Zion + Bryce Canyon National Parks

Zion Natl Park

We just got back from a super fun 5 day getaway to Utah (and a tiny bit of Nevada and Arizona too)! As we’ve mentioned before, visiting every US National Park is our top bucket list item. Before this trip, we had been to 7 of them—Haleakala, Mount Rainier, Olympic, North Cascades, Shenandoah, Yosemite, and Rocky Mountain. The purpose of our trip to Utah was to check off 2 more, Zion and Bryce Canyon.The only time we had spent in Utah prior to this trip was during our 3 day drive up from Texas. We drove through Moab and Arches National Park, but didn’t have time to stop. We’ve been dying to get back to Utah since! Here’s a little recap of our trip, but for more info on where to stay and eat, where to hike, helpful park tips, and a full 3 day itinerary, check out our Zion and Bryce Canyon guide.

Day 1: Las Vegas + the Hoover Dam

We flew into Las Vegas from Seattle, which is the best airport option unless you fly into St. George. We took an early flight there so we could have some time to explore before heading to Utah. Our first stop after landing in Vegas was PublicUs, an amazing coffee shop in Fremont that I (Kathryn) discovered back in January while in Vegas for work. This is probably one of our favorite coffee shops anywhere! Not only is the coffee amazing (we recommend the Macadamia Nut latte and The Cannon, which is a flash brewed iced coffee with lime bitters and juice!), but the staff is incredible! We had a couple questions about the coffee options and the guy taking our order was so knowledgeable and thorough explaining every detail about the beans, homemade milk alternatives, and their speciality drinks. A massive line had formed behind us and he didn’t even care—he continued to tell us everything about the coffee without speeding up or any worry about the line. That type of customer service is SO RARE! The coffee shop’s design is also so cool and they have amazing looking food that we haven’t tried, but will next time!
After coffee, we went to the Strip to see the Bellagio Fountains, which we discovered don’t have shows as early as we were there…womp womp, and to have our favorite burger at Shake Shack! We cannot wait for the Seattle Shake Shack to open!
After a quick little adventure on the Strip, we headed south to Seven Magic Mountains. This is a free art installation in the middle of the desert by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. It is made up of seven colorful boulder towers, which pop against the brown desert. It was supposed to be removed before we arrived, but we found out they extended it until at least the end of the year!
We snapped some photos and then hopped back into the car to go see the Hoover Dam. Neither of us had ever seen the dam and it was wayyyy cooler than we expected! We were in awe as we walked across the dam and admired the scenery and beautiful water around it. We also experienced some crazy winds on the dam which were so strong they moved our bodies, making the experience pretty funny and memorable. One super awesome thing about the Hoover Dam is that it lies on the Nevada/Arizona border. We had forgotten this and were super pumped to remember once we arrived and saw the “Welcome to Arizona” sign. I (Kathryn) was born in Arizona and lived there until I was 8, so getting to visit my home state again was an awesome surprise!
From Hoover Dam, we headed to Zion. It’s a pretty long drive (4-ish hours), so we broke it up by stopping in St. George for groceries for the week and amazing $1.50 tacos and lots of chips, salsa, and guacamole at La Cocina Mexican Street Food. on their outdoor patio. We arrived to our campsite at the Zion Ponderosa Resort close to midnight, set up camp, and took a “nap” before a full day at Zion. While we never saw the resort in the daytime, it was a huge property with houses, cabins, campsites, and more that you can rent. It’s about 40 minutes from the visitor center, but the drive was so beautiful and went through the park, so it wasn’t bad at all!

