Looking for vacation getaway ideas in Arizona and/or Utah?
This road trip is full of fabulous photograph opportunities, fresh air, nature, camping, and as an added bonus you’ll burn a ton of calories on these magnificent world class hiking trails!
Table of Contents
4-day road trip itinerary from Phoenix Arizona to the National Parks in Utah including stops at:
(click any selection to skip ahead to that section)
- Sedona, Arizona
- Flagstaff, Arizona
- Horseshoe Bend, Arizona
- Zion National Park, Utah
- Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
- Toadstool Hoodoos Trail, Utah
- Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona
****** Day 1 ******
We headed out from Phoenix in the early morning making brief stop overs in Sedona and Flagstaff Arizona to take in some of the beautiful scenery and snap a few photos.
Sedona, known for its Red Rock formations provides a lot of great photo opportunities so we stopped and snapped a few pictures.
Have more time to spend in the Sedona area?
If you have a little more time to spend in Sedona some popular things to do are:
- peruse the galleries, shops and restaurants of Tlaquepaque Arts & Shopping Village
- visit the ancient cliff dwelling and Pictographs at Palatki Ruins one of the largest cliff dwellings of the Red Rock Country between AD 1150 – 1350
- visit the eclectic Son Silver West Gallery
- get your nature on and hike one of the many trails around Sedona. My top picks are Oak Creek Canyon, and West Fork Oak Creek Trail.
Want to spend more time in Sedona? There are some super cool things to do in Downtown Sedona, here’s a perfect 3 day itinerary! And, don’t worry, if you only have a day, here’s what you can do in Sedona with only 24 hours.
Flagstaff, with its abundant pine trees and babbling brooks, is a cool oasis in the midst of the Arizona desert. I’d love to go back and do some camping and hiking here so if you have more time you might consider a night or two to camp in Flagstaff.
Have more time to spend in the Flagstaff area?
- Be sure not to miss Walnut Canyon National Monument’s Island trail, a 1-mile round trip trail with access to 25 ancient cliff dwellings!
- Visit the Lowell Observatory, one of Arizona’s most popular night time destinations. “At night, discover planets, distant gas clouds, and far-off galaxies through the six state-of-the-art telescopes of the Giovale Open Deck Observatory under the famously dark skies of Flagstaff.” -The Lowell Observatory
- See the Wupatki Pueblo National Monument, a 900 year old ancestral Puebloan site with over 100 rooms
- Red Mountain Trail has a lot of interesting rock formations and is one of my top trail picks for the area.
Our next stop of the day was at Horseshoe Bend Arizona, a horseshoe shaped bend in the Colorado River, which from the overlook vantage point appears a shade of bright emerald green.
When is Horseshoe Bend open:
Horseshoe bend is open year round from sun up to sun set.
Does it cost anything to see Horseshoe Bend?
access to the bend is free but there is a fee to park. Check current rates here.
Getting to Horseshoe bend from the parking lot:
From the parking lot, it’s a .75 mile walk through the sand to get to the scenic observation area that overlooks the bend. Note that the 1.5-mile round trip walk through the sand can be taxing, and it will likely be very hot and crowed, bring water.
Other things to do at Horseshoe Bend:
Horseshoebend.com website has options for flyover’s and float trips down the river.
Zion National Park
Zion National Park seems to have it all! Scenic drives, towering red rock formations, forested trails, a river, waterfalls that cascade into deep pools, hanging gardens, canyoning, trails and so much more.
The drive into the park alone is a sight. The road winds around through towering mountains and rock formations.
Emerald Pools Trail Zion National Park
Our first order of business was to see Emerald Pools so we caught the free parks shuttle to the stop closest to Emerald Pools. There are actually 3 Emerald Pools Trails, an upper, a lower and a middle. When we visited the two higher trails were closed due to damage from rock slides so we headed out on the Lower Emerald Pools trail, an easy paved 1.2-mile loop with a waterfall.
Do note that water flow will be dependent upon recent rainfall. Sometimes the flow is just a trickle but the trail is non-the-less lovely. The middle and upper pool trails will give you a bit more of a workout as you head up the higher trails.
Accommodations just outside the park
On the first night, stayed at the La Quinta in Springdale, a beautiful setting surrounded by mountains!
Total Miles Hiked for the day: 3.8 (we added a little when we decided to walk the horse trail for a ways instead of heading back to the shuttle stop after hiking the Emerald Pools trail.
Total Drive time for the day: 7 hours
****** Day 2 ******
Zion National Park-Canyoning in The Narrows
The Narrows hike goes right straight through the Virgin River. You’ll trudge your way through water in a narrow river gorge, at the base of a deep canyon. This is a once in a lifetime bucket list hiking opportunity!
Zion National Park-Pa ‘Rus Hiking trail
Pa ‘Rus trail is a 1.7 mile one way paved trail, the perfect way to end your day!
Other Popular Hikes in the Park:
Camping in Zion National Park
We spent our second night camping in the park, surrounded by mountains.
