A Somewhat Loop Route to the National Parks in Arizona and Utah
There are few places in the Western U.S. that has a concentration of national parks than along the border of Arizona and Utah. And a convenient route that almost makes a loop allows visiting all these parks possible with a minimum of traveling.
Arizona has its Grand Canyon, both the South and North Rims, and the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Its neighbor, Utah, has Bryce and Zion National Parks. Spurs to the "somewhat' loop can take in the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest to the east of Flagstaff, the slot canyons of Antelope Valley and Monument Valley east of Page, Arizona, and Lake Powell to the north of Page. Utah has Bryce and Zion National Parks. With all there is to see in this section of the West, it should be on every traveler's itinerary to visit the "somewhat" loop to the national parks of Arizona and Utah.
For visitors traveling from the southwest and entering through Flagstaff, Arizona, the Grand Canyon would be the most reasonable first stop, and probably the most anticipated, since everyone compares all national parks to the Grand Canyon. For good reason!
The Grand Canyon is, pardon the expression, the granddaddy of them all. The South Rim, the most visited of the two, is open all year. The North Rim is closed during the winter because of its 1000-foot higher altitude. The Colorado River at the canyon's floor flows 1450 miles from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado to the Gulf of California. The Canyon is eighteen miles wide at the maximum and one mile deep. The North Rim is ten miles from the South Rim as the crow flies, 215 miles by road.
Upon entering the park at the South Rim, the first opportunity to see the Canyon is at Mather Point (elevation 7120 feet). The visitor center is located here and a free shuttle carries visitors through the park and it is advisable to avail themselves of the ride to avoid the crowds and parking.
Numerous activities are doable at the park. Many trails, mule rides, and helicopter rides into the canyon are popular. But most of the visitors just enjoy the view from atop the canyon. The South Rim has more activities and more opportunities for viewing, but the North Rim is more isolated, a point many visitors enjoy.
Page and Glen Canyon
If traveling from the South Rim to the North, the only route is the scenic State Highway 64 to US 89 through Page, Arizona. At the intersection of US 89 and US 160 near Tuba City, there is an option to visit Monument Valley, which affords the iconic vistas of many Western movies. The entrance to the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is on Goulding, Utah. An entry fee allows for a rough 17-mile auto tour -- not recommended for RV's, trailers, or motorhomes, but worth it for smaller vehicles. A shortcut via SR 98 from Monument Valley to Page saves about fifty miles, but it also misses some beautiful scenery of Marble Canyon.
Page is a large city with all amenities and is located in the Lake Powell and Glen Canyon area. Stop by the Glen Canyon Dam and Clark Hayden Visitor Center for information of the dam. Just outside Page to the east (along SR 98 from Monument Valley) a popular stop is the slot canyons of Antelope Valley. Guided 90-minute tours are available.
Bryce and Zion National Parks
Traveling westward from Page along US 89 to Kanab, Utah, which would be a good stopover and a reasonable base to visit Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks. Locals refer to Kanab as "Little Hollywood" because of its history as a filming location for western movies and television series.
To get to Bryce Canyon National Park from Kanab, use US 89 north for about sixty miles to SR 12. Follow signs to the entrance to Bryce Canyon.
Every national park has its unique features and Bryce Canyon has its hoodoos, which are tall, thin spires of rock consisting of sedimentary rock and are topped by harder stone, giving the appearace of a cap. Bryce Canyon has an 18-mile driving route that runs in a north-south direction. The park brochure recommends going to the southernmost Rainbow Point, and stopping at the overlooks, or points of interest, on the way back northward. That is for safety's sake because all the turnoffs are on the eastern side of the route.
Besides the spectacular views from the overlooks, there are fifty miles of hiking trails, ranger-led talks on the ecology and geology of the area, and a visitor center. Many sites at the campgrounds are on a first-come, first-served basis, but many can be reserved online or by calling the toll-free number (877-444-6777).
Backtrack to US 89 south to SR 9 near Kanab. The eastern entrance to Zion National Park is accessible from SR 9. Travel along SR 9 (Zion - Mt Carmel Highway) involves passing through a tunnel that has definite vehicle size limitations. The northern entrance is from Exit 40 along Interstate 15. At the northern entrance is a short, but scenic five-mile auto route, called Kolob Canyon Road, which begins at the visitor center.
The majority of park activity takes place through the eastern entrance, which can be accessed from the west. The national park visitor center, the Zion Human History Museum, overlooks, and trailheads are located in this portion of the park which is along the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive.
Zion is a hikers dream. There are miles and miles of trails and any combination from easy to strenuous. The options are almost endless. Some of the lower trails are wheelchair accessible and the park's shuttle system stops at many trailheads.
One of the spurs from this 'somewhat' loop is from Flagstaff eastward along I-40 at the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park. At the main entrance an easy 28-mile auto route that takes visitors past some of the most colorful land formations in the country and along sites that contain a large amount of petrified wood. There are pullouts and parking areas for short walks to points of interest.
During the summer months most of these national parks are crowded with visitors. Campers should be aware that all of these attractions have good campgrounds and take reservations. Plan ahead as long as possible.
The national parks have a program for visitors over 62 years of age. A Senior Pass costs only $80 for a lifetime or $20 for an annual and allows this pass holder to get into any national fee area. It includes anyone in the same vehicle to get the benefit.
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Keywords: arizona, grand canyon, monument valley, painted desert, petrified forest, photography, slot canyon, utah
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