Heading to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks? Well, then this calls for a good old-fashioned road trip! We love road trips as it is, but when it’s mixed with national parks? We can’t get enough. Waking up at the crack of dawn, exploring roadside pit stops, staying in random hotels, and hiking ’til our legs fall off– it’s what we live for!
Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are going to be the main attractions in this road trip travel guide. In this 5-day itinerary and travel guide, we’re going to show you how to combine both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks into one epic road trip. These two national parks pair quite well together! Why? Well, because of their ideal location and size. They are fairly close to each other and are perfectly sized, allowing you to see and do a lot in a relatively short amount of time.
We know, there’s a lot to think about when planning a road trip. Not only will this guide help you plot out your days (based on what we did on our very own Utah national parks road trip), but it’ll also give you lots of activity suggestions if you don’t want to follow our itinerary to a tee!
Get ready for an easy-to-follow yet detailed road trip itinerary, some very useful travel tips, pointers on where to stay along the way, and an essential packing list for this exciting adventure. We hope this helps you plan out the Utah national park road trip of your dreams!
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WHY A UTAH NATIONAL PARK ROAD TRIP IS SO WORTH IT
Amazing national wonders and the state of Utah pretty much go hand in hand. Utah is home to five National Parks, nicknamed the “Mighty Five”, which include Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches National Park. These parks are all located in Southern Utah, and despite their relatively similar location, each national park has its own distinct beauty and truly unique scenery.
All of these parks are worth visiting at some point in your life, but if you’re crunched on time or if this is your first time visiting Utah, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park are the best ones to start with.
Zion National Park is the 4th most visited National Park in the United States and is home to some of the most majestic slot canyons and orange-y red cliffs in the world. The park is most famous for two truly epic hikes–Angels Landing and The Narrows. I’ve been to this park twice and have plans to return many more times over the course of my lifetime!
Bryce Canyon National Park is famous for having the world’s largest collection of hoodoos (rock columns) that formed over millions of years due to erosion from ice and rain. Bryce Canyon National Park offers a completely different experience to Zion; your first gaze upon Bryce’s landscape will get you thinking you were transported to another planet! Bryce is much more compact, easier to see in just one day, and very family-friendly.
What do these two must-see parks have in common? They’re both really great parks for hikers and leisurely walkers alike! Both have super convenient shuttle systems within the park, making it really simple to get around. And if you’re more about driving from stop to stop, there’s a ton of great viewpoints you can catch right from the parking lots.
Once you dive into this itinerary, you’ll quickly see why these two parks pair so well together and why they make for the perfect Utah national park road trip!
UTAH NATIONAL PARK ROAD TRIP: AN OVERVIEW
With five national parks and a variety of other natural wonders to see in Utah, how really do you see it all in one road trip? The quick answer is that you can’t. Many people try to see all five national parks in a week, which will result in way too much driving and not enough time to do the iconic hikes and soak in all the diversity the parks offer.
We get it, not everyone can take off 2-4 weeks to galavant across the state (but if you can, we totally envy you). That’s why this itinerary is built for the majority of travelers–ones that can really take off 2-3 days at a time.
If you do not have time for all five Utah National Parks in one road trip, Zion and Bryce Canyon are a perfect combination for a 4-5 day road trip.
This itinerary will cover the closest Utah National Parks to Las Vegas for a 5-day road trip to:
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Zion National Park
- and a few lesser-known but super fun pit stops in southwestern Utah!
Total driving time: 8.5 hours
If you have the time to extend your trip or you are interested in planning a subsequent road trip, then you should consider adding Capitol Reef National Park, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park as well.
HOW MANY DAYS FOR A ZION AND BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK ROAD TRIP?
As with many other road trips, I’d say the more days you have the better! With more days, you’ll be able to travel slower, see more, and hit up spots that are a little more off-the-beaten-path. We are huge fans of off-the-beaten-path.
Having said that, I’d recommend no less than 3 full days for a Zion and Bryce National Park road trip. At a minimum, you need 2 full days at Zion National Park and 1 full day at Bryce Canyon. This itinerary covers both National Parks across 3.5 days, which will allow you to see the best of both parks.