Day 2: Zion National Park

We made it a goal of the trip to see every sunrise or sunset, no matter how early we had to get up or how tired we were at the end of the day. So to achieve this goal, we woke up at 4 AM on our first day at Zion National Park in order to go see the sunrise from Canyon Overlook. This is an easy 1 mile round trip hike that we safely hiked in the dark with headlamps. When we arrived to the overlook, the sky was slowly starting to lighten up, giving us our first glimpse of the canyon. It was truly one of the most magical experiences! We were the first to arrive and only had to share the space with 3 others by the time we left. We watched as the colors of the canyon changed as the sun began to emerge.
After snapping about a million photos, we made our way back to the car, snagged a parking spot at the Zion Visitor Center (it was Memorial Day weekend, their busiest of the year, so getting places early was key!) and took the Springdale shuttle to Deep Creek Coffee for breakfast and coffee. We loved this spot! They had great food and Americanos AND an amazing view from their upper patio! ​
We rushed back to the Visitor Center after breakfast to get on the shuttle for our hike to Observation Point. Since it was their busiest weekend, we had to wait about an hour for the shuttle, but it wasn’t that bad. We chose Observation Point over Angel’s Landing for a few reasons: it’s a longer hike (8 miles vs. 5.4), higher elevation (about double Angel’s Landing) which means more views, and way less busy (we heard that people were waiting for hours to get through the short, narrow chain section of Angel’s Landing because it was so busy). We were super happy with our choice to do Observation Point instead. You get the exact same view, but much higher up, and it wasn’t too congested. The trail itself is also amazing. You walk through canyons and get to see views of the east side of the park, all while getting a killer workout.
After finishing the hike, we took the shuttle back to the visitor center to grab coffee at Perks before doing a shorter hike, the Watchman Trail. While this hike is significantly easier than Observation Point, we were pretty exhausted at this point, so it felt challenging to us. The trail was pretty empty, which was a huge bonus, and had great views of the town of Springdale, the Watchman, Towers of the Virgin, West Temple and the Altar of Sacrifice.
We were starving after all of the hiking and made our way to Oscar’s Cafe for an early dinner. We inhaled chips, salsa, and guacamole and massive plates of enchiladas. We normally eat really healthy, but hey it was vacation and we had hiked over 11 miles at this point!
Although we were completely pooped from the long day, we stuck around for sunset. We walked the Pa’rus Trail to the Canyon Junction bridge to snap sunset photos. This is a super popular sunset spot and the bridge was lined with photographers. We almost bailed on sunset to go sleep, but we are very glad we stuck it out! Watching the sunset with the Watchman in the background was the perfect ending to our first day!

Day 3: Zion + Bryce Canyon National Parks

We kicked off our last day at Zion with another sunrise adventure. We had seen this big open field the night before along the Pa’rus trail and knew it would be the perfect sunrise spot. We had the whole field to ourselves with 360 degree views of the sunrise.
For breakfast, we headed to Cafe Soleil, which is right outside the park entrance. We quickly ate and headed to the shuttle to hike the Narrows. The shuttle line was even longer than the day before, but it moved quickly and we were on our way within an hour. We have wanted to hike the Narrows for many years and we were so excited! We rented gear from Zion Outfitter and highly recommend renting canyoneering boots, neoprene socks, and a hiking stick. The first mile of the trail is easy and goes along the river before you then enter the Narrows and walk IN the river. We’d say about 90% of the actual Narrows portion is water–there are a couple areas where you can get out of the river and onto the rocks. But the water is so much fun! With our rental shoes, we didn’t feel cold at all. The river was definitely rushing more in some spots than we anticipated, but if you’re careful, it’s easy to get through it without falling. Unless you’re Adam and you fall twice ;).
It takes 2 miles in actual the river to hit the famous Wall Street section, where the canyon gets more narrow. While the whole hike is scenic, this is the best part! There is an offshoot section of the Narrows around mile 3 where you can go see Veiled Falls. We didn’t have enough time to go all the way down this way, but we walked down that portion for a tiny bit before continuing down Wall Street to Floating Rock and turning around. We highly recommend starting the Narrows early in the morning before it gets crowded. Despite it being a busy weekend, we found the Narrows to be less crowded than we anticipated, but on our way back it was getting significantly busier.
After finishing the Narrows, we grabbed more coffee at Deep Creek Coffee’s walk up counter and said goodbye to Zion to head to Bryce Canyon National Park. The drive to Bryce Canyon is around 2 hours, which got us there a couple hours before sunset. We stayed at Ruby’s Inn Campground at Bryce, which is just a few minutes outside of the park. We stayed in a tipi, which was super fun! The campground was really nice and convenient to the park. The only complaint we had is that our tipi was right off the main road, so there was some noise, but thankfully the Bryce area is less busy than Zion. ​
Speaking of less busy, one thing to note about Bryce Canyon is that it is much more remote than Zion. It has a few hotels, restaurants, and shops, but much less so than Springdale at Zion. If you want something quick to eat, you don’t really have any options. The few restaurants that are at Bryce are sit down spots and none of them really have good reviews. We were a bit nervous about this before our trip, but our friends at Wild Zora saved the day and hooked us up with some of their delicious Paleo Meals to Go freeze-dried meals. We had their Mountain Beef Stew and Summit Savory Chicken meals, which are not only really tasty, but super healthy! They are also easy to make and take with you. We enjoyed eating ours by the fire and also taking them to overlooks while watching the sunset. We ate their meals both nights at Bryce, as well as had Wild Zora’s meat and veggie bars as snacks during the day to keep us full during our hikes. We highly recommend bringing your own food options, like Wild Zora’s, when staying at Bryce! If you want to try Wild Zora for yourself, use our discount code APLUSK20 for 20% off!
After setting up camp and making some food, we headed to Sunset Point to get our first glimpse of Bryce Canyon and watch the sunset. The second we walked up to the edge of the canyon and saw the hoodoos for the first time we were speechless. They are so incredible! We walked from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point to get some sunset photos before heading back to our tipi for the night.

