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Seattle to Grand Canyon Road Trip

Hello! We are planning an epic road trip from Seattle to the Grand Canyon in mid-September. I've booked two nights at the North Rim and then 3 nights at El Tovar. Thinking we will hit Zion and Bryce along the way, but the rest is fairly open. Suggestions for things to do or see along the way there or back would be welcome! Thanks!

Posted by
14285 posts

How long do you have? That will determine how much you can see either there or back.

I'd put Zion at the end as it can be pretty hot to me. Bryce is higher in elevation so is cooler. Did you want any of the other Utah Big 5 parks?

Posted by
43 posts

Pam, we're planning to take at least three days driving there and back. Can probably stretch it to 5 maybe? I confess I don't know any other Utah parks besides Zion and Bryce. My husband has also expressed interest in maybe cutting up through California on the way back, i.e. Death Valley, as he has never been.

Posted by
43 posts

Noted, History Traveler. I was thinking once we were there it would be nice to stay a few days and take a break from driving. Can definitely adjust as necessary but I did want to get reservations before they sold out.

Posted by
14285 posts

With just 3 days down or back you'd not have time to do the other Utah parks. The "Big 5" are; Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches. They are a good 2 weeks just on their own with some supplemental State Parks and National Monuments thrown in, lol.

It will take you the best part of 2 days to get from Seattle to the North Rim. Depending, of course, where you are actually leaving from, googlemaps gives it 1200 miles from "Seattle" (wherever that marker is, lol) to the GC North Rim Visitor Center. You'd want to arrive there before dark (no ambient light, lots of wildlife)

You could probably stop over at Zion on the way down although it would not give you much time to tour or even do a short hike. This park is extremely busy so if you decide you want to stay over in Zion on night 2 you'd want to go ahead and explore lodging options. You could definitely do Death Valley on the way back home from the South Rim. It's a total trip of about 1500 miles with the DVNP to Seattle portion being just about 1,000 miles so probably need 2 days for that.

Posted by
6670 posts

I think you're smart to book both rims, though three nights at El Tovar might be one more than you need -- unless you plan to hike to the bottom or something like that. A full day on each rim is probably enough. Keep in mind that it will take half a day just to drive between the north and south rims. Don't miss Desert View on the south rim, east of El Tovar and best visited on your way there. As I recall the view runs south to north, so you see both sides of the canyon and river together, instead of just one or the other.

The other great parks in Utah are Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef. All are well east of your direct route, worth spending time in, better to save for another trip. Your straight shot on the freeways takes you almost all the way to Bryce. The best of Bryce, like the Grand Canyon, is about the views (again, unless you're a serious hiker), so if you got there in the morning you could spend that night and move on. If Bryce Canyon Lodge is full, try Ruby's Inn just outside the park entrance.

Zion is worth a full day because you can explore the canyon and take short hikes. If Zion Lodge is full, the nearby town of Springdale has lots of motels. I'd give Zion two nights. North of the canyon, accessed from I-15 on your way back, the Kolob Canyons part of Zion is very scenic and much less visited. Also nearby, a little farther north and well off the freeway, is Cedar Breaks National Monument, with Brian Head, the top of the "grand staircase" of geologic layers that drops down to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. That's aspen country and your timing may be right for a spectacular display of yellow leaves. (The north rim may also be a good bet for aspen colors.)

You could vary your route home, taking a little longer, by bearing northwest from I-15, just before Cedar City, on Nevada 56 and US 93, which runs up to I-84 at Twin Falls. It's two lanes but with little traffic and a more "intimate" view of the Great Basin country than 15 provides. Keep in mind that gas stations may be far apart -- good advice for the whole trip but especially for that stretch.

Death Valley is a whole 'nother plan, best to head south from the south rim and west on I-40 to Vegas and beyond. Death Valley is worth a whole day, with a lodge up the eastern slope and another one, less expensive, deep in the valley, both on route 190. Honestly I'd call that "a bridge too far" on a trip like you plan, unless you have a lot of time. Think of Epic Road Trip 2.0, down the eastern slopes of the Cascades and Sierras, for a future spring or fall. (Death Valley in summer is ... well you know....)

Edit -- Just reread your reply to Pam. Take five days each way if you possibly can, or five one way (with Bryce/Zion) and three back. It's a lot of driving, even though mostly freeway.