The trip I outline below will take a total of 5 days (4 nights). It makes the perfect long weekend road trip from anywhere in the United States!
HOW MANY DAYS OFF WORK DO I NEED FOR THIS TRIP?
Depending on where you’re coming from, this trip will only require 2-3 PTO days if you plan on road-tripping over the weekend. If you plan on road tripping over a holiday weekend, you might only need 1 PTO day!
The trip we took began on a Thursday night and ended on a Monday night. Since I flew from California (only a 1-hour plane ride from Las Vegas), I only needed to take off Friday and Monday, for a total of 2 PTO days.
One of my friends came from New York. Because she was flying from farther away, she took off Tuesday as well (as a rest day), for a total of 3 PTO days.
WHAT AIRPORT TO FLY INTO FOR ZION AND BRYCE NATIONAL PARK ROAD TRIP
Zion National Park
Zion National Park is located in Springdale, Utah, which is in the southwest corner of the state. By plane, you can fly into the following major airports:
- LAS – McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (170 miles from the park) – 2.5 hour drive
- SLC – Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah (311 miles from the park) – 4 hour drive
These are your two best airport options. Travelers will typically rent a car from one of these airports and drive their way over to the parks.
Zion National Park is just 2.5 hours from Las Vegas, 4 hours from Salt Lake City, and if you don’t mind a farther drive, 6 to 7 hours from Los Angeles.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southern Utah near the city of Bryce. Your options are pretty similar here compared to Zion NP. By plane, you can fly into the following airports:
- SGU – St. George Regional Airport in Utah (143 miles from the park): Small regional airport with limited commercial flights (less flight options, more expensive) – 2.5 hour drive
- SLC – Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah (273 miles from the park) – 4 hour drive
- LAS – McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (270 miles from the park) – 4 hour drive
When we visited Zion and Bryce Canyon we flew into Las Vegas, Nevada, rented a car, and drove to the parks in Utah. We did Bryce Canyon first and Zion second to lessen the drive on the way back, but feel free to visit whichever one you want first.
BEST TIME TO VISIT ZION AND BRYCE NATIONAL PARKS
If I had to choose just one month, I’d recommend you travel in September. I’ve done this road trip twice–once in late June and once in late September. Overall, the road trip that took place during the last week of September was much more enjoyable (way less hot, way fewer crowds, equally as enjoyable).
Zion National Park
While Zion National Park is open year-round, 70% of visitors visit Zion between April and September.
- The best time to go for the warmest weather and best variety of activities is May through September. However, it gets quite crowded and hot during this period.
- The best time to go to escape summer crowds and sweltering heat will be in the Spring or Fall seasons (April/May and September/October).
- If you plan to hike The Narrows, the best time to go is from May to September.
- The Narrows is often closed during the spring when snowmelt causes the river to rise dramatically. You can hike it in the fall and winter, but the water can be cold.
- Winter comes with a chance of snow and ice storms (December to March).
Bryce Canyon National Park
I don’t think there’s a specific “best time” to visit Bryce Canyon. Each season has its perks!
- Summer is the most crowded season and conditions can also get quite hot.
- Spring and Fall are wonderful times to visit as there will be fewer crowds and cooler weather conditions.
- Winter offers winter activities and can be beautiful with snow sprinkled on the ground (but quite cold, as the park sits at over 8,000 feet in elevation).
Bryce National Park is open 24 hours a day, year-round. However, from October to May, some roads, campgrounds, and other visitor facilities are closed or have reduced hours. Be sure to check Bryce Canyon’s NPS website for the latest conditions.
5-DAY ZION/BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK ROAD TRIP: MAP OF STOPS
5-DAY ZION/BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK ROAD TRIP: ITINERARY
Now that we’ve gotten all the logistics out of the way, let’s get into the fun stuff… the actual itinerary!
DAY 1 – HELLO LAS VEGAS!
