Road warriors and national park lovers won’t want to miss this epic jaunt through some of the best spots in the southwest. We’ve partnered with Keryn Means of Walking On Travels to tackle a road trip your whole crew will enjoy this season.
Get off the couch and hop in your car. It’s time to road trip and we are heading out of the snow (or coming snow) of Utah south towards the desert of Arizona and beaches of California. These states pack a powerful punch when it comes to national parks and landmarks. While you might not be able to hit every highlight (Utah’s Big Five deserve a trip all their own), you can get to a lot if you push the pedal to the medal (keeping within the speed limit of course) and follow our guide to a road trip you won’t soon forget.
Fun times in Salt Lake City
Fly into Salt Lake City and get your bearings. Spend a day or two relaxing and exploring the city’s incredible architecture and bubbling food scene. Stretch out your tired muscles with a trip to Topgolf in Midvale for a golf lesson no matter the time of year. This temperature-controlled facility will keep you warm with over 100 climate-controlled hitting bays and one toasty rooftop terrace with a fire pit, perfect for those snowy winter nights. Kids and adults can enjoy a premium experience of play, music and even a bit of nosh (yes, there are salads, burgers, specialty drinks and even chicken and waffle sliders!)
Now that you are all loosened up, it’s time to pick up your rental car and hit the open road. You’ve got some driving to do and national parks to see. Are you ready?
Zion National Park
Wake up early and take Route 15 straight down to Zion National Park, one of our favorite parks in the state. Hike the Emerald Pools Trail (perfect for families with kids of all ages) and look for wildlife in the valley. If the weather (and rangers) allow it, book a trip through the Narrows to see the slot canyons. You could easily spend a week in this park if you wanted, but the sun will start to set all too soon. Book a room at the Cliffrose Lodge and Gardens just outside of the entrance. Breakfast is hot and the rooms are very comfortable. Watch the sun rise over the craggly rocks, sparking a brilliant burst of color on those mountains, before you start to drive again.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Are you ready for a drive down a winding road through a little slice of nature’s glory? Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the best drives in America, in our humble opinion. You will have to limit the number of stops you take if you want to get to Bryce before lunch. Plan on spending only a few hours in Bryce so you can get to Page, AZ before nightfall. We love to walk the canyon rim, and drive to different view points to maximize our time, but if you are a bit older with time to spare, check with rangers to see which hikes into the canyons are right for your skill level. If there is snow in the canyon, pull out your camera. The white snow over the orange hoodoos is something every photographer dreams of capturing.
Lower Antelope Canyon
You could drive straight from Bryce Canyon to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, but you would miss out on one of the most beautiful wonders of the Southwest. Book a tour of Lower Antelope Canyon to see one of the best slot canyons around. Unlike the Narrows in Zion, these canyons don’t flood with river water, making it easier for families and travelers of all skill levels to explore. Try to book a morning tour so you can make it to the Grand Canyon just after lunch.
Grand Canyon National Park
Grand Canyon National Park is another spot that you could easily spend a week hiking around. If you have plans to hike to the bottom and back, you will want to spend a few days in the park. If you just want to drive to a few viewpoints, you can see a lot in just one day. No matter how long you stay, make sure you find a great spot to sit before the sun begins to set. You don’t want to miss the show when the sun hits the canyon and those rock colors really light up.
If there is availability, spend the night in one of the park lodges. El Tovar Lodge is one of the most popular (and historic) as it sits right on the rim. It does book up fast, but have no fear. You can enjoy a meal at the restaurant even if you don’t spend the night. I highly recommend breakfast in the morning, as well as a tour of Hopi House before you start driving once again. Hoover Dam awaits, but not before you pick up a few local souvenirs.
Before you visit Hoover Dam you will want to know a few facts about this architectural wonder. It is technically in Nevada, but it is also in Arizona, and creates the largest reservoir in the U.S., Lake Mead. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is also designated as a National Historic Landmark. The dam is a product of the Great Depression, costing 100 men their lives, and today provides hydroelectric power to public and private utilities in Nevada, Arizona and California. If these aren’t reasons to visit and gape, I’m not sure what is. Best of all, it’s a stopping point on your way to Los Angeles or Las Vegas, both cities you can fly out of to get back home.
One thing to note is that the dam is no longer a throughway. You can’t cross from Arizona to Nevada any longer. You can drive in from the Nevada side to see the dam, but you will have to drive back out through Nevada, and not continue on through Arizona on Highway 93. But that’s OK. The California coast is calling!
Say Goodnight Los Angeles
Oh, Los Angeles. La-La Land. City of Angels. L.A. That place where you can go stalk a hundred movie stars and a thousand would-be movie stars now serving you coffee. This is where our journey ends. You can stop in the Mojave National Preserve on your way from the Hoover Dam to L.A., enjoy a break in Angeles National Forest, or b-line it straight to the beach, foregoing L.A. altogether as you head to Santa Monica instead.
Either way, enjoy yourself! You’ve done a little half-moon tour of four states, seen national parks, historic landmarks, preserves, forests, played a few rounds of golf and made memories to get you through to your next vacation. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
Keryn Means is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads is an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity. For more information on the Travelocity Gnomads, visit travelocitygnomads.com.
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