the 18-mile scenic drive. It was very chilly and windy up there, so be sure to bring along a jacket! After about a half-hour there, we slowly made our way back down into the canyon, stopping at scenic lookouts along the way. We ate dinner in the town of Tropic at IDK Barbeque. Honestly, being from Kansas City, we should’ve known better than to eat at a BBQ place. The atmosphere had a cute almost diner feel to it, but the food was very lacking in flavor. Again, this is probably just because we’re spoiled with world-class BBQ at home that no one can compete with. We stayed another night at the Americas Best.
If we could redo it, I wouldn’t spend as much time there as we did. The park is beautiful and the weather was perfect for hiking, but I think once you do the Navajo Loop trail and check out Bryce Point you see pretty much everything. There are other hikes to do obviously, but it’s all the same type of scenery.
Day 6: Zion National Park
We got up before the sun and headed out to Bryce Point to catch the sunrise. It was freezing, but seeing the canyon of hoodoos light up with the morning sun made it worth it! The only downfall is that there was a large bus tour that also showed up to see the sunrise. Even with all the people crowded around the viewpoint, we were still able to see everything.
After sunrise, we had a gas station breakfast (it was as delicious as it sounds) and got back on the road to Zion National Park, which was a short 1.5 hours away. The drive between Bryce and Zion is gorgeous and full of little farm towns, so it went really quickly.
We arrived at Zion right around 9am, and the views of the park were pretty remarkable right from the start. The visitors center was on the opposite side from where we entered, so we were able to drive the narrow, curvy road full distance of the park. You go into a long tunnel right through the side of the mountain with spectacular views out lookout points throughout the tunnel (unfortunately you can’t stop at these to get a proper look though). Parking in the park is very limited (in most areas it’s restricted), but they offer a free shuttle from nearby Springdale. We were incredibly lucky and happened to find a spot near the visitor’s center. From there, we used the shuttle bus system that is constantly running through the park. It makes 9 stops for the most popular park destinations, and from those stops you can access many of the other not so popular trail-heads.
We decided we wanted to tackle the Angels Landing hike first before the day got too hot, and I must say I was a little nervous about this one. It is labeled as one of the world's most renowned hikes, and as of me writing this post, there have been 10 reported fatalities on this trail- one as recently as November 2019.
It is labeled as ‘strenuous’ and is 5mi round-trip, with an elevation climb of 1500ft. I’d say anyone in average physical condition can make this trek, but it can be mentally challenging with sheer unguarded drop-offs on both sides of the trail. You will want to wear a hat & bring SPF, as there are long stretches with no shade. Also be sure to bring lots of water! There’s nowhere on the trail to get water unless you bring it yourself (the electrolyte packets came in clutch on this hike!).
The first part of the hike follows the West Rim Trail (get off at The Grotto shuttle stop), which is clearly identified by a sign. The trail is broad and well maintained, and travels along the river before crossing the canyon bottom. Steep but manageable switchbacks climb the canyon wall up to ‘Refrigerator Canyon’. That canyon was surprisingly cool and scenic with easy walking, which provided great relief after climbing the sunny switchbacks.
The trail then climbs another series of switchbacks, called ‘Walter's Wiggles’. These 21 switchbacks were very tight with a rapid elevation gain. Although it was a relatively short section of the overall hike, I had to take a few breaks on these because the elevation was affecting my breathing and my left knee started giving me quite a bit of trouble.
The Wiggles get you to the top of the ridge to a spot called Scout Lookout, and the views from here aren't lacking. This is the stopping point for many people, as the switchbacks drain your energy and you get a good look at the difficulty of the rest of the hike has in store for you. Not going to lie, I almost stopped here and called it a day. I was hot & tired form climbing the switchbacks, and the view of the rest of the hike was very daunting. We sat under some shade and had a little snack & water to recoup.
My husband was finishing the hike with or without me. My pride wouldn’t let me sit there & wait for him, especially after I’d just drug my ass up all those switchbacks. After our little break, we started the final (and most mentally challenging) 1/2 mile climb. This portion of the trail follows the narrow ridge across a saddle and up the hogs back. This is where things get sketchy, steep, and where you are more than grateful for the chains bolted into the cliff.
People who have a severe fear of heights should not attempt the final stretch of this hike!
The views from Scout Lookout can’t even hold a candle to the views from the summit of Angels Landing. The heights are almost dizzying, and you can’t believe that you made it that far. It levels out a bit at the top, but it is still very steep and there are no chains or guardrails to catch you if you stumble- so don’t be stupid! We took a long break up here to take it all in and rest our legs for the decent. To say I didn’t want to travel that trail back down again is an understatement, but what goes up must come down!
All-in-all, it took us about 4 hours to complete this hike. For some it may take much longer, but we are both naturally fast walkers and never linger too long in one spot. While the hike was beyond amazing and I’m proud of myself for doing it (thanks to my husband’s encouragement!), it’s a once-in-a-lifetime hike for me. I was a little too happy to be back onto Scout Lookout and have Angels Landing behind me!