If you’re traveling from another state other than Nevada or Utah (like we did), then part of Day 1 will be a wash. This is where you’ll be flying in, preparing for your road trip, and potentially getting a taste of Las Vegas as well.
PREPARE: If you plan on flying into Las Vegas, then spend today picking up your rental car, buying groceries/snacks, getting situated, and exploring Las Vegas. How much time you have today will depend on what time your flight gets in. The earlier your flight gets in, the more time you have to explore Vegas!
EXPLORE: If you have spare time, I recommend the following Las Vegas activities:
- Walk The Strip
- See the Fountains of Bellagio
- Explore a few resorts/casinos: The Venetian, Caesar’s Palace, Planet Hollywood, Paris, etc.
- Visit Valley Of Fire State Park
- See a few exhibits at Area 15
HIT THE ROAD: Once you’ve gotten your fill of Las Vegas, begin your drive to Bryce Canyon. If you want to break the car ride up into chunks, spend the night in a random city near the halfway point (we stayed in Cedar City). If you can drive the whole way there, I’d recommend spending the night somewhere near Bryce.
WHAT WE DID: I flew from Los Angeles to Las Vegas after a full day of work on Thursday night. This meant that I didn’t have to take PTO on Thursday, but it also meant that all I had time for upon landing in LAS was picking up a rental car and doing some grocery shopping for our road trip. Once my entire group arrived in Las Vegas, we headed out for Bryce Canyon National Park in the night! Our first stop was going to be Cedar City where we were going to spend the night, which served as our halfway point between Las Vegas and Bryce Canyon.
DAY 2 – BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
HIT THE ROAD: If you stayed at a halfway point to Bryce Canyon, spend the first hours of your day finishing up the drive to Bryce Canyon (for us this was a 1 hr 40 min drive from Cedar City to Bryce). Once you’re in Bryce Canyon, the fun begins!
EXPLORE: Start your Bryce Canyon day off right by catching the sunrise at Sunset Point. You can also enjoy the sunrise at Sunrise Point, or anywhere along the rim between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point, really. If you can manage to wake up early enough, I’d highly recommend this! Top recommended vista points include Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point.
HIKE: After catching an epic sunrise, it’s time to get your hike on. This is a great time to hit the trails because you’ll beat the late wakers and the post-breakfast crowds!
Here are our three top hike recommendations in the park:
- Navajo/Queens Garden Loop – 3.5 miles roundtrip
- This hike, undoubtedly the most popular hike in the park, gets you up close and personal with the hoodoos in the park. I’ve done this hike twice, and there will be a third and fourth time… I’ll never get sick of this one!
- Figure Eight Trail– 6.3 miles roundtrip
- This hike combines the Navajo and Queens Garden Loop, Wall Street, and Peekaboo Loop into one jam-packed hike through the hoodoos. Opting for this combo hike will give you a more complete tour of the amphitheater.
- Fairyland Loop Trail – 7.8 miles roundtrip
- This hike is much longer than some of the other trails at the park, but it’s way less crowded and well worth the effort. You’ll be taken through walking paths that provide sweeping views and close-up views of the hoodoo formations. You can either start at the Fairyland Loop trailhead or at Sunrise Point. (From the Fairyland Loop trailhead, go counter-clockwise. From Sunrise Point, go clockwise. By doing it this way, you’ll get the less exciting parts out of the way first.
EXPLORE: After your hike, hop back into your car. It’s time to see the park’s vista points by car! Soak up the views from Rainbow Point, Natural Bridge, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point, all of which are accessible by car.
HIT THE ROAD: After getting your fill of all the photogenic vista points, it’s time to drive to Springdale, UT. Springdale will be your home for the next three days as you explore Zion National Park! The drive from Bryce Canyon to Zion should take around 1.5 to 2 hours.
PITSTOP: Take a quick pitstop at Fort Zion for the Virgin Trading Post! Not only is it a great place to pick up quirky gifts/souvenirs, but they also have a restaurant here, serving up yummy burgers as well as amazing homemade pies and ice cream. Just look at how fun this place looks! If you’re traveling with kids, there are even animals they can feed. Definitely worth a stop!
