Thank you for taking the time to look over our itinerary. We believe that this will be the best trip you ever take, and we are so thankful that we can provide for you some insight and assistance along the way. Our hope is that by planning ahead, you can fully immerse yourself in the unforgettable experiences you will have without having to worry or stress your next move. We took this trip with 3 children: 12, 9, & 6. Please let us know if you have any questions or would like further clarification. Also, be sure to give us feedback on the itinerary and let us know how your trip went.
ENJOY YOUR ADVENTURE!
- Book all your hotels in advance and print your confirmations. Keep a folder with your itinerary, hotels and flight confirmations and park passes.
- Buy national park passes for your family in advance. If you are visiting multiple parks, it will save you money. It will also save you time when you are entering parks. You won’t have to wait in lines if you have a park pass.
- We recommend downloading the following apps prior to travel: All Trails, Uber, your airline app and Google Maps
- VERY IMPORTANT: Bring a traditional dash GPS. Most of the areas we were in did not have cell service. Had we relied on our phone GPS, we would have been in big trouble!
- Get gas before you leave your hotels in the mornings. Some of the drives can be long and the roads are desolate. The most expensive gas was near national parks so avoid that if possible. Many of the parks required long drives in and out with no option to get gas.
- Choose hotels with a complimentary breakfast whenever possible! This saves a lot of money for large families! It’s also nice to have a sit down meal when you are eating a lot packed lunches.
- Reserve this day for flights & van rental (We flew from Atlanta, GA to Las Vegas, NV. We like to use Southwest. We a family of five it is much more affordable to flew with them since they don’t charge extra for luggage to be checked.)
- Hotel: Circus Circus
- VAN: Budget Van Rental (Most affordable & great service! Call for better deal! If you end up with a 15-passenger van and can give up a row of seats, request the back seat to be removed before you arrive. This will give you space for luggage. Otherwise, the seats go all the way to the back door. In a 12-passenger, there is plenty space in the back for luggage. We had requested a 12-passenger but received a 15-passenger when we arrived. Once the van is on site, the seats cannot be removed.)
- Notes: Make sure you stay in a hotel that is known to be kid friendly, especially if you plan to stay on the LV strip. We stayed at Paris and had an encounter we weren’t expecting. Also, you may choose to stay off the strip for easier transportation in and out of the city. It’s stressful to drive on the strip in a big van, so be prepared if you tackle this! TIP: Stay at the end of the strip instead of driving the van through all the traffic. 2. In any city you visit, make sure your hotel has high clearance parking in parking garages. 3. Plan to bring breakfast with you or grab fast food on the way out of town. Breakfast in hotels are VERY pricey. 2. There is a free shuttle that runs from the airport to the car rental location.
- Drive to Zion National Park (2 hours and 45 minutes from Las Vegas)
- Stop at a grocery store to grab lunches to pack into the park
- Spend the day at Zion
- Must take shuttle in and out of the park unless your lodging is on site
- Hotel: (30 minutes outside Zion) Zion / Best Western Plus Zion West
- Tails: River Walk – 1 mile and leads to The Narrows (This one is must-do! The River Walk is paved and very easy. At the end of the River Walk you jump in the water at The Narrows. Walk as far as you would like then turn around and head back.) 2. Canyon Overlook Trail – 1 mile (This is an easy hike and is a great overlook with stunning views of the entire park.)
- Notes: Parking inside Zion is limited to one parking lot at the visitor center. I would not attempt to park inside the park unless your lodging is on site. Plan to park outside the park in the city of Springdale and use their shuttle system to get to the visitor center inside the park. You can find the Springdale shuttle map online. Once you are in the park, you will need to board a second shuttle to be transported around the park. It does take a lot of work to get in and out of this park. You will spend about an hour “entering” the park. 2. Look at the map before you arrive and know which trails you want to do before you arrive. 3. Prepare for waits. This is a very busy park. There will be lines to board the shuttle at each stop. The park is very large. The only way for a family to get from trail to trail is to use the shuttle system. The shuttle is not air conditioned. They open all the windows and let the air blow through. The views on the shuttle are stunning! 4. Take a reusable WATER BOTTLE in the park. There are re-fill stations everywhere. 5. Check the weather before you go and know whether or not it is safe to walk The Narrows. Be aware of flash floods.
