We love the American Southwest and we especially love it in the winter time, when we want to get out of the gray and gloom back in the Pacific Northwest. So we decided to take a week to see some of the amazing sites of these two areas that had eluded us. I’ve spent time in Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands and Sedona, but there is still much to see beyond those amazing places. So here is an easy itinerary with incredible scenery for a sightseeing and winter hiking road trip in Utah and Arizona.
We flew into Las Vegas, arriving after midnight, and headed to a hotel. Since we weren’t looking to do any Las Vegas activities we decided to stay off-strip and booked a comfortable but not fancy room at the Best Western McCarran Hotel.
It was nearly noon by the time we got out of Las Vegas on the first day of our winter hiking road trip in Utah and Arizona. Heading north and east on I-15 we drove about an hour to our first stop, Valley of Fire State Park. I’ve been to Valley of Fire before, in fact a couple times, but I really wanted to spend more time hiking here. Afternoon temperatures in November were 75 Fahrenheit, and the dry air requires hikers to drink lots of water.
This beautiful park feels much more like a National Park than a State Park. Entrance fee for a car is $15. We stopped at the Visitor Center for bathroom break, snacks and a map and then headed off to hike.
We did a 3 mile loop trail called Fire Wave/Seven Wonders, accessible for just about any hiking skill. There is a tiny bit of incline, but nothing too steep. Great views and the landscape is incredible. If you don’t want to do the loop you can do an easy out and back to Fire Wave which is about 1.5 miles round trip. It will give you a nice introduction to the fascinating geology of the area.
Leaving Valley of Fire heading away from Las Vegas towards Utah, you exit the park through a different gate than the one you entered. This drive gives you more remarkable sites to enjoy.
Our nights destination was St George Utah, another hour on I-15. First you pop through Arizona for a hot minute then into Utah. There is a time zone change at the Arizona state line. You might want to pick up alcohol in Arizona, if you are so inclined, before entering Utah.
Arriving in St George we stayed at a simple Clarion Hotel just off the freeway on Mile Drive. Nothing fancy but good enough. Nice breakfast included.
I love waking up in Utah, one of my favorite states. But we had never spent much time in St George. Temperatures today were a comfortable mid sixties. First we headed to the old town, very cute with shops and restaurants. We stopped at the historic winter home of Brigham Young. Here we learned that Young came to St George because it is the warmest place in Utah and he liked it for his health.
Next we visited Pioneer Park, a hill park with wonderful rock formations and city views right in the middle of town. Next we headed to Snow Canyon State Park. Here is another fascinating, huge park with so many wonderful trails. Amazing that it is not a National Park. We did three hikes in Snow Canyon;
- Johnson’s Canyon – we had this hike all to ourselves and especially enjoyed the fall colors in the dry river valley below.
2. Petrified Dunes – I loved this the most, like walking over waves of sand turned to hard rock from thousands of years ago.
3. Lava Flow – This hike has lava tubes, but we did not have headlamps so we did not go in, just peeked in a bit.
We were up early for the long drive across Utah with a planned visit to Wire Pass Slot Canyon. Driving across Utah on US 89, you head south on House Rock Valley Road (a dirt road). Follow this road 8 miles to a nice parking lot with rest rooms to begin this easy and amazing hike. BTW the road is bumpy but manageable in most cars, unless its been raining then don’t try it. Weather today was sunny and cool and dry about 55 degrees.
Follow the hike for about a mile along a dry wide riverbed which takes you to the slot canyon. My husband did this hike last spring with some friends and he was astonished to see that the area had recently had a flash flood. In fact the flood deposited debris nearly thirty feet over our head in the slot canyon. You definitely don’t want to be here during a flash flood.
But no flood today and this was truly one of my all-time favorite hikes. Very easy except just two or three times when you need to scramble over some boulders and go down one ladder. All worth it for the beauty of the canyon.
You can actually continue on all the way to the Grand Canyon on this trail (at least fifty miles), but on this day we did it as an out and back, about 6 miles round trip.