RELAX: It’s been a long day of exploration, so check in to your Springdale hotel, grab dinner, rest up, and prepare for more fun at Zion NP tomorrow!
DAY 3 – ZION NATIONAL PARK
WHAT WE DID: The first day of our Zion National Park adventure was wholly dedicated to hiking The Subway, an epic 7.0 mile hike (requires a permit). If you’re interested in doing the subway, check out my complete hiking guide to The Subway at Zion National Park.
EXPLORE: If you’re not going to be doing The Subway, here are a few additional activities/hikes you can do on your first day:
- Watch the sunrise along the Pa’rus Trail (no shuttle required) – 3.5-miles roundtrip. This easy, paved walk hugs the river and has great views for both sunrise and sunset. It is the only trail in Zion that is open to bicycles and pets, and it is also one of the few wheelchair-accessible trails in the park.
- Observation Point (Shuttle Stop #7 – Weeping Rock) – 8 miles roundtrip
- For jaw-dropping panoramic views of Zion, it’s hard to beat this one. Observation Point is one of my absolute favorite hikes to do in Zion National Park! It’s a bit less popular than some of the other heavy-hitters in Zion, which makes it an extra peaceful excursion, especially if you can wake up early enough to take the first shuttle into the park.
- Watchman Trail (no shuttle required)– 3.1 miles roundtrip.
- This is a great introductory trail that gives you some really great views from the top.
- Explore Kolob Canyons
- This area is super underrated, way less busy than the main canyon, but absolutely gorgeous nonetheless. Kolob Canyons has a separate entrance and is about 45 minutes from the main entrance in Springdale, Utah. There are fewer hikes to choose from here, but you still have some pretty great options:
- Taylor Creek Trail (5 miles roundtrip) – brings you into an enchanting finger canyon along a creek, passing the ruins of a few historic cabins, before ending at Double Arch Alcove.
- Timber Creek Overlook (1.1 mile roundtrip) – good if you only have 1-2 hours; this is a short hike along a ridge with some incredible views.
- Sunset walk on the Pa’rus Trail (no shuttle required). If you didn’t get a chance to stroll on the Pa’rus Trail in the morning, take a post-dinner walk here. Stop at the Canyon Junction bridge to see the sunset with the Watchman in the background.
Regardless of what you plan to do today, there are a few really important things to know about the Zion shuttle system:
- Zion National Park requires visitors to take the park’s free shuttle within the park. Why? The shuttle reduces congestion in the park. The shuttle is convenient because it stops at all major trailheads. This shuttle starts at the Zion Visitor Center.
- There is one drawback to the shuttle. The Zion shuttle can get incredibly crowded and can only fit so many people at once. To beat the crowds (and the heat), take the first shuttle of the day if you can, departing from the Visitor Center around 6 am. The first few shuttles are relatively empty (by 9am, the line gets LONG).
- If you’re staying in Springdale but not within walking distance to the Zion Visitor Center, there is a free shuttle that takes you from various parts of Springdale to the Zion Visitor Center (Riding the Town shuttle), but it does not start running until 7-8 am. To get an early start, I recommend driving and parking at the visitor center to board the early shuttle into the park.
RELAX: Walk around the town of Springdale and have dinner at Oscar’s Cafe. While you’re in Springdale, make sure to swing by Zion Outfitter just behind Zion Visitor Center and pick up equipment for The Narrows hike tomorrow.
DAY 4 – ZION NATIONAL PARK
Today is all about hiking The Narrows. The Narrows at Zion National Park is one of the United States’ most iconic trails and one of the world’s best slot canyon hikes. Everyone needs to experience this epic hike for themselves!
HIKE: The Narrows hike starts at Temple of Sinawa (the last stop of Zion shuttle).
We recommend going 3-4 miles in (making this a 6-8 mile round trip day hike) to the famous Wall Street section. Wall Street is the narrowest section of the hike, where millions of years of river erosion have formed incredible 1500-foot walls around you. Make sure to pack snacks and even a full lunch to enjoy during the hike!