Posted by
16926 posts

Good on you for getting 2 nights at the North Rim Grand CanyonLodge. My favorite place on the canyon rims. I I agree with History Traveler on dropping one night at El Tovar. If you want to include Death Valley, you can do a nice o loop—-from Seattle down through Boise (a good first night’s stop after an easy 8-hour drive); then aim for Salt Lake City but maybe stay up in the mountains as the Salt Lake and nearby cities are really meh.

We love the Silver Fork Lodge in Big Cottonwood Canyon near the Brighton/Solitude ski areas.

https://www.silverforklodge.com/

It is a 5-hour drive from there to. Springdale,Utah, gateway to Zion NP (and the place to stay if you cannot get, or do not want, lodging inside the park at Zion Lodge). Zion fits best into your trip at this point, if you want to avoid backtracking. Or you could stop at Zion to break up the journey to Death Valley, although it is a detour of sorts.

Then on to the North Rim.

After the South Rim, head to Death Valley. That is a 7-8 hour drive via Las Vegas. So making the longer drive with a break to visit Zion is not a bad option. But you would be doing a lot of backtracking.

You probably want 2 nights in Death Valley. We have only stayed at the Stovepipe Wells lodging; the updated rooms are quite nice. . But if your budgetis generous, the Oasis would be quite a treat.

From Death Valley, I suggest the route via Panamint Springs on 190 to Lone Pine for amazing scenery. From Lone Pine you can drive 395 up the east side of the Sierra, maybe with an overnight at Lake Tahoe. We like to stay on 395 up to Susanville, then angle up through NE California on 44 and 89, passing north of Lassen NP, and meeting I-5 at Mt. Shasta City—a great little town for an overnight stop.

Then up (-5 the rest of the way, through Oregon, back to Seattle.

Posted by
11524 posts

When we did the "Canyons" trip, it looked like this
Seattle-Mountain Home ID
Mountain Home- Idaho Falls ( family visit)
Idaho Falls- Capitol Reef ( one night in/near Cap Reef * )
Cap Reef- Bryce ( one night in/near Bryce * )
Bryce-Zion (one night in/near Zion * )
Zion- N rim CG (one night N rim)
N Rim -S Rim ( one night S Rim, 2nd night Flagstaff)
Flagstaff-LA (family)

Then home up the coast

How many parks you include and how long you choose to stay at each will be dictated by your time and $$ budgets

Seeing the Grand Canyon for the 1st time from the N Rim is truly special.

  • Been so long ago do not recall exactly where we were
Posted by
865 posts

I really don’t recommend Death Valley in September unless you don’t mind heat. Death Valley and the Mojave are beautiful and unique desert areas along with going up the backside of the Sierra on 395 but early spring is so much more enjoyable for that road trip.

Posted by
43 posts

Thanks all, for the input - definitely food for thought as we fine tune this adventure!

Posted by
2905 posts

I agree with the others who have suggested the Utah National parks - they're hard to beat.
For a slightly off- the- beaten- track diversion consider a stop at Great Basin NP in Eastern Nevada. It's a largely unknown and under- appreciated little gem of a place.

Posted by
885 posts

I would definitely add a stop at Lower Antelope Canyon. It's breathtakingly beautiful; located on a Navajo Reservation, so tours are mandatory, and reservations necessary. Do some research on the time of day for your best viewing. On our original tour date, it was cloudy, so we rescheduled for the following day. https://www.antelopelowercanyon.com/ The Mighty Five in Utah are indeed terrific. Of the five, Bryce, Arches and Zion were our favorites, but Arches may be too far out of your way. Canyonlands and Capitol Reef would be lower on my priority list.

Posted by
842 posts

Do t know if you have ever been out of your home area to the area you are planning in the SW. You may be driving some remote roads. Make sure your car is a good one.
If you have not been to the SW, then you are in for a treat. Whereas the NW you drive and see a lot of trees, in the SW you will be able to see forever in the open sections and/ or be going through canyons, rocky areas with stupendous scenery with no trees in your way.

Posted by
16926 posts

Reservations for Antelope Canyon should be made as soon as they are available. They do sell out in popular months, such as September.

Capitol Reef is nice and quiet compared to the other parks. It is fun in September as you can pick ripe fruit in the pioneer orchards—-you weigh your harvest and pay into the honor box.

https://www.nps.gov/care/learn/historyculture/orchards.htm

Posted by
2905 posts

An overnight stop in Monument Valley would be worth your time - truly one of the most unique and iconic landscapes in the American west.