- Drive from Zion to Bryce Canyon National Park (1-hour 45min)
- Spend the day at Bryce Canyon
- Trails: Navajo Loop (1.4 miles), Queen’s Castle (1.8)
- Hotel: Bryce Canyon (Best Western Plus Ruby’s Inn) I highly recommend this hotel! It is located in an adorable little town. There is a laundry mat, grocery store and restaurant on site. Across the street, there is a little western town that is fun to visit!
- Notes: This park is very easy to enter and navigate. 2. Navajo Loop is NOT a loop most of the time. Part of the trail is often closed, so you will go so far then turn around and head back the same way. Queen’s Castle connects to Navajo Loop, so if you want to make your trail longer, add Queen’s Castle to the Navajo Loop Trail. We had planned to do this but decided not to once we were there. 2. Keep in mind that Navajo Loop is all downhill on the way in and UPHILL on the way out. It is a pretty steep climb on the way out. We had to stop for a lot of breaks on the way out. 3. Take something to cover your face. My daughter used a bandana. Along the trail, there will be several wind gusts that blow red dust up into your face. 4. Bring WATER! 5. Sunscreen is a must. There is not a lot of shade.
- Drive towards Grand Canyon South Rim (5 1/2 hours from Zion Nation Park)
- Spend the day enjoying destinations along the way to Grand Canyon. This day is all about the stops along the way!
- 1st Stop: Kanab, Utah / Moqui Caverns (The trail is located in-between the Moqui Caves and the Best Friend Animal Sanctuary exit on HWY 89. The caves are on the east side of the road, the same side as Moqui Caves (Moqui Caves and Moqui Caverns are two very different things). You can look up and see the caves from the road. They look like three holes in the hill. You will park in a little pullout area on the west side of the road right across from the caves.)
- 2nd Stop: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (This place is amazing! If you have time, rent a dune buggy outside of the park and bring it in the park with you to drive over the dunes!) Sunscreen and water are a must.
- 3rd Stop: Horseshoe Bend: Page, Arizona (This is an easy 1 mile in and out trail. It is usually a very busy spot with a lot of tourist. But, it is worth it. The view is remarkable!)
- 4th Stop: Antelope Canyon– Get your permit ($12) from tribal parks office in Page, AZ, then pay for the tour once you arrive at the location or pay ahead online. (You need the permit to enter the tribal land. The tours are led by residents of the land.)
- Hotel: Stay on the north side of Grand Canyon’s South Rim near Page, AZ
- Spend the Day at Grand Canyon National Park. Drive through the park and make stops at lookouts along the way! If you’re lucky you will see elk!
- Stop on the way in the park and buy lunches to pack in.
- Trails: Rim Trail (Jump on the Rim Trail at visitor center. It is a very easy, paved trail. The total length of the trail is 8 miles with multiple stops to jump on and off a shuttle bus. You can walk the entire way or stop and turn around whenever you’d like. We walked as far as we wanted then rode the shuttle back to the visitor center.) There were several park benches and shaded rest areas.
- Drive to Kingman, AZ (2 hours 40 minutes from Grand Canyon South Rim)
- Hotel: Kingman, AZ – Best Western Plus A Wayfarer’s Inn and Suites
- LIVING GHOST TOWN: Drive to Oatman, AZ after you check in your hotel in Kingman. (This about 40 minutes from Kingman. It is a living Ghost town with wild burros roaming the streets. Trust me, the drive to and from Oatman is SO worth the time it takes to drive there. Stop and enjoy the views! We laughed so much feeding and petting the burros! My kids thought it was super fun. There are several local shops, an old coal mine you can walk through and restaurants to visit.
- Notes: Grand Canyon is a very beautifully manicured park. It is very easy to navigate and is absolutely stunning! But, don’t expect a lot of “getting off the beaten path and exploring” type of activities. 2. There are areas along the Rim Trail to walk out onto the cliffs and get a view without the obstruction of rails. However, if you have small children, be very careful, watch them closely! 3. We spent about a half day in the park and felt it was sufficient for our family. After a few hours, the sites start looking similar and the kids were ready to move on. That seems crazy to say about such an amazing place, but that is just the reality of having children!
