Zion National Park is one of our favorite parks in the country as it’s easy to get to from Vegas, stunning all year round and did we mention Vegas. It’s the perfect trip to tie in a healthy dose of adventure with some fine wining and dining, glamorous shopping or whatever it is that lures you to sin city 😉 And the bonus of exploring its neighbor – Bryce Canyon National Park, is icing on the cake. We’ve been to Zion National Park twice, once in early summer/spring when the canyons dazzle in fiery hues against the bright blue skies, and during Christmas, where the crimson mountain peaks are frosted with fluffy white snow turning it into a winter wonderland. We highly recommend that you visit these parks in both seasons as they are two very different experiences.
Here are our recommendations and tips for a perfect road trip to Zion and Bryce National Parks.
How many days do I need to explore Zion and Bryce?
It really depends on what you intend to do in the park. If you are looking to do a few short hikes, drive around the park, and do some photography 2 days in Zion and a day in Bryce should suffice. If you are a bit of an adventurer and want to do some of the longer day hikes, and a canyoneering experience, add a day or two. You can cater the trip to your style and adjust the number of days depending on how much time you have and what you really want to see. We will highlight our top recommendations as a (MUST SEE) to make sure you incorporate them and get the most out of your trip. One could spend days exploring these beautiful parks, but most people have limited vacation time…Sigh, we know how you feel, so we’ve created the best 4 day itinerary for Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks!
Do I need to rent a car?
Yes, It’s time for a road trip. Book your rental car out of Las Vegas airport in advance. We usually use Costco, they have good discounts if you’re a member.
Where to stay in Zion?
We really enjoyed our stay at Desert Pearl Inn in Springdale village, a few minutes from the park entrance. Comfortable rooms with a little patio facing the river, picnic tables and the best part – A hot tub under the stars. We looked forward to soaking in the hot tub after a log day of hiking and exploring…pure bliss!
Where to eat?
Zion National Park
Inside the park: Castle Dome Cafe at Zion Lodge – There are only 2 restaurants in the park, this being a fast service cafe offering hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches, beer and soft serve ice cream…YUM. This is the perfect spot to grab lunch and a cold beer and relax in between your hikes. The other restaurant adjacent to this is a sit down, slightly pricey option.
Outside the park: Springdale village just outside the park has some cute dining options. Try Zion Pizza & Noodle co for their Oh! so satisfying pizzas layered with scrumptious toppings and cheesy goodness, they also have a killer beer selection. Or, if you’re in the mood for something spicy, try Thai Sapa for a tantalizing meal of delicious curries and thai favorites. Most of these restaurants close early, be sure to check before you go.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Food options in the park are limited. Stock up on some snacks on your way there. We tried a no fuss pizza place called Valhalla Pizza inside the park, the only option that was serving food at 4 pm. We took our Pizza to go and had a little picnic in the park. They also serve coffee, scones and brownies for a quick breakfast.
DAY 1 – Fly into Vegas – Drive to Zion National Park
Try to get an early flight into Vegas so you can pick up your rental car and hit the road. Give yourselves 2 and a half to 3 hours to get to the park. Depending on what time you get there, you can either check in to the hotel or head straight to the park and get an evening hike in, which is what we did of course…can’t afford to waste any daylight on silly hotel check ins :P.
Emerald Pools Trail (MUST SEE) (2 hours round-trip) – A delightful and easy hike that takes you across a beautiful bridge over the Virgin river, along the face of the canyon where you walk behind two waterfalls. Take the shuttle to the Zion Lodge and start your hike at the lower emerald pools trail. Continue to hike uphill on a rocky trail towards upper emerald pools trail, and be rewarded with 360 views of the mountains and a spectacular high waterfall at the end. This is a great hike to set the mood for Zion and upcoming hikes in the park.
DAY 2 – Explore Zion National Park
Angel’s Landing (MUST SEE) (5 hours round trip)
Start your day early and prepare your backpack with plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, hat and camera, because you are going on one of the most popular and thrilling hikes in the USA – Angels Landing. This is Zion’s crowning jewel, and one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Southwest.
The hike takes you up 21 switchbacks on a paved trail to a lookout point offering breathtaking views of lush valleys, mountains and rivers, from where you navigate your way up to the summit, on the narrow spine of the mountain with dizzying drop offs on both sides.
