A Trip to Las Vegas and Utah’s National Parks

The massive Natural Bridge in Bryce Canyon National Park spans 85 feet
On our quest to visit Utah's National Parks, we balanced adventure in nature with a stay in the nearby metropolis of Las Vegas.
When our kids were young, my husband and I discovered the secret to a great family vacation: blend urban with rural, big city with the rugged outdoors. We have great family memories of exploring Yosemite and San Francisco; Acadia and Boston; Grand Canyon and Phoenix; and Yellowstone/Grand Teton and Jackson Hole. It helped to include major-league baseball, museums, and sightseeing on the city end and kayaking, horseback riding, and rafting at the parks because everybody was happy. And as we eased the kids from city hubbub into the beauty and wonder of the national parks, we watched their initial panic over spotty Wi-Fi melt away. Today we’re empty nesters, but we still love the time-tested model so in early June we tried a new combo, Las Vegas and two of Utah’s five national parks, Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Las Vegas

This thriving city in the Nevada desert was an ideal gateway for our park itinerary and a wonderful destination in itself. No luck is needed to enjoy the dazzling hotels on the Las Vegas Strip (complete with luxury pools and spas), the restaurants fit for foodies, or the wide selection of celebrity performances. We spent three nights at The Wynn Encore, one of the prettiest of the Strip’s eight Virtuoso hotels, and loved the spacious, 745-square-foot rooms. Equally stunning is the Encore’s sister property, The Wynn, where the lobby is a magical array of hanging fresh flowers.
After three nights of glitz and glamor, we were certainly ready for unspoiled wilderness. On to…Utah’s National Parks.

Physically quite different, both Zion and Bryce Canyon are spectacular and well worth the effort. Though each justifies a multi-day visit, we allowed two days for Zion and one for Bryce. To fit everything in, we drove a delightful 510-mile loop from Las Vegas to Zion, Zion to Bryce, and back to Vegas.

Utah’s National Parks

Zion National Park

The trip to Zion was an easy two-and-a-half hours, mostly via highway through desert mountain landscape. The park itself is majestic, 229 square miles of dramatic canyons, towering sandstone cliffs and mountain peaks. Be sure to start your visit early in the day because like other national parks, Zion draws big crowds in summer. Therefore, entering before 8 a.m. will help you beat the rush. You can rent canyon shoes and hiking poles in Springdale, located just outside the park’s south entrance. Moreover, grab a lunch to go (we liked Café Soleil), or dine within the park at Zion Lodge.

Zion National Park Trails

Once in the park, hiking enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the most popular trail, The Narrows. It is a moderately difficult trek through the waters of the Virgin River. The path winds through the slimmest part of the gorge, with 1,000-foot walls and sections of river just twenty feet wide. We also followed a park ranger’s suggestion to hike Wildcat Canyon, 35 minutes north of Springdale. We took Northgate Peaks trail, an easy, family-friendly hike of 4.2 miles, and our reward was an amazing vista, cooler temperatures, ponderosa pines and lovely alpine wildflowers. In addition, we encountered fewer than a dozen people on the trail! Moreover, cyclists of all levels enjoy the miles of routes available here and throughout Utah. Consider an all-inclusive trip with our Virtuoso partner Backroads. For instance, they offer a Utah National Parks Bike Tour and Multi-Adventure Tour.

Utah’s National Parks

Bryce Canyon National Park

From Zion, we drove two hours to Bryce Canyon. Though a fraction of Zion’s size, Bryce is no less impressive! Instead of sandstone cliffs, it showcases mazes of coral-colored hoodoos (natural columns of rock) that stretch out from pine forests. Not surprisingly, at higher elevations, Bryce is 10 to 20 degrees cooler than Zion. Because it rained on our only day there, we skipped hiking for a 20-mile drive on a scenic rim route. Along the way, we saw clear markings for the hiking trails, including helpful signs about proper footwear: hiking boots, not flip-flops!

Bryce Canyon National Park Accommodations

When visiting Zion, we stayed at The Advenire, Autograph Collection, a boutique hotel in downtown St. George, Utah, 41 miles west of the park. For lodging right outside the park entrance, book ahead at the Desert Pearl Inn or one of various casual hotel chains in Springdale. For luxury, consider Amangiri, a Virtuoso property and remote hideaway in Canyon Point, Utah, 100 miles to the east. Or try glamping, a luxury version of camping that gets you close to nature without sacrificing modern comforts. Enjoy amenities like yoga, s’mores, live music, and of course, the great outdoors! Under Canvas Zion offers a star-studded experience in its Star Gazer tent, where guests can catch their favorite constellations all night long.

At Bryce Canyon, Bryce Canyon Lodge inside the park is a favorite; if sold out, the nearest option is a mile away. Best Western Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel is in Bryce Canyon City, a touristy town with a western feel.

And finally…Bryce Canyon back to Vegas, a four-hour drive in light traffic. From the bustling city to beautiful national park vistas, this trip was the best of both worlds.

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