- Drive to Joshua Tree National Park (3 hours 40 minutes from Grand Canyon) via I-62 to Twentynine Psalms Joshua Tree Visitor center
- Stop and grab lunches to pack inside the park
- Hotel: Stay outside Joshua Tree (Fairfield Inn & Suites in Twentynine Psalms)
- Trails: White Tank Campground trail to Arch Rock. (This short trail is easy and full of gigantic rocks. My kids absolutely loved this part!) 2. Barker Dam (This trail is a good overview of what this park has to offer, especially if you don’t have a lot of time to explore. It is the only area in the park with water. It is full of cacti and Joshua trees. Many small animals like jackrabbits and lizards can be seen along the trail. Also, this is where you might see those famous bighorn sheep!
- Notes: This park is very easy to navigate! It is a big park and one of our favorites. So, if you have more time. Stay and enjoy more of the hiking trails! There is very little shade, so sunscreen and water are a must.
- Drive to LA (3 hours from Joshua Tree National Park)
- Spend the day sightseeing in LA
- Things to do and see: (1) Griffith Observatory, (2) Hollywood sign @ Lake Hollywood Park, (3) Visit Beverly Hills on Rodeo Drive, (4) Santa Monica Pier
- Hotel: Stay in Santa Monica near the pier
- Notes: Allow ample time for traffic and parking. Navigating major cities can be tricky depending on the vehicle you rent. 2. Pay more and stay in chain hotel in Santa Monica. We learned this lesson the hard way. We thought we could get by with staying in a cute little motel. However, I recommend staying in a chain hotel with good reviews because of cleanliness and safety. 3. If you have been to the city before or aren’t interested in seeing the city, move along and skip it. Stay along the coast in Malibu or Santa Barbara instead.
- Final destination this day will be Morro Bay. However, this day is about the stops along the way! Slow down and enjoy the day! Make sure to get on Hwy 1 and drive along the seaside. It will not be the fastest way, but the most beautiful!
- 1st Stop: El Matador State Beach in Malibu / 25 minutes to see the Sea Caves!
- 2nd Stop: Drive to Santa Barbara (1-hour 45min from Malibu) Visit Santa Barbara Beach, Stearns Wharf Pier & State Street shopping. This is a beautiful, luxurious town. We spent a couple hours walking around the State Street area and drifting along the Stearns Wharf Pier.
- 3rd Stop: Drive to Morro Bay (2 hours from Santa Barbara) This is an adorable little town. We loved the vibe. There are a lot of shops to visit, awesome local restaurants and Morro Bay Rock. Don’t’ forget to walk out to the big rock!
- Hotel: Fireside Inn (This was a fine hotel but nothing to write home about. We saved money by staying here and it was sufficient for what we needed.)
- Drive to Monterey Bay (3 hours from Morro Bay) – With the current road construction, you must drive 3-hours to Monterey Bay, then back track to Big Sur area on Hwy 1. There is a road block on Hwy 1 at this time. For this part of the trip, you must drive on Hwy 101 to Monterey Bay. Once the road construction is finished, you will be able to drive straight up the coast and avoid back tracking. Don’t forget to check the status of the road construction before your trip!
- Spend the day at Point Lobos State Park (This park is amazing! Enjoy all the trails along coastline!) Take a lunch in the park and have a picnic!
- Hotel: Carmel River Inn in Carmel-by-the-Sea (Another hotel that was just “okay.” It accomplished what we needed at a bargain price, but there are nicer places to stay.)
- Notes: If you have time, drive in to Monterey Bay which is just a few minutes away! There are many things to do in this beautiful city! Those may include Cannery Row, Lovers Point, Coast Guard Pier with seals, McAbee Beach Tidal pools and watching for Humpback Whales! (Check to see if it is whale season!)
- Drive south towards the “17-mile Drive” on Hwy 1. This is considered the Big Sur area. You will be heading south or “backtracking.”
- Big Sur Area Destinations: Bixby Bridge, McWay Falls, Julia Pfeiffer State Park Beach (This entire drive may be the most beautiful thing you see in your lifetime. Try to get all the way to Julia Pfeiffer State Park Beach. Then, you will turn around and drive back toward Monterey Bay.)