The last half mile of the trail is thrilling as you hike up with the help of anchored chains with jaw dropping 360 views of the park. At one time this mountain seemed so impossible to hike, that some hikers exclaimed that only angels could land there – hence the name! Well, now you can too! And you will be surprised by the number of people hiking this intimidating trail. But take it from us – it’s really not that hard, yes it’s all uphill but if you are in decent shape and can climb a few floors up a building, you will be fine.
There were plenty of families and kids who hike this trail, and you can always turn around from the Scout’s lookout half mile shy from the summit if you’re not feeling up to it. Regardless, you will have a great time, be rewarded with epic views, some much-needed mountain love and playtime with cute feisty mountain chipmunks.
Lunch at Zion Lodge Restaurant – This is the best and only place to grab a quick bite inside the park. Refuel and relax under the giant cottonwood tree, lay on the soft grass and have a little victory picnic post your hike.
Riverside walk (MUST SEE) (1.5 hours)
The 2nd most popular hike in Zion is – The Narrows. To get to the Narrows you start at the Riverside walk which is an easy leisure walk along the river with gorgeous views of the canyons. If you don’t intend to hike the Narrows (which starts at the end of the riverside walk), we recommend you do this hike post Angels Landing as it’s a nice relaxing walk. Oh! And keep your eyes peeled for some wildlife viewing.
Depending on your stamina and the weather you could attempt another moderate or challenging hike. We opted for a slightly challenging one.
Hidden Canyon Trail (2.5 hours)
This trail takes you along a cliff face through switchbacks to the mouth of a hidden canyon up in the mountains. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a fan of those switchbacks leading to the canyon but once your there its cool and quiet and yes, hidden which means no crowds. You have to do some scrambling, jump over large rocks, walk over fallen tree bridges to explore this canyon. Once you are in the canyon you can hike as further as you want. It was a pretty neat experience as you’re hiking on a strip of sand, sandwiched between two gigantic canyon walls.
Stargaze – Find a good spot to park your car and star gaze. The night sky at Zion is spectacular.
DAY 3 – Explore Zion National Park
The Narrows (MUST SEE) (6 – 8 hours)
For a first time visit to Zion, we highly recommend the Narrows “bottom up” day hike starting from Riverside Walk. It’s unique to the park and an experience like no other. There’s also a more challenging “top down” route for backpackers which requires a permit. The Narrows is one of the world’s best slot canyon hikes where you’re hiking in the ice-cold Virgin river along the narrowest section of Zion canyon, a deep gorge with walls a thousand feet high. Yes! you guessed right, the river is your trail. There are sections where the water can get waist-high, and walking against the current is challenging. You can walk as far as you want and turn around. We recommend renting some gear – dry suits, water shoes, hiking poles, are the bare minimum you need for a comfortable hike. You can rent the gear from Zion Adventure Company.
TIP – If you want to avoid the crowds plan a trip in winter. We hiked this in December and had the canyon to ourselves…Best decision ever!
If you can squeeze in an extra day we highly recommend a canyoneering adventure with Zion Adventure Company. They have a bunch of exciting trips to choose from which cater to an adventurer of every level. We did this in the winter and it started to snow while we were out on the canyons which made our trip even more memorable and spectacular.
DAY 4 – Bryce Canyon National Park
Get an early start to the day and make the 1.5 hour drive to Bryce Canyon National Park. This is the perfect park to relax and enjoy the beautiful vistas with very less or no hiking. After all the hiking in Zion you can give your legs a rest and drive through the park stopping at vista points and scenic overlooks. Bryce Canyon National Park has the largest collection of Hoodoos (towering rock formations) in the world. The sun-kissed hoodoos create a landscape right out of a fairy tale – A mythical, magical land of wonders!
If you’re planning to hike in the park, be sure to carry lots of water and sunscreen, as the trails are exposed and have little shade. We stopped at all the vista points, had a picnic lunch in the park and were on our way to Vegas by late afternoon.
Check into your hotel in Vegas and put on your party shoes. Spend the evening frolicking around the casinos and hotels of Vegas, sip on your favorite cocktails at the swanky bars and treat yourself to a gourmet meal. You could add a day here to your adventure to relax and enjoy the eccentricities of sin city.
Hope this post assists you in planning your Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks adventure. We would love to connect with you! Follow our adventures on Facebook and Instagram for some travel inspiration and tips. And don’t forget to sign up with your email (below) to get your dose of wanderlust in your inbox.