The Zion Canon Brew Pub….jalapeno bacon jam, Swiss, and garlic Aioli burger…need I say more? If you’re doing all this hiking, you can afford the calories!
total miles hiked for the day: 6.7
The Narrows: 5 miles, Pa’ Rus 1.7
total drive time for the day:
the full article on Zion can be found at
****** Day 3 ******
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is about a two-hour drive from Zion.
Bryce was my favorite of the two parks. I’m not a fan of the heat, and it was much cooler here. BUT the biggest thing that was so alluring about Bryce is that I felt like I’d landed on another planet! a definite out of this world destination!
Bryce Canyon National Park-Combo hike: Tower Bridge Hike/ Queens Garden Hike/Navajo Loop Trail
Here is the route we took:
From the North campground we entered the Rim Trail and headed to Fairyland Loop Trail. We did the Tower Bridge Hike on the Fairyland Loop trail (out to Tower Bridge, doubling back to the Rim Trail.) Then we headed south to Sunrise Point, then on to Queen’s Garden, Navajo Loop and then Wall Street, a serious of switchback that will take you straight up and out of the canyon, ending at Sunset Point. From there we took the park shuttle back to our campsite.
This map might explain things a bit better: See our route highlighted in yellow.
Here are a few pictures of sights along the way
total miles hiked for the day:
Total drive time for the day:
Other hikes in the area:
Camping in Bryce National Park
This time we snagged a cozy little campsite under the pine trees.
Want to know more about Bryce Canyon National Park?
German pastries? YES PLEASE!
Forscher German Restaurant and Bakery in Oderville can be found between Zion and Bryce. Stop in for some delicious German pastries!
****** Day 4 ******
Toadstool Hoodoos Hiking Trail
It was time to head back down south and we had Antelope Canyon on our radar. Because we had plenty of time before our canyon tour, we decided to stop off at Toadstool Hoodoos Hiking trail, if for no other reason than its cool name! A hoodoo is a column shaped rock with a larger rock on top that produces something of a capped look, like a mushroom or a toadstool! It was a neat trail, but it was REALLY hot, and not really any shade. I would recommend avoiding this trail in the heat of the day. 1.5 miles round trip. The trailhead is located off Highway 89, 45 miles east of Kanab Utah.
Before you leave Utah you may want to check out some of the other amazing national parks. Here’s a list of the 6 must see National Parks in Utah.
Upper Antelope Canyon
We toured Upper Antelope Canyon, a sandstone slot canyon with gorgeous wave-like rock formations, located on Navajo land outside of Page Arizona. You can also tour Lower Antelope Canyon. If you tour both on the same day you only have pay the reservation entry fee once.
There are other tour operators, but we took our tour with Antelope Slot Canyon Tours. The tour is a bit pricey, somewhere around $85 per person inclusive, but worth the money. Our guide offered to take everyone’s photos throughout the tour, made sure we all got all of the pictures we wanted, and advised on where to get the best shots inside the canyon. This is a really popular tourist destination, so don’t expect to have it all to yourself. They squeeze tour groups going both ways through the canyon all day. See their website for information on other tours in the area, including Lower Antelope Canyon, fly-over and boat tours.
They drive you, in the back of a truck, about 15-miles out into the desert.
Word is that Upper Antelope canyon is best at 10:30 am or 1:30 pm.
Looking for something a little quieter with fewer crowds? Antelope X is a lesser known section of Antelope Canyon. Read here to find out how to get Antelope Canyon all to yourself!
total miles hiked for the day: approximately 3
(we didn’t make it to the end of the Toadstools hike because it was HOT)
total drive time for the day:
7 hours 15 minutes
hiking: approximately 22
driving: 15.5 hours
Packing list suggestions:
- Synthetic jacket for the narrows hike (keeps you warmer when wet),
- headlamp if you want to do some night-time exploring
- waterproof backpack. You’ll need it in the narrows. I fell into the water at least once.
- band-aids (although I didn’t need them! No blisters! Merrell hiking sandals are my secret!)
- hiking poles!
- water bottle
- baby wipes (bathed with these both camping nights-works like a charm!)
- blow up mattress if your camping (I slept like a baby! Get the pool mattress floats, they are cheap, easily fit in your luggage, and are perfect for one person!)
- ear plugs
Other things of interest in the area:
If you find yourself on highway 89 between the Utah border and Flagstaff, you’ll only be about an hour’s drive from the Grand Canyon.
Seen in the photo below, read all about The Wave here.
Lake Powell Arizona
Lake Powell is a beautiful man-made reservoir on the Colorado River, outside of Page Arizona.
Giving credit where credit is due….
I can’t take any credit for planning this fabulous trip. My sister-in-law did all the planning, and her efforts were greatly appreciated. I got to skip the tedious planning process this time! all I had to do was show up with my sleeping bag, hiking shoes, a good attitude, and an adventurous spirit. Thanks other Angie!