- Drive to Santa Cruz (50 minutes from Monterey Bay)
- Hotel: Stay in Santa Cruz
- Things to do at Santa Cruz: Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz Boardwalk and Beach, Santa Cruz Wharf, Ano Nuevo Park (on the way out of Santa Cruz)
- Notes: Santa Cruz was our favorite beach towns of the trip! We absolutely loved the Wharf. We spent half a day watching the sea lions. You get very close up views of them from the pier! We ended up spending our entire day on the wharf & enjoying The Boardwalk. We did not do the other things on the “Things to do” list. Parking was fairly easy but metered.
- Drive to San Francisco (1 ½ hours from Santa Cruz)
- Spend the morning sightseeing in San Francisco
- Things to do in San Francisco: Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf, Ride Cable Cars, Painted Ladies at Alamo Square, Chinatown
- Drive to Merced (2 hours – This is half way to Yosemite National Park)
- Hotel: Stay in Merced, CA
- Notes: We chose to stay in Merced because it was the halfway point between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park. 2. A 15-passenger van is VERY hard to drive around SF! The traffic is really out-of-this-world and parking is virtually nonexistent. Just be prepared to handle the traffic and drive those outrageous hills in the city! We did it but, in hindsight, I would have probably just driven across the Golden Gate Bridge and skipped the sight-seeing in SF. 3. Fisherman’s Wharf is fun but SO, SO busy!! We drove past it and decided to keep on driving! We did find a great view of the bridge at Crissy Field and the parking was fairly easy as people would come and go quickly.
- Drive to Yosemite (2 hours from SF)
- Spend the day at Yosemite National Park
- Trails: Yosemite Valley Tunnel View, Bridalveil Fall, Glacier Point, Lower Yosemite falls
- Hotel: 5th Street Inn in Mariposa, CA (We highly recommend this inn. Book well in advance and grab the family suite if you need it! The inn is so quaint, and the room is huge!
- Notes: We loved staying in the city of Mariposa! This little town is amazing. There are a lot local places to shop and eat. When we were there, the city was hosting an outdoor festival with live music. There is also a doughnut place within walking distance of our hotel. 2. Yosemite was our favorite destination of all. You could easily spend more than one day at this park. 3. The drive in and out of Yosemite is long. (This is one reason we only spent one day here.) Be prepared for it to take an hour or so to enter the park depending on the time of year you visit. If you can, arrive prior to the park opening, this will help with the lines. 4. It is hard to find parking in this park. We had to park along the side of a road inside the park and walk about a mile just to get to our first hiking trail. It is a very busy park! It would be worth it to drive to the visitor center to park, then take the shuttle to the varies trails. 5. There are some affordable and quick dining options inside the park near the visitor center. 6. There are several trails you can take simply by walking from the visitor center parking lot. This parking lot is huge and has plenty of free parking.)
- Drive to Sequoia (3 ½ hours from Mariposa)
- Things to do at Sequoia: General Sherman Tree Trail, take some time to tour one of the many caves found at the park, General Grant Loop Trail
- Hotel: Sequoia Comfort Suites Visalia Convention Center
- Notes: THIS PARK IS VERY HARD TO GET INTO! It seriously takes about 1 ½ hours to drive up a mountain and enter this park. If anyone in your vehicle get motion sickness, prepare accordingly. We were tired before we got there! The views along the road are beautiful but it is a steep and curvy drive. Not for the faint of heart. Once you are there, the trees are simply breathtaking. I do not regret going to this park; However, be prepared for an exhausting drive up the mountain! 2. This is a very large park with a lot to offer. Even Mount Whitney and the granite done Moro Rock are found here! But, many of the trails are strenuous so know what you want to do before you get there!
- Drive to Las Vegas (5 hours from Sequoia National Park)
- Hotel: Excalibur Hotel (This one is great for kids!)
- Return the rental car
- Things to do in Vegas: Visit all the hotels (Avoid all casino areas with kids when possible. There will be half-dressed dancers on tables! Use main entrances instead), Bellagio fountains, free circus acts in Circus Circus, gondola ride at The Venetian, visit the M&M World, Adventuredome theme park, free “Fall of Atlantis” show at Caesar’s Palace. Simply walking the strip was a blast but avoid doing so after dark.
- Use hotel shuttles or Uber to get to the airport
- Save this day for flights & traveling home.