A Whirlwind Tour
A whirlwind tour of around 1500 miles over 14 days took in 5 national parks, across 5 states. Our Las Vegas to Yellowstone road trip provided the opportunity to visit a number of landscapes on our bucket list. Check out the Galleries as well.
When planning the trip we worked hard to ensure that it went as smoothly as possible. American Sky, our tour operator, played a big role in finding the accommodation we wanted in each location. Particularly given that we had left it pretty late to finalise the arrangements.
American Sky proved to be up to the challenge, always helpful no matter how many times we altered routes and dates. They even managed to secure rooms in accommodation that generally sell out a year or more in advance.
Our Las Vegas to Yellowstone road trip route took us from the desert heat of Las Vegas in Nevada to Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyons in Arizona and Utah, through Salt Lake City, on to the cold of the mountains in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming.
Zion National Park
After 2 nights in Las Vegas to relax and adjust to the time difference from the UK, first up was a stay in Springdale.This gave us the opportunity to explore Zion National Park, around a 3-4 hour drive from Las Vegas. The town of Springdale sits a short distance from the Park entrance and has a good range of accommodation options providing an ideal base from which to explore the area.
A free shuttle bus runs the short distance from Springdale to the Park entrance and allowed a day to be spent on the canyon floor taking in the sights. Private vehicles are strictly controlled within the Park, except over the winter period. The shuttle service through the Park is also free and stops at all the main sights on the canyon scenic drive. It is well worth it.
A late afternoon jeep tour of the high ground above and around the canyon gave us a very different perspective. Before leaving home we arranged a 3 hour private tour with Zion Jeep Tours. As there were 3 of us it was a little more expensive than a shared tour but worth the difference as we were able to influence the route we took.
Dusty, bumpy dirt tracks led to some truly outstanding views particularly those from the Smithsonian Butte Scenic Backway and Smith Mesa. Lora, our guide and driver, was easy going. She was a source of much infomation and happy for us to squeeze as much out of our time with her as we could. Even the heavy rain showers failed to dampen our spirits in the open top jeep. Looking towards the mountains bordering the canyon, the dramatic lighting and the setting sun provided photographic opportunities aplenty.
The Grand Canyon National Park
The north rim of the Grand Canyon is reached in an easy 2-3 hour drive from Springdale. Make sure this includes a stop to take in the stunning views of Zion from the Canyon Overlook trailhead on the Mount Carmel Highway. The trailhead is around a 20 minute walk from the small car park at the far side of the Mount Carmel tunnel when leaving the Park. It is also worth stopping at Jacob Lake to split the journey where the shop sells excellent home made cookies.
The North Rim Lodge is the only lodge on the Grand Canyon north rim and one of their small on-site cabins provided an ideal base for an overnight stop to allow us to experience this less visited side of the canyon. Cabins are basic and may not be the cheapest but they allow you to most easily experience sunset and sunrise from the canyon’s edge.
Grand Canyon North Rim
The views from the lodge itself are breathtaking as it sits right on the edge of the canyon. Unsurprisingly, dining options are very limited in this remote location and so the restaurant at the lodge needs to be booked well in advance. It’s not cheap but the views are outstanding, particularly at sunset.
The outlook from the north rim is so different from those of the south rim but no less dramatic. Lower visitor numbers at the north rim meant it was easy to find a walking trail with almost nobody on it. We walked the Transept Trail, which was very tranquil.
It was also well worth taking a couple of hours to drive to Point Imperial and Bright Angel Point on the Walhalla Plateau. They offer different perspectives of the north rim of the Canyon and more outstanding, breathtaking views.
From the north rim of the Grand Canyon, a similar length drive took us to the shores of Lake Powell. Don’t miss stops at the Navajo bridges over the Colorado river and also at Horseshoe bend. Lake Powell was created in 1963 by the damming of the Colorado river and the flooding of Glen Canyon.
Although Lake Powell is a reservoir, it is also a haven for water sport enthusiasts and its extensive coastline of 1900 miles is home to many houseboats.
A highlight for us was entering Antelope Canyon from Lake Powell by boat. The skipper was able to take the boat into the canyon until the water became shallow beneath the narrow gap in the cliffs and it wasn’t possible to go any further without beaching the boat.
Bryce Canyon National Park
Travelling to Bryce Canyon from Lake Powell was again around a 3-4 hour drive. The canyon is impressive from the rim but spectacular from the canyon floor. The red and pink stone stands out vividly against a clear blue sky. There was an eerie silence amongst the hoodoos, columns of twisted rocks shaped by the forces of nature.
The canyon rim sits at over 8,000 feet above sea level and there are miles of trails on the canyon floor. A 3 hour early morning outing on horseback provided an alternative way for us to see as much as we could in the limited time we had in the area. It was a cold start before dawn and, being complete novices, it was unsettling at first. The horses walk so close to the cliff edge, but it was a wonderful experience all the same. Although a little saddle sore afterwards it was well worth it.
Grand Teton National Park
An overnight stop in Salt Lake City split the longer journey north to Jackson and Grand Teton National Park. We had dinner at Dornan’s Chuckwagon Grill, close to Moose Junction during an open mic session for local musicians. The sun setting behind the majestic Grand Teton mountains, brought an end to 2 days of travelling. As darkness fell on the way home the icing on the cake was a large male moose crossing the road.
An early rise followed the next morning for a wildlife drive when we spotted moose, bison and antelope. We then made the relatively short journey north through the vibrant fall colours of the willow and aspen trees to Yellowstone National Park. On the way we stopped at Oxbow Bend Turnout on the Snake River and Jackson Lake to take in the spectacular views.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is vast. A central base gave us the best chance of seeing as much of the Park as possible. Lake Yellowstone hotel and cabins provided the ideal location to explore the geothermal sites and look for local wildlife. The main road network within Yellowstone is set out in a figure of 8 which lets you easily explore. It is worth taking a day each to cover the top loop and lower loop.
Wildlife Viewing in Yellowstone
We had aranged an 8 hour wildlife tour with Yellowstone Guidelines. They are licensed by the National Park Service, and although this was a bit pricey it was well worth the cost. Chris, our guide, had a really good understanding of the wildlife. He was able to let us see both grizzly and black bear along with wolf, elk, coyotes, mule deer, big horn sheep and mountain goats. We couldn’t have asked for more.
A Sunset Tour
Our final evening in Yellowstone was spent in a 1930s touring car, driven by Rod, who is also Yellowstone National Park’s resident guiding photographer. The trip to the top of Lake Butte to see the sun set turned out to be a private tour. This was an unexpected bonus as we were the only booking that evening. Unsurprisingly we made the most of Rod’s undivided attention and benefited greatly from his photography tips.
Although the sun failed to show we were not disappointed. Instead of sunset we were treated to a dramatic incoming storm, the lightening from which lit up the lake. This provided the opportunity for some last photos before having to make a hasty retreat back to our cabin before the rains.
The following morning brought our departure back to Jackson. We stopped at the Snake River overlook to replicate, as best possible, Ansel Adams iconic image. Historical barns at Mormon Row provided a final photo stop before the day came to a close.
At the end of our Las Vegas to Yellowstone road trip the long journey home provided plenty of time for reflection. We agreed that despite best intentions there is always scope for something to go wrong on trips like this. Luckily, and unusually for us, our Las Vegas to Yellowstone road trip went very well on this occassion.
Looking for More?
If you are looking for some further reading then below you’ll find more of our articles on Las Vegas to Yellowstone. For related reading check out the Tag links as well at the bottom of the page.
More Reading on Las Vegas to Yellowstone
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