Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park- Party of Four: Leaving Las Vegas vol. 1

By Jake Conlee

Destination Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park 

I must let you know first and foremost, that my favorite thing in the world is traveling with my family. We have a three-year-old little girl Avery that is always looking forward to whatever we do, and our one-year-old boy Jace who is undeniably recalcitrant towards just about everything that isn’t food; or crawling around places he isn’t supposed to be in. I am gainfully employed at Findlay Chevrolet here in Las Vegas, and work many hours, but I set aside time for my family as often as I can.

We have a 2019 Chevrolet Equinox as our primary road trip vehicle- it is comfortable, fun to drive, gets relatively good gas mileage, and other than needing to use the Premium 91 Octane, it is just about a perfect road trip car for our Party of Four. The essentials that we take with us are an insulated picnic basket, the necessary luggage, a pack n’ play for Jace, as Avery can sleep in her own bed, a stroller, plenty of juice, water and snacks for everyone. Bring phone chargers and make sure that you have enough gas before leaving each stopover. The last essential is our “America the Beautiful” annual pass, which affords you and your family unlimited access to all National Parks, Monuments and Recreation areas for an entire year; at $80 USD, it is an absolute steal. The Chevrolet Equinox has enough room for all of us and everything that we have to bring along.

Bryce Canyon National Park- Bryce Point

We set off from Las Vegas at 4:30 pm on a Saturday, heading straight for Cedar City. Southern Utah has become a regular destination for us- it is very convenient and close to Las Vegas, offering a wealth of places to explore for families like ours (and yours.) Cedar City, Utah is 180 miles from Las Vegas and is the perfect base of operation for us, with many lodging choices, some great restaurants, an extremely mild climate, and ideal location, we absolutely love this charming little city. None of the suggestions I am going to make are endorsed in any way, shape or form, I just happen to have positive experiences along the way that I like to share.

In Cedar City, if we can at all help it, we stay at Abbey Inn. This little hotel has probably some of the cleanest and most comfortable rooms that we have come across while traveling and a simply amazing hot breakfast. The breakfast is served every morning in the “Breakfast House,” at the back of the parking lot, and it is made on site. Waffles, breakfast sausage, home fries, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, cold cereal selections, fixings for breakfast burritos, coffee, milk and juice are all found in the “Breakfast House.” We spent one night in the Abbey Inn and then we were off the next morning after breakfast. At about 8:30 am, we were on the road to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Utah State Highway 14 at 9500′ in Elevation

Utah State Highway 14- east of Duck Creek Village

This particular trip was on March 31, and this year we had a record amount of rainfall in Las Vegas, so did Southern Utah. It was a gamble taking UT-14 east out of Cedar City, but I always check current road conditions to make sure of any delays or detours. Utah State Route 14 is one of the most scenic drives that you can take anywhere within 500 miles of Las Vegas, winding up a canyon, then up a mountainside to offer some really incredible vistas to the East, West and South. UT-14 climbs up to an elevation of 9800′ so make sure you do check road conditions before setting off. At the Cedar Canyon Overlook, is where the snow became very deep. A typically green and flat mountain meadow is now blanketed in a healthy 5 feet of pristine powder. Navajo Lake, which sits in a valley of jagged black volcanic rock is frozen over, and the usually babbling Duck Creek is covered in snow and ice.

Our next stop, after taking some snow pictures, is Bryce Canyon National Park. Taking UT-14 east out of Cedar City, passing through Duck Creek Village connecting us to US-89 near Hatch then turning Northward towards Bryce Canyon. At the next junction, you will turn eastbound onto UT-12 “A Journey Through Time Scenic Byway,” which it is aptly named. A couple of miles up the road, you are ensconced by Red Canyon, a very beautiful chasm that leads you onto the Grand Staircase. Once on the plateau, it is a short and flat drive to the town of Bryce.