Depending on what time you start The Narrows hike, it may or may not be peaceful at first. There can be people everywhere. The further in you walk, the fewer people you will see. Many people just want to sample the Narrows, so eventually, crowds will begin thinning out. Better for us!
No matter what, don’t forget to rent water shoes and a walking stick from Zion Outfitter. You won’t get far without it! Alternatively, you can bring/use your own trekking poles for balance.
Pro Tip: This hike doesn’t sound that long, but it’s actually quite tiring and should be considered a full-day hike. I am used to hiking 6-8 miles in a few hours no problem, but The Narrows was different. With all the constant zig-zagging and water wading, I was completely wiped out at the end of the day. Take this into consideration and try not to plan too much after hiking The Narrows.
Take the Zion shuttle back towards the visitor center and drop all your gear back off at Zion Outfitter. By now you’ll be more than ready to get changed into comfortable clothes!
EXPLORE: If you’ve still gone some energy in you, hope back onto the shuttle to see some other scenic viewpoints! I recommend stopping at the Court of the Patriarchs.
RELAX: Phew, you’ve had a long day. Time to grub and head back to your hotel for a good night’s sleep.
DAY 5 – ZION NATIONAL PARK / DRIVE BACK TO VEGAS
HIKE: Today, you get another chance to bag another epic Zion National Park hike–Angels Landing! Before heading out, don’t forget to check out of your hotel. Get an early start, check out, and eat a quick breakfast to ensure you make it on one of the first shuttles into Zion NP. This is one hike you don’t want to be sharing with hundreds of other people.
Pro Tip: For safety reasons, aim to leave your bags at the hotel upon check out rather than stowing them in your car. The last thing you want to come back to is a car break-in. Once you finish your hike, head back to the hotel to pick up your bags before driving back to Las Vegas.
Angels Landing is a 5-mile roundtrip hike featuring some super epic views and one-in-a-lifetime experiences. It’s one of the most popular hikes in the park, so it can get very crowded (there is sometimes an hour wait to get to the top and an equally long line to get down). Highly recommend getting an early start on this one.
The Angels Landing hike brings you onto a fin-like mountain ridge that juts out to the center of the main canyon. The trail follows this ridge to a final vista point roughly 1,500 feet above the canyon floor. It truly is a view to be seen with your own eyes!
If you’re afraid of heights or freeze up easily by the sight of mountain dropoffs, this full hike may not be for you, as you’ll be walking along very narrow cliffside trails with chains to hold onto. You can still hike a portion of the trail, just end at Scout Lookout before the chained section begins.
To get to Angels Landing trailhead, hop on the Zion shuttle and get off at stop #6, The Grotto. This hike will take 3-6 hours, depending on how much other foot traffic there is.
DRIVE: After completing Angels Landing, dust yourself off, use the restroom, and hop back into the car because we’re going home! The drive from Zion National Park to Las Vegas takes about 2.5 hours (160 miles).
BRYCE CANYON AND ZION NATIONAL PARK ROAD TRIP: WHERE TO STAY
There are lots of hotels/accommodations you could stay at during the course of your road trip.
If you’re following this itinerary to a tee, the hotels we stayed at were:
We loved both of these hotels–they were both clean, modern, and comfortable!
Springdale (the town at the mouth of Zion National Park) offers tons of great accommodation options. For those seeking luxury, travelers love Cliffrose Lodge.
Looking for an in-park stay? Look no further than the Zion Lodge. The Zion Lodge has both cabins and traditional hotel rooms. Like most lodges located within national parks, you’ll need to book your stay as early as possible (ideally 13 months in advance, when reservations open).
Traveling on a budget or feeling a bit more adventurous? Here are some of my favorite camping spots in the two parks:
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK CAMPGROUNDS
Bryce Canyon has two campgrounds within the park, Sunset Campground (closed in the winter) and North Campground (open year-round). Find out more about Bryce Canyon campgrounds on the NPS website here.