After completing Angels Landing, we were starving and it was starting to get pretty hot out, so we stopped and grabbed lunch at the main lodge in Zion. There wasn’t a whole lot of seating in the lodge area, so we picked a nice shaded grassy spot under some huge cottonwood trees and had a little picnic.
Once we finished lunch, we decided to hike part of The Narrows, another well-known Zion hike. This gorge is the narrowest section of Zion Canyon with walls a thousand feet tall and the river sometimes just twenty to thirty feet wide. You can see The Narrows by hiking along the paved, wheelchair accessible Riverside Walk for one mile from the Temple of Sinawava. If you wish to go further, you will be walking in the Virgin River. This can involve wading upstream for just a few minutes or it can be an all-day hike.
It was a beautiful, shaded and easy walk, which was so refreshing after baking in the sun all morning. We waded out into the river at one point, and the icy water felt so good on our tired legs! Due to it being so easy and accessible there were a lot of people on this trail, but it was still enjoyable. We were short on time because we were driving back to Vegas that evening, otherwise we would have liked to rent the river hiking gear from the Visitors Center and do a proper hike of The Narrows.
Both of us wish we had allocated more time to this park because it was by far our favorite. Zion is beyond beautiful and had so many different hiking options that you could easily stay here for days and still not see everything. We will definitely be planning another trip back here, and only being 3 hours from Vegas it’s really easy to get to.
The sun was starting to set, so we headed back to our car and made the trip back to Vegas. The drive between Zion and Vegas was actually really pretty and goes through the mountains, so it felt like it went by quicker than 3 hours. We reached our hotel, Polo Towers Suites, around 9pm. We were completely exhausted, so after eating some dinner we crashed out and didn’t go out on the Strip.
Day 7: Las Vegas
We spent the final three days in Vegas, hanging out with our friends and doing wedding celebrations. While we had a lot of fun hiking and exploring the different parks, it was nice to be able to relax and stay in the same hotel room for more than one night.
The first morning in Vegas, we booked a dune-buggy ride out in the desert through Sunbuggy rentals. The company was great! Their shuttle picked us up directly from our hotel and provided all the safety gear we would need for our ride. Our guide was awesome and took us on a fun route through the sand dunes, and even helped me out when I got myself stuck in some deep sand. Keep in mind that dune buggies don’t have power-steering, so my little noodle arms were sore for days afterwards haha.
Later that night, we attended our friend’s rehearsal dinner at the fabulous Wicked Spoon in the Cosmopolitan. We both ate way too much and enjoyed spending the evening celebrating with our friends.
Day 8: Las Vegas
We slept in for the first time the whole trip, and it was glorious! We then had a fantastic breakfast at HEXX Kitchen and Bar. We got a table outside overlooking the Strip, and even at 9am the people watching was quite entertaining. After breakfast, we wandered the Strip for a bit while we waited for the rest of our friends to get up and moving, and then met them at the Planet Hollywood pool where we spent the rest of our day relaxing.
That evening was our friend’s beautiful wedding ceremony and reception, and we celebrated them the rest of the night!
Day 9: Home sweet home!
While I absolutely love traveling, there’s just nothing like going home! We had missed Will so much, and were both really excited to get home to him. At each stop we made, we were sure to get him a postcard and write about the things we did that day and stuff he would have liked to see there. He obviously didn’t care about it when we gave them to him (he was 1 ½, so can’t blame him), but I hope that when he’s older he’ll think it’s fun to read about our trip.
I hope you enjoyed reading out our fun Southwestern trip (if you missed Part 1, click here)! It was jam-packed with activities and we covered a lot of sights in our 7 days of driving. We also learned a lot for the next time we travel to this area.
Before you plan your Southwestern road-trip, here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Plan & book in advance. Like, WAY in advance. We started planning around 4-5 months before our trip which is what we normally do, but since this area is such a tourist destination, most of the preferred places to stay were booked solid. I’d recommend planning a minimum of 6 months ahead, but ideally a year.
2. Get an America the Beautiful pass. It’s good for a year, and if you use it for at least 3 National Parks you’ve pretty much made your money back, as most parks charge around $25-$35 per vehicle to enter.
3. Bring a hat. You will need it!!
4. SPF. Lots of it.
5. Come to terms with the fact that dust is going to be everywhere, and the red dirt & sand will probably stain your shoes and/or socks.
6. Pack a rain jacket! It actually rained a little one of the days we were there, and the evenings/mornings can be chilly so it was really nice to have.
7. Wear proper hiking boots & socks. They provide good support for your feet & ankles and help keep the sand out.
8. Get those powder electrolyte packets to add to your water. Obviously, it’s super dry there, so staying hydrated is a must. These packets were perfect for our days of hiking and were easy to pack in our backpacks. We used the sugar-free Propel Powder Packets with Electrolytes and Vitamins in the kiwi strawberry flavor.
9. Even though there is an “off” season, everywhere you go is still going to be very crowded, so make sure you pack your patience and be prepared to deal with people.
10. Do your research for each place you’re stopping at and have an itinerary laid out of things you want to see there before you go. Doing this will help you maximize your time and help you see everything you want!
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