Needless to say, there are many national parks to explore in the Southwest USA. Since we didn’t want to spend too much time in the car, we plotted a 629-mile loop to visit the Grand Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion. We flew into Flagstaff and out of Las Vegas (Sept 2019):
- Flagstaff to Grand Canyon Village: 90 miles
- Grand Canyon Village to Page (Antelope Canyon): 139 miles
- Page to Bryce Canyon: 151 miles
- Bryce to Zion: 85 miles
- Zion to Las Vegas: 164 miles
At Grand Canyon Village on the south rim, we stayed at the legendary El Tovar Hotel. It’s the swankiest of the several hotels in the village. All are along the rim, making the Grand Canyon easy for all to experience. From the village, take the free shuttle bus out Hermit Road with many stops along the way for vista after vista.
The 13-mile South Rim Trail is a mostly paved and mostly level trail that snakes along the top edge of the Grand Canyon with plenty of panoramic views along the way. From the village, hike either direction and return via the shuttle bus. There are many tempting ledges to climb out on, but stay on the trail with many safe viewpoints.
Head down into the Canyon from the Village area on the Bright Angel Trail. This 9.5-mile downhill trail takes you to the bottom at the Colorado River. However, we only hiked down to the “Mile and a Half Resthouse” and back (about 1,000 feet in elevation drop) since we just had a few hours. We hiked early to miss the bigger crowds. Before, stop at the Bright Angel Lodge Coffee House near the trailhead for a sunrise breakfast.
You’ll share the Bright Angel Trail with an occasional mule train as the morning sun rays light the cliffs.
Allow plenty of time on the Bright Angel Trail to stop to soak in the views and gain a new appreciation for the size of the Grand Canyon.
From the South Rim Trail, watch the color transformation of the canyon walls during each sunrise and sunset.
There are many historic buildings to explore – including the Desert View Watchtower. Climb to the top for 360-degree views along the south rim. To reach it from the village, drive the 25-mile Desert View Drive with several fantastic viewpoints.
After leaving Grand Canyon National Park at the east entrance near Desert Tower, we headed about 110 miles to Horseshoe Bend. If you buy the “America the Beautiful” annual pass for national parks, you also get free admission to Horseshoe Bend since it’s part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. It’s about a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike to the famous viewpoint.
After seeing photos of Antelope Canyon for many years, it was a must-stop. This famous slot canyon is on Navajo land near Page, Arizona. You must book a tour with a Navajo tour company to go inside the Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon. Most go to the Upper Antelope Canyon, hoping to see the sunlight beams shining down between the canyon walls. Book a midday tour for that, expect the biggest crowds then. We booked a less crowded late afternoon trip. Your tour guide drives you through the dessert (be prepared for blowing sand) to the entrance. It’s an easy and short walk through the canyon.
The town of Page has lots of hotel chains to pick from for a quick stay. We drove to nearby Lake Powell Wahweap Marina for dinner. It’s inside the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, so get free admission with your National Park Pass.
Next on the trip: Bryce Canyon & Zion (read more).