Bryce Point- Bryce Canyon National Park

Turning South on to Main Street in Bryce Canyon City, you would never know what lies ahead by looking into the horizon. At nearly 8000′ in elevation, you are heading straight into a concentration of towering pine trees, that hide any sort of inkling of the endless vistas, hoodoos, arches and rock formations that you’re soon to stumble upon. Continue on past the visitor center- I recommend driving all the way to road’s end at Rainbow Point and then working your way back. Rainbow Point is a kind-of-slow 18-mile drive which takes you along the spine of Bryce Canyon, leading you to one of the finest Panoramas that you will ever see. No amount of photographs can ever translate the majesty before you. Even in the “peak season,” this place is never too crowded, as it’s remoteness allows it to be, for the most part, inaccessible to those just wandering around. Bryce Canyon National Park is so far out of the way, you will unlikely to just stumble upon it. Once you’ve taken in the amazing views, the incredible smell of pine and breathe the crisp mountain air, you’ll find yourself picking a favorite viewpoint. While it is hard to beat the 270-degree views from Rainbow Point, my personal favorites are Bryce Point and Fairview Point, there is something about the largeness and seemingly endless places for the eyes to see. Truly a spectacular place.

 

Fairview Point- Bryce Canyon National Park

If you have the time, I do recommend staying the night, either in the park or in neighboring Bryce Canyon City. But alas, we did not have the time, as I had to be back to work by Monday morning. It was now 12:30 pm on Sunday afternoon, and I knew it was a good hour and a half to Zion National Park. Doubling back on our route into Bryce Canyon, it was a second chance to get those pictures that we missed on the way up. Heading back down US-89 was a real surprise- a gentle drop in elevation and change in climate meant that the roadside snow had made way for blooming wildflowers and grassy meadows. At some places, the North-South valley is miles wide, with grazing herds of cattle and mule deer along the way, at other places, it is just a few hundred feet wide, as US-89 winds it’s the way to lower elevations and Mount Carmel Junction. The whole family was hungry at this point. I have been to this “fork in the road” many times but had never stopped to eat at Thunderbird Restaurant- “Home of the Ho-Made Pies” which has a beautiful neon sign designating this hidden gem. The food here is by no means cheap, but it is well worth the price. Everything is fresh, and none of the burger toppings were wilted, pickles, onions, and lettuce all had that ‘snap’ to them. Portion sizes are generous, the sweet potato fries are “ok-for -leftovers” good and the pie … mmm, the apple pie with bourbon caramel sauce.

Thunderbird Restaurant Mt. Carmel Junction

At Mt Carmel Junction, if you want to get to Zion National Park and the backcountry, head westbound on UT-9 and pass through Zion Mountain Ranch, a sprawling Buffalo Ranch and for-hire cabins before coming to the east end of Zion.

Great Arch- Zion National Park

Once in the park, you’ll find Checkerboard Mesa, and the Zion-Mt Carmel Junction Highway is a gorgeous drive through the higher portions of the park. It’s not uncommon to see Bighorn Sheep and Elk, or even the odd Mountain Lion as you drive through this national park. Everywhere you look in Zion is a potential picture, so allow yourselves the time to stop and take it all in. After quite a few switchbacks you’ll find yourself at the eastern end of Zion-Mt Carmel Tunnel. It was odd; at most times, there is a significant back-up because traffic through the tunnel is typically one side at a time. Not today- both directions were flowing. The Western end of this very special tunnel opens up to the best views of Zion National Park, being high above the valley floor, this incredible road precariously winds it’s way down the mountainside into the valley with jaw-dropping views in every direction.

Zion National Park- Main Entrance

At this time of year, Zion National Park isn’t quite as it’s busiest but sure close to it. By this point, it is almost 6 pm and the family was exhausted, so I pointed the nose of the Chevy towards home.

After another 2 1/2 hours of blasting down I-15 towards home, we were back in the Las Vegas Valley. The lights of the city were as bright as ever. After 500 miles on the road to anywhere, it’s always a great feeling to come home.

This trip was definitely one for the record books, with many pictures, the memory of a beautiful escape, and the story to share.

Total Trip Distance 514 miles- 9.5 hours

ZION NATIONAL PARK

BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

ABBEY INN- CEDAR CITY

 

 

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