Southwest USA Road Trip

April 25, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

June 2019

We had a fabulous 3 week honeymoon to the southwest USA! It was a great adventure to share.

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Our time in the USA previously was limited. We got out a map, and figured out what we could do for 3 weeks. Rather than spend time flying between USA highlights, we wanted to get outside the cities and enjoy a road trip. We managed to independently plan and book a mixture of driving and hiking days. We brought our camping gear on the plane so we were prepared for some camping trips during our road trip.

We flew in to LA and were lucky enough to get an upgrade to premium economy which really helped us arrive relatively refreshed. We were also very lucky as we flew through fog at Sydney airport that:
(a) our flight from Perth landed
(b) the only A380 that landed in Sydney from London was rerouted on our flight to LA, all other A380s were diverted
Universal StudiosUniversal Studios
After a bumpy flight across the Pacific, we navigated our way through LAX. We pick up the hire car and figured out how to drive on the wrong side of the road whilst attempting to navigate on the 6 lane interstate 😱. We had a few days in an Airbnb in Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills while we got over the jet lag. This was a great central location while being relatively quiet from the bustle of LA. We saw Griffith Observatory, the Peterson Car Museum and Nakatomi Plaza (of Die Hard fame). A full day at Universal Studios was awesome. 

A few days in LA was enough, and we were looking forward to getting out of the big city. An early start to beat the notorious LA traffic. While stopping for fuel we were surrounded by 4 news helicopters, standard around LA traffic. We drove east to our second state, Arizona, and to the Grand Canyon for a few days. A full day driving east mostly on the classic Route 66. This was a mixture of interstate and country road driving. Our Mitsubishi Outlander was one of the smallest cars around, but it suited us well on the way. We stayed in a Teepee found on AirBnb, about 30 minutes south of the Grand Canyon South Rim. 

It was height of summer so it was rather hot. Therefore we started early which meant it was both cooler and a lot less crowds. There was hardly anyone around  the South Rim when we arrived around 7.30am. We did a couple of hikes down into the canyon: the Bright Angel trail and the appropriately-named Ooh-Aah point. It was all very easy walking downhill and also very deceptive of just how far down it is to the floor. Add a bit of heat and altitude into the mix and we were very wary of not going too far. That proved correct after we were all cowering in the shade for some cool as we hiked back up to the rim! 

Grand CanyonGrand Canyon

We could see the north rim of the Grand Canyon which was only about 11 miles but actually a 200 mile drive away. We took a day to drive from the South Rim to the North Rim on the Grand Canyon through some great variations in the landscape. We diverted to the north on the way to see the classic Horseshoe Bend, a popular lookout further up the Colorado River. The sheer scale of it was mind boggling, offset by the rafts below which themselves were very large. 

Horseshoe bend on the Colorado RiverHorseshoe bend on the Colorado River



It was a lot cooler at the north rim as it’s at a higher altitude, surrounded by alpine meadows and larger trees. We stayed in a log cabin right on the North Rim which offered great views throughout the day, right until sunset. We did another hike along Widforss Trail on the north rim which  offered great views back to the south.

We drove into Utah to the north, heading for Bryce Canyon National Park. We were a little confused by the time and then realised that Utah is actually an hour ahead of Arizona. Bryce Canyon is at a high altitude, at about 9000 feet the lack of oxygen is noticeable. We stayed just outside the National Park and did a couple of walks in the National Park to see the "hoodoos", rocks which had been sculpted by the weathering and freezing/melting over thousands of years. 

Han and Leia at Bryce CanyonHan and Leia at Bryce Canyon

Zion National Park

Next was west to Zion National Park. Again, this offered great changes in scenery as we drove between different valleys. The road we entered on was spectacular, through a long one-way tunnel into the main Zion Canyon. 

Zion National ParkZion National Park Accommodation was difficult to book in Zion even months before our trip. We found a single camp site in an "RV Park" which proved a useful location for exploring Zion Canyon. Limited parking in Zion Canyon means it's best to catch a park bus. We caught the bus up to the top of the valley to the famous Narrows.  In normal times, this is a waded walk up the river. Thanks to a very wet spring, the water level was too high so this walk was closed. We enjoyed walking around the top of the Canyon and enjoyed the awesome surroundings.