Back in the car we continued south down the dirt road towards Hwy 89A. We made a quick stop at the Condor Viewing Platform (no condors on this day) then headed off the dirt road and onto the paved two lane highway east towards Page Arizona. It’s about another hour to Page and the late afternoon light made the Vermilion Cliffs just beautiful. We stopped for a brief photo at the historic Cliff Dwellers Trading Post and another quick walk on the historic Navajo Bridge over the Colorado at Marble Canyou.
As we were entering Page we stopped to visit the famous Horseshoe Bend. Worth the $10 per car entrance fee. You will recognize this view from travel books and calendars. The iconic bend in the beautiful Colorado River is not to be missed – its been on my list for years. Visiting off-season like we did means you won’t need to battle the crowds and tour bus groups.
Prior to arriving in Page we had pre-booked a tour to Antelope Canyon with Antelope Canyon Tours. You can no longer tour the canyon on your own, due to ridiculous people who think carving their name on the canyon is their right. So now the Navajo Nation only allows guided tours and you must wear a mask the whole time. All of that was okay with me. Tour cost was $77 per person.
It was a cold morning and the ride to the canyon was in an open air vehicle so I was really glad to have my down jacket. Our group of 7 plus our wonderful guide Sonny arrived at the canyon about 10:30am. Over the next hour Sonny guided us through the stunning canyon, explaining the geology and sacred Navajo beliefs about the canyon. Sonny was also really helpful with photos and pointing out great photo opportunities. It was better than I had imagined and I am so very glad we made the effort to come here.
That evening we had an early dinner at the Bird House – the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.
This was a very long day but really worth it. Again with the Antelope Canyon Tour Company we headed out for a full day, this time not in an open air vehicle, to White Pocket. You can visit White Pocket in the Vermilion Cliff without a guide, but NOT without a high clearance 4WD vehicle. So our group of five traveled more than two hours in a Suburban along a very bumpy, sandy road.
Arriving in White Pocket, its difficult to even describe the sight. This is not a canyon, but rather a remarkable landscape that juts out of the earth, all white and vermilion and swirling like a hurricane. It reminded me of Star Wars, of pillows that my grandma used to have on her couch, and bacon. Seriously one of the most unique sights I have ever seen. A must see to believe. We spent about two hours walking all over this incredible fluke of nature.
Our tour included sandwiches and bottled water all for the price of $180 per person. And then another two hour, bumpy drive back to Page.
We enjoyed dinner at the popular Dam Bar & Grille before collapsing into bed happily reminiscing about this amazing region.
We checked out of our hotel in Page early and proceeded to drive the two hours to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Some of this drive included backtracking along roads we had traveled already, but the scenery in this region, particularly the Vermilion Cliffs never gets old. So stunning.
Right before we entered the National Park we saw a Grey Wolf off in the distance, about 300 yards. We stopped the car and did our best to capture a picture. Seeing a Grey Wolf in the wild is incredibly rare and we were excited and astounded.
We had been to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon several times, but never to the North Rim. The North Rim entrance gate was unmanned, and the lodges and visitor center closed for the season. There were only a handful of cars in the parking lot. It was 42 degrees when we arrived, but through out the day we peeled off clothes as the temperature increased.
We did a short hike out to the Bright Angel Point lookout with fantastic views across the Canyon to the South Rim. We then hiked down into the canyon on the Kaibab Trail, the only trail from this side of the Canyon that goes to the bottom. But today was not a day for us to go to the bottom. Instead we hiked about 1.5 miles, had our picnic on the trail, then turned around and hiked back up. It was steep but not too hard and oh so beautiful.
After our hike we continued our drive another 4 hours back to Las Vegas for the night.
Winter Hiking Road Trip in Utah and Arizona
Even if you aren’t much of a hiker, none of these hikes were very difficult and all of them were so unique and beautiful. The geology of this region never ceases to amaze me, and everyone should see it at least once in their life. Doing this tour in six days gave us plenty of time to enjoy our itinerary without feeling too rushed. If you wanted to spend more time at the Grand Canyon, or visit Zion, Bryce or Moab, you would want to consider adding another week. Most the roads are good, and abundant lodging is available. I highly recommend avoiding this tour in the ridiculously busy summer months. You just won’t be able to enjoy it as much.
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