This is a suggested drive for those who want to see a lot of scenery in a very short time. There is not a lot of miles or hours of driving each day, so you can stop and see the sights along the way at your pace. All roads are paved, and there are plenty of stopping points to get out and stretch, so it is a very leisurely trip.
Day 1 - Las Vegas to Tusayan 400 miles and 8-10 hours drive time
Start by going south to Boulder City and Hoover Dam. (Note: There will be road construction around and at the dam until December of 2010. A new bridge bypass is being built out in front of the dam as an alternate route to the current one that crosses over the top of the dam. Be prepared for slowdowns and /or a detour.) Continue on US-93 to Kingman, AZ, and take I-40 to Flagstaff. Exit at US-89 East of Flagstaff and go north to the Sunset Crater exit. This is a National Monument, so you can purchase your annual pass for $80 here, if you don’t already have one. You will get good use of it on this trek.
The road into Sunset Crater is a loop road that also goes through the lava beds, skirts the Painted Desert, and leads to the Wupatki Indian Ruins. It is about 30 miles long and comes out further up Rte 89. There is a lot to see and do along the route.
Head north on US-89 again up toward Cameron, and turn west on Rte 64 to go into the east entrance to Grand Canyon at Desert View. Drive on to Grand Canyon Village, where you can park your vehicle and ride the canyon shuttle. It will be late in the day by now, so try to get to Mather Point or one of the nearby viewing areas.
Sunset at Grand Canyon is a “must see” for everyone, but don’t leave your viewing area too soon. After the sun sinks below the western rim the canyon becomes dark. However, a few minutes later there is an afterglow down in the canyon that produces phenomenal colors. It lasts for about 10-15 minutes and is light enough for great photography.
You should reserve lodging either inside Grand Canyon or in one of the many hotels in the town of Tusayan, just south of the park. You will then have a very short drive to your hotel for the first night. Reserve well in advance.
Day 2 – Tusayan to Kanab 215 miles and 4 hours drive time
The first part of today should be devoted to touring the Grand Canyon from the rim. The shuttle will take you to all of the viewing points, and you can get a perspective on the enormity of the canyon.
There are, of course, several ways to hike down into the canyon, or you can reserve the burro ride down—this too must be done well in advance—but even standing on the rim at several different viewing points is enough for most people. The walk is very strenuous, especially the climb back up, so I have never attempted it. If you want to hike the Bright Angel Trail or ride the burros, you will extend this trip, so I don’t include it in the itinerary.
Spend at least the entire morning touring the rim, and then exit the park the same way you entered, via the east exit at Desert View. Go back out to US-89 and head north for Cameron, a good place to have lunch at the Cameron Trading Post.
Next stop is just south of Page. Heading north again, look for a sign for a scenic overlook as you approach the town. It requires a short hike, but the view of Glen Canyon and the Glen Canyon Dam is magnificent.
If you have allowed enough time, stop at the dam and take the tour. It only takes about an hour, and you go down into the power station and outside near the base of the dam to look up the canyon and at the bridge you crossed to get there, so it is well worth the time spent.
Now you have a 75-mile drive to Kanab, where you’re next hotel accommodations are waiting for you. It is a nice town surrounded by the red rock that graces much of the southwest.
If you like a little nightcap or a cold beer after touring all day, be sure to bring some with you, as most of Utah is dry. You can drive about 12 miles south to Fredonia, AZ and get some if you forgot to pack it in, however.
Day 3 - Kanab to Kanab Loop 260 miles and 5 hours drive time
Today, you will follow another loop and end back in Kanab in the evening. You will visit three—actually four if you count the two distinct parts of Zion—national parks, and will do it all in a drive of less than 300 miles. If you want to hike extensively in the parks, you might consider making this a two-day trip instead of one.
Start out from Kanab heading west to the entrance to Zion National Park. Don’t miss the photogenic Checkerboard Mesa on the way in. Spend the morning in Zion, exploring the canyon and hiking up into The Narrows, if you’re up to it. When you finish there, go out the west exit to I-15 and turn north. About 15 miles up the road watch for the exit to the Kolob Canyon, the other half of Zion NP. Allow at least an hour there viewing a completely different landscape.
After Kolob Canyon, continue north on I-15 to Cedar City, turning west onto Rte 14 and then north on Rte 148 to Cedar Breaks National Monument, a smaller version of Bryce Canyon, but bowl shaped and easier to view in an hour or less.
Leaving Cedar Breaks, go north on Rte 148/143 to the town of Panguitch. Turn south on US-89 and head down to Rte 12, which will take you through Red Canyon and into Bryce Canyon. If you drive all the way to the south end of Bryce Canyon to Rainbow Point, all of your stops on the way back will be right turns with no opposing traffic lanes to cross. It is the best way to see the park and has plenty of places to stop and hike out a ways. Take your time and enjoy the 50-mile view out over the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
When you have seen enough of Bryce Canyon, return to Kanab via Rtes 12 and 89 to your lodgings. As an alternate idea, make your hotel reservations in Mt Carmel Junction at the intersection of Routes 9 and 89, a shorter drive from Bryce. (See below)
Day 4 – Kanab to Las Vegas 225 miles and 4 hours drive time
Get up early today and drive over to Mt. Carmel Junction for breakfast at the Thunderbird Lodge and Restaurant. It has good food and an added attraction in season. There are hummingbird feeders outside the picture windows and the birds swarm there to feed. You can check it out the evening before on your way back to Kanab, since you’ll go through the town anyway.
After breakfast, go back through Zion—the only route over to I-15—and go south toward Las Vegas. Instead of driving all the way on I-15, take exit 93 in Nevada and drive south on Rte 169 to the Valley Of Fire State Park. Enjoy the sights there and then you can either drive on 169 to Las Vegas, or go back to the junction with Rte 167 and drive along Lake Mead and on to Las Vegas on that route. Both are scenic and will be enjoyable.