Zion National ParkZion National Park


Some research on the National Park "permit" system. There are limited hiking permits available with pre-booking, plus there are "walk in" permits, available within 24 hours of the intended camping date. We visited the Zion National Park office, and were fortunate enough to find a permit for a private campsite high up on the West Rim trail in the national park. Limited buses to the start of this one-way walk meant that we were up at 5am for the 6am bus to take us to the walk start. We left our car at the National Park office and got the bus. We were at the start of the trail by 7am. 

Our campsite was the first one on the trail, so we were there by 10am! We set up camp and enjoyed the little valley to ourselves for the whole day. It was on a site-track to a spring so we only saw 2 other hikers for the day. Quite a contrast to the crowds in the main Zion Canyon. We saw some rustling in the bushes which turned out to be a turkey. That was while we were careful to string up our food as the resident squirrel was keen to help itself to our food. We were enjoying a quiet late afternoon when all of a sudden a large black cloud had built up. Next were flashes of lightning and loud thunder. Quickly we cooked our dinner and finished it inside the tent as it started to rain. All cleaned up and back inside the tent while there were large claps of thunder all around us which is a little disconcerting when we were relatively high up. Torrential rain continued all night. Fortunately we were dry and safe in our trusty Macpac tent. It cleared up the next morning for the walk down to Angels Landing and into Zion Canyon to finish the walk. This day was 26km of "undulating" walking which was challenging as it got hotter. Plus there was some particularly muddy parts after the wet sprint. However it was spectacular scenery and we hardly saw anyone else until we neared Angels Landing which is a popular day trip from the valley below. We didn't have time to complete the Angels Landing climb but got a great view of the spectacular Ridgeline from our descent. 

Zion National Park - West Rim Trail - Angels LandingZion National Park - West Rim Trail - Angels LandingNear the end of the trail next to Angels Landing, a popular climb for day walkers from the valley.
Getting very hot in the day. Some thunderstorms in the distance.























Plenty more descending and we were happy to reach the end of the trail and the Zion Canyon floor after a challenging but awesome hike. We caught the bus back to the base of the valley, a brief tidy up and drove down to Las Vegas, 3 hours away. 

Las Vegas

Vegas is a sight to behold. Most noticeable is all the signs advertising for lawyers on the interstate on the way in. Then all those huge builds on "the strip". We navigated our way along to our hotel and smiled at the crazy cars and people around. Such a different world from the peaceful hiking trip we'd just finished. We checked into the Bellagio still dirty from our overnight Zion hiking trip and with mud on our legs. After a tidy up of ourselves and our gear (the giant bathtub was great for cleaning all the hiking gear!) we ventured down to the ground level through the casino. This was quite overwhelming and we found our way to the buffet. Unfortunately it was full and we were rather hungry after all our exercise so we headed elsewhere. We found Walburgers and had the best. burgers. ever. Then we slept very well that night!

Up by 9am and we found a buffet that was open (nothing shuts in Vegas...). The breakfast buffet was great and quiet since it was "early" for Vegas. The Eiffel Tower opened at 10am and we were one of the first people up there so again had a great view almost to ourselves. We looked through various casinos and walked the strip. 

Grand Canyon Helicopter FlightGrand Canyon Helicopter Flight
Grand Canyon Helicopter FlightGrand Canyon Helicopter Flight










We had a Grand Canyon helicopter trip leaving in the afternoon. This flight landed in the canyon itself and we enjoyed Champagne as we took in the awesome surroundings.  Vegas Beer ParkVegas Beer Park

Landed back at Vegas and we headed for dinner followed by the "Beer Park" which had a great view over the fountains of the Bellagio.

Death Valley


San Francisco

LA / Disneyland


To be continued.



Here's some statistics for the whole trip:

  • 3,000+ miles on the hire car (Mitsubishi Outlander)
  • 4 states: California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada
  • 6 national parks









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