Day 4: Bryce Canyon National Park

We packed in quite a bit for our only full day at Bryce Canyon. We woke up nice and early to watch the sunrise at Sunset and Sunrise points. The sunrise was beautiful, but holy crap it was cold! We stupidly only looked at Zion weather before our trip *facepalm* assuming Zion and Bryce were similar. Boy were we wrong! Since Bryce is between 8,000-9,000 ft above sea level, it’s much colder! We froze our butts off watching the sunrise, so don’t make the same mistake as us and make sure to pack layers!
We warmed up for a few minutes after the sunrise before starting our first hike, the Navajo/Queens Garden Loop. Combining these two trails gives you an almost 3 mile hike that goes into the canyon and gets you up close and personal with hoodoos, including Thor’s Hammer. It’s one of the most popular hikes at the park and rightfully so, it was relatively easy and super cool! ​
After we completed the Navajo/Queens Loop, we began the Fairyland Loop Trail, which is 8 miles and a 2,309 ft elevation gain. This hike kicked our butts! The higher elevation made it harder to breathe and the trail took you deep into the canyon and then back to the top repeatedly. Despite the difficulty we had, we loved the hike. It was way less busy than the first hike and we got to explore a lot of the park. We experienced lots of weather during this hike as well–sun and heat, wind and cold weather, and rain. It made the 8 miles very interesting!
We were exhausted after all of the hiking, so we headed back towards the campsite, treated ourselves to some ice cream, and hung out around the fire before driving back to the park to visit some overlooks. We drove to the farthest end of the park to see Rainbow Point and then worked our way back to the front of the park, stopping at Natural Bridge, Bryce Point, and Inspiration Point. The air was getting colder and we were very tired, which made it hard for us to get out of the car at these stops, but we are so glad we did! We caught the sunrise at both Bryce Point and Inspiration Point and it was remarkable! We are so grateful we sucked up the cold and our laziness to enjoy one last sunset. It was the perfect way to end our time at Bryce!

Day 5: Las Vegas

We woke up early on our last day of our trip to make the 4 hour trek back to Vegas. The drive is thankfully very scenic and takes you through Utah and Arizona before finally hitting Nevada. We had a couple hours to kill in Vegas, so we swung by Maker & Finders Coffee in the Arts District (a cool little area!) for some lattes. Maker & Finders is such a cute spot, with a beautiful interior and also a nice outdoor patio. After some coffee, we made our way to Tacos El Gordoan authentic, hole in the wall taco joint that had amazing reviews online. We got Carne Asada and Adobada tacos, as well as Campechana fries, which has Carne Asada and Adobada plus guacamole, cheese, and this creamy sauce. We got SO much food (they aren’t joking when they say the large fries are large!) and it was so freaking delicious! We highly recommend this spot for cheap tacos. We went to a farther out location, but they also have a location closer to the Strip.

From Tacos El Gordo, we headed to the airport to get back home to Seattle. We had such a fun trip exploring two of Utah’s National Parks, putting our official number at 9 out 60 National Parks visited. We hiked over 30 miles, saw so many sunrises and sunsets, and were constantly mind blown by the beauty that surrounded us. We look forward to heading back to Utah and visiting Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef National Parks!

Thanks for following along on our Utah adventure! We have a jam packed summer filled with tons of amazing hikes, international trips, new travel guides, blogs, and so much more. Stay tuned–the best is yet to come!

​-Adam & Kathryn

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  1. Suzanne on May 31, 2018 at 10:43 am

    So awesome…I love reading about your trips and seeing all the beautiful pictures of the places visited and food eaten!

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