ZION NATIONAL PARK CAMPGROUNDS
Watchman Campground and South Campground are your main options if you want to be within the park boundaries. Do note though, campsites at Zion are super difficult to secure because they tend to get booked up quite early. If you want to camp, you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for open reservations (and book months in advance)!
Find out more about Zion campgrounds on the NPS website here.
CAN YOU HIKE ANGELS LANDING AND THE NARROWS IN ONE DAY?
If you’re short on time and are trying to fit in more hikes per day, you might be considering doing both Angels Landing and The Narrows hikes in one day. So is it doable?
The answer is yes, if you are relatively fit and can hike at a faster pace. In fact, this is what my best friend and I did a few years back. In order to do this, we ended up waking up at 4:30am to pack, eat breakfast, and take the first shuttle in (6am).
Getting on the first shuttle of the day is critical for this endeavor. You’ll need to get a head start on a jam-packed day. My recommendation is to hike Angels Landing first (since it’s so much more exposed and tends to get hot in the afternoons) and then head into the Narrows afterwards.
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TIPS: ZION AND BRYCE NATIONAL PARK ROAD TRIP
- Admission to Bryce and Zion will cost $35 per vehicle ($30 for motorcycles), but don’t pay that lame, one-time fee. We highly recommend getting the America the Beautiful National Parks Pass, which costs $80 per year and will get you into any National Park, National Monument, or National Forest for free.
- Bryce Canyon NP offers a free shuttle bus service between mid-April and late October (optional use). Although highly recommended, using this bus service is not mandatory. You can take your own car in.
Zion NP offers a free shuttle bus service between mid-March and October (mandatory use). Taking this shuttle into the park is mandatory if you want to access hikes like Angels Landing, the Narrows, Observation Point, and other trails through Zion NP.
- During the high season, you can not drive your car to the most popular hikes in Zion. You can only drive into the park during the winter season. What you’ll need to do instead: parking your car at the Zion Visitor Center between March and October. If you don’t arrive very early, finding a spot will be really challenging. You will be forced to pay an arm and a leg for parking elsewhere. We can’t stress enough the importance of arriving early at Zion NP.
- Being on the very first shuttle bus into Zion NP is vital to beating the crowds for both Angels Landing and the Narrows. If you hike during the most popular times, be prepared to extend your hiking time by a few hours (I know it sounds bad, but unfortunately that’s a real estimation).
- On Angels Landing, be prepared for delays once you’re at the chains. If you reach the chains at prime time, you might experience a line to get on/off the mountain ridge. Once you’re in the chains area, you’ll find that there is a lot of pausing. Oftentimes, there will be someone frozen from fear, trying to take it slow. Do NOT try to get around the traffic jams by going outside the chains. Not only is this dangerous for yourself, but it’s dangerous and unnerving for other hikers around you. Be patient and look out for your fellow hikers!
- Bring a lot of water. You can never have too much, but you can very easily run out.
- Take care of your legs after your hikes. Sleep with compression socks after hiking to help reduce soreness. Better yet, use a foam roller and give those babies some love.
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST: ZION AND BRYCE NATIONAL PARK ROAD TRIP
Aside from the normal clothing and toiletries you’d pack for any regular trip, here are the things I’d recommend you not leave home without for your Arizona road trip:
- America the Beautiful National Parks Pass | Entrance to Zion and Bryce Canyon NP cost $35 for a 7-day pass. However, the national parks annual pass is a great way to save on entrance fees. If you intend to visit three or more NPS parks or sites in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will more than pay for itself. This pass can be purchased at the park entrances or online here.
- [Example: 3 National Parks x $30 parking each = $90. Savings with the annual pass = $10. Any more parks you go to thereafter = FREE! ]
- License and registration | This is a no-brainer, but always good to check you have all documents before it’s too late and you get too far away from home. Do NOT leave home without them. They are road trip essentials!
