A National Park Adventure Around The Las Vegas Loop
Looking for a quarantine escape? As we get closer to the end of the worst of the pandemic, the itch to explore every marvel this world has to offer may be creeping up on you. When you hear about the Las Vegas Loop, do not let the glitz, glamour, and glow from the bustling Sin City’s neon signs, wild shows, and 24-hour entertainment fool you. Instead, this epic road trip, takes you to new heights, back in time, and across three states while touring some of the best national parks in the United States.
For this journey, we recommend reserving at least seven days to ensure you take in all the sights and stops along the almost 19-hour trip around this loop. Witnessing the wonder of the Grand Canyon as well as hitting five of the area’s major national parks makes this a trip you won’t want to miss.
- Start: Las Vegas, NV
- Park 1: Grand Canyon, AZ (South Rim) (1-2 days)
- Park 2: Monument Valley, AZ (1 day)
- Park 3: Arches National Park, UT (1-2 days)
- Park 4: Bryce Canyon National Park, UT (1 day)
- Park 5: Zion National Park, UT (1-2 days)
- End: Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas, NV to Grand Canyon
To get to the Grand Canyon, it takes between four and five hours (approximately 280 miles). As you leave the Las Vegas city limits, you will eventually pass by Lake Mead. Some of the best viewpoints are along this first leg of the trip to the Grand Canyon, so if you have some spare time or want to stop and stretch your legs for a few minutes, this is a great area to watch the scenery. Checking out the Hoover Dam also makes for a great detour, time permitting of course!
Passing through the Arizona desert on I-40 for a few hours takes you to the city of Williams, where you are presented with the option of driving the rest of the way to the park or taking a break from the driving. When you choose to drive, you get off at AZ-64, a 50-mile stretch of empty, open road that takes you directly to the Grand Canyon South Rim National Park.
However, if you want a cool way to experience the Arizona landscape without missing anything, you may opt for boarding the Grand Canyon Railway (assuming you are there in the morning before the train departs). Boarding this train allows you to enjoy sights that you would not have the chance to catch on the desert-heavy, barren AZ-64. You will arrive at the Grand Canyon just before noon and have the freedom to explore at your leisure until the end of the afternoon.
Both options offer different perks and treats, but they both lead to the same destination: The Grand Canyon South Rim National Park. Here, you can enjoy the beauty of the colorful gorge, shop at the few gift shops available, white water raft in the Colorado River, or hike along the valley floor.
Grand Canyon to Monument Valley
The journey from the Grand Canyon to Monument Valley takes you through time itself! Well, not exactly. The state of Arizona actually does not, in general, observe Daylight Savings Time; however, when you head to the valley, you pass through the Navajo Indian Reservation, which does. Essentially, you will be losing an hour as you pass through, so just keep that in mind!
Along your way, there are several stopping points available to you. Grab that camera or stretch those legs, and consider visiting these spots if time is on your side: Grandview Point (the best for watching the sunrise) Zuni Point, and Desert View Watchtower.
When you finally arrive, head over to the Tribal Park Visitor’s Center. Here, you will be able to catch the best views of Merrick Butte and the Mittens! For those of you crammed in rental cars, we highly recommend you consider using the guided tour. Most of the roads here are considered off-roads, meaning your rental company will likely not be too happy should you acquire a good collection of dings along the way. Not only will you protect your car by choosing the guided tour, but the Navajo guides are also able to immerse you with the best information about what it is you’re seeing.
Monument Valley to Arches National Park & Moab
It is during this leg of the loop where should you plan for more time than a week, we encourage you to explore! It’s a small detour with big rewards! The Bears Ears area offers some of the best camping, hiking, and outdoor adventures in this part of the country.
If you arrive at Arches National Park in the morning and the early parts of the afternoon and the crowds are too much for you, check out Canyon Islands in The Sky, which is about 45 minutes away. Exploring Arches in the late afternoon honestly opens up the prettiest views, is the quietest, and typically has the least amount of crowds. Delicate Arch is the most popular one in the park, but this trek requires a 3-mile hike with, at one point, a steep incline.
Other hike options here are abundant. If quantity is your top priority, then venture down the Devil’s Garden. But it is not all hiking! The 18-mile-long main road winds through most of the park. You may miss the most popular sights, but you won’t feel like you have missed out, either.
Arches National Park to Bryce Canyon National Park
For the approximate 244 miles to Bryce Canyon National Park, you can pass right through many scenic places: Capitol Reef National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument if you have some extra time. When you arrive, head to Inspiration Point, a hill hike that leads to three viewpoints. From there, Sunrise and Sunset Point are also great options—each with its own hikes. Both the Rim Trail and the Under-the-Rim Trail are perfect for more advanced hikers or enthusiasts.
Bryce Canyon National Park to Zion National Park
Drive for about an hour and a half, and you will be at Zion National Park. Of all the places we have mentioned, we recommend you consider spending the extra day in this 7-day itinerary here! When you’re incoming from Bryce, you are greeted at the park by the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel. The destination? Smack-dab in the middle of the canyon! That is certainly not a bad entrance.
We consider Zion National Park to be a playground for sightseers, hikers, adventurers/explorers, and campers of all expertise and skill levels. Here, The Narrows is a big focal feature of the park. Starting from the Riverside Walk, you will eventually get onto the From the Bottom Up Trail, which is a 10-mile trek leading to Big Springs. Beyond that, you can enjoy tubing in the Virgin River as well as scenic horseback riding.
Because of its popularity, be prepared for crowds here, unless you start your adventure here early. The visitor’s center does offer both an internal shuttle service as well as one that goes to Springdale (this one is free).
Zion National Park to Las Vegas
The 172-mile trip back to Sin City has surprising adventures, too! From a ghost town to a dinosaur discovery site, this leg is perfect for the whole family, especially if you are tuckered out from all that hiking.
The Grafton Ghost Town’s last residents packed up and left in 1944. While it is the closest stop to Zion, it can be tricky to find. The St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site is a den of dino-impressed sandstone. From skin impressions to footpads and claws, you are bound to enjoy this timeless, geologic spot of fun.
While you head back into the city, you will be able to enjoy the splendor of the Virgin River Gorge, a canyon shaped by the Virgin River. It is here where you will find the best photo-ops. And if you happen to pass through here at night, try hopping out of your car and staring up at the stars! Not a ton of people live out there, so there is no better place to stargaze. Before you roll back into Las Vegas, assuming you have the time, we recommend you also check out the Valley of Fire State Park, which is lush with bold outcrops of red Aztec sandstone.
The Las Vegas Loop offers some of the most majestic geologic landmarks on this side of the world. While the color palette skews more toward a kaleidoscopic display the color of some of the more lackluster colors for most of the way, visiting or hiking through these natural wonders developed over millions of years allows you rare glimpses through time to a place detached from most of the modern world.
You will also want to plan ahead as much as possible. Some of these locations are so remote that the typical gas station or rest stop may not be available to you for miles and miles. To make the most out of this trip, spare a few more days to the week-long adventure, so you can fit in a few of the extra things we mentioned or simply spend more time exploring one or two places that stick out to you. Overall, there is no way you will want to miss out on the Las Vegas Loop.