Las Vegas is North America’s center for glitz, glamor, and gambling. Unlike other casino centers such as Macau or Monte Carlo, however, Vegas is a gateway to some of the world’s most spectacular natural scenery. If you’ve ever seen movies that take place among expanses of the wild west with canyon walls as high as a skyscraper, you’ve seen places you can drive to from Las Vegas.
You can rent a car in Las Vegas and after a few hours crossing the desert be standing next to the Grand Canyon in Arizona or exploring the rock formations of southern Utah. This road trip is best done over a week to really soak it all in from some of America’s most scenic highways, but it would be possible to cover it all in a few days since the sites are just one to six hours apart.
Las Vegas to Zion National Park
To begin the journey, leave Las Vegas and head to Lake Mead to see this man-made lake created by the gigantic Hoover Dam. Continue on Northshore Road along the lake until you connect with I-4 heading Northeast to St. George. Stop for lunch or take a hike in St. George, then continue on I-4 all the way to Zion National Park.
Zion is known for its variety of landscapes and extensive hiking trails that lead past granite cliffs, meadows, and waterfalls. It’s common to spot mule deer, foxes, and bighorn sheep in the mountain terrain. You’re less likely to see the nocturnal creatures such as the ringtail cat and mountain lion, though you’ll probably spot their tracks in the mud.
The Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon
It only takes an hour and a half to drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park, but you will probably be tempted to stop off for photos several times along the way. Once at Bryce, spend some time viewing the incredible rock formations from different angles via the easy trails at the bottom or the more challenging ones that lead into the surrounding hills. Some of the lodging and camping areas are close enough to walk but lights are kept low to see the constellations at night.
To Arches and Canyonlands National Parks
The next two stops on this road trip from Las Vegas are close together, so these would be the best to combine in one day’s visit. Get an early start to get there though as it takes around five hours by the slow and scenic route or four hours by the I-70 interstate highway route to reach Arches National Park. The name is a strong clue of what to expect here, as erosion over many thousands of years has left giant standing arches that glow red as the sun is sinking close to the horizon.
In Canyonlands, bike paths and trails go through rugged dry canyons and formations with descriptive names such as Needles, Candlestick Tower, Chocolate Drops, and Monument Basin. This Moab Region of Utah is anchored by the town of the same name and this is one of the world’s great playgrounds for adventure activities. Make this your base and you can find dozens of activities to sign up for such as extreme mountain biking, rock climbing, horseback riding, boating, river rafting, and stargazing.
The Awesome Grand Canyon
No matter how many times you’ve seen photos of the Grand Canyon, it’s hard to imagine the immense size and wonder of this great natural geological site. Spread over hundreds of miles, it would take a lifetime to explore it all, but by coming from Utah you’ll visit the less crowded North Rim and have more of it to yourself. It takes six hours or so to get here from Canyonlands, so plan to spend the night at one of the many lodges or camping areas along the highway. By visiting it late in the day and then again in the morning, you’ll see it in a whole different light. If you can do a hike down inside, you’ll get another perspective again. Just bring plenty of water.
The next day, drive back to Las Vegas and complete the road trip loop. You’ll trade in starry skies and open landscapes for the bright lights and noises that never stop, but you should have hundreds of great photos to share from your great American road trip.