- Roadside Emergency Kit | You never know what kind of car trouble you may encounter on the road. This kit contains 42 roadside emergency components, including jumper cables, an aluminum flashlight and batteries, 2-in-1 screwdriver, duct tape, poncho, cable ties, bandages, towelettes, and zipper-lock bags.
- Trunk Organizer | With any road trip comes lots and lots of stuff to pack. Keep your road trip essentials organized with a trunk organizer. Not only will this make it so much easier to find what you need, but it will also lead to more space in your trunk for you to pack other necessities.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Flashlight | You never know when you’re going to be stranded on the road at night, out hiking late, or even exploring a dark cave. Leaving a flashlight in your car can really come in handy when you’re faced with unexpected situations.
- Portable Cooler | Coolers are a must for any road trip, but especially on desert road trips. The desert is a hot, hot place. Not only will you be able to keep beverages cold and refreshing, but you will also be able to keep perishables fresh. A portable hard cooler will allow you to pack picnic lunches, bring cheese and jams, and more. If you’re looking for the best cooler technology out there, the Yeti Portable Cooler is top of the line, with ColdCell Insulation that offers superior cold-holding compared to other soft coolers.
- Swiss Army Knife | A multi-tool is great to have in any car, regardless of if you’re going on a road trip or not. It can be useful in so many situations! There have been so many instances where I’ve needed to cut something or open up hard-to-open packaging while away from home, and this has been a lifesaver.
- First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk! Note: This is not the same as the roadside emergency kit.
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Water Hiking Shoes (for men and women) | You need these, your feet will thank you later.
- Neoprene socks | You also need these, your feet will thank you later. You can also rent water shoes and neoprene socks at Zion Outfitter.
- Hiking poles | Very helpful for hikes like The Narrows. Here is a budget-friendly option, or a lighter, higher-quality, more ergonomic option
- Lots of water and snacks | maybe even a packable lunch.
- Stinger Waffles are one of my favorite sources of quick and delicious energy.
- Waterproof Rain Jacket | A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is critical for any outdoor adventure. Nights here can get cold, and you never know when rain may come. Since these weigh virtually nothing and are so easily packable, I recommend you carry one with you whenever you head outdoors. Depending on the weather forecast and chance of precipitation, I’ll either go with a rain shell or a puffier windbreaker. Despite the options I have here, one thing is for sure— I’m never without some sort of outer layer. My top recommendations are Marmot Men’s PreCip (for men) and The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket (for women).
- Puffy Jacket | If you’re traveling in the fall or wintertime, you’re going to need layers in the desert, which tends to get windy in certain areas. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of outdoor adventuring!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Deuter ACT Trail 30 Hiking Backpack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Sun protection is key for any desert destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun. As a bonus, bandanas and Buffs can be used as headbands to keep hair and sweat off of your face. Soak your bandana or Buff then put it on your head, face, or neck for a quick cool down.
- Mini survival kit | Get one that’s pre-made like this one, or make your own. Be sure to carry this with you in your hiking backpack.
- Waterproof bag / dry sack | We have this trusty one. Always good to have, especially if you’re bringing a nice camera for photography or anything else you don’t want to potentially get wet.
- Travel Towel | These are light and quick-drying, which is exactly what you need when you’re hopping from water shoes to regular shoes or simply need to dry your feet off. This one here is a great option.
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike (or even after a walk outside on a scorching hot day) but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Headlamp / Flashlight | Being able to find your way through the wilderness in darkness is essential, so you should always carry a light source with you, even if you don’t plan on staying out past sunset. An LED headlamp allows you to hike hands-free and is my preferred source of light. FYI, the flashlight on your smartphone is not an adequate substitute– the light is not bright enough, plus it’ll drain your battery life, which may be critical in an emergency. Always carry extra batteries.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing to all the funk roadside stops and eateries… the last thing you want is to be driving along with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Travel Adapter | If you’re traveling from abroad, a universal travel adapter is a necessity. This 5-in-1 travel adapter is perfect for travel use with cell phones, laptops & other devices anywhere in the world.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
- Medications | Motion sickness pills for those windy roads; painkillers, anti-